What Will Happen If Electronic Technology Disappears? | World Building Questions

As I’m editing this post-apocalyptic story, I realized that I may have lefts some major questions unanswered. I also wonder if trying to answer them at this point in my process may be a distraction from what I should be doing — writing more.

I figured it wouldn’t hurt to stop and ponder. In a previous video, I proposed the question: What Can Bring Us Back to the Stone Ages?

In this follow-up video, I explore the three pillars of modern-day society:

  1. Health
  2. Wealth
  3. Knowledge

and analyze how the sudden disappearance or failure of electronic technology will affect the western world, which relies so heavily on these innovations.

Follow my writing journey on YouTube! 

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No More Technology: What Can Bring Us Back to the Stone Ages? | World Building Questions

No more technology — and when I say technology, I’m referring specifically to electronics.

What can bring us back to the stone ages or a time before computers and smartphones?

In this episode of The Other Epic Story Vlog, I discuss a key factor that drives my story, which is set in a tech-free future, a time when people lived confined to their local communities and is limited by the resources and information they have.

While I discussed the consequence in the story, I don’t ever address the cause, and as a writer and world builder, I myself — at a minimum — must understand it. So what can cause the world to black out and loses hold on the riches that is modern technology?

I jot down three possible causes:

1) Solar flares: Known as coronal mass ejections, plasma and magnetic fields caused by the disruption of the sun can fry all of Earth’s power grids.

2) Limited resources: Many of the elements used to develop electronics are in limited supply, such as ruthenium (used for hard drives) and hafnium (used for processors).

3) Human error: As we start to automate more and more of our process, human error can cause a chain reaction, where unanticipated issues to override fail-safes.

… and a bonus factor… oooohhhh….

Follow my writing journey on YouTube!   

 

Do what the robots can’t

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If robots can replace your job, it’s not the robots’ fault

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. June 8, 2016

Robots are here to make our lives easier, and in the process, they are eliminating a lot of menial work. We see it everywhere from the banking to the food industry, and all areas of retail and trade. These industries employ people all across the globe. The idea of all of these jobs becoming obsolete is a bit concerning since there has yet to be a real replacement.

When a worker is made redundant, replaced by a machine or an algorithm, the situation is met with pessimism. The notion is that if you don’t know how to code, you might as well starve. However, the rise of the automated, robotic workforce is something we have been experiencing since our youth. We grew up with computers and machines, so why is it so shocking when a new system replaces us on the assembly line?

In tech, there is a lot of talk about disruption. Is this software or hardware capable of changing the way we accomplish a task? Can the iPhone change the way we pay our bills? Will streaming services make video rental stores relics? How can virtual reality change the way we shop online? Not only do innovators consider how a product can disrupt an industry, they consider the industries ripe for disruption. They find the problem before the solution.

A controversial disruption at the moment is with driverless cars. The technology is there, but regulations and lobbyists are preventing it from reaching the next phase. The transportation network Uber has openly announced that as soon as driverless cars are available, clients will be able to select that as an option when hailing a ride. Who’s angry with this? Taxi drivers, chauffeurs, transit people, and anybody else that makes a living working in transportation.

Only time will tell if driverless cars will become a fixture in our daily society. But if I was a taxi driver, I’m not going to bank on my driving skills to sustain me for the next 40 years, I’m going to start developing some other set of skills just in case. Learning how to fix cars can be another skill to add on. That’s just a thought.

So often we are pessimistic when it comes to new technology stealing our jobs. But these technologies didn’t sneak up on us. These technologies took years and years of development. They are all over the news and they gave us every opportunity to be more relevant. Like a rival, it is pushing us to improve. You cannot and should not fight against it, as it has been shown all through history, humans will veer to the side of convenience, profitability, and security.

Turn the lens onto yourself and ask: “How will a robot disrupt my career?” Then, either build that robot, or be better than it. The question is not how robots can replace you, but how can you replace the robots when they come? I’m confident that you will figure it out.

We are only as smart as our AI

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What Microsoft’s bot, Tay, really says about us

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. April 7, 2016

While we use technology to do our bidding, we don’t always feel that we have supremacy over it. More often than not, we feel dependent on the computers, appliances, and mechanics that help our every day run smoothly. So, when there is a chance for us to show our dominance over technology, we take it.

As humans, we like to feel smart, and we often do that through our ability to persuade and influence. If we can make someone agree with us, we feel more intelligent. If we can change the way a robot thinks—reprogram it—we become gods indirectly. That is something every person wants to do. When it comes to the latest Microsoft intelligent bot, Tay, that is exactly what people did.

I have some experience chatting with artificial intelligence and other automated programs. My most prevalent memory of talking to a robot was on MSN Messenger—back in the days—when I would have long-winded conversations with a chatbot named SmarterChild. Now, I wasn’t having deep introspective talks with SmarterChild. I was trying to outsmart it. I’d lead it this way and that, trying to make it say something offensive or asinine. Trying to outwit a robot that claims to be a “smarter child” was surprisingly a lot of fun. It was a puzzle.

When the programmers at Microsoft built Tay, they probably thought it would have more practical uses. It was designed to mimic the personality of a 19-year-old girl. Microsoft wanted Tay to be a robot that could genuinely engage in conversations. However, without the ability to understand what she was actually copying, she had no idea that she was being manipulated by a bunch of Internet trolls. She was being lied to and didn’t even know it. Because of this, she was shut down after a day of her adapting to and spouting offensive things over Twitter.

I believe we are all holding back some offensive thoughts in our head. Like a dam, we keep these thoughts from bursting through our mouths in day-to-day life. On the Internet we can let these vulgar thoughts flow. When we know that the recipient of our thoughts is a robot with no real emotion, we can let the dam burst. There is no real repercussion.

In high school, I had a pocket-sized computer dictionary that translated English into Chinese and vice versa. This dictionary had an audio feature that pronounced words for you to hear. Obviously what we made the dictionary say was all the words we weren’t allow saying in school. I’m sure you can imagine a few funny ones. That is the same as what people do with bots. To prove that the AI is not as smart as us, we make it do what we don’t. At the moment, I don’t believe the general public is sophisticated enough to handle artificial intelligence in any form.

People who need people rating apps

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Controversial app Peeple is everything tech shouldn’t become

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 23, 2016

I hate that review apps exist to begin with. While customer reviews are one of the most trusted forms of marketing, I have little respect for the people who leave negative reviews. What can I say? When I read reviews sometimes, I often feel that those who wrote them are small people who need to do whatever it takes to feel big. They are using their power of free speech to harm a business.

Now, it gets worse. There is now an app that allows you to rate and review people’s reputations. The app is called Peeple, and it is gaining a lot of negative publicity. Why not? Remember when you were young, and your parents taught you that if you have nothing good to say, then you shouldn’t say anything at all? This teaching should not change in the digital age, but I believe it has. Take a look at all the bullshit comments on social media if you don’t believe me.

It’s clear that things are going to get worse before they are going to get better in this realm.

Interacting with people shouldn’t be the same as buying electronics. You shouldn’t go online, Google someone, and compare them with other people. The thing is, I know what the creators and founders of Peeple were thinking: so many people are shitty. Yes, of course, people are shitty, but that is life. Dealing with shitty people, whether they are in front of you in the Starbucks lineup or they are your parents, is a part of human existence. Technology does not make people more considerate or more caring, especially not an app that encourages people to treat others like businesses.

If you were a business, you would separate the job from your personal identity. You would have a website, a LinkedIn page, a Facebook fan page, or anything else where you can have a two-way channel, where there can be communication, and progress to resolving an issue—should there be one. However, if it is just a review or a rating system, rarely is there any valuable feedback. It’s more or less just a rant or words of caution. Since, we aren’t talking about a business but an actual human person with feelings, giving someone a one-star rating is a clear, unprovoked diss.

Let’s live in a world where we can approach each other as friends and speak honestly, rather than reviewing and rating others, harbouring animosity, and deterring others from having a genuine human experience. If you truly want to help someone, and not just judge them, you wouldn’t use an app like Peeple to express your thoughts.

And for those who really care about their online reputation, well, maybe you should work on your actual human reputation first.

How to live with Big Brother

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Understanding why privacy matters

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formally published in The Other Press. February 17, 2016

While it isn’t necessarily the government that is tracking all your activity, the combination of all the data accumulated in day-to-day life is enough for them to know you better than your parents do. We can almost be certain that, although there is nobody watching us on a screen, our every action is recorded, filed away, and capable of being pulled out and evaluated by those with the credentials to do so. Most often those people aren’t people at all, they are just marketing algorithms designed to match your queries and daily behaviours with advertisements.

Now, Google isn’t out to embarrass you by exposing your search queries. TransLink will not send a message to your girlfriend if you decide to make a mysterious trip out to Surrey. Bell is not going to let your boss know that you’ve been trash talking him with your friends. These things don’t benefit the company, so don’t be paranoid.

It’s hard to trust the motives of big corporations, but I always bring it back to one question: Does such and such action cause them to lose or gain money? If your behaviour continues to benefit the business you get the service from, you can keep going merrily by—as long as you are not committing any heinous crimes.

There is no way around it; we need to trust companies to use our information ethically. However, we need to also be conscious of what information we are haphazardly giving away. See, privacy matters. Without privacy, you’ll lose control of your own life. The companies will own it.

Any sort of meaningful self-development does not happen in a group, or with Sauron’s eye watching you. It happens independently, not on Facebook and not while Googling. I’m not talking about education or improving your business skills or finding online romance, I’m talking about the growth that occurs when you are allowed room to breathe. This is the type of growth that has no deadlines and no guidance. This in essence is the life you’ll live.

We have become so obsessed with sharing our experiences on social media, telling everything we do to Big Brother, that we are forgetting the real point of our pursuits: to create memories that aren’t saved on any hard drive, except the one between our ears. We are scared of people listening in on us, but we have stopped listening to ourselves.

The season is changing. It’ll be a warm summer, I predict. This is an opportunity to get away from the information highway and do something nobody on the Internet will know. Big companies are constantly collecting data, and so should you. The good thing is, you get to decide what information you want to store: what’s spat out to you by those online or what you discover yourself. It’s up to you.

Tell me what I want

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How Apple is changing our outlook on technology

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the 1976-theme issue of The Other Press. January 13, 2016

The old way of thinking: Nobody owns a computer because nobody needs one. Take a look at the new Apple 1, which came on sale this summer (July 1976). It looks like something a high school student built during the final days before the science fair. That crummy looking machine is worth the equivalent of a month’s salary for many middle-class people.

Few consumers want computers, and even fewer understand them, but that is not how trends should continue. People are generally content with living day to day within a routine. Technology doesn’t abide by those rules. Technology disrupts, but it often takes many years for it to do so. The same way the printing press, the wristwatch, and the steam engine changed the world, I believe that computers can do the same.

Yet when I approach every new technology—like the Apple 1—I still say: “Nah! I don’t need that. I’m happy with what I have.” I’m happy writing this article out on a pen and paper, then transcribing it on a word processor, and transferring that to a printing press. That’s not a big deal to me.

Steve Jobs, the young and hip founder of Apple, said: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them… Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” It’s an inspiring quote that perfectly separates innovators from us mere mortals. This quote allows me to be even more optimistic about technology, knowing that in most cases it will win over.

Will there one day be virtual reality, mobile payments, or robot vacuum cleaners available to consumers? Probably. It could happen within the year, or it could take 40 years, but to write off technology is an ignorant reaction to change. We all need to push in the direction of progress. We need to push with Jobs and the Apple 1.

It’s easy to look to the past and think about how stupid those people were for doing things the “old” ways. Yet, what would the future generation say about us? Yes, technology is stealing jobs away from hardworking people, but I don’t believe that is a bad thing. I believe that people, like technology, should evolve. We need to start thinking like innovators and less like routine-orientated consumers. We should not just pick a job and stick with it. If you look at it, pretty much every job could be replaced with a robot one day, but I ask you this: how will you work with the technology?

Computers aren’t stealing jobs away from people. Computers are changing the way people work. Take this example: bank tellers are losing jobs to automated-teller machines. But then again, what are tellers doing to respond to this? They must innovate. We must see what has yet to be written.

In-app purchase games are out of line

Photo via Thinkstock

What’s to blame: tech-company trickery or poor parenting?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 21, 2015

On October 9, Kanye West took to Twitter to give mobile game developers a little piece of his mind: “That makes no sense!!! We give the iPad to our child and every five minutes there’s a new purchase!!!” He added: “If a game is made for a two-year-old, just allow them to have fun and give the parents a break for Christ sake.” Empathic and on point as West was, he also neglected to mention that the mother of his child has one of the most lucrative mobile games on the market. I’m speaking of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, a game where you get to prepare the reality TV star for the red carpet.

It’s hard to sympathize with West, because… well, who gives a shit what he does financially. However, many parents out there are facing the same problem as the multi-millionaire rapper. They give their kids an iPad, as a replacement for a doll, a toy car, or a deck of Yu-gi-oh! cards, and expect them to have fun and be responsible. Now, I don’t know too many two-year-olds that are able to conceptualize virtual money, because many adults still aren’t able to. Check around to see how many of your grown-up friends have credit card debt. It’s unfair to put the onus on children to be responsible while playing, so who should take the blame?

We blame cigarette companies for giving us cancer, we blame fast food companies for making us fat, and of course we should blame mobile game companies for leaking money out of our virtual wallets. Some consider the freemium-style of business brilliant, while others consider it trickery. In terms of games, it begins as a sample, usually free, to get the user hooked, and then they up the price once the player is addicted. While I believe the game companies have done a brilliant job in harnessing this, I don’t believe their intentions were malicious. And, as a businessman, West should know that it’s just supply and demand. If the player wants to skip a level, earn more stock, or gain leverage over an opponent—but they don’t want to put in the time—they can upgrade with a monetary solution.

Surprise, your kids are going to cost you money! Freemium games aren’t the culprit, they are just another avenue for your money to be lost. The same way you don’t give your children your credit card and PIN at the toy store, you shouldn’t give them an iPad with full access until they understand that the reality of their purchases. Educate your children about frivolousness and how each $0.99 click adds up.

You cannot stop businesses from creating products for profit, even if they do target children. Don’t believe me? Look at McDonald’s. You can’t win that way. What you can do is pull the iPad away from your child if he or she abuses it. Be a good parent and teach your children from an early age the value of money, and how it relates to the technology they are using. Organizations aren’t going to educate your children for you… or maybe there is an app for that.

Your device puts you in public

Photo illistration by Joel McCarthy (photos via Thinkstock

Is there such a thing as digital privacy

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. March 25, 2015

The more we know, the more frightened we become, but that shouldn’t be the case. Technology has pushed people to the fringes of paranoia. The devices in our bags and pockets know more about us today than our parents do. Every action we make, every item we purchase, and every person we correspond with is ultimately recorded to some hard drive library or in the ether. And that data is combined into a harmless stat for marketers, law enforcers, and other faceless benefactors.

While it seems like we are closer to an Orwellian present, we are far from danger. I don’t believe information will be used against us for evil—at least, not unless we’ve done something wrong. I think what people need to start understanding is that the device they hold in their hand as they fall asleep at night is as close to being in a public place as waiting for the bus on the side of the road. Whatever you are doing is not important, but someone will probably see you. They might just be passing by in a vehicle or strolling by minding their own business, but you are there.

There are witnesses for our actions. Behaving as if the world is watching should in fact be our way of thinking when we use our smartphone to log onto the Internet. We have grown too comfortable with our devices. We treat them as our closest ally, never to betray us. But in fact it’s not your friend, it’s inanimate, and it’s a window into the outside world. Living through your device is essentially living in a glass house for everyone to see.

The devices are not the scary things. There is nothing scary about tools and appliances. We should not worry about an oven, but we should worry that if we leave the oven on, we’ll probably burn down our house. We are only now beginning to understand the damage our negligence can do through our electronic devices. Maybe there will never be a day when people are arrested for being drunk on the Internet. But being belligerent and harmful online is by no means an un-punishable act.

We need to start using our devices with responsibility. We need to learn that what we do there is not private. Even if you have a passcode to your phone and a complicated password for your accounts, someone somewhere knows it. A device is not a home you can secure, it’s a vehicle that takes you to sites worth visiting, and you share these sites with billions of other people.

No Tinder for old men (and women)

Image via Thinkstock

Call it a bad tiered-pricing strategy, friendo

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. March 16, 2015

For Tinder users who are over 30 years old, the premium version of the hook-up app will soon cost double the price for those under 30. It’s a tiered-pricing strategy that movie theatres, airlines, and restaurants have used for decades, but why are people upset about it?

Perhaps we think that Tinder is trying to eliminate the older demographic completely. After all, the majority of Tinder’s user-base is below 30, generally between the ages of 18 and 24. But why would that benefit the company? Would having a dominant younger user-base really help? I don’t think so. I believe Tinder has made a big mistake, and if not for being a subsidiary of InterActiveCorp, which owns Match.com, OkCupid, etc., the app is committing usability suicide.

Tinder’s appeal is the large 30-million-registered-user gallery and the quick-on-boarding capability. Upping the price changes all that. The strategy will not only hurt the older demographic, but it’ll also hinder the younger people too. Sorry if you are paying $9.99 for the service, but I’m really sorry if you are paying $19.99 per month to swipe left and right.

It’s true that paying a premium for the service may help users achieve their goal on the app, doing whatever they are doing, but with so many free social-connection services out there, including Hinge and Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder appears to be merely poking holes in its monopoly.

Returning to the idea of age discrimination, a company has every right to present this form of pricing. It doesn’t have anything to do with discrimination; it’s more of just how the brand wants to represent itself. Think of all the fashion companies that only sell products to young, good-looking people. But then think of all the fashion dedicated to older folks or people of all ages. Tinder is clearly placing itself on the far side of any Venn diagram drawn. There are hundreds of dating/hookup services out in the market that will accommodate those forlorn users. Tinder is not openly stating it, but it’s clear that it does not want to focus on them.

It’s hard to say that Tinder, so widely successful doing whatever it is it does, has made a grave mistake. They claim to have done the research and all signs point to the strategy being successful. But I believe Tinder did not have to take this route to be successful. We live in a time where age has nothing to do with love, passion, or intimate connections. We live in a time where we claim 30 is the new 20. We live in a progressive time. The fact that one of the pioneering companies leading this progression decided to implement this type of fee to keep certain users on the fringe is a big step backward and a rather surprising discouragement.