Category Archives: Life Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness

Need Inspiration? AI Has the “Answer”

SO LONG, TONY ROBBINS.

The twenty-first century face of motivation and inspiration has arrived, and it’s not a human one.

It appears artificial intelligence (AI) has quietly reached a new level, to where it can generate inspirational messages tailored to you – without you telling it anything about yourself.

I know, you’re skeptical, as was I. After all, what computer can compete with this?

But recently one of the fitness blogs I follow posted about a visit to InspiroBot, a motivational quote-generating website. For them it generated this message:

Can’t argue with this! Bodybuilding can make you stronger, but it doesn’t necessarily lead you to do anything productive with the stronger body. Basically, it’s saying endless repetition of something won’t create change. Or at least it can be interpreted that way. YMMV. [1]

Well, I’m always on the lookout for good inspiration. Running is a great stress reliever, and long runs provide an atmosphere for self-reflection, but it isn’t a change agent. For that I need the “spark” of something profound.

So I went to the InspiroBot website, and without telling it anything whatever about myself, I clicked the “Generate” button.

And this is what I got:

Admit it, doesn’t this beat Tony? Attention-grabbing, outside-the-goalposts thinking, plastered on a photo of someone running along a beach. Perfectly suited for an ultrarunner.

Spooky. . .

Outside of a simple coincidence (borrr-ing!) I can think of a few somewhat plausible explanations:

  • The Internet knows way more about us than it’s been letting on;
  • AI has become sentient and is toying with us; [2]
  • The human brain is terrific at creating meaning out of random strings of garbage.

Okay, so my twisted mind found a way to make it applicable. But did it work? Was I inspired to do something as a result? Yep! It inspired me to write this!

As for boxing with self, I’m trying to figure out the context. If I’m in the middle of a 100-mile ultra and find my body and spirit flagging, should I punch myself in the face to keep going? Or am I to self-apply a good right cross before I hit the “Sign Up” for said 100-mile ultra? I’ll keep you posted.

Are you inspired to visit InspiroBot? If you do, let me know what it generates for you!

======================================

[1]  YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary

[2]  Are we sure continuing to pursue AI is a good idea? Check out Frederic Brown’s classic short story about creating the ultimate computer (hence the tie-in with this post’s title).

Advertisements

My Cellphone, the Enabler

My daughter stopped her conversation with her mother in mid-sentence and looked across the table at me.

“Dad, what are you doing?”

I looked up at her.

“We’re having brunch together as a family, and you’re on your phone? Playing BRIDGE?”

I apologized and put the phone away, but it was too late. My worst fears had been realized. I had become that guy.

And I hate that guy.

Despite thirty-plus years in high tech and being an early and enthusiastic consumer of the Internet, I was a late adapter to cellphones, especially the “smart” variety. I actively resist any personal technology that is, or tries to be, smarter than I am. To my wife and kids, who have no such reservations, this has been a source of both vexation and amusement.

But why get an expensive, complicated toy? Texting, photos and (you radical!) phone calls were all I needed. Flip phones were robust and perhaps more importantly, contained no enablers. As a card-carrying introvert, with books, video games, and other enticements all around me, the last thing I needed was another avenue to withdraw from active society.

Tech the way I like it. Simple and non-threatening.

And I share personal information with anyone or any thing on a strictly “need to know” basis.  I don’t need a phone that remembers my birthday or anniversary, or is aware of my height, weight, and cup size. When I’m asked by some social media platform to review a restaurant I left five minutes ago, I’m not impressed. I’m creeped out.

I’d be a content phone Luddite even now were it not for my darling wife, who is a fan of devices that want to get to know her. She loves her smartphone and fitness watch and has not only embraced Alexa, she’s brought her into our bedroom, with which I am still not entirely comfortable.

“I need a new phone,” she said one fateful day at the computer, a familiar refrain that I could usually acknowledge and get on with life. But not this time. “Look, there’s a sale on the <hot new phone at the time>. We can get two and have matching phones!”

This held no attraction for me, but my protest was weak. I’d started my own business recently and one of my clients had told me straight up that I really should have a smartphone. So I trundled over to have a look. Like all smartphones it was too bulky for my liking, but it had a decent camera and battery life. So I took a deep breath and said okay-if-that’s-what-you-really-want-it’s-okay-with-me.

And down the slippery slope I started.

What am I going to DO with this thing?

I laid down some ground rules. As always, if I received an incoming call or text while driving or in a meeting – or I just didn’t feel like it – I was not going to reflexively reach for the phone. It works for me, not the other way round. Plus “those guys/girls” (and you know who you are) drive me nuts when they do that.

And apps were going to be minimal. A weather app, for sure, and one for my business account at the credit union. Other convenient apps have snuck in there, but I’d say overall I’ve kept to this one. In particular I’ve resisted games and other “entertainment” apps. I spend enough time already staring at screens.

But I am a student of the game of bridge. I don’t actually play much, but I enjoy reading about it and solving puzzles on how to declare or defend various hands. So I broke down and installed a bridge app. I like that I can “undo” steps and try something different, or skip quickly to another hand. It’s good for when I have a few spare moments for mental exercise. The risk is reaching the point where it interferes with personal interactions, which of course is “that guy” behavior.

And there at a nice restaurant, having brunch with my family, it happened. I hadn’t even thought about what I was doing. I’d dropped out of the active conversation, my thoughts strayed to the last hand I’d pondered earlier, and, well, there I was. Busted.

Proper family time!

Fortunately I was forgiven for my transgression, and I have resolved to be more careful in the future. My phone is going to remain a convenient tool, not a way of life. As for Alexa, she can stay for the time being, but if she ever starts recommending certain performance-enhancing products she’s going to find a new home at the bottom of a lake.

Pronoun Trouble? Not Here!

YET AGAIN I got an education where and when I least expected it.

We’ve just returned from Richmond, where we had a great time visiting our daughter Tori in sunny, above-freezing weather, a nice break from the gray blah we’ve had in Michigan. During a mandatory visit to Lamplighter Coffee Roasters, for which we share a preternatural love, I saw the following at the register:

I was bemused. If someone has a traditionally feminine name, and identifies as female, was there a need to specify the pronoun? It would be like introducing myself to someone by saying, “Hi, I’m Jeff. I’m a man.”

And a runner!

My daughter basically shrugged. Richmond has become increasingly progressive during the ten years she’s lived there, with a strong LGBTQ(*) community and actively inclusive attitude. We initially worried about how she’d be accepted, but she’s had no trouble. During our visit she and her wife held hands openly in public, as did many same-sex couples we saw.

Tori (left) with Jess.

Yet I wondered what more “mainstream” young people thought about the pronoun display. When our niece picked us up at the airport, I mentioned it to her. “Oh wow, that’s really neat,” she said. “It’s great that they want to be inclusive like that.” She wasn’t just accepting, she was fully supportive. So there you go. Please forgive me if I still find it unusual.

Just to be clear, it doesn’t matter to me which gender you identify with (or not), or how you’d like to be referred to. To me, it’s a sign of how far we’ve come. In 1961, when I was born, gay marriage wasn’t only illegal, it was unthinkable. Even interracial marriage wasn’t legal in Virginia until 1967. Yet here we were, walking in the capital of the Confederacy with our openly (and proud) gay daughter and her wife.

At last year’s WNBR Portland and Burning Man I experienced firsthand what happens when people let go of their biases and pre-judgments and accept others for who they are. I invite anyone who considers themselves progressive or accepting to go to one of those and then let me know if their minds didn’t open at least a little more.

And I’m also proud of the inclusiveness of the running community. Do you run? Welcome, runner! We respect anyone training for and achieving their goals, whether it’s your first 5K, or your fifty-seventh 100-miler, or you just want to get in a mile or two.

Of course, even the running world is not perfect. Coree Woltering, an ultrarunning champion who is African-American and gay, feels “discriminated against,” but not in the way you might expect. I look forward to when we overcome even this kind of prejudice, because it affects me, too!

Happy New Year!

=============================

(*) LGBTQ – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning/Queer. The “Q” is not always used, but I was reminded to include it. 🙂

Of Cats and Ornaments

“Do you mind if we don’t put up the Christmas tree this year?” my wife asked recently.

That was surprising. She’s the sentimental one about the holidays, while I quietly grouse about lugging the dang thing up from the basement, followed by the boxes of ornaments and sundry decorations. But our kids won’t be visiting us over the holidays, and we’re hosting just one small family gathering. So I assured her I had no objections.

Then I ran the Holiday Hustle 5K and took second in my age group. The award is an ornament, which a) I wouldn’t be using, and b) I have several of already. But I took it anyway. Well, who says it has to hang on a tree? And perhaps I took it because of this memory:

What, climb that tree and play with those delicate ornaments? Never crossed my mind!

Gabby was a wee kitten when I brought home my first Holiday Hustle ornament in 2011. I kept the fragile blue ball in its protective packaging right until I brought it to the tree. As I gently placed it on the coffee table to ready a hook for it, Gabby poked her little head up. Her face was easy to read: “Ooooh, what’s that? Is it fun to play with?”

“No, you don’t!” I said, quickly picking it up and out of her reach. Relieved to have rescued it, I slipped the hook on – and missed – and dropped it. So I ended up going to Running Fit and spending ten dollars for another one, because, dammit, there was going to be a Holiday Hustle ornament on that tree.

And so there was!

The memory is bittersweet because we had to say goodbye to Gabby during the holidays last year. By the time we discovered her abdominal cancer, it was too late to treat it. The family and vet agreed it was kinder to put her down then, rather than have her suffer through a busy holiday with the house full of people and dogs. We’ll always miss her.

This year our two newest cats, Buster and Ruby, will celebrate their first Christmas with us.

Mousie on a stick is irresistible!

We adopted them in January, and they’ve provided the energy and playfulness we hoped for. (Our older cats may have a different opinion.) Perhaps it’s unfair that they won’t get the chance to bat the ornaments and climb the tree, but there are plenty of other things to play with in the house. On the other hand, this year’s ornament is unbreakable, so maybe I’ll let them have a go at it.

So our house won’t have the controlled chaos that reigned here during the holidays for so many years. And we won’t have a tree, or even any decorations on the house. The holiday week for us is setting up to be a low-key, quiet affair.

I’m looking forward to it.