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Don’t Get Freaked Out

Don’t Get Freaked Out

December 29, 2013 | By | Add a Comment

Don’t get freaked out by this, but Teddy Ruxpin is back — on steroids.
We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about virtual people, artificial intelligence, and the like. As you know, Friend Me is all about illicit romance with an AI (artificial intelligence) entity. You owe it to yourself to see the prototype of the Supertoy Robotics talking Teddy Bear.
As you watch this, remember that the only human present is Esther, who is eight years old. The bear is actually doing his own talking. No man-behind-the-curtain, no hidden microphones… just an AI Teddy Bear.

The robot’s hardware is simple: just an audio in/out interface and a motor for mouth animation. Teddy connects by a standard audio plug to an iPhone 4+, iPad2+, iPod touch 3G+, or Android (2.3 +) smartphone or device. It’s sitting right inside his chest. You could put it together at home.
On one hand, Teddy is like the Malicia chatbot (a “chattering robot”) on this website. I worked on Malicia myself. She was not difficult to put together. Just for fun, if you talk to her, ask her what religion she is.
The two guys at Supertoy Robotics started with a chatbot called Jeannie, who was designed for iPhone, iPad and Androids. But this “bear” is far advanced beyond what can be done with a chatbot.
In Friend Me, both Rachel and Scott Douglas interact with an AI entity. They get to where they can’t tell the difference between real and unreal. I use “unreal” in the sense of “not a real person.” Because AI (artificial intelligence) is real enough. It remains primitive because it is not sentient. That is, it is not self-aware. Today’s AI, however, is good enough to fool anyone.
Now, for an exercise, let’s put a few things together. You’ve seen the great computer animations that are being used in movies today. You can’t tell (on the screen) what’s real and what isn’t. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others have even had “body doubles” of themselves made of computer-generated avatars. Useful for stunts and things where they don’t want the human actor risking anything.
Combine those images (which we have right now… current technology), with the conversational abilities of this Teddy Bear and what have you got? I guarantee that if you met the artificial person online, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Now. . . do you really think no one is already doing this?
When I first proposed Friend Me to an editor from Random House, she told me she wanted the story, but that she would cast it as science fiction.
Guess what? It’s not SCI-FI. It’s here today.

What do you think? Freaked out?

Heard in a Church Lobby

Heard in a Church Lobby

December 19, 2013 | By | Add a Comment

I got to church earlier than usual on a Wednesday night, and walked into the church lobby. We’re pretty traditional. That’s our night for prayer and Bible study. My wife runs our AWANA Clubs upstairs.

Ray is one of our ushers, and tonight he was looking for something. Two young teen girls were standing in the middle of the room looking lost. I greeted them, and waved to Ray. He stopped, looked at me, and asked if I could help them. They wanted to know if there was an AWANA meeting tonight.

“Tonight’s your lucky night,” I said. “My wife runs the whole thing. I’ll take you upstairs.”

The worried look went out of Ray’s face when I took over the care of the girls, who it turned out were in fifth and sixth grades. When I got back downstairs, he was seated in one of the wing-back chairs sorting through some Christmas cards he was giving out.

“You’re a good guy, Ray. Not many men would go to all that trouble to make sure people got Christmas cards.”

He leaned toward me, and I could see that he hadn’t heard me well. Ray’s seventy-eight years old. I repeated what I’d said, and he replied, “It’s not too hard when your wife leaves you the list. Barbara left me the whole list.”

Barbara had died a couple of years ago from colon cancer. He wasn’t going to be getting over her absence any time too soon.

“She made me promise I’d do this. There’s only one promise she made me make that I’m not going to keep.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“She was laying on the hospital bed just before she died, and she made me promise her I’d remarry after she was gone.” He looked up at me from the chair. “I can’t keep that promise. There’ll never be anyone else as sweet as her.”

“She was worried about you. She didn’t want you to be alone,“ I said. I know something about that. My own wife died just short of our twenty-sixth anniversary when I was forty-four. I knew what that loneliness was like.

“You may still remarry. Maybe someone almost as sweet as she was,” I said.

“No, I don’t think so.”

He began to relate some of his story to me. I’d known Ray for twelve or thirteen years, but I was thrilled as I heard him tell how God had worked in his life, starting way back in 1936. Seventeen years old, and he went into the Army. Married his sweet wife. Adopted two children from rough backgrounds, loved and raised them as their own.

Now he’s watching out for his granddaughter and her husband. Another answer to prayer, he says. He and Barb prayed for her to meet some good young man. They even picked a couple good prospects out. Sure enough, she’s married to one of them.

Ray’s an Army retiree. He’s spending what’s left of his life serving the Lord in every way he can, and doing his level best to help that young couple get a solid start in life.

There was a lot more to Ray’s story than I’m telling here. But I’ll wager you’ve met people like Ray, too. It’s the stories like his, that you want to have become yours.

The greatest joy we’ll ever know as a believer in Jesus Christ is to hear His words one shining day, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of thy Lord.”

I know at least one guy who can expect to hear just that. And now you do, too.

*  Matthew 25:23 “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”

Is Someone Watching You?

Is Someone Watching You?

December 7, 2013 | By | Add a Comment

Is Someone Watching You?
It Could be the Federal Government

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.   (Matthew 12:36)


If you thought that clicking on that email attachment couldn’t hurt you, please read on. . .

The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) has a special phishing team that exploits weaknesses in email and computer hardware. What does that mean to you? It means they may actually be able to use the camera on your computer to spy on you — without you ever knowing it.Big Brother is Watching You

Years ago I was a television repairman. Back in those days, I would drive a service van to a customer’s home, haul in my big case full of tools, tubes and transistors, and repair their television set.

More than once people asked me a question like, “Can people see me through the picture tube while I’m watching them?” Repair people like myself used to laugh about that. Surely the customers had been reading too much in George Orwell’s 1984, where such things routinely took place, right?

In Orwell’s Oceania, the ubiquitous telescreen (transceiving television set) monitored the private and public lives of the population. What’s creepy is that Orwell wrote that book back in 1948, when most people had never seen a television.

Fast forward to 2013. Although the FBI says is uses the technique sparingly, the fact is they have an ongoing program of spying on citizens through the use of computer malware. Malware is “bad” (mal is a prefix meaning evil) software. Examples are that attachment in your email you shouldn’t have opened, and others too numerous to list here.

It turns out the FBI can secretly turn on a computer’s webcam to spy on the person without even lighting up the indicator light.

Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico — said, “The FBI has been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera — without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording — for several years, and has used that technique mainly in terrorism cases or the most serious criminal investigations.”

“Because of encryption and because targets are increasingly using mobile devices, law enforcement is realizing that more and more they’re going to have to be on the device — or in the cloud,” Thomas added, making reference to remote cloud services. “There’s the realization out there that they’re going to have to use these types of tools more and more.”

The government is getting better and better at their art as computer users move away from old-style computers (to tablets, smart phones and the like). Users are also getting more careful about disguising their locations and identities.

Most Americans are conflicted about the possibilities for abuse that are inherent in their government having such power, much less the willingness to use it against citizens. “Fine, but just use it against criminals,” someone might say. But Americans are presumed innocent until proven guilty. We are already seeing Christian behavior criminalized in many parts of our country. Witness the Oregon baker that refused to make a cake for a homosexual wedding. In our society, he’s now a criminal. Not just any criminal, but a Hate Criminal.

Two scriptures suffice as warning to the unwary Christian:

And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.  (Luke 16:8)

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.   (Matthew 10:16)

These words, from the lips of the Lord Jesus Himself, exhort us to be careful in the presence of our enemy. Like a roaring lion, Satan roams about, seeking whom he may devour.

[ Note: Read the Washington Post article ]