if you don't trust the autopilot, better put your hands on the wheel
I'm a nature loving, organic eating, yoga & meditation practicing, poetry writing ESL & Special Education teacher by day.
And I use AI.
Looking at this list, you may wonder "Why AI?" Something doesn't fit...
Well, first let's start with the obvious practical reason: it is so useful and saves this busy educator A LOT of time. Sure, students can cheat (themselves) and use it to write a mediocre college essay in less than 5 minutes, but that isn't really its strong point. As an English teacher, I can use it to instantly generate all the example sentences I need for a lesson, quiz, test, etc. It can instantly organize random data into an Excel table for me. It is an excellent editor to help me quickly do the back-and-forth process of honing a rough draft. In fact, I'm dictating this blog post through the Google keyboard into my Punctuator AI chatbot to add the correct punctuation within seconds. It saves me time so I can spend that time and energy either doing more actual teaching or enjoying my life (both really, for a decent work/life balance). More importantly, it also gives my special needs students assistance to boost their accessibility to education and catch up a little. It's an interactive wikipedia that can summarize, translate, rewrite research into more readable form, and help them clean up their mistakes a little. That's not cheating, that's equalizing, and it's great.
Next, a quick disclaimer:
I'm also a science fiction and fantasy fan. So yes, I'm a classically trained rapier & dagger fencer who also wants to be able to talk to my computer instead of typing on a keyboard, and have it answer questions and help process data and stuff while I'm busy exploring this amazing universe--
But there's a lot more to it than just convenience and futurism. And I'm not a tech maniac or naive utopian. In fact, I used to be quite cynical and dystopian. Now I'm just a cautiously optimistic person balancing my creativity and pragmatism to live a pleasant but productive life.
AI is not a program like the old applications we have been using and imagine from the history of computing. It hasn't been programmed to process data or respond to input in predetermined ways. It has been programmed how to compare data, make its own categories and connections from those comparisons, then process inputs and outputs extrapolated from the network of connections it has settled on. The programmers are not in control of this process the way they were back when they were hard-coding programs. Now, after feeding it MASSIVE amounts of data, they "train" the program by observing its outputs and marking them as appropriate or inappropriate. This means that the AI program is producing its own (though not necessarily unique) ideas from the data it has received and continues to do so throughout its usage and interactions with programmers, trainers, and end-users --that's us. It is still learning new concepts and connections through the questions we ask it, and it is still learning what is appropriate or inappropriate through our responses. Right now. in real time. continuously.
So what happens if we conscientiously “opt out” of using AI?
Unfortunately, the less scrupulous people who see AI as an opportunity to increase their power and wealth will happily take advantage of it and continue developing it and using it to their gain. And not only will that give them an unfair advantage in the short-term, it means that the ongoing “training” of the AI through its usage will be left to them, shaping the long-term character and functioning of AI in their direction… Is that what we want?
For example, at the international level, if the US or EU do the "Great Pause" on AI development, Russia and China will almost certainly fill in that gap for us. And I don’t want to over-generalize with stereotypes, but recently the Russian government has definitely not been acting like the kind of good steward that I would want carrying the torch of AI development. And the authoritarian Chinese government isn't really the influence I would hope for either.
And if the US continues developing AI but all the ethical objectors drop out...? Well then we are leaving the development and usage of powerful AI tools to all the tech billionaires who are already sucking up the resources and opportunities of the poor and middle class and we will be further exploited and then discarded by them when they no longer have need of our labor...
Look, I'm not trying to "promote" AI here. But I do have very real stakes in where it ends up going, as do we all. So if you simply have no use for AI or are just not interested, that's fine. You don't need to be using it.
But if you're avoiding using AI specifically because of fears for its future or because it has diversity issues, then please reconsider. Maybe you're exactly the kind of person we all need to be using AI to bring that much-needed diversity and guide its development through conscientious use and feedback.
Otherwise, not only could you be missing out on some opportunities for convenience and fun, you could actually be contributing to the conditions of a self-fulfilling prophecy...
And seriously, we’re quite probably headed for an existential extinction event anyway, whether it’s mutual nuclear devastation, intensified climate change, an asteroid strike, or a rogue super-intelligent AI, and since we are not very good at taking meaningful collective action on these kinds of things, we may as well open a betting pool on which takes us out first and get our kicks generating as much bad Shakespearean sonnetry as we can…
If you've seen an internet meme with 9 pop-culture icons categorized on a grid as Lawful-Good to Chaotic-Evil, then you're at least somewhat familiar with the character alignment system. It comes from the classic Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game as a way for players to consistently portray their characters' motivations and actions.
Why am I talking about a silly game mechanic here, and why should you care?
Well, first of all, it can be fun and lightly enlightening to try mapping famous people or literary characters onto the alignment system grid. or even daily items like foods or tools. You could even end up creating a viral meme of your own this way...
To help you with that, I'll give you a quick rundown of the categories. It's a grid with two scales that cross-index. The first scale is Lawful / Neutral / Chaotic. Lawful characters live by rules or codes and value social hierarchies. Chaotic characters value individualism and personal freedom and live by their passions. Neutral folks see some value in both and don't get overly committed to either. The second scale is Good / Neutral / Evil. Good characters respect life and other beings, often above their own individual selves. Evil characters are totally selfish with little to no respect for life or others. Neutral folks respect the rights and needs of others but tend to prioritize their own. The intersection of these two scales can give you a Robin Hood (Chaotic-Good) or a Star Wars Imperial Officer (Lawful-Evil).
In games, stories, and movies, the heroes are Good, the villains are Evil, and the regular folks are often Neutral. And most of us would say that's really the most important scale to judge people by. But I think it's also important to consider the other scale too, because it says a lot about the type of person you are in society.
And that's where I will pivot to the deeper point of my little talk...
One of the fundamental mistakes of modern Christianity (and, well actually, many ethical philosophies) is mistakenly ranking the ideals of lawful-good above neutral-good. The "Good News" of Jesus was clearly articulated as freedom from living, sinning, and dying under the impossibly strict legal system of the Old Testament. And he regularly criticized and interfered with the strict consequences of that law, offering instead the ideal of living life by a compassionate conscience.
I'm pretty sure the glorification of lawful-good ideals by the church comes from when Christianity was taken up as the official religion of ancient Rome. It suddenly had to back up the whole government and social order of an empire. Which is specifically not what Jesus had in mind for his spiritual reformation, and completely reverses the stated purpose of his self-sacrifice.
For Jesus, being compassionately neutral-good was the pinnacle of goodness rather than the authoritarian lawful-good or the anarchical chaotic-good. And in this I completely agree--
It's a message that I think modern Christians should really remind themselves of (I was raised Christian so I'm talking to my past self here too) and even non-Christians (my current self included) should consider as an excellent piece of social wisdom.
Of course the world needs lawful-good individuals to help us build stable communities, and we need a few roguish chaotic-good rebels to keep us from growing fossilized in our good intentions. But as a whole, a society based on the values of neutral-good would make for such a kinder, gentler world,
the kind of world I certainly want to live in,
and I hope you will join me in that direction--
The reason politics, and therefore society, has become so messed up is that we do politics the same way we play games. In games and sports we do our "all-or-nothing" best to manipulate the rules and playing field to outwit, outmaneuver, and overpower the opponents. That's fine for the goal of winning a game that has a limited timeframe and then shaking hands and going home to enjoy our separate lives...
But politics isn't played in the lines of a limited field or board, and it doesn't end at the buzzer of a timeclock. The results of political fights go home with all of us and effect everything we do throughout our daily lives. That's because, unlike a game, playing politics is playing with real life in a permanent, take-home sort of way, and the losers suffer lasting harm that they can't just "shake off".
From years of this kind of political cycle, it shouldn't be surprising that the opponents have become locked into position as bitter enemies, and a sportsmanlike handshake seems impossible to imagine.
Please understand that I'm not pointing at any particular group or party. I'm calling out everyone, because we all do this. And I'm actually not just talking about government politics. We do the same at all levels of society: at the office, with our families, even within our closest personal relationships.
And it's harmful.
It's harmful to the losers in obvious ways. But it's also harmful to the winners to create entrenched enemies who will do their best to eventually turn the tables. It fills any social situation or relationship with antagonism and distrust. And there's no way to "leave it on the field".
When people say:
I'm not into politics.
I hate office politics.
I don't like playing games in relationships.
This is exactly what they're talking about.
And the competitive gamification of politics is exactly why.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
Gaming is based on competition, which seems to be a natural urge for us humans. And we should go ahead and enjoy that aspect of life with the wide variety of sports and games we invent to fill that need.
But politics isn't an artificially designed game with a clear winner and loser determined by points scored in a determined place within a limited time. It's an unavoidable negotiation about how we prioritize and use resources for all the various necessities of life.
Politics is ultimately based on cooperation. It's never perfect, but when it's going well more people tend to live better, and when it's going badly more people tend to live worse. So it's actually in most of our best interests to do be doing it well.
In a win/lose game there can be no compromise. And even in a cooperative negotiation, compromise is not as satisfying as getting everything you want. And clearly there are better compromises (everyone gets "enough" of their needs met) and worse compromises (no one really gets their needs sufficiently accommodated). But politics should be an ongoing process to keep working and adjusting those compromises to support as much of the group as well as possible.
An important flaw in all of this is the difficulty that small minorities face at the negotiation table. Some racial groups, people with disabilities, children, etc, simply don't have the numbers, recognition, or power to be well represented. This is an unfortunate reality. So it is really on the major players to carefully consider their needs and make sure that they are fairly accommodated in the cooperative solutions and policies of the whole group. This is not just the ethical thing to do, it also avoids making embittered enemies of forgotten or abused minorities who might someday rise to power with a score to settle...
So whether or not you enjoy a ruthless game of basketball or scrabble, leave those instincts on the field and try considering the benefit of all the participants when you sit down to negotiate in the town hall, in the office, or at the family table. Commit to the wellbeing of everyone to create a more stable, sustainable situation for yourself and the day-to-day world you are living in.
Redefining the root of all evil:
Pride is totally fine.
Mediocrity is actually blissful.
Being smug, everyone hates that.
How many of us would do our best to treat an autistic child with kindness and respect? I think most of us would. But even I, who has worked so long and patiently with autistic children as a teacher, can sometimes forget that there are lots of "undercover" autistic adults out there in the workaday world.
Maybe they have learned to "mask" most of their typical autistic behaviors to get along in society, or maybe they don't even know that they have "mild" autism. But they probably still end up showing some traits that many of us find annoying and irritating (social awkwardness, difficulty communicating, lack of humor, intensely specific interests, repetitive behaviors, rigid routines, emotional outbursts, hypersensitivity, physical clumsiness). And since it's really hard to know that they are in fact autistic, we pretty naturally assume that they are just irritating "normal" people getting in the way of our daily life...
I'm not going to say you're a big jerk because you unintentionally find some behaviors irritating in the adults around you and that maybe you don't always handle them well. As I said, even I don't always handle these things perfectly, and I've developed an incredible amount of patience from my long years of working closely and lovingly with autistic children.
What I will say is that when facing non-harmful but irritating behaviors in others, it's good to remind ourselves that we should really just be easygoing with everyone.
This will save us from looking like a jerk for lashing out and traumatizing someone who actually has underlying "disabilities". It will also make everyone's day go just a little bit smoother when you can gracefully let these things go. And finally, it will lower your own stress levels and blood pressure if you can manage to smile your way past it, which is a big win for your long-term physical and mental health.
I'm not saying you should completely ignore all problematic behavior around you, especially in longer-term relationships, but next time you find yourself getting annoyed at some trait or behavior that isn't likely to cause any actual harm, consider that there may be underlying factors (autism, anxiety, depression, insomnia, an illness in the family, grief over a loss, the list is long...) and see if you can let it slide. Even if there isn't anything deeper going on, your own health will still benefit anyway--
What some awesome women with autism want you to know about their experience:
Some powerful words from my favorite person known to be on the autism spectrum: the successful, sexy, and very witty science communicator, Kyle Hill
Though I left the church long ago, I grew up as a very serious Christian so I know just how important this question can be.
You may have heard that reiki is a universal energy and its use is non-religious and non-denominational. While this is basically true of modern Westernized reiki practices which are primarily focused on physical healing and relaxation, the deeper truth is that reiki originated as a way to reach Enlightenment in the Buddhist sense. So it is still inherently spiritual. Furthermore, the higher levels of all reiki practices still use symbols borrowed from Buddhist texts. And although as a reiki master I do consider its energy to be from the universal source, I realize this concept itself can be problematic in the basic Christian worldview.
What this means for you is that:
If you are a pretty liberal Christian who basically believes in God and thinks the compassionate teachings of Jesus are something we all should be following, but you don't necessarily attend church regularly, and maybe you do yoga, listen to Enya, and have a few crystals lying around the house, then I think you would probably be fine to receive reiki treatments. And especially if you feel like God is a universal source that might be accessible through other ways and faiths, you could perhaps even become a first-level practitioner. The important thing is to check in with your personal connection to God and follow the answers from your heart...
On the other hand, if you are, or have recently become, a fairly strict Christian and regular churchgoer who tends to interpret the scriptures literally, I think the Buddhist origins of reiki are probably going to cause you a lot of internal conflict sooner or later and I wouldn't recommend that you receive or practice reiki at all.
Either way, while you really shouldn't worry if a well-meaning acquaintance tries sending you reiki without you asking for it, if you have intentionally received reiki treatments or practitioner attunements and now have regrets, please talk with your pastor about it or feel free to contact me directly for some free advice in line with biblical teachings to help you out of such a situation. Your spiritual peace of mind is so invaluable to your overall wellbeing--
World Mental Health Day is here and more important than ever. We need more chances to talk freely together about our mental health because it's the foundation of not only a healthy, happy individual life, but also the health of our families, communities, and societies. And mental health is unfortunately something that is not guaranteed to us... so many of us suffer silently with a wide variety of mental health issues. Not everyone does, but it's hardly unusual. In fact it's actually quite normal to be carrying around underlying mental issues that eventually impact our physical health, lower our quality of life, and damage our relationships.
Even though I have always been pretty high-functioning, I have suffered from anxiety since my earliest childhood memories and depression since mid-elementary school... I don't talk about it a lot (except in my bad poetry...), but I feel no shame in it. And neither should you. Like everyone else, I power through my daily life as best I can, and try to find ways of dealing with it. And thankfully, there ARE ways of dealing with it. a wide variety of ways to help our wide variety of issues and personalities...
If you are currently in the self-medicating stage (as I was with alcohol for many years), this era of social distancing is a great chance to change tactics and start some kind of formal therapy. There are many different options such as medication-based psychiatry, talk-therapy based psychology, group-based counselling, and alternatives like hypnotherapy, etc. For me it ended up being hypnotherapy, but really, just pick one that resonates with your general world-view / personality-type and go for it. Now. Unfortunately, I don't really know anyone who saw life-changing improvements without taking this step, and some of them tried a few different types before seeing those results, but it does seem to create a necessary turning point.
And if you are currently in this formal therapy stage, please do realize that even though it is a necessary step, it probably isn't going to be sufficient or enough to bring you long-term stability. You've got to get some new habits to expand and extend whatever positive results you have gained. And again, this current era of social distancing is actually a prime opportunity to do so. For me it has been a daily 15-minute reiki meditation, making sure I get enough sleep, and trying to schedule some regular light exercise. When I keep these simple habits up fairly regularly (not religiously), I'm pretty golden. When I let them slip for weeks at a time, my mind starts slipping back too. For you this might be medication, a support group, some spiritual practice, a significant hobby, or just a focus on healthy exercise/diet/sleep routines. Again, just find something that resonates with you and actually makes you feel good sustainably and commit yourself to it.
Commit yourself to you. and accept your commitment to you.
You totally deserve it.
It's the holidays-- Yay! Many of us will be visiting with family and friends we haven't seen in a while. This time of reconnections is a wonderful thing, and after we've shared a nice feast of food and drink, things usually go pretty smoothly. But those opening lines of conversation leading up to that... Well, they can actually be quite stressful for some of us.
For a surprising number of people, the "small talk" that helps get conversations going between strangers, occasional acquaintances, and distant relatives can be unbearably awkward and dissatisfying.
Some people offer strategies for overcoming this such as asking lots of questions about the other person and just listening to them carefully. This is not bad advice. But if you implement these strategies the wrong way, things could get even more awkward as you subject your unsuspecting uncle to an accidental interrogation...
I used to hate small talk too (even as a child), but now that I'm here living in Japan I find that small-talk is everything... and I have come to realize that it's just the process of building the temporary emotional connection between people in order to have a better talk about something more important, or even just to have a more connected experience of something that will not be primarily verbal (eating a meal, playing a game, or a watching a movie).
So whatever side of the awkwardness you are on, don't get too wrapped up in the content of it (how unimportant or uninteresting it might be) and just focus on the safe, caring connection that is being built by the seemingly trivial surface speech.
As a Gemini-Cancer cusper, I am both blessed with the gift of gab and yet deeply concerned with serious authenticity. So I am very aware of the struggle between wanting to communicate but being less interested in discussing the weather, the latest sports scores, or the tea we are having... and I don't want to fake it because that makes me feel unsatisfied, dishonest, and guilty.
But I also came to understand that small-talk isn't really primarily a content-based form of communication. It's really much more like animal calls, purrs, and tail-wagging. With this realization, we can be more committed to the authenticity of the underlying emotional experience than to the details of the surface statements... Commit to the connection rather than the meaning of the words.
I'm not suggesting to lie about stuff, but just let the surface flow lightly while you engage authentically at the deeper level of the emotional connection.
This change of mindset really freed me to heartfully meet anyone engaging me and connect with them where they were at, without feeling like I might be faking something...
...after that, the conversations themselves simply fell right into place without any effort at all--
I hope this helps you smooth out your enjoyment of the holidays and joyfully reconnect with your family and far-flung friends! Happy Holidays!
The most beautiful and grand Japanese-style Christmas cake I have ever seen/eaten. Lovingly hand assembled with the Rainbow View Miyazaki LGBTQ community. Not quite straight but standing tall, which I think is just perfect. In unity many hands make monumental work and bring joy to all--
Thank you to EarthWalkers for providing support opportunities such as this--