The Spectator
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 by Manuel Batlle
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From Karoshi to A.I.?

Prior to the election on a visit to the Bay Area, I went to a famous wholesale grocery store with my brother Frank.  The level of “Shopping Cart Rage” took me back.  As I looked at the face of all the shoppers, their countenance was aggressively decorated and etched with impatience, misery, dread, physical fatigue and a touch malnourishment. Talk about a paradox when we were surrounded by labels of “Organic” this and that and a plethora of yoga mats with all the colors of the rainbow to choose from. 

Where had I seen this disgruntle facade before? Oh yes, I was in Afghanistan on a high-tempo military base, where the objective of all was the war on terror.  But these were not military men or women nor militia.  In Afghanistan we worked long hours around the clock 7 days a week. Since I was single at the time, I could feel and see how emotions and fatigue would etch the faces of my fellow brothers that missed their family, kids and friends. Is there a war going on that I am unaware that is now etching the faces and lives of my fellow citizens or are they just trying to survive?

In the near future I am sure a self driving car (grocery car) will eventually be up and running to deliver our groceries right after we order them on our smartphone. We will probably rent or purchase a specially designed container where our goodies will be delivered to our doorstep. But my true question is what are we chasing after?  Besides the obvious long distance between point A and point B, and the long work hours or multiple jobs, what is truly happening?

The velocity at which different populations are moving in their daily activities no matter the economic status seems to be quick and linear as it ascends and gets faster each year.  Even the newscasters or TV presenters talk so fast that I wonder if our speech is evolving into just a hum.  I am not trying to promote complacency or to become sluggards. My brother Arturo shed some light on an important factor telling me that the “Gold Rush” mentality has never left the area.  But I wonder if for the benefit of technology, the cultural melting pot of the Silicon Valley is smelting off our humanity.

After reading an article on “Karoshi” I had flash backs remembering the people I saw that afternoon in the store.  Karoshi is sudden death due to overwork, a term coined in the 1970’s in Japan after a 29-year-old male worker in the shipping department of Japan’s largest newspaper company had a stroke (Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine http://journals.lww.com/joem/Citation/2016/08000/Recognition,_Compensation,_and_Prevention_of.27.aspx ). 

The Japanese define long hours as more than 51 hours per week.  In 2014 the Japanese government further defined Karoshi as:

  Death from cardiovascular or ischemic heart disease due to excessive workload

   Suicide caused by a mental disorder due to severe stress at work

   Cerebrovascular or ischemic heart disease due to excessive workload or mental disorder due to severe stress at work (the latter not necessarily leading to a fatality).

In Japan there is a compensation for the person or family victim of Karoshi. This has definitely become not only an occupational problem but also a public health problem.  When it comes to prevention, the occupational health community is faced with challenges like the fact that there is a cultural acceptance believing excessive working is “a normal aspect of working life.” I wonder if this has not also become ingrained into our society? Today when I ask a friend how they are doing, I get the common response, “Staying busy,” as if keeping busy is synonymous to staying well balanced (emotionally) and physically healthy.  Again, I am not advocating for any specific lifestyle as being utopian.  I just wish to share researched facts for all to ponder and go back to the question, what are we all chasing after? 

A recent interview on Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) shed some light onto one possible factor that tells us what the rush is.  The interview is found on “YouTube” as part of “Wired magazine (https://www.wired.com/2016/10/president-obama-mit-joi-ito-interview/).”  Our daily activities which have become so technologically active (social media) and GPS has helped to track movement trends and patterns that seem to be generating the data necessary to eventually quicken and bring to life Watson’s (the name of the A.I. model currently used by IBM) Omniscient son. So what shall we call this computer almost god?  Will it be called Apollo, Shiva, Confucius, Al-'Aleem or Cain?

President Obama described the rise of the A.I. as “It is seeping into our lives we just don’t notice it.”  His argument to rush on, is that “It promises to create a vastly more productive and efficient economy and if properly harnessed can generate prosperity for people, opportunity for people, can cure diseases that we haven't seen before” says President Obama. These are noble statements and almost give the viewer of the interview a sense that Watson’s son will have a tinge of altruism. 

Currently the face for A.I. is MIT media lab director Joi Ito.  He says that currently the ones generating the codes and structure for A.I. are “predominantly male gang of kids mostly white who were more comfortable talking to computers than human beings, that have been building the core computer science around A.I.”  Their desire is to include many if not all cultures, religious groups and factions to help mold the algorithm that will include their voice.

I just wonder since man knowingly decides to do harmful actions, is there more to this A.I. that will guide humanity to the way, the truth, and the life. At least its algorithm seems to be built in the image of man. There is a saying that states, “For something to live another must die.”  Will Karoshi be the sacrifice necessary for A.I. to come to life? I just hope that just like the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, that Karoshi might also keep its harsh side effects away from the hard working class of the Bay Area and other parts of the world.  I hope the fallacy that “continual busyness of works will bring us rest” does not keep us in prison now. 

I am a very optimistic man but can’t help but wonder if this marathon for the sake Technological singularity (the hypothesis that the invention of A.I. or super intelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization), will just not be a more complex and abstract repetition of man’s unsatisfied soul?

I am sure millions of unanswered questions surface about what the future will look like. In my area of study it is thought that a diagnosing computer will replace eventually even many specialties of medicine. President Obama said, “We have invested heavily in think about precision medicine or individualized medicine thinking about how the accommodation of the human genome and computer data and a large enough sample size can potentially arrive to at a whole holster of cures, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Cancer.”  Obviously these statements may strike the heart stings of many that may have a similar disease, lost a family member or a loved one due to any of these. 

On the other side Joi mentioned that, “I don’t know if you heard the neurodiversity movement but this is uh. If we solved autism and Temple Grandin talks about this a lot. She says that Mozart, Einstein and Tesla, would be considered autistic if they are here today.  I don’t know if that is true but on this spectrum. But if we were able to eliminate autism and make everyone neuro-normal. I bet a whole swath of MIT kids would not be the way they are.  You probably would not want Einstein as your kids. Some of the brilliant kids are kind of on the spectrum.”  In other words, they foresee having boutique kids where you choose “the everything” so to speak to create a so-called perfect child.

As I look around my fellow citizens it seems that the abundance of possession or more efficient ways of life are not permitting any laboring man to be satisfied, have a sweet sleep or rest. Time will just have to tell what new age will come with A.I. and its Technological Singularity.  Its appearance will definitely remold the professions of all, bring options in health and its care never heard of before. I naively assume that the power and responsibility of the course of the world will rest on the few that comprehend this omniscient computer or even own stocks in it.  I will just humbly echo what a wise man once said, “…if any man think that he knoweth any ting, he knwoeth nothing yet as he ought to know.”