My Interest In AI

Day 35 of the #100DaysToOffload Series:

Anybody who follows this blog know what I write about #Mycroft and #AI quite a bit. It’s something I have a lot of interest in, and I thought it might be a good idea to explain why as best I can.

In yesterday’s post about Mycroft’s newest core release, I said, “I can't wait to spend more time with this release.” Neil Darlow jokingly replied, “You can't wait to spend more time with an AI. I know the real world is pretty screwed-up at the moment but... this? 🤣. I know Neil was joking, but there are some very real reasons I’m interested in AI.

This post is going to get a little bit more personal than usual, so if you’re not up for that, now would be a good time to close this tab.

OK, you have been warned.

A couple years ago I was doing some research on my lineage. One of the things I did was the 23andMe DNA test. There are definitely some privacy concerns when it comes to those kinds of tests, and I was well aware of them, but to me the tradeoffs were worth it.

The thing about 23andMe is it doesn’t just connect you with genetic relatives. It also tests for commonly known genetic diseases and conditions as well as telling you about your genetic tendencies, like how long your fingers are and your eye color. This came up with some unexpected results.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss among older adults. The disease results in damage to the central part of the retina (the macula), impairing vision needed for reading, driving, or even recognizing faces. This test includes the two most common variants associated with an increased risk of developing the condition.

So, I have an increased risk of developing Age-related Macular Degeneration. Growing up, I watched my dad struggle with this exact condition, to the point he was almost completely blind in his later years.

Of course just because I have these genetic variants, it doesn’t mean I’m going to actually develop AMD, it just means my chances are better than average.

My dad developed AMD gradually over the course of years. He was already retired by the time it came about, so he didn’t have to worry about it affecting his work. He also did carpentry work, and because the condition is gradual, he learned to do much of his craft by feel rather than by seeing.

My situation is a little different.

If I do end up developing the condition, I can’t do my work by feel. Command lines aren’t great for tactile feedback. I get my news from the computer. I get my entertainment from the computer. I read books on my computer. How am I going to use a computer if I can’t see?

I realize that there are accessibility features in pretty much every OS that’s been developed but they almost always seem to be an after thought and from what I’ve seen they just don’t work very well. I want a way to be able to keep doing as much of what I’m already doing as I can, even if I can’t see.

Yes, I realize that it’s taken me a while to get here.

AI and personal assistants seem like a great way to deal with this kind of situation. I want someone to be there for me that I won’t annoy with constant questions. My wife and kids shouldn’t be expected to read me the news or tell me if I left the lights on upstairs, or any other thing any time I ask. They have their own lives, and I still want to be as self sufficient as I can.

I want an AI that can tell me the weather, or remind me of my kids’ birthdays, or know I’m almost out of milk and order some more from the grocery store. I want an AI that knows me and knows my needs. I also want an AI that respects my privacy. I want an AI that keeps working even if the Internet goes down, or even the power. If I have to have a server in my house to run it, that’s fine. I can arrange for that.

There’s a lot of work to be done in the field of AI before it comes close to the AI I want to have. Right now, Google, Amazon, and various others are working on AIs, but respecting my privacy is counter to their bottom line. If the Internet or the power goes out, they stop working.

Right now, it’s not a big deal. I can live without Google or Alexa or Mycroft telling me if the lights are on or off. I hope in thirty years it’s still not a big deal. I just want to be as prepared as I can if that’s not the case.