Valuing adaptivity | Ott Observations


For the first time in a long time, our newly seated Congress has less than 50 percent of its members coming from the “Baby Boom” generation. Despite being a Boomer, I think this is a good thing.

The reason is that our world is changing at a breath-taking pace, presenting challenges that didn’t exist a mere 10 years ago. 

A few years ago, I heard a talk from Peter Diamandis, an engineer, physician and entrepreneur of cutting edge new technologies. He explained that technology is advancing at an exponential growth rate, meaning in one year we know 10 times more, the next year it’s 100 times more. 

He talked about the exciting potential for good results from this but also that there were no constraints on the potential negative effects. He acknowledged this might scare some of us, especially older people. For me, he was right.

Medical technology was one of his examples of exponentially advancing technology. 

We have broken the genetic code and have the power to re-engineer people to prevent life threatening diseases. We can clone animals and make test tube babies. We can make meat in a lab. We’re actually unlocking the keys to aging.

We harvest and transplant organs. We have equipment to keep a body alive even if the brain is dead. For many of our infirm elders, the brain is alive but the body has died.

This presents unprecedented challenges to our governmental and religious leaders. 

Where should there be laws or what laws should be changed? Religions that have dietary beliefs have to apply their guidelines to lab meat.

A medical living will allows someone to pull the plug on the brain-dead. The body-dead aren’t allowed to make a decision for themselves to end their life. 

We have laws to protect the unborn. We have laws to execute people for their crimes. 

I don’t know the answers, but I’m sure I’m not the right source because my Boomer life experience comes from a much simpler time.

The information world is another example. 

We have a First Amendment and try to protect free speech. We also have legal precedents that all speech is not free – particularly speech that slanders someone or whose sole purpose is malicious. This legal framework has always been inadequate to fully protect speech and/or prosecute malicious speech. But the stakes are now much higher.

Artificial intelligence is the ability of computers to gather a tremendous amount of information and to actually “learn” … free of any additional programming. 

Combined with social media, we have rapidly devolved into a world where many of us aren’t sure what is or isn’t true. 

The generations younger than Boomers get information from their social media, not traditional journalism sources like newspapers or TV news, which have to meet standards of information verification or can be held liable for false information.

Difficult questions exist to protect truthful free speech and prosecute malicious speech. Increasingly, other people are sending you lies. 

AI is based on your past interests. The computers just want to keep you online, they have no morality to inhibit them from sending you lies or to be concerned about the damages such lies may affect. 

Can someone lie about an election in our democracy, without consequences? What responsibility do the social media frameworks have for their users’ content? How do we hold AI accountable for criminal action?

Government in our county is also challenged by this pace of change. 

Our sheriff first ran for office based on a base of experience with traditional crime and a focus on a widespread drug problem. Now we are faced with a new peril: what I will call the “American Jihadist.” 

These are the mentally ill, isolated and/or bullied in a virtual reality social media world, who in their despair decide to be noticed just once by a mass killing.

Our state just passed a law restricting semi-automatic weapons. Our sheriff doesn’t want to enforce the law because he believes he should defend the Second Amendment. 

In our country, the judicial system decides if a law is unconstitutional, not law enforcement. In fact, legal challenges have already started.

Meanwhile, our state has legalized marijuana, which limits our scope of drug enforcement to more lethal and still illegal drugs. Local law enforcement is now challenged to adapt. It’s a different world than just a few years ago.

We can limit access to mass-killing weapons without ending our Second Amendment rights. And we can vigorously implement red-flag laws to temporarily take away weapon access at the first sign of mental illness.

Such laws will not eliminate mass killings, but they will reduce the number and severity.

I am just back from a religious retreat. To help us introduce ourselves, we are asked simple questions when we address the group. 

One such question was, “if you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?” My answer was Abraham Lincoln but I now think it should have been James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.

Why? Because they created our Constitution, and they wrote most of the Federalist Papers arguing why the states should accept the Constitution. 

I would love to hear their thoughts today about the issues technology is presenting us and how the government they envisioned should respond. 

I believe they intended to allow for adaptability.

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