How old is your phone? How expensive? How customized?

Do you have special powers that other people don’t?

My best friend from forever just got a new phone, and now he has powers that I don’t. You know how frustrating that is?

Don’t get me wrong, my phone is pretty cool. I only got it last year, and even though it’s a little beat up it’s still the most futuristic thing I own. But my somehow my friend got a free upgrade to a newer model with the 64-bit operating system, and now I’m aware of the things I can’t do. I’m jealous. But I’m also worried.

For example: Goggle Lens is a computer-vision search tool. It uses Goggle’s giant databases and image-processing power to get information directly from the real world. You point the camera at an object, and you get search results.

Comparison shop for that dress you found, right in the store, without even looking at the tag.

Cute dog but you don’t know the breed? Don’t bother describing its traits to a text box. Just point, click, answers.

Want to quote from a physical book? Aim the camera, then swipe the image to select the text. Yes: copy-pasting from the real world to the digital. That is superhuman.

There’s another app by the same company that can measure real-world objects to a precision of one inch. Just by looking at them. I’ve been building and farming for ten years, and I still can’t eyeball any measurement that precise. If I want to measure a 60-foot planting row, I either have peg the tape measure and walk the full distance there and back, or Tom Sawyer some friend into holding the other end. With AI tools, I could achieve the true desire of all grouchy farmers, which is to be left alone to watch the grass grow.

a 35' telephone pole measured to an accuracy of 8"

But I can’t have these apps. I still have a 32-bit OS. I’m going to have to wipe the entire phone, void my warranty, and install a third-party rip of the upgraded OS, if I want access to the powers that my friend has.

Even if I do all that, I still have to sign over my camera and microphone data to Goggle, so their machines can learn more about how to control my “consumer behavior”. There’s no open-source alternative: Goggle owns the datasets, so they have the power. With enough money, you can get the same hardware they have. But you can’t buy their data.

So I literally have to sign a pact with this non-corporeal being, selling it a part of my life for the power of instant information. In days past, we would call this dark magic.

More neutrally, CV search is a superprosthesis . It’s a cyborg upgrade. In the 21C ocean of data, offloading the cognitive burden of recognizing objects makes you a more effective worker, a more discerning consumer, a more intelligent observer. This tool makes you more than human. It creates new schisms, across nations and cultures, between the haves and have-nots. It has an inherent power dynamic.

You have to sign a deal with the devil to get this particular superprosthesis, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We could collectivize our data, build a global commons of labeled images and information, create a commie computer . We could own the self-driving cars, not just rent them. We could gather environmental data and healing the climate.

But to make any change, we have to take up the tools available. Choose your battles: is this new power important enough to risk the side effects? Does it bring you closer to a life of ease and grace, or does it drag you into a dopamine death spiral? What happens if your enemies have this power, and you don’t?

I’m off to upgrade my exocortex. See you in the future.

Thanks for reading,

– Max


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