Today is World Kindness Day and that serves as a wonderful starting point for a discussion of where kindness is heading to, and why we’re heading towards a World of Karma: a world filled with infinite kindness – and almost none at all.
In order to understand the future of kindness, we must first take a look at two parallel trends occurring nowadays, and analyze their impact in relation to each other. These trends are the growing Omni-connectivity, and Cognitive Computing. Let’s go quickly over each, and see how they culminate together in a world of infinite kindness.
Omni-connectivity is my definition for a world in which everyone is connected, and everything is known. This world will be brought about by the growing Internet of Things, which connects between every-‘thing’. Every item, every object. From the floor under your feet that counts how many people have walker over it today, to the cement brick in the nearby bridge that senses when the structure is about to fail. Your mirror is also connected to the internet, as is your toothbrush and your comb. And yes, your clothes are all sending data about what’s happening to you every minute and every second of the day.
The Internet of Things is becoming a reality because of the incredible leaps forward in technology. The cost of sensors has gone down by 40% over the last ten years, while the costs of bandwidth and processing have gone down by 4,000% and 6,000% respectively over the same period of time. By the year 2020 – just five years ahead – there are expected to be 28 billion ‘things’ connected to the internet, and the number is only expected to grow larger after that.
In the Internet of Things era, everything that happens in the physical world is recorded, uploaded to the cloud as data and analyzed by computers. Very few people, if any, can remain invisible or under the shroud of anonymity. Everything you do is analyzed, quantified and catalogued in vast databases.
The other piece of the puzzle is the growing capability of cognitive computing. Today, we are beginning to teach computers by training them: we’re showing them images of many cats so that they can gain an understanding for what a cat is, for example. Many of these computers are based on the workings of the human brain, making use of artificial neural networks, so it should come as no surprise that they can be taught basic concepts, imageries and even to play games just by seeing human beings playing them.
Computers are already better than human beings at image recognition, and it won’t take them long (probably less than two decades) to be just as proficient as human beings are at analyzing video clips as well. The computers of the near future won’t simply look for cats in videos, but instead they will focus on human emotions: are the people in the video clip happy? Are they sad, or just frustrated?
And this will just be the beginning.
Recall that in the omni-connected world, we are all monitored all the time by wearable computers that are listening to our heart beats, recording our temperature and voices, measuring our activity and the food that we eat, and everything in between. All of this data is uploaded to the cognitive computers who can determine what’s going on with our lives at any distinct moment. They can know where we are, what we do, and even how we feel about it: whether we are sad, sexually aroused, or anything in-between.
The World of Karma
We already have apps today that try to quantify kindness and good deeds, and pay you back for them. The only problem is that they’re extremely reliant on the jurisdiction of human beings, and that most people feel very uncomfortable asking for someone else to rate that kind deed they did. Or they can just lie and report from their bed that they just saved the world three times over. These challenges are difficult to overcome without some kind of a ‘god’ overlooking us all and quantifying our actions.
Now let’s call this ‘god’ an omni-computer, in an omni-connected world.
In an omni-connected world which is constantly analyzed by computers, the doings of every individual are recorded and compared to the direct impact they have on other the lives of everyone else. If I stop to help someone whose car is stuck at the side of the road, the omni-computer up above knows I performed a good deed because of the beneficial effect it had on the physiology of that poor guy I helped. And when I insult someone on the street, it similarly knows I just acted negatively. Now we only have to program the algorithms that will make the omni-computer repay my kindness.
In the world of the future, then, whenever I stop to give a helping hand to a stranger, I can know for certain that my deed is recorded, and that I will receive some kind of help in the near future in return. I may walk in the market place, feel hot and sweaty, and immediately get handed a cool beverage by a passerby. Or maybe, if I gather enough ‘kindness coins’, I can even receive larger gifts and more substantial aid from strangers. I call it The World of Karma, for obvious reasons.
While I realize such a future world sounds quite weird to us, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or even improbable. It’s just weird – which makes it a suitable contender as one of the futures that may become real, since a future that looks just like the present is almost certainly a comforting lie that we tell ourselves.
I would like to leave you with one last thought. In the World of Karma, people’s kindness can be an enormous force for good, since everyone knows that every act of kindness is recorded, counted and will aid them in return at some point in the future. And yet, is this true kindness? Altruistic kindness, after all, is based on the idea that people help each other without expecting a return. Can such altruistic kindness exist in a world where every deed has a value, and “no good deed goes unpaid”?
And if so, is that such a bad thing?