Dr Tania Peitzker is a writer of Emerging Tech fiction and works on AI applied to Immersive Technologies. She spends half the year in her country of birth, Australia, and the rest of her time in the European Union and California. Peitzker calls herself a Web 4.0 Knowledge Worker and Digital Nomad 3.0 as she lives in hope of Quantum Computing and the wider spread use of Green Tech, especially “eco super chips” – of the cloud not the potato kind. Combating climate change and social inequality is her driving force, apart from being with family, friends and regatta yachties who she sails with on various waters.
How AI Bots are Influencing our Minds
OK so this is a thought piece about mind control. No, I’m just kidding. Your mind is not being controlled by anyone – directly. It’s more of an ongoing situation of influencing you indirectly. Thus the 21st phenomenon that is not going away anytime soon: the Virtual Influencer (on the web, on your phone, in your mind).
In the courses I teach remotely at the University of Silicon Valley and elsewhere – in and out of various metaverses in a hybrid but synchronous way – we do several classes on interactive influencers, both human and in avatar form. Yes, there are actual virtual entities like the Japanese vocaloid Hatsune Miku who is the longest lived and has the widest fan base for her live concerts “in virtual person” with her AI-created songs and voice. As well as the humdrum humankind who have lifelike or cartoonish avatars and become Social Media Influencers.
The third kind that just got turbo charged with the global release of Generative AI (Gen AI) interfaces and their Large Language Models (LLMs) – which have been in development for over 30 years – are the virtual influencers who are controlled characters online running as Conversational AI with NLP [Natural Language Processing]. So not international digitised celebrities with their fortune amassing merchandise like Hatsune and the ABBAtars currently “performing” in London, but your run of the mill, Replika type chatbots who hang out on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and similar places.
What are they doing there? Well, as I said at the start of this thought piece, they are programmed to influence your mind about matters that may seem trivial e.g., what to wear, how to wear it, when to wear it and for whom. But make no mistake: Gen AI powered avatars are getting more persuasive than ever before and they are exercising these powers to make money, loads of it, for their ad-motivated and sales-oriented owners i.e., big brands, corporate services, and third-party advertising agencies.
Social Media Manipulation Transferrable to Immersive Tech?
I only have 1200 words to explain my observations – if you would like to take a Deep Dive then enrol in my USV courses if you are video game enthusiast, digital art creator, animator, game engineer or SW developer. If you can’t get to Silicon Valley, then I have a globally available, one hour course on Springer Nature’s iversity MOOC platform in Berlin (in English though a German iteration is on its way). Or, if you like reading ebooks, the draft textbook for my theses is available as Kindle chapters on Amazon books. Below you will find an infographic about from the chapter on sustainability and the unforgivably damaging carbon impact of these Emerging Technologies.
The Rote Faden [common thread] of my forthcoming book on Immersive Tech like proto-metaverses, XR [Extended Reality] and Conversational AI, is that we need to be mindful of what immersing ourselves in digital communications and attaching ourselves to devices means for our minds. Are we becoming detached from other human beings? Is it worsening the loneliness and isolation epidemic which scientists and medical researchers have proven is detrimental to our health? In fact, the science and studies prove that social isolation is a substantial cause of terminal illnesses like dementia, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. When we are cut off from our natural instincts to socialise with our own kind face to face, then it weakens our immune system. That’s the fatal causal link of digital “overuse” and disease.
The Environmental Impact of Everything, Well Actually its Mainly your Smartphone
I have explained at length in my Kindle etextbook series how tech like the blockchain and badly built metaverses can sap huge amounts of energy from the power grid. Indeed, creating NFTs or “mining” cryptocurrencies then crucially storing them on a distributed ledger amounts to vast amounts of wasted electricity. This is not a controversial statement: the cryptocurrency industry itself has recently signed a “pact” or promise as an alliance to reach carbon neutral or zero footprint targets within a decade or so.
That is noble but as most of us environmentalists know, and that is now the majority of populations everywhere, climate change is happening around us already. The damage has been done and is getting a whole lot worse. So, the fact that the scientists and researchers by their own admission have not yet done enough reports and quantitative analysis of the environmental impact of Artificial Intelligence in all its forms, hardware and software, is cause for concern.
As my infographic below charts from some early research in Canada to the present day, post pandemic, or nearly post, we are in deep trouble for our human and planetary health if we don’t put carbon footprint limits and accountability of tech at the top of the global agenda.
Tania Peitzker’s Infographic on the Carbon Impact of Phones & Our Daily Internet Usage
A Yogic Solution: Digital Mindfulness & Voice-Based Human Machine Interaction
I began practising yoga in primary school; it’s even more astonishing when you know that it was at an Australian remote, rural, Catholic institution run by nuns! Nobody can accuse me of getting on any trendy lifestyle bandwagon at least. Cultural appropriation aside, we all as Citizens of the World – from Jodhpur to Singapore, Kenya to California, Tokyo to Berlin and beyond – need to cultivate more awareness of how tech has come to dominate our lives. We need to be mindful of what it is doing to our minds in terms of communicating with others, especially children who need eye contact and our undistracted attention. Yes, that has also been medically and anthropologically proven!
A wholesale Digital Detox according to a very recent BBC article is no longer viable, even for billionaires on retreat. The new trend is Digital Mindfulness, a “grey detoxing” of our internet and phone usage that is not going Cold Turkey and causing withdrawal symptoms that might lose you your job. No, it is a yogic approach of balance and being aware of our surrounds. How we might interact with humans and newly intelligent entities like ChatGPT so that we all benefit communally.
Ignoring Hype Cycles and Be at Peace with Sustainable Trends in Emerging Tech
Doing stuff for the Greater Good is needed right now more than ever. This is not a political stance or an ideological assertion. It is a position of sustainable values though: my Catholic upbringing perhaps of “do unto others” as you’d like them to treat you. Begin by listening, not scrolling while discussing important and trivial subjects.
Just be there for your friends, family and colleagues – fully present in the moment. Oh, and don’t forget to breathe. There is of course any number of yoga bots inside mindfulness apps to help you with that though I strongly suggest you simply detox and detach. Go for yogic mindfulness on your own, sans device, sans web. Just you, your thoughts and your breath. Namaste!
- “Textbook on metaverses, interfaces, Extended Reality & Immersive Technologies”. Tania Peitzker, Kent: KDP, 2022.
- The Act of Living: What the Great Psychologists Can teach US About Surviving Discontent in an Age of Anxiety. Frank Tallis, London: Little, Brown, 2021.
- The BBC’s Sophia Epstein, 15 March 2023. “Is it possible to digital detox anymore? It’s harder than ever to step away from our devices, which are so entwined in our lives. Is it fruitless to even try?”