SKINNERS: On age, androids and avatars |

SKINNERS: On age, androids and avatars

Joe & Linda Skinner
Free Press Opinion Columnists
Joe Skinner
Staff Photo |

HE SAID: I talked with a teen the other day and explained to him that the difference between youth and age is that the young talk about all the things they are going to do in the future and the older folks, like us, talk about all the things we can no longer do.

I’m not sure he really understood because he had never listened to bunch of baby boomers talk about their knees, shoulders or blood pressure. Those concerns make it hard to get excited about the Russian who thinks that by 2045 we will have created avatars consisting of our own brains merged with machines. Dmitry Itskov, who made his fortune as an online media magnate, has poured millions into research towards this goal.

While it would be nice to replace my aching knees, hips and shoulders with an unfeeling machine, I doubt such a merger will ever happen based on my relationship with a smartphone. Certainly, I am only using about 10% of the capabilities of the thing, and that already is too much for me. Half the time I can’t even answer the thing properly because there is some new upgraded version of the system and the buttons to push have all been moved around. Maybe I need re-training, but I have never seen classes listed for remedial Smartphone 101.

SHE SAID: I have had the same experience. Just when I start to feel fluent in word, image or audio processing, along comes an upgrade that changes how things are done. Of course, there is never a notice or tutorial of what was changed or what steps to now follow to accomplish certain tasks. Then, there is the mystery of disappearing programs. I’ve used Mozilla Firefox as an internet browser for years and now I cannot get it to run anymore. I suspect Google has somehow taken over the site so I have to use it instead. I wonder how an avatar would deal with a conspiracy theory or contradictory instructions.

Would potential avatars have to take a placement test like college freshmen to see if remedial upgrades are needed? Scientists say we only use 10% of our brain’s capacity at a given time so I wonder if the melding of the brain with a machine would up the volume. My brain already wanders in so many directions. How could a machine deal with each thought logically? What creative thinking might be lost in the process? If the robot only performs non-thinking apps, how would it deal with a mind that is forgetful or suicidal? One wonders if the scientists would allow a non-mechanically-inclined mind like mine would be a fit candidate for an avatar. How would it know when to replace worn parts?

HE SAID: When I was an adolescent my father said to me that he didn’t understand the world anymore. The latest Economist magazine has a technology section I barely comprehend: I no longer have enough vocabulary. I may become a semi-avatar because I anticipate knee, shoulder and hip replacements. When would I stop being human? The amazing thing is that in the 1960s we talked about whether computers could think and now we are pondering whether to become thinking computers. All of this makes my phone look simple.

SHE SAID: Maybe your phone is the first assessment from the androids of which humans might be “fit” to be avatars or not. Those of us who do not think in binary code will be the first to go. I am sure our philosophical musings are deadly to a thinking machine. It would have to spend so much time analyzing our crazy thoughts it would become inactive and shut down — like a website you have browsed too long. We’re doomed if the androidal minds cull candidates based on how many replacement parts we need. But, maybe, the avatar bodies would finally equalize the health care system where the price would be the same for any replacement part. HA, that thought is enough to elate even a CPU!

HE SAID: Wow! If we could program the avatars to eliminate the greed in the current health care system, we would all be free at last.

The Skinners hope no matter the app that we remain thinking, sensitive, caring individuals. They can be reached at

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