26 April 2014

A STROLL WITH JONATHAN STRICKLAND (For World Intellectual Property Day)

   "Knowledge is very vital in life's transformation and transition" ~ Jaachynna N.E Agu

It is called the age of artificial intelligence; the internet of things. The age where everything around us becomes so smart that we, who invented the smart technology, might begin to see ourselves as dumb. Considering so much being said about robots taking over earth, and humans being turned to slaves in the technological revolution, shouldn't this 'smart age' be something we should all fear and run away from?

Well, we can't even run too far because this 'age' is already here with us. The growth of knowledge in the past two centuries have ushered us into this era, and it has also brought a challenge. The need for stronger Intellectual property structures to contain this rapidly expanding knowledge base.

My guest, Mr Jonathan, is a 'techie' who fully understand this age because, he's video host of Fw:thinking and TechStuff, and senior writer for How Stuff Works. He has many videos online that explains new scientific advances and technological breakthroughs , and contrary to popular opinion, he doesn't think robots can take over earth anytime soon.

We talked about intellectual property structures, technology, his early life, movies, and lots more. Here's our conversation:

Ebenezar: Great to have you on the stroll Mr Strickland

Jonathan: Thanks for asking me along!

Ebenezar: So, you've had a flair for technology since your childhood, but you went on to study English Literature in the University?

Jonathan: That's correct. In high school, my two loves were biology and literature. By the time I got to college, I made the hard choice to concentrate on English Literature with a focus on medieval and Renaissance lit.

Ebenezar: Okay, you love writing too. Does that have anything to do with the environment you grew up in?

Jonathan: Absolutely! Both of my parents are published authors. My father, Brad Strickland, has written and published more than 60 books and 100 short stories. Mom and dad are also former teachers. Their love of reading and writing trickled down to me and my sister.

Ebenezar: In course of working for HowStuffWorks and Discovery Communications, you've seen and talked about many great inventions. What can you say about the growth of science and technology in this century?

Jonathan: We've got ourselves a paradox. On the one hand, we have amazing achievements like discovering the Higgs boson or possible evidence of cosmic inflation. We have gadgets like smartphones and autonomous cars are driving around San Francisco. On the other hand, we have examples of pseudoscience and misinformation impacting people in very real ways -- such as the anti-vaccine movement. We've made some great strides but there's still so much to do!

Ebenezar: What can we expect in the future? Will we see more robots taking over earth?

Jonathan: Robots will become more important over time. They'll take over a lot of the tasks that are difficult, repetitive and dangerous. But I think it will be a long time before we have to worry about sentient machines. The human brain is amazingly complex and we don't really understand the mechanics behind consciousness. It's possible we could create a synthetic consciousness without this fundamental understanding, but I expect it will be extremely difficult. I think the three things that will define the near future are big data, the Internet of Things and bandwidth limitations. We've got all these amazing applications and technologies that are creating an engineering challenge to make sure we can support them all through networks, particularly wireless ones.

Ebenezar: Isn't that something to be scared of? I know this is not a Sci-fi movie but wouldn't more robots mean less human activity?

Jonathan: Not necessarily; it could mean less drudgery. The ideal future in my mind is for robots to take over tasks we don't really want to do so that it frees us up to pursue other things. It's going to take a real leap to get to that future where a person can pursue his or her dreams unfettered by responsibility. I think that if it's possible for us to create a synthetic intelligence similar to what we have, we'll eventually do it. But that eventuality is a long way away.

Ebenezar: Talking about movies, the theme of World Intellectual Property Day this year is, 'Movies- A global passion' and the focus is on the legend of the moving pictures; Charlie Chaplin. What do you think about Charlie's work?

Jonathan: He was a genius, as was Buster Keaton. The ability to evoke an emotional response from your audience is a powerful one. Anyone who has performed in front of a crowd knows how exhilarating it is to sense the audience's emotions. It's part power trip, part collaborative storytelling. And Chaplin was a master at bringing pathos and joy to audiences.

Ebenezar: You also shoot video tutorials that are streamed by people around the world. Do you think more intellectual property structures need to be set up in the movie industry?

Jonathan: I think we need to examine IP carefully. I'm a content creator and I want to be able to protect my work. I'm proud of the work I create and it's my living. If my work isn't protected, ultimately I can't make my living from it. I'd still want to create content, but the real world requires that I also make money to support myself, which means I'd have to do something else and then create work whenever time and energy allow me to do so. I'm also a consumer, and I hate running into barriers when I wish to purchase content. Our challenge is to create systems that are fair to both creators and consumers.

Ebenezar: The Internet is a plethora of information. I mean, there's so much on the Internet that I think, if you convert it to a book, the size will be almost as large as planet earth. And it's still expanding. Now, do we need to promote intellectual property rights on the Internet as well? Perhaps to tackle plagiarism?

Jonathan: Back in 2010, Eric Schmidt (former CEO of Google) said that in 48 hours we add about five exabytes of data to the Internet. That means that in two days we add the equivalent of all human information from the dawn of civilization up to about 2003. With that much data joining our network of networks there's bound to be problems like plagiarism. I think sophisticated search algorithms can help detect instances of IP violations, but more importantly I think what we need to do is instill a sense in people that plagiarism and IP theft is always a bad choice, not because you'll get caught but because it's unfair to the people who make the stuff we love. We'll still need reactive systems in place but I think a proactive approach to heading off IP theft is more important. I'd like to see ethics courses become a standard part of education. It won't stop everyone who wants to take advantage of the system but it might make those people the exception rather than the rule.

Ebenezar: You've got a lot of podcasts and videos, do you see yourself publishing a book anytime soon?

Jonathan: I've got a couple of ideas for books -- one is a travel guide I've been kicking around for a while. Another is a comedic horror novel. But at the moment I'm so busy that I haven't had time to do more than outline some ideas.

Ebenezar: What is your biggest dream? What is that thing you really wish to achieve before you're too old to move.

Jonathan: You know, I'd really like to go to space. I'm running out of time for that one.

Ebenezar: Thank you so much once again Mr Jonathan for your time.

Jonathan: It was my pleasure!

For more about Jonathan, follow him on twitter @JonStrickland

Mr Charlie Chaplin will remain legend forever in the world of moving pictures and acting. His humour and bravery in experimenting with the introduction of technology in the movie industry set the standard for the global film industry in his time. It's on that foundation the art of movie making grew to what it is today.

Let us learn to respect other people's intellectual property. Don't steal ideas that are not yours. You've got a brain, make your own ideas! Till my next stroll, Jesus Loves You.

"Your thoughts are far beyound my understanding, much more than I could ever imagine" (Psalms 139v17, CEV)

•A Stroll with Jack Andraka (For World Hepatitis Day)
•A Stroll with Chinedu Mbamalu (For World Science Day)

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