I have seen the future, and it is robots.
Because I am old and did not grow up gazing at electronic screens or playing with high-tech toys like I-pods and I-pads, I may be among the last to come to this realization -- that the human race is seriously threatened by the creation of ever more sophisticated robots. But I want to warn my fellow senior citizens, those who still don't know how to text or to hook an attachment onto an email.
Last May I wrote a blog post called "Do You Want to End your Days Talking to a Robot?" This was inspired by an article in The New York Times detailing new kinds of robots being created to care for weak and confused old folks. The robots included "Cody" who was "gentle enough to bathe elderly patients", HERB who can fetch household objects, Hector, who reminds patients to take their medicines, Paro, who looks like a baby seal and calms patients with dementia, and PR2 who can blink, giggle and interact. The article quoted a professor at MIT who said she was troubled when she saw a 76-year-old woman telling her life story to the baby seal robot. I was troubled too.
My post elicited a number of emails from around the world describing devices which truly do improve elder care -- the "Betty" tablet that caregivers use to inform each other and family members of a patient's daily activities and condition, video games that increase cognitive ability, and devices--a wristwatch and something called Trax, which both use GPS, Wi-Fi and smart phones to track pets, children and demented elders who wander out of a pre-set digital area.
I began to think I was being paranoid about robots. But I wasn't.
As 2013 continued, Amazon announced that they were working on a delivery system that would fill the air with drones able to drop a package on your doorstep a half hour after you ordered something on line. This inspired a newspaper cartoon showing a discouraged Santa trying to sell his sled and reindeer while the sky overhead buzzed with package-carrying Amazon drones.
And we've all heard that in the near future we will have automobiles that drive themselves and are too smart to collide with each other. That left me wondering -- what if the self-driving car encounters an old-fashioned car, driven by an imperfect human, who is texting or adjusting the radio?
Delivery drones and self-driving cars don't sound so bad, but then on Dec. 26, The New York Times told me that you can now have sex with your computer.
The article, "'Interactive' Gets a New Meaning" by Alex Hawgood, began by describing the sex scene from the movie "Her" which stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, an insecure, rather nerdy man who falls in love with Samantha -- who is a voice in his computer -- an app, I guess you'd call it. She clearly resembles Siri, the female voice in my husband's I-phone who can answer questions like "What is the population of Seattle" but gets evasive when you ask her things like "What is the meaning of life?"But Samantha -- the voice in "Her" -- is smarter than Siri because she is interactive. She can change and evolve to please Theodore. According to the NYTimes, there is a sex scene in which
"after returning home from a failed blind date... it shows Theodore gently edging Samantha into arousal by telling her what he wishes to do to her body. As things become increasingly explicit, the screen turns black, leaving the audience lingering in darkness as the characters reach their aural climax."
That strikes me as very sad -- falling in love with a computer app that has no body.The Times article goes on to list many computer sex toys already available -- one, called "Real Touch" allows two people to have sex over the Internet, no matter how far apart they are. Designed by a former NASA engineer,
There is a list of interactive computer sex toys already on the market, some meant for two people to use, some to use on your own. A report by a trend-forecasting firm in New York, according to The Times,
"It comes in two parts, one modeled after a woman's lower anatomy and one modeled after a man's."
"makes the case that forward leaps in augmented intelligence and video-game interactivity will let people 'get attached to and develop real relationships with their hardware and software.'"
But can they take them to the office Christmas party?LovePlus, a dating simulation game for the portable Nintendo DS console,
"allows a player to caress another's hair using a touch pad... these virtual sweethearts modify their personas in real time based on the player's likes and dislikes."
So you don't have to spend time and money searching for Mr. or Ms. Right -- you can create and train one all by yourself.And on December 29, on the front page of The New York Times, there was the scariest article yet, titled "Brainlike Computers, Learning from Experience" by John Markoff. Here's the first sentence:
In 2014, according to the article, a new kind of computer chip is scheduled to be released that can learn from its errors to evolve and increase its skill at a task. This computer is based on the biological nervous system. This will create a new generation of artificial intelligences that can
"Computers have entered the age when they are able to learn from their own mistakes, a development that is about to turn the digital world on its head."
"see, speak, listen, navigate, manipulate and control. That can hold enormous consequences for tasks like facial and speech recognition, navigation and planning."
The article went on to elaborate on how this works, using words like "algorithm", "neural network" and "biological synapses" which cause my aging eyes to glaze over, but while the explanation is over my head, I've seen enough science fiction movies to know what happens after computers and robots can imitate and even improve on the functions of the human brain. Which is why I've concluded that in 2014, in addition to worrying about global warming, our environmental footstep and terrorism, we should also watch out for the new generation of robots that is being born.
An extensive body of research has linked community and strong social support to good health, less stress and increased longevity. Prioritizing time with friends, family, community groups and even pets can go far in increasing well-being during your golden years.
Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress levels and improve quality of life. A recent UK study found that urban-dwellers reported less mental distress and higher life satisfaction when they were living in greener areas. Try to fit in a daily walk or outdoor recreational activity, and if possible, plan trips to relaxing places of natural beauty.
Mindfulness -- the practice of cultivating a focused awareness on the present moment -- can not only improve the quality of your life, but it can also improve your health. Practicing mindfulness meditation can improve your sleep quality, boost focus, support weight loss goals and reduce stress, among other health advantages. But the best part? It will help you to make the most of your life by making you take note of all that's around you.
Exercising the brain is just as important as exercising the body in aging well and maintaining good health through your golden years. Keep the mind agile and sharp through crossword puzzles, sudoku, and brain-training games. "It’s huge for the brain," said Hall. "Instead of it getting stale and old and not getting the oxygen, water and blood that it needs, these exercises work the brain just like you’d be working out in the gym. "
Whether it's yoga, meditation or jogging, find a stress-relief tactic that works for you, and make it a part of your daily routine. Whatever it is, creating a simple daily stress-reduction routine wil keep your mind calm and help ward off the negative health impacts of chronic stress.
The Buddha once said that the only constant in life is change, and this is never more true than in your post 50 years, when many life-changing events are taking place. At this stage in your life, everything is shifting -- and it can be difficult to keep up with all the transformation and movement. Work on accepting the changes in your daily life by consciously attempting to let go and accept the present moment. Click here for inspiration from wellness experts on the little and big things they've stopped stressing over.
Financial health is a crucial component of a relaxing, stress-free older adulthood and retirement. Plan for the future as early as possible, and develop financial habits with your retirement in mind to minimize money stress later in life when you should be enjoying yourself. Click here for helpful money management information for retirees.
The health benefits of gratitude are many, included increased well-being, improved sleep, stronger relationships and better heart health. Instead of dwelling on health problems, financial woes or family issues, try to focus on what you're grateful for in life. Keep a gratitude journal where you write down a list of things you're thankful for every day, and try to flip around negative situations so that you see their silver lining (for example, if you're missing a loved one, focus on what they've added to your life).