Synergy in the time of dial-up: Of webzines and HP and Intel’s Synergy ‘98

Once upon a time, before blogging became mainstream, I had a webzine called The Babel Machine Zone.

I launched it in 1998 when I was freelancing (a.k.a. bumming around), after leaving my full-time job as a staff writer for the Philippines’ pioneering information technology newspaper, Metropolitan Computer Times, and its sister publication, PCWeek Philippines, which was licensed from Ziff Davis.

I had a number of gigs after leaving that job, which was the first one I had as a tech journalist. I decided to put up this site because I discovered webzines and thought they were pretty cool, and because I wanted to embrace online journalism and write purely for the web. Instead of, you know, writing for a print publication and just having the same content uploaded on its website.

It was just a fun experiment while I was looking for paying gigs, and I had a great time teaching myself HTML, incorporating different interactive features on the site, and interacting with different people online.

And in an awesome turn of events, this webzine got me invited as a speaker when HP and Intel launched the first Synergy IT symposium in El Nido, Palawan in 1998. This was thanks to Richard Burgos, who was then with HP.

Synergy was his brainchild, and he invited me to talk about online journalism at the inaugural symposium, because of my webzine and the work I’d previously done for the IT publications I joined.

I think that’s the great thing about digital: that it’s a powerful platform that enables us to share our ideas, connect with different people, and make a difference — whoever we may be and wherever we may be in the world.

Embracing digital early on helped me interact with people of different nationalities from all walks of life, travel to different places, and make a lot of my dreams come true. If all this was possible during the days of dial-up, imagine what more we can do now.

Nothing is impossible. I truly believe that.

The only limits are the ones we create because of our failure to imagine.

Would you fall in love with a robot?

I love robots.

I’m talking as someone who grew up watching Japanese super robot cartoons (which we didn’t call anime back then), with Voltes V being my favorite, followed closely behind by Mazinger Z.

While giant robots might take a while longer to become a reality, robots are becoming more mainstream. The robot revolution is happening, and, no, we’re not talking about Skynet.

Here’s how the future of robots might affect humanity, according to this Forbes article.

“As you might expect, support with housework and chores topped the perceived benefits of robots in the home, with 27% of people thinking a home robot could save them two hours each day, but companionship followed closely behind. Almost a fifth of people said they wanted a home robot simply to keep them company.

“While 13% said the arrival of a robot companion would mean they’d never feel lonely again, more than a third (38%) of people saw wider social benefits; more time to improve connections with friends and family, more time to pursue and master new interests, and more.”

Though it’s great to see people having positive feelings about the integration of robots into human society, it seems that they are being treated as high-tech servants.

Which I guess isn’t surprising, as we might think of robots as appliances, computers, toys, or gadgets. In fact, “robot” was originally derived from the Czech word “robota” — the forced labor of serfs. Karel Capcek introduced the word in his 1920 science fiction play R.U.R., though when the word became popular he explained that it was his brother Josef who coined it. Sadly, I still haven’t read R.U.R. or seen it performed, but if you’re interested you can read the English translation by David Wyllie published online by The University of Adelaide.

Yet as they grow more intelligent, autonomous, and human-like, shouldn’t we start seeing robots as equals? What rights should robots enjoy, and how are we to protect these rights, when it’s already hard to protect human rights?

And, yes, would love between humans and robots become accepted in human society? As this New York Times article shows us, some people are already identifying as digisexuals.

“Self-identification is not the same as identity, and some classes of description now may be closer to metaphor. But the idea that flesh-and-blood humans may actually forge fulfilling emotional, or even sexual, relationships with digital devices is no longer confined to dystopian science fiction movies like ‘Ex Machina’ and ‘Her,’ stories in which lonely techies fall too hard for software-driven femme fatales.

“In real life, pioneers of human-android romance now have a name, ‘digisexuals,’ which some academics and futurists have suggested constitutes an emergent sexual identity.”

As we confront the reality of robots becoming part of our everyday lives, it might be good to reexamine our views on robots — and our ideas of humanity. As Wired points out, the Japanese don’t seem to have the same Western fear of robots. The writer said that this might be due to a difference in the concept of “humanity”:

“The Western concept of ‘humanity’ is limited, and I think it’s time to seriously question whether we have the right to exploit the environment, animals, tools, or robots simply because we’re human and they are not.”

Perhaps in embracing robots, whether literally or figuratively, we will end up becoming more human.