Rant: Where are the real internet assistants?

OK, Google.
Alexa, help.
Hey, Siri.
Fuck you, Bixby.

There are these so-called assistants that the big internet companies like Google and Amazon are providing us with, that you use by issuing voice commands to smart speakers or mobile phones.

You can use these to, I don’t know (because I don’t use them), order movie tickets or find Uber rides? No fucking clue, because a) I don’t want to issue *voice* commands to an AI that tries to help me, b) I want to give commands in plain writing and c) I don’t trust any assistant to help me until we have a mutual agreement on what we can tell each other to do.

The assistant, in other words, needs to be someone I trust to do the things I want it to do and it needs to be *my* friend, or rather my property, not the ally of the company that supplies it to me.

Complaint #1: No Master and Slave -relationship

Although I denounce slavery completely, when it comes to AI:s I want them to *love me* and stay true to me like a dog. That is one issue with the assistants that big companies push on us “for free”, as I can’t be certain of where their loyalties live.

You need to have complete control of the data the AI uses on your behalf in order to understand why the AI does what it does and how to improve its search results as well.

Problem is, I can’t trust Alexa to do the best thing on my behalf if it is owned by Amazon – the assistant should not be loyal to a company that created it but to *me*, it’s owner.

Complaint #2: Assistants focus on commercial aspects

I want an assistant to fetch me data from all kinds of sources, not just shops and services. Say, I want to know what the COVID-19 situation is in a certain country currently; the assistant should know how to fetch the data from international and local sources and patch me a resume of what I want to know.

An other thing is, if I want an scientific article – or several – on a certain subject, the assistant would need to fetch me the most important ones from all the possible sources and if I have access through work to the services providing full text pdf:s, the assistant should download those into a folder for me as well.

I haven’t found this kind of functionality yet, but that it was internet assistants *should* fucking do… not try to sell me services I don’t need.

Complaint #3: Assistants aren’t platform independent individuals that live on my device

Assistants should be platform independent so you can export your preferences to any platform you want as time changes and the platforms too. My preferences, which the assistant-AI learns from my choices, are crucial and should not be wasted as time goes by. The AI should have a name of my choice and a constantly evolving personality that grows as I do. Starting over from scratch on every different platform is not fruitful. At least there should be a separate, transferable open database file that every new piece of assistant software can assimilate and use when I switch platforms.

I also want the assistant to serve me the same across platforms, and not favour one platform over another. Loyalty is really what I’m talking about. I want my “Alexa” to live on even if Amazon would nix it, so it should be Open Source. It’s my assistant, not the company’s.

So, there are some initial thoughts on what internet assistants should be like… we are pretty far away from that still, aren’t we?

Watching Star Trek: Discovery

OK, so season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery (ST:D from now on) has started, and luckily it’s on Netflix here in Finland.

Ever since Battlestar Galactica in my childhood I have been a sucker for quality space opera -TV-shows, so of course I’m watching this! The 21st century has been so far interesting in that shows have more room to move when it comes to violence and foul language, i.e. shows these days can be as gritty as they like and handle any themes they please. Although sexuality is still somewhat of a taboo, as America is so prudent about nudity… heads may blow up and blood can flow freely but tits and penises swinging on the screen is still a no-no. Strange world we live in, that way.

But, as TV shows have gotten better and taken over movies in some regards, quality sci-fi is still hard to find as it caters to a smaller – if economically quite wealthy – audience. In recent years, The Expanse is a book series *and* TV-series I’ve been following, and it’s doing a good job. But there isn’t much else in the way of space opera, except the Star Trek spin-offs, and now The Mandalorian on Disney+. Last year Amazon had Picard as a new Star Trek -series, and it was IMO quite mediocre if enjoyable from a nostalgic perspective. But ST:D is still a better series.

When it launched, ST:D felt like a mixture of ST:TOS, ST:TNG and the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies. The production values are consistently high, this is movie level stuff. However, plot wise all the 21st century Star Trek -series have tried to a) ride on nostalgia and b) add Star Wars-y action elements to the proceedings, which has sort of diluted one of the things that made the original Star Trek and the Next Generation so influential: the emphasis on non-violent, diplomatical ways of solving problems. So yeah, ST:D is trying to be more like Star Wars, I get it, but it’s also taking away from what makes Star Trek great.

Season 1 of ST:D started off in a bland and frankly boring way, but at the end of the season there was a twist that rode on old nostalgia and did it successfully. Season 1 really mined all it could from the Mirror, Mirror -episode of ST:TOS. Season 2 was more cohesive and quite interesting – although it also rode the nostalgia wave by having Spock in it. But it also seemed to bring the template that season 3 is following now: the overarching great mystery that the crew of the Discovery tries to solve.

Finally, and hopefully in season 3 – due to events from the end of season 2 – this series is free from the burden of old Star Trek episodes, and can create some original adventures.

So far, the series has again taken the template of presenting a mystery that will probably follow us through the whole season. And, it has shaken up things in a way that makes the Star Trek universe more like the Star Wars universe.

How convenient.

Hopefully there will be more Star Trek-ky ways of solving puzzles than blasting and shooting through doors, but we’ll see if the writers have the chops (and the courage) to write truly intelligent space opera for the 21st century…

The Playlist of 2020

A special year indeed has soon reached its end! And yeah, I made it alive too and most people I know. Safely working from home means that eating too much or slipping on the bathroom floor tiles is your worst danger, but I did also manage to get hospitalized for a few nights because of a tooth infection. That was a first, and certainly a reminder that things can go south pretty quickly.

But as I struggle with writing more stuff to get this blog (among other things) going, I’m going to at least compile some of the songs that helped me through this year here. Because music is power… and an easy way to write some content and link/embed the rest. Phew.

I Break Horses – Neon Lights

Lush, beautiful pop from Sweden that creates cinematic images and sequences in your mind if you just start listening to it. At long last ne stuff from this act, I still listen to a couple of the songs from the previous album. This is a sci-fi blast of happiness.

The Beths – Happy Unhappy

One band I stumbled across during the summer sitting in a cabin somewhere in Finland. This song somehow connected instantly.

Georgia – About Work The Dancefloor

Partying by myself during the summer to this tune was a common sight in 2020.

BT – Wildfire

A new album from master electronic producer Brian Transeau is always a small event. This time he’s gone full-on dad trance – or that’s how I’d best describe the album, but listen to this standout that is slightly derivative of his brilliant dance blast Tomahawk from a previous album, now with lyrics. And dance!

Erasure – No Point in Tripping

Wow! These guys are still around, true to their style… and this is a solid synthpop track that provides poppy energy while having that vintage analogue synth sound to it – Andy still has a great voice and Vince a knack for melodic hooks.

Future Islands – Plastic Beach

End of summer -vibes with enough energy to take you into the next spring. Also, not littering the seas with plastic is important.

Inon Zur – Liberty Lives

I spent some time playing Fallout 4 again in the spring because I was in the mood for some post-apocalyptic stuff for some reason. And wow, it was a lot better than the first time I made an effort of it. The music is really a high point of the game and this theme really makes my eyes moist every time because it’s just so heroic and… well, if you’ve played the game you know what a feeling it is taking back the Castle, what it means. We will take back our world from Covid-19 too, and you can play this theme! And cry!

Dubstar – Hygiene Strip

An early christmas present from one of the best British pop acts ever, and a nigh on perfect song to wrap up this year.

A bit high on energy and dance beats perhaps, but that’s how it is this time. Have a good end of 2020!

Summer vacation 2019

Fuck yeah! I love summertime.

Especially now, when I have spent 15 years in my dear employer’s service and get an extra 8 days off on top of the 30 I already had. Still, I’m just taking the usual 5 weeks of leave during the summer but the extra days (weeks!) will come in handy when it gets dark and gloomy (80% of the time in Finland). 5 weeks of summer holidays is still plenty to feel some part of that quaint sense of freedom you had as a kid, and for me it always feels like you live through each winter just to reach this point again when life is casual and easy.

Summer here in the northern hemisphere just has so many more possibilities – it’s easier to dress when going out (and much nicer to look at girls too), the days are long and usually not too hot either, so even if you sleep late it doesn’t mean that you wasted all daylight time. You can go out 20-21 o’clock and it’s still light. So much more comfortable to go for a run.

Basically, this is the time when I recharge my batteries but also reflect on what I should be doing. And, apart from the usual business of keeping in contact with friends and family – which is not always easy when you are a introvert who likes being home a lot – I definitely want to start writing more and making some music again.

Iskelmä festivaali, Himos (Jämsä)
Iskelmä festivaali, Himos (Jämsä)

This summer I’ve already visited one music festival (Iskelmä Festivaali in Himos, Jämsä) with a group of friends, where I had a great time, and Finncon in Jyväskylä in order to get some inspiration for writing/continuing my sci-fi project again. More on those later.

Mom's husband doing woodwork
Mom’s husband doing woodwork

I spent some time with my mom and her husband at their cottage in Mänttä-Vilppula. Got to pile some wood too in the shack, of course, reminding me that I have that kind of work before me at my own cottage as well.

Mom is baking
Mom is baking

Yeah, my own little retreat near home is almost finished and I just need to connect the solar panel installed this year with a battery and do some wiring so I can recharge equipment, have some lights and run a small 12V refrigerator while there.

So, summer has reached its midpoint now and it has already been pretty great – I feel inspired and happy, which is basically already a pretty good achievment. As Finns say when they have it good: “It’s only downhill from here on…”, so let’s see what happens next!

Trying out Orange Long Drink - not so great...
Trying out Orange Long Drink in Jyväskylä – not so great…

Winter was here…

The year 2018 was a pretty good one, and the positive vibe that began building up that year seems to continue. The summer was the hottest in many years, which was nice. Then came the winter, and it was pretty long and dark and cold and depressing. I’m not really depressed like, ever, but maybe the darkness did cause something similar because life was just work, eat, sleep and… that was it. No writing, music or stuff like that happened.

There was also snow for a change, which is not that usual in the Helsinki region anymore. Snow is nice in someways, not so fun in others – like I live in an apartment with a balcony that isn’t roofed so having to shovel the snow off the balcony was a thing that happened this year. Yep, a small thing, but I’ve got to complain about something! So, that was my excuse for not having written any blog posts for a long time.

There are many positive sides to winter in Finland though! Such as… well, not having to cope with big-ass spiders outside or inside the house, which is a big plus. Or poisonous snakes. Or sharks. Or aggressive hippos. Wildlife in general doesn’t try to kill you, so there are many good sides to living here.

It’s just a question of looking at things positively, even if you have to shovel snow from your balcony every now and then.