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Alone Together (Part Three) May 25, 2012

Will our reliance on technology compromise our relationships with humans and will the benefits be on individual and society level? It depends. Someone who had trouble with romance for many years will be living with robot girlfriend, not human girlfriend. If they are happier in personal relationships, they would perform their role better as citizens. As for other humans, they may not like to compete with robots.

With Paro children are onto something: the elderly are taken with the robots. Most are accepting and there are times when some seem to prefer a robot with simple demands to a person with more complicated ones. Quiet and compliant robots might become rivals for affection. People want love on their own terms… They want to feel that they are enough.

“It is common for people to talk to cars and stereos, household appliances, and kitchen ovens. The robots’ special feature is that they simulate listening, which meets a human vulnerability: people want to be heard. From there it seems a small step to finding ourselves in a place where people take their robots into private spaces to confide in them. In this solitude, people experience new intimacies. The gap between experiences and reality widens. People feel heard but the robots cannot hear.”

Humans don’t want to get hurt, they have a fear of rejection, pain, and the desire for acceptance and belonging. So a relationship with robot that will never leave, betray, reject is logical, but it will alter humans’ behavior in becoming more unwilling to change and compromise.

It could possibly lead to the situation when people will become so intolerant of each other that they will only be able to have companions robots, not humans (because humans are so hard to handle), so there will be even more isolation between humans, as they will live in their only bubble or delusional worlds.

We have more love in ourselves than people can take from us… We want to give love, but there is not always a person to receive it… That is where robots come to play… Yes, we should transfer those surpluses of love to apply them to people. But people want to receive love and care on their own terms. It gives an opportunity to love and to be useful and what we don’t always get in reality – get the same in return… None wants our unconditional love and care on our terms, and we don’t always want love on their terms either – it is too demanding…

Humans need validation that we are right and enough the way we are. Robots don’t cure our flaws, but don’t see them and give us an opportunity for better realities, where we are a hero, or at least good.

We put robots on the terrain on meaning, but they don’t know what we mean. Moral questions come up as robotic companions not only “cure” the loneliness of seniors but assuage the regrets of their families. An older person seems content, a child feels less guilty. As we learn to get the most out of robots, we may lower our expectations of all relationships, including those with people.

Re-posted from The Ultimate Answer Blog


Alone Together (Part Two) May 19, 2012

Filed under: Volunteering — polyachka @ 2:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

One of the important questions in the book is about possible replacement of humans with machines: “Don’t we have humans for those jobs?” In my opinion, it is not one or another, it is better to have a robot than no one. Especially in health care. The point is that there are not enough humans for those jobs…

Unfortunately, people have needs that are not always satisfiable by people around us, due to limitations in geographies, extreme conditions, physical limitations…

“There are not enough people to take care of aging Americans, so robot companions should be enlisted to help. Beyond that some argue that robots will be more patient with the cranky and forgetful elderly than a human being could be. The robots will simply be better.” Yes, if somebody’s caretaker is abusive and over exhausted. Why not alleviate patient’s pain by introducing robots.

“If the elderly are tendered by underpaid workers who seem to do their jobs by rote, it is not difficult to warm to the idea of a robot orderly. Similarly, if children are minded at day-care facilities that seem like little more than a safe warehouses, the idea of a robot babysitter becomes less troubling. We ask technology to perform what used to be “love’s labor”: taking care of each other. But people are capable of the higher standard of care that comes with empathy. The robot is innocent of such capacity.”

Sorry, Sherryl, but humans could do worse than what you can even possibly imagine – they can abuse other humans, they can act with so much cruelty that no well-programmed robot would ever perform. Humans are capable of treating each other as if they are worse than robots or spare parts. If their behavior cannot be regulated, robots will at least provide bare minimum of services and would not go below/underperform (the way they programmed). But there could be a glitch/hacker who can change programming and robots will start abusing humans.

“Loneliness makes people sick. Robots could at least partially offset a vital factor that makes people sick.” Of course, interaction with humans would be better, but if the person is dying from loneliness, and robot can cheer up, how can you deny it?

Sheryl is against robots as social companions. They force us to ask why we don’t as the children said it ”have people for these jobs”?

Our allocation of resources is a social choice. We don’t have capacity, time and resources to take care of all humans, especially elderly. There are preferred jobs and non-preferred jobs. Not to impose some jobs on others, we have to take care of it creatively and use tools to help. In some culture youngest person in a family is assigned against their will to be the caretaker. Well, if we speak of true freedom, some people don’t want to do certain jobs. So robots can do them. What if Miriam’s son doesn’t have money to stay at home with his mother and take care of her, but he can hire caregivers to keep her company, just the Paro.

I agree that there should be people who do these jobs. But if hiring humans or doing it yourself is too expensive, robots are cheaper way to make people happy. Everyone needs support. I agree that a mechanism should be in place that government reallocates resources where they are needed, but we don’t want to make people do things against their will. Since robots don’t have will, they can do hard jobs…  where humans would be stressed and inefficient.

Re-posted from The Ultimate Answer Blog


Alone Together (Part One) May 16, 2012

Recently I was reading again Sherry Turkle’s book “Alone Together” and would like to share some thoughts about the first part of the book: “The robotic moment: In solitude, new intimacies”.

Sherry describes several robots including those available on the market as social companions. They are, to name a few, Aibo, My Real Baby, Seal Paro, GOV, Kismet, Doll Madison, etc.

I was surprised to learn how critical Sherry is of robots: tech evil that will corrupt humanity.

Let’s look at the simple tech solution called Eliza. It is a program that chats with people, and very often in their conversation with Eliza people open up about their problems and seek advice from an application that can’t really think for them. The author says:

“The idea that simple act of expressing feelings constitutes therapy is widespread both in the popular culture and among therapists (way to blow off steam) and is very helpful”. However, “in psychoanalytic tradition – The motor for cure is the relationship with the therapist. The term transference is used to describe the patient’s way of imagining the therapist, whose relative neutrality makes it possible for patients to bring the baggage of past relationships into this new one. In this relationship, treatment is not about the simple act of telling secrets or receiving advice. It may begin with projection but offers push back, and insistence that therapist and patient together take account of what is going on in their relationship.

When we talk to robots, we share thoughts with machines that can offer no such resistance. Our stories fall literally, on deaf ears. If there is meaning, it is because the person with the robots has heard him or herself talk aloud”.

I shall argue that exactly the talking aloud sometimes is very important.  Once in a while we need to hear ourselves and to listen to the voice of consciousness that we often suppress, but when we let ourselves talk it out, we learn more about ourselves… especially what our beliefs and priorities are. Now, I’m not saying we should stop here… This is not enough. And I agree with vicious circle, the author mentions.

“We may talk ourselves into a bad decision…” I get that, lest correct it.  First, lets create robots or tools that do give push back with knowledge me may lack and act as therapists.

What if Eliza is just a hint of a new generation of smart machines that incorporate knowledge of the universe and give us support in difficult moments… and instruct us to consider all possible options (even the ones we don’t know about yet), and calm us down in the moments of despair… Or make people check-in with human mentors, who can arbitrate and give useful tips.

Everyone can use knowledge from people, enlightened and normal people who struggled through same issues themselves, that is knowledge of the human mind or the Universe… to become more humane and compassionate… If for now robots are just a recording machine, lets record the best we can and constantly make updates… Why isn’t it possible to create what inspires human to do the best, not the worst…

Currently, people use Eliza because they don’t get judged but feel safe to express their feelings freely, because humans may not understand them or will not listen to them for free. They have to pay… No one is completely substituting humans with programs, technology should enhance our decision-making and mitigate problems, and be therapeutic. The best of both worlds.

Re-posted from The Ultimate Answer Blog.


Problem and Suffering Meaning November 24, 2011

By now you must be really confused by all possible approaches to problems and suffering. There are indeed mixed ideas about how to view them, never mind how to solve them.

From one point of view, there are no problems, and hence, there is no suffering (as we create it in our own mind when reality is different from what we expect). From another point of view, problems like suffering are unavoidable and they go hand in hand with life. Hmm… If I had to, I would pick without hesitation the former one… There are of course different versions of the latter one, as to when you do find yourself with problems and suffering, what do you do then?

  1. Build resilience by overcoming them
  2. Don’t think about problems, but positive things
  3. Take on more problems, bigger problems
  4. Don’t get into suffering mode, just find a solution

I’m sure there are other approaches, that just escape me now…

I was so confused by trying to reconcile different perspectives on problems that I even searched on Google issue/problem diagram, chart, decision tree, etc… None were found.

How is it possible that some people say that there is no suffering. And others say that suffering will always be around unless we totally get rid of all desire. Complete controversy…

So what I decided to do is to develop a universal process flow with several approaches to Problem and Suffering Meaning that people can use as a decision tree for mind reaction, action, suffering, solution, internal peace and meaning.

It all starts when 1) something happens in reality and we decide whether we 2) accept it=no problem or  3) we don’t accept it=problem. The second decision is about how to react to the event. In case of a problem, we feel negatively but can choose to react differently:

4) Self-control and restrain ourselves from acting negatively, but 7) observe/look for solution.

5) Denial – when we (8) avoid the problem and pretend all is Ok; we try to suppress negative feelings, also could be called indecisive or passive approach.

6) Out of control or overreaction – when we act upon our negative feelings and 9) damage/hurt ourselves or others.

After we looked for solution there could be two results: 10) solution identified or 11) solution not identified (maybe there is no solution). When we ignore, there is no result in reality, but we are not true to ourselves as we pretend all is Ok, when it is not. In reality we can’t run from it forever, we will still have to face it at some point. And lastly, when we damage/hurt, there are two results in reality: 12) cost unpaid or 13) cost paid.

Cost means consequences of our action, ex. if you committed crime you’ll have to pay for it like going to jail, or if you broke something you will have to compensate for material damage, or if you hurt yourself by drinking heavily or doing drugs, the cost will be your deteriorated health or else. It is important to separate cost which is physical from mental suffering, which could be found in all three paths if chosen.

Please, remember that suffering could be of different degrees from smallest to highest: 14) resentment to self or others, pity to self or others or hatred to self or others. The point is that paid cost is enough, but thinking about what happened again and again is suffering. It is important to recognize that anyone can skip mental suffering and move into internal peace which will happen only if you 15) solve problem or 16) let go/forgive.

Now the most important column of this process flow is the meaning of problem/suffering. Even if you solved your problem and let go/forgive, you still may wonder what was the purpose of you going through it(ex. years in prison, drug addition, depression, abusive environment, etc.)? There could be three explanations:

17) Share/help other people deal with the same problem. As Dalai Lama said, compassion and suffering are closely linked, we will not understand compassion without suffering. We would not relate deeply to other people without understanding what suffering is and that it is universal.

18) Focus on solving other matters. If you are not finding a solution or can’t really do anything about your problem, switch your focus… If you can’t change it, why be unhappy? if there is no cure, what is the point of suffering? Choose to solve another problem, more problems… Direct your energy and apply yourself where you can make a difference.

19) Learn how to recognize/solve problems. You gain learning experience and resilience. Next time it happens to you or someone else you will know how not to react and what to do instead, because you went through this experience already.

Wisdom is when you learn to recognize the problem and not act upon it negatively or avoid it but wisely observe or look for solution (by learning from others or doing research). Meditation is useful in overcoming negative emotions. The opposite of wisdom is ignorance, when we react and act without being mindful. Suffering is mostly self-imposed and should be cured with positive thoughts, affirmations and mediation, etc.

Finally you will find your personal significance in the column Meaning. The meaning of you going through all your life’s problems and suffering is sharing your experience or helping others to deal with the same problem (compassion), resilience/learning and making a difference where you can.

So now think about all memorable problems and struggles you had in your life. Make a list of them. Ponder which of the three possible paths did you take? Respect your experience. What did you learn from your problems/suffering? Can you convert them into the meaning of your life/personal significance? What is it or what will it be?

Most importantly, ONLY YOU can decide which problem resolution path you want to take and when to change it in order to get to internal peace.

Re-posted from


One hell of a dream September 12, 2011

Fall 2000-Spring 2001 I was in NYC, struggling to adjust to new culture and find ways to go to grad school. In the summer of 2001 I made a friend, who got killed two months later in a car accident. When I learned about her death, I was in California, on a spontaneous trip from San Fran to Los Angeles. Running out of money, I couldn’t continue my trip even further, so I remember getting to the Los Angeles Airport and buying a $100 ticket in cash to New York, where I still had some of my stuff. It was the 10th of September 2001.

What is really strange, I remember being on the plane and having the feeling of detachment and emptiness. I wasn’t afraid of anything happening on the flight, as I had nothing to lose, I thought. In a way I didn’t see any meaning in my life. I was just passing by.

When I arrived in New York, I went straight to my friend’s place, who lived in Brooklyn. In the morning of Sept 11, I was still sleeping when the land line phone rang. I didn’t want to pick it up but to continue sleeping. The answering machine was on and I heard my friend saying: “Marina, wake up, wake up, the war has started”. I immediately picked up the phone and still not completely awake tried to understand what she was saying. She told me about the first tower going down. And then I turned TV on and learned the whole story: the terrorist attack on America. My friend’s apartment was in the basement of a small house, the owners, an Orthodox Jewish family, lived upstairs. According to their religion they didn’t watch TV, but on that day, the couple came to watch TV too. We all wanted to know what will happen to the country, to us, to the whole world. We felt horror, grief, shock and fear. We felt compassion for all. As I stepped outside the house, in the middle of the day there were no sun, only grey clouds covering the sky and pieces of ash falling down on us. It did look like the end of the world.

I was scared and wanted to escape, to go back to Massachusetts, but couldn’t do it for several days as all public transportation was shut down between cities .When I finally made it back to the Vineyard, I met up with a friend of mine who knew Lena, the one who died in the car accident. That friend said that we should not worry about Lena, as she definitely went to heaven, not hell. Still horrified by the latest events, I was thinking too much about Lena, the victims of 9/11 and myself… How unfair their deaths are. Who decides who will die or who will live? Are we worth living?.. And right after our conversation I had a dream:

I’m in the office, there are people around me, who are working. I’m doing something as well, probably, work too. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a man dressed as a government official comes to me and says: “Your time is up, you have to go.” Taken by surprise I couldn’t help but ask in return: “Already? And who decided? Where, to hell?” He doesn’t answer, which I interpret as “not heaven”. I try again by asking: “Is it final?” He quietly says: “Yes”. All I could say is “I don’t agree, I demand to see a decision maker”. He, definitely surprised by this turn in our conversation, pauses but then gives me a sign to follow him. I enter some private office, the messenger man leaves and the door closes behind him. And in there I see another man, more established, in gray suit, sitting at the desk. He doesn’t speak, because he knows that I asked for this audience and I’m the one who will be speaking.

I don’t even remember how but I sat in a chair in front of the table and full of emotions I started my emotional speech.”Why do you think that it is my turn that came? Is it because I didn’t do any good deeds in this lifetime? Because I only wasted my time given to me? If I haven’t done anything so far, that doesn’t mean that I will not do anything in the future. You are supposed to give everyone a chance. There are circumstances and a person may experience difficulties, but that doesn’t mean that she is not capable of anything good. I know that I have a lot ahead of me. And may I ask what kind of right do you have to deprive me of my life, when my parents are alive? My mother told me that she will not be able to survive the death of her children. Did you think about consequences of your decision?  That by ending my life you will end the life of my mother?”

All that time the man in gray suit, who was the boss of that department or the chief of death, and on whose decision depended whether I’ll live or die, didn’t look at me even once. He was busy writing something in his notebook. I couldn’t see what he was doing exactly or what his was writing. Maybe he was taking notes about my life, or was studying my life case. I was scared as I thought he was calculating and weighing what I’ve done more in my life – good or bad. In every moment he could stop me and say “Enough, your case is closed, not sufficient evidence to let you live…”

And suddenly, I saw him put his notebook on the desk and I peeked in it. In front of me in this whole grayish setting I saw on the paper a big red heart that the man drew while I talked. And in that moment I realized that I’m allowed to live more but under condition that I create more good things in my lifetime. And I woke up.

Reposted from


Looking Back January 2, 2011

I was going to write a Thank you blog post and summarize what happened in my life this past year, but then I received a note from Mark and decided to change the format of my post to offer three tips that helped me in 2010.

1. Create several social identities. Become a member of several groups, whether it is a book club, church meeting, basketball team at work, make you beer crew, etc. This year I spent many months living off my savings and trying to be very frugal while I was looking for a job.  I couldn’t go out much or go on vacation, etc. but I attended my Tuesday Writer’s Meet-up gatherings, met with my book club friends and volunteered with OLPC.  My social groups got me going and gave me sense of purpose and fulfillment especially during hard times.

Make friends with people from different walks of life, one day you’ll especially thank yourself for that, as those friendships will give you new perspective, make you wiser and more open-minded. This will also help you network and share hobbies with others.

2. Don’t be afraid to look or ask for help. At some points of our lives we all need either direct help or mentoring.  Sometimes we are debating between several options and can’t make up our mind. And then one small piece of advice from a total stranger could work as a moderator or catalyst for resolving our pending questions. When depressed, don’t assume you are alone and your condition will stay like that forever, everything passes especially bad things. “All inevitable things are temporary, only lessons from inevitable are eternal” Paolo Coelho. For any problem you have, there is someone who has the answer for you as there have been at least 12 billion people on Earth past and present (plus aliens) and someone for sure at least has thought about what you are pondering.

Ask for help, Google it, put it out there! And the answer will come to you, just believe in the abundance of the Universe, because for some magic reason there are people out there who have right answers. And if you are the one who has the solution, post it somewhere on your blog, some forum, etc… Your opinion is valuable for someone else on this planet.

3. Make new priorities this year. Find room for what you really want to do. Whether it is a long-desired hobby, more time spent with your friends and family or a simple vacation. My friend complained that he worked too much and had no time to rest, then I said “make it your priority, and then you will find time”.  When he focused on it, he managed to take time off work; months later I received beautiful pictures he sent from his big trip to Europe. He looked very happy and healthy. The same happened to me. A year ago I realized that I had other priorities in life besides corporate work, and I left my job and went to volunteer in Asia. I felt like I found something I lost many years ago – the  meaning and lightness of life. 

Make priorities this year for important things in you life that should not wait, make them your New Year’s resolution.

Inspired by Mark McCurdy and his Three awesome tips to start the New Year


Back To Boston April 30, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 11:35 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

It’s been 2 weeks since I came back from Vietnam. The first week I finished my taxes, met with my friends and organized my belongings scattered among several locations.  I finally met Nancie and we discussed the need for volunteers in Vietnam to keep our OLPC pilots alive. After what I experienced in Vietnam I realized that I can’t really do what I used to do: places I lived, my work, places I shopped, events I attended… Many things didn’t make sense anymore… I realized that I see everything in a different light. I don’t need to live in Back Bay with a view of the beautiful park and tall buildings anymore, my job didn’t mean much, as I never understood what I was doing it for and to whose benefit. It always kind of felt meaningless, even though well paid… I was able to afford a lot and yet I felt miserable and depressed (Adam had no clue why I was blogging up the storm back in December, but that was what I felt inside) as I knew my life was not fulfilling. According to Robin Sharma, one of the principles to true happiness is to do what you feel passionate about.  Perhaps, somewhere in the hills of Sapa, Vietnam, I finally realized that happiness is not about getting a better something, but feeling helpful and needed and doing work for other people’s goodness.  As a result of this realization I said Adieu to my work and decided to do what I really want to do – to be an advocate for volunteering services.

I looked up volunteering organizations in Boston and found BostonCares. It went through their orientation and signed up for several events. In one week I taught math to adults who are studying to get their GED in Roxbury, I packed and distributed food to those in need at the Red Cross Food Pantry…. I visited Braille publishing house and learned about press for the blind.  I met a lot of people who volunteer regularly. Some of them are doing AmeriCorp program. As I learned more and more, I sensed we all have this feeling to help others subconsciously, but sometimes opportunities are not easy to find. I decided to start my volunteering organization that would match good volunteers to good projects around the world.  There is no need to answer Roger’s question, as we all know the answer to: “Isn’t it great to do something you love to do?”


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