How Many Things Do I Really Need to Do Today?

Has the artificial intelligence singularity already hit? If you’re familiar with the Terminator series, that’s where computer intelligence develops to a point where algorithms are able to learn and improve, which leads to A.I. self-awareness, which leads A.I. to determine that it’s more useful than its human creators. Ergo, humans are unnecessary, and the manifestation of computing power turns into Arnold with the sunglasses, Hasta La Vista, Baby!

Arnold The Terminator
Arnold says complete your five tasks today, please! Google photo of The Terminator.

Maybe we’re already there. There is a raging (interesting) debate between philosophical technology camps about when or if the singularity will occur. In the abstract, perhaps it’s forty years away. In reality, though, aren’t we already shaping our lives around technology rather than the other way around?  My wife likes to joke that we have to “give our lives up to the googles.” But, seriously, haven’t we tacitly agreed to let those little devices run things?

To Do Lists That Don’t Make Us More Productive

I like a good To Do list, although I’m often over-ambitious and put more things on it than I can complete. After I stopped punching the corporate clock, I wanted a program to help me keep track of the projects I want to do at home. I fell in love with ToDoist, but recently the romance has soured.

One of the features of ToDoist is that you define how many things you want to accomplish each day, and it tells you Congratulations when you completed them. Action items are now a game. Hit all the targets, and you win! Or, get a notification, if you don’t. You have only two hours left to complete your five tasks. If you don’t update for a few days or go on vacation, you get a depressingly long Overdue list.

Suppose I have a day where I do One Big Thing that eclipses all others? I still get dinged for not doing four more, and then I lose my “streak” of days which affects whether I’m rated as an Expert or Apprentice. So I find myself doing things like, after the fact, adding “Grocery Store” or “Go to Mailbox” as a task.  I wonder whether this is really adding to my “personal productivity,” and, by the way, when did people need to run themselves like a business, anyway?

That Fitbit Can’t Help You Sleep

Fitness technology now tracks what we drink and how we sleep along with our steps. It can feel good when you achieve your 10,000 steps on a day when you planed to be mostly at your desk. I found it fascinating that walking around Rome or Albuquerque could lead to as much as 25,000 steps. But on those off days, did you end up marching in place or walking around the block to hit your number?

Meanwhile, although the device has a sleep measurement function, it can’t help you sleep. If you aren’t sleeping “enough,” how would you make yourself sleep more? Did you need the wrist device to tell you that you were particularly tired?    That seems to me one more way to determine that we’re failing at something, not meeting some pre-designated criteria. You need to sleep as much as your body wants you to sleep; that’s nine hours for some, six hours for others. It’s also a function of the type of sleep. Did you achieve a REM state? Did you go through several sleep stages? A good night’s sleep is vital for health, yet it’s not only about how long you slept. Your machine can’t tell you whether that sleep was right for you.

You have only completed 9,998 steps on your Fitbit today! Photo at

I wore a Fitbit diligently for three years, constantly replacing the battery, upgrading the software, and synchronizing it with my other fitness programs. Ultimately, I took it off. It didn’t give me credit for when I swam or biked and didn’t accurately measure the value of steps when I went hiking or took a dance class compared with walking through the grocery store. It didn’t make me more fit. It just created more tasks to complete and more reasons to feel like I was failing my own arbitrarily-defined, pre-defined requirement.

Complex Passwords Don’t Make Us More Secure

My friend was telling me yesterday that her Amazon account was hacked, which led to a recurring stream of people using Uber without her permission. She kept changing her password to more and more complex things, to no avail. She would be awakened at 3 a.m. with her phone demanding two-factor authentication, which she had to quickly Decline in order to keep someone in Shanghai from getting a free ride.

We have passwords now full of bizarre characters which we must log in  password files in order to remember, often in files in the cloud which are then subject to hackery, so that we end as vulnerable as we ever were. We create accounts to make our lives easier, which increases our vulnerability to someone stealing our account information to mess with our lives.

One of my credit card companies upgraded their system, and now requires security questions with questions that have no answers, What do you do to relax? What would you do if you won the lottery? This required my wife and I, who both use the account, to have a long conversation to establish answers, list them in both of our password files–not on the cloud–mine is in… well, I’m not telling you. But let’s just say you’d have to know us for forty years to figure out how we came up with the answers. Every time I capture transactions from that company, I get asked two of those questions. Every time. Yet, I know that they could be hacked tomorrow, and I would just have to change all of my information again. Those questions aren’t making me safer. It’s only a matter of time before I get those 3 a.m. calls.

The list goes on, doesn’t it?

Autocorrect creates as many dumb and confusing errors as it seems to correct. Why does it change Kelly to Sallie (does it not know that some people are, in fact, named Kelly…) and Volvo to vulva? But it can’t somehow recognize that kno3,, is not a word.

Social Media is making us antisocial. We were supposed to just be chatting away with a few friends about what we wanted to eat or the concert we were going to see, and now it’s this endless stream of forwarded political diatribes mixed with ads for bizarre products. Imagine if you went to a party and a third of the guests were strangers wearing product sandwich boards, and you had to talk to everyone but only in a receiving line. Then, when anyone new came in, they would join the line randomly, but you would have to start from the beginning in order to talk to them, then having the same conversation with everyone else that you just had.  I’d like to swear off Facebook, but that’s where half the people read my posts.

I’m already a slave to the Terminator. Yes, Arnold, I will complete my five tasks today, I will walk my 10,000 steps, I will sleep for 8.2 hours, and I will change my password to WhatTheF$$!!HEebiJEebie…

I have to maintain my streak.


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