Friday, April 26, 2024

Staying Relevant

Ever wonder if you’re relevant? According to studies, more people do. But like death, it’s one of those subjects people avoid until it jumps to the front of their minds—when they least expect it.
Do people like me? Do they respect me? Do they listen when I talk about the things that interest me? Do I listen to them? To myself? How important is it that people listen to me? What do people say about me behind my back? Do they believe the image I project is not the real me? Do they think I'm a phony?

Here’s a take on remaining relevant. It’s a floor, the lowest level, of thought on the topic, below which is pantomimed double talk. I include it as such. Not because I endorse or refute it, but because of its provenance:

“As we age, it's important to stay engaged and relevant to maintain a sense of purpose and fulfillment. One way to do this is by continuing to learn and grow. Whether it's taking up a new hobby, pursuing further education, or staying current with technology. Keeping your mind active can help you stay connected to the world around you.

“Another key aspect of staying relevant as you age is to stay connected with others. Maintaining relationships with friends, family, and community can provide a sense of belonging and support. Volunteering or getting involved in social groups can also help you stay engaged and make a positive impact on others.

“Lastly, taking care of your physical and mental health is crucial for staying relevant as you age. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and practicing mindfulness can all contribute to your overall well-being and help you continue to lead a fulfilling life. Embracing new experiences and challenges with an open mind can also keep you feeling young at heart and connected to the ever-changing world around you.”

As I said, it’s a floor, the kind of pop psychology article found in airline seat back pouches, unusual only that a sentient being did not write it. That’s right, I fed the words “Remaining Relevant” into an AI app’ This was the result—pretty much what I expected. If that’s what it takes to be relevant, it follows as the day the night that people who take these kinds of bromides to heart must spend a lot of time grooming their images.

What about you? Are you the type of person who heeds the advice of a machine—a regular “Hail, fellow! Well met!” individual, bubbling over with personality?

If there is a ceiling—a master class in leading a meaningful life—it’s probably related to meditation, not to philosophy, which a friend once told me was rationalization, a word defined as “the action of attempting to explain or justify behavior or an attitude with logical reasons, even if these are not appropriate.”

He was ahead of his time. In his critique of philosophy as a merry-go-round of subjectivity, he was outlining a case for Eastern energy cultivation techniques.

Recently, I came across the subject on a visit to my primary care persons. After the preliminaries: blood pressure, height and weight, temperature, pulse, and my name, and DOB for the umpteenth time, they asked a string of questions I had never been asked.

Have you had thoughts of death lately? Have you thought of giving up? Would you describe yourself as a chronic worrier? Have you experienced feelings of uselessness? Do you believe things have passed you by? Have you ever felt irrelevant, no longer of use to anybody? Do you have unusual ideas that people you do not even know are plotting to harm you or kill you? Do you feel you are still searching for your sense of who you are? Do you have trouble concentrating or focusing on tasks?

If I hadn’t had those thoughts before my visit, I did so then. In an altogether different way, I might add, than someone who has not lived with Kundalini and Death for the past 60 years. And then, like someone who has lived with Kundalini for 60 years, I turned to mindful thinking and dismissed the idea of relevance.

I felt my consciousness beginning to expand…it soon filled the tiny examination room. I hardly felt the needle as it broke the skin in the crease of my elbow. I had to be tapped on the shoulder when it was over.

My blood pressure was 107.

AI to the Rescue

 Three weeks ago, I happened to catch a discussion about the paucity of audiobooks compared to their readable brethren‚ eBooks and Print books. The participants were deploring the disparity, at the same time they lamented the cause—the high cost of hiring a narrator as well as the cost of editing and mastering the recorded audio files. That, they said, would condemn audiobooks to limited numbers, and therefore a limited readership, a situation disadvantaging folks with vision issues.

A week later, I was updating one of my titles on Google Play when I spotted an addition to their interface: they were offering to convert my eBook to an audiobook, using, you guessed it, a digital voice. In other words, AI.

I couldn’t think of a good reason to NOT test this free offer. Nevertheless, being familiar with the digital voices used by Google Maps and iMaps, I thought I would probably be disappointed. Could their process handle dialog and tricky intonation? I wasn’t optimistic. Boy, was I wrong… The sample voices I listened to were amazing and the choice of voices—male and female, American and British, old and young—was astounding.

The conversion took less than thirteen seconds. My son, who’s into AI says the amount of processing power used in all AI applications—the conversion of eBooks to audiobooks being only one to them— is also astounding. He says AI is not only a toolset with an incredible future, it is an investment bonanza right now.

Sharess of AI stocks

As soon as the file was converted, it opened a studio interface for editing/correcting pronunciation. In my opinion, this interface was not quite ready for prime time. The whole setup smacked of Beta.

Shortly after this experience, I discovered a joint venture between Apple and D2D offering eBook-to-audiobook conversion. At the moment, their process takes place behind closed doors. Their digital voice samples, however, were indistinguishable from human voices.

Apple quality digital voices

This from the D2D website:

“Once your request is submitted, it takes one to two months to process the book and conduct quality checks that include file quality, content compatibility (i.e. no complex formatting elements, limited non-English words and phrases), and editorial review. Pre-orders are not currently supported.

Even more recently, I discovered Amazon now offers a conversion process similar to Google’s, only more stable. A Beta, their editing interface is impressive as are their voice samples.

Amazon Beta audiobook production

This impending proliferation of audiobooks will benefit 80-something readers and writers with impaired vision. More than the general readership? Who knows? It may take a while for cost and quality to normalize.

An interesting sidebar to the whole thing—purely a subjective impression on my part—is that many existing audiobooks have been recorded with inferior human narration. They can now be re-recorded with a much-improved narration. Yes, I’m saying that many of the human voices offered on the large audiobook sites are not up to standard, mainly because there is no standard. Ironically, AI narration will set a standard.