The Gospel Drone

 In Culture, Fred's Blog, Technology

In 1967 film maker and devout Christian Irwin “Shorty” Yeaworth (whose first popular movie was “The Blob”) produced “The Gospel Blimp” as a send-up of the craze over mass evangelism using the latest technology to reach a whole community in the most effective way possible – an inflatable blimp manned by a “Commander” and his crew. They towed Bible-verse banners, “firebombing” the unchurched citizens with thousands of gospel tracts and broadcasting Christian music and programs over loudspeakers. Things unravel and the new technology ends up being just one more way of wasting money with little positive effect. But for a brief moment it is new and exciting and full of promise.

Shorty was a colorful character and a periodic guest in our home. He died tragically in a one-car accident in Jordan a decade ago while working on a multimedia extravaganza for the Jordanian government. It is in memory of Shorty that I have looked at a few of our generation’s technological advances and tried to think about how we can best use them in the service of philanthropy.

For starters, instead of blimps we have drones, and the possibilities have expanded. While being used now for everything from protecting African rhinos from poachers to analyzing human trafficking patterns, in the near future we will not have to scatter tracts from a hovering blimp haphazardly any longer. We can direct messages with laser-like focus to predetermined targets.

Using facial analysis algorithms (FAA), we can now accurately read the most subtle expressions signaling happiness, loneliness, sadness and meaninglessness. Affectiva and Emotient have systematically analyzed millions of expressions that allow us to use drone-based webcams to identify with amazing accuracy individuals —and even families—who are most likely to be open to the gospel – and we can custom tailor the messages to respond to that telltale emotion. Pandora and Spotify-like applications can test and direct music selections to whole populations based on taste, doctrine, average age and ethnicity.

Body cams built by Taser and used by police departments around the world are not only able to record activity, but when adapted can accurately analyze vital sign indicators (VSI) and other statistics just from a video image of a face. With live-feed body cams, we can monitor 24/7 the activity of ministry workers and their interaction with everyone in the course of their day. Not only that, but when outfitted with miniature GPS units those cams serve as tracking devices equipped to identify and quantify time spent on non-work related activities. With ever-increasing video sophistication, site visits can be practically eliminated except in those areas without wireless or internet access, and I don’t know many professionals who want to travel there anyway. The savings in time and money will be remarkable.

As well, ministries no longer need to make expensive and wasteful visits to foundation offices. All that can be handled by video, vital sign sensors and facial scanners to determine when numbers are inflated or grantees are insincere or uncomfortable. And, everything goes into a central file (brain) that connects and sorts information gathered by all foundations and sophisticated donors. Computers will chat with other computers to update all the collected data for real time access. According to Jeremy Rifkin in a recent Forbes article, “Today, we have 14 billion sensors connecting devices. Sensors monitoring our food crops, smart vehicles, warehouses, smart roads. By 2020, we’ll have maybe 100 trillion sensors – every machine is talking to every other machine.”

Studies have shown that different areas of the brain “light up” when engaged in particular activities. By now, the results are conclusive that giving actually stimulates the same area of the brain that responds to joy, happiness and satisfaction. Charity lights up the brain center controlling pleasure and reward that also corresponds to pleasurable music, addictive drugs, and the bond between mothers and their children. Not only can these activities be monitored but they can be triggered electronically. As well, certain colors, images and sounds stimulate these areas as donor development scientists discovered many years ago through pioneer research. We now know and can individually customize donor stimulation through media, electronic games, the internet and, especially, Facebook. Organizations can identify those activities and causes that light up the brains of the foundation staff and concentrate their efforts there. More importantly, they can change as rapidly as needed. Interests of boards and donors can change without much advance notice and organizations need to be prepared and flexible.

These same brain science findings have shown us that other activities less stimulating – like filling out reports and general administrative work – create a dim glow in buried parts of the brain stem. We can now map how much time our grantees are spending filling out forms and reports by the amount of dim glow time (DGT) their monitors report. Thankfully for them, Google has created a special “auto-fill” function that through redundancy anticipates the questions each foundation asks and automatically fills in the right amount of detail and descriptions of results achieved.

That same research can now be used in wearables that accurately monitor not only vital signs but record missed deadlines, low heart rate (sure evidence of inactivity), DGT, and other indicators that time and money are being wasted. With mobile banking applications, the foundation staff from thousands of miles away can immediately modify or even terminate the grant and switch to another organization with better patterns. Studies have shown that all the vital signs increase moments after receiving electronic notification of the grant being terminated. Switch frequency (SF) can even be used to modify other kinds of behavior. Long lunches become shorter. Sleep time is briefer. Leisurely strolls become more purposeful and goal directed.

Our best minds are working on this, and there is no telling what is just over the horizon. Temporary and project-oriented nonprofits and businesses funded by Kickstarter to eliminate disease, poverty and injustice will proliferate as Millennials and texting replace endowments and capital intensive staff. Billions of people will be able to take classes on their cellphones with universal education overcoming senseless strife, greed and income disparity. We will be, at last, on the right side of history. The Internet of Things will reduce the cost of almost everything to zero. Everyone and everything will be connected and optimized. All will be well.

Oh, happy day.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Terry Parker
    Reply

    One thing they will never be able to do, and that is make someone fall in love with you, or even duplicate the chemistry that two people feel when they know they were meant for each other. I had no girl friend during 4 years of college and 3 years of Law School, but I knew instantly when I met Paula that this was the girl I wanted to marry. No brainy computer could ever have told me that — in spite of what the ad says on eHarmony.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      That’s funny, Terry. On the other hand, I know several people who have met on eHarmony or Match.com and their marriages are strong. They would have never met otherwise. There is always going to be a role for a “yenta” whether it is a person or a website.

  • Tony Morgan
    Reply

    Fred, is it 1984 yet? i knew we were protesting SOMETHING back in the 60’s…. just were not sure what… now all is clear!
    i’d ponder that further, but my receptionist just told me there’s a pig asking for me at the front desk!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      We are fast approaching it – but don’t be alarmed. All will be well. All will be well. All will be well.

  • Dodd Caldwell
    Reply

    Fred, you completely forgot about Virtual Reality. I was able to experience Oculus Rift Crescent Bay at the Facebook conference last week:

    http://www.ign.com/articles/2015/01/09/ces-2015-oculus-rift-crescent-bay-is-the-most-impressive-vr-demo-ive-ever-experienced

    It really was the most impressive technological experience I’ve ever had – it was like teleportation. When I started talking to folks about the implications – wow – some of them are exciting and others are completely terrifying.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      I don’t think I can handle virtual reality. It reminds me too much of the scene from “Soylent Green” and the euthanasia room. I’m very, very content with non-virtual reality.

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