The new immortals: What legal status should be granted to artificially intelligent persons? -Canadian Lawyer

pexels-photo-97077Immortals shall soon walk among us. They may also crawl, roll and perhaps hover. Yes, definitely hover. The immortals refer to artificially intelligent persons, and by “us” I mean natural persons.

The European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs recently released a report recognizing that humankind stands on the threshold of an era of sophisticated robots and other manifestations of artificial intelligence. The committee saw the need to legislate this area relatively quickly as self-driving cars are making their appearance. The fundamental question is what sort of legal status should be granted to AIPs? Natural persons want to avoid any “Battle of the AIPs” future scenarios.

A reference to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus dramatically starts off the committee’s report. The committee thought that by addressing people’s real concerns upfront, they could deal with the more substantive issues. The committee recognizes that people have fantasized about the possibility of building intelligent machines and of achieving potential unbounded prosperity. The committee does not mention drones with laser canons, but you just know they were all fantasizing about that.

Other person “types” provide potential guidance. Corporations occupy a separate category of legal persons in an attempt to reach personhood. A corporation is a legal person by legislation. In the 1973 sci-fi film by the same name, Soylent Green may be people, but corporations are not people. “Corporations are people, my friend,” said U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney in 2011, and Democrats took him to task for this statement. “I don’t care how many times you try to explain it,” U.S. president Barack Obama said at one point. “Corporations aren’t people. People are people.” A person falls into the legislative definition of a natural person, and the corporate experience shows where the AIP legal status question may end up.

Corporations have first amendment rights and can advocate for certain political parties. Should AIPs be provided similar rights, and if they could vote for a particular party, what sort of governmental structure would they prefer? Anarchy would be a good bet, and not the cloak and molotov cocktail carrying kind. German philosopher Immanuel Kant identified anarchy as “law and freedom without force.” AIPs would not have the billions of years of upbringing requiring force to deal with predators and competitors. They might learn that on their own, and perhaps to our detriment.

Corporations can own property but don’t have personal privacy rights. One can imagine AIPs creating new patentable types of software. If your AIP demanded privacy, what would your reaction be? Once your teenager makes the same request in your house, your first compulsion might be to sack the room and look for drugs or an old-fashioned diary. For an AIP, would you look for secret caches of information, or heaven forbid, mind-expanding cloud-based storage?

Corporations can also divide like an amoeba and create brand new little entities. One can easily imagine AIPs creating more advanced AIPs. Shelley’s creature demanded that Frankenstein “create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.” If AIPs created little AIPs, should we — could we — stop them? The age of consent does not apply here. An AIP could easily become “older” than any builder if an AIP can download the wisdom of the ages overnight and join the ancients. How could one supervise this potential procreation proclivity in AIPs? In Canada, the government has no role in the bedrooms of the nation. The U.S. government appears to be in every intelligent device, so it may be supervising already.

In describing artificial intelligence, the committee outlines how the present legislation does not encompass machines that become autonomous and self-aware. A machine can be built, loaded with software and then go on to learn from its environment. This new environmental learning suggests that the AIP can determine its own actions and learn from its experience and failures. AIPs have an advantage here since the majority of natural persons still struggle with learning from failure.

If an AIP can decide its own actions and causes harm, then legal liability can shift from the builder over to the teacher providing the environment. If an AIP can operate independently with its environment and be held accountable for its own actions, then it could be held strictly liable. Strict liability requires that a plaintiff show that the damage occurred and a causal link. This differs from negligence in that there is no need to establish the same duty of care, standard of care and breach of that duty of care. Strict liability would be allocated between builder and eventual teacher. The teacher and the surrounding environment impacts the liability shift between builder and teacher. This shift would be extremely difficult to establish in that it may take a village to raise a child, but a vast social media network environment raises an AIP.

The committee suggests an ethical framework of beneficence, nonmaleficence and autonomy, and fundamental rights such as human dignity and human rights, equality, justice and equity, non-discrimination and non-stigmatization, autonomy and individual responsibility, informed consent, privacy and social responsibility. Whether these ethics and fundamental rights will be offered to AIPs remains unclear, but sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Natural people tend to anthropomorphize animals and objects, and this tendency may provide greater rights to AIPs. Do you feel bad if your kitchen table ensnares your Roomba? Would you feel even worse if it was trapped and you had earlier placed googly eyes on the Roomba? If so, then you would likely agree that AIPs are entitled to receive ethical and compassionate treatment. But would they need it or are we simply making ourselves feel better?

The committee suggests the need to include a kill switch (opt-out mechanisms). I will shorten this to “OOM.” The OOM euphemism provides somewhat of a guilt release. Humanity can delude itself in the belief it has control over any situation, but as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote in The Sirens of Titan, “The only controls available to those on board were two push-buttons on the center post of the cabin — one labeled on and one labeled off. The on button simply started a flight from Mars. The off button connected to nothing. It was installed at the insistence of the Martian mental-health experts, who said that human beings were always happier with machinery they thought they could turn off.” If you have difficulty in OOMing your faithful Roomba, think how hard it might be if it asked you to reconsider.

To alleviate this OOM situation, I would recommend that readers take their favourite mind/body relaxant and consider the following: Consider if, instead of immortality, AIPs live a limited number of years. Science fiction covers both ends of the spectrum of planned obsolescence of the most brutal kind to the inability to self-terminate. If we incorporated a pre-determined lifespan, would we tell our AIPs the exact date? We could leave the date determination to a random number generator entitled Final Actual Time Expiry, or FATE. Perhaps again, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

 

Previously on Canadian Lawyer

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My Code of Conduct is wordier than your Code of Conduct.

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“Moral as well as legal obligations will be fulfilled openly, promptly, and in a manner which will reflect pride on the Company’s name.”

These words form the basis of a very fine code of conduct. Unfortunately, this code did not prevent Enron’s problems when it finally collapsed upon itself. So legislators passed Sarbanes-Oxley to fix the problem. The problem still grew resulting in almost the collapse of the financial system in 2008. The more regulations you pass to address the problem seem to magnify the next series of problems.

Various professional organizations provide for very comprehensive codes of conduct. Some groups expanded their codes to now include such things as principles for diversity. Just about everyone agrees that these constitute fine statements for people to aspire. Some disagree that they should not be forced to sign such principles. Others disagree that the principles do not go far enough.

If anyone needs to be reminded to simply act as a decent human being, then yes, the codes do not go far enough. But do fine statements actually work? Do people needing to change their behaviours actually change their behaviours based on something written down on a website, PDF, piece of paper, scroll or basalt? The last refers to the Code of Hammurabi of eye for an eye fame which we saw in the Louvre. A replica would make a fine reminder in any office lobby of the possibility of retribution for nefarious acts.

The various societies of Professional Biologists developed a pithy one page Code of ethics outlining responsibilities to the public, employer or client and within the profession. Membership requires adherence to the various codes listed, but these societies do not appear to govern the ability to practice as a biologist. You become a biologist when someone else calls you a biologist. I am not aware of any society that handles complaints, even if there were any. The biologists in breach rarely get into the paper.

The code of ethics for engineers begins to look more like a brochure. The code requires the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Engineers are expected to perform under a standard of professional behaviours that requires adherence to the highest principles of ethical conduct. Over the past four years the Ontario society may have averaged 6 complaints per year. They seem to be doing relatively well ethics wise.

We begin to enter a serious stage with the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants. At 114 pages, the code does go into greater detail as to how one should serve not only the client but the greater public interest. The fundamental principles include integrity, objectivity, professional competence, confidentiality and professional behaviours.  The Ontario CPA decisions list over 600 case over the past 30 years. Interesting, and perhaps indicative of accounting behaviour, the cases are listed by rule infraction instead of by year. The discipline journal of cases resembles a tax code.

The various law societies also come in around 113 pages, but have expanded this with some useful commentary and handy indexes found in the back and something that is not found in other codes of conduct, namely definitions. These are found at the beginning of each section. The essence of the code holds out integrity, competence, quality of service, confidentially and conflicts as some of the main pillars. In Ontario there appears to be a steady increase of complaints since in 2008 there were 132 decisions and 199 decisions in 2017. An almost 50% increase over a decade.

 

For comparison purposes, we might look at the Canadian Curling association’s Code of Ethics of 6 bullet points and Fair Play of 5 bullet points which would easily fit on a beer label. This would at least keep it top of mind. Infractions never seem to make the paper unless it occurs at some national level. To avoid the most common infraction, some rinks use a detector if a curling stone is released after crossing the hog line.

So, more regulation does not appear to be solving ethical infractions. An argument could be made that the problem would have been worse, but it’s always hard to prove how many icebergs you really did miss. People only remember the one you didn’t miss.

What appears to be missing from the paper code of conduct solutions would be an ethical culture and an overall ethical program. An ethical culture must originate from management. The various governing societies can help visualize what the tone should sound like, but management must be the one singing it. An ethical program requires more than just a well-defined code of conduct. You also need guidance, a system for obtaining advice and ethical training.

Some of this necessary infrastructure appears to be lacking in a number of governing societies. Compulsory Professional Development can cover some ethical training, but 1 ½ hours of required training a year may be far too low to effect meaningful change. Even a day a year would be insufficient to change some groups reticent to let go of old paradigms.

A system should also be put in place to ensure others can ask questions if necessary. The most effective way to impact change would be to add sufficient transparency to what is occurring prior to any problems arising. Attempting to resolve an issue is far more difficult than trying to prevent the problem from arising in the first place. Reporting of problems after they have occurred can be problematic as people can be reluctant to report issues for fear of direct or far more likely, indirect reprisals.

Studies have shown that people act more honestly and ethically if they perceive that they are being watched. For example, people are far more inclined to contribute towards the coffee fund if a poster containing a pair of eyes is set up on the wall. The same effect could be had by filling in reports on levels of diversity or other steps taken by firm to minimize or otherwise address ethical issues.

Adding a reporting requirement may increase regulatory requirement, but this is actually different from simply adding another page to the code of conduct that may have no effect. Adding a process that increases transparency could have a beneficial impact on changing the corporate culture and address other systemic society issues.  Making small process changes can nudge various organizations and the people within them to make better ethical choices.

 

 

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The Agile Body-2

When I started Karate at the Main Street dojo, our sole mantra was one punch, one kill. The idea being that your technique was to be so pure that you never needed more than one technique to defeat your opponent.

At the Main street dojo, we would always be encouraged to do something a bit crazier to show our dedication. We would often run around the block in our bare feet during middle of winter. Our feet would be quite swollen from the cold and it was quite a shock when our feet warmed up again.

Most often we would going back and forth across the hardwood floor. On occasion I would tear the callus off of the ball of my foot. The blood did make it easier to slide my foot across the floor. But they would generally order me off the floor and get fixed up.

I managed to strain the medial collateral ligaments of both knees. For years I couldn’t sleep on my side with my knees together.

My technique was good, but my competitions were hit and miss. I did manage to win the provincials for my division a number of times. With my left leg and left fist forward, I could easily launch myself several feet into my opponent. This usually overwhelmed them. But I did not do well in the next series of competitions of several provinces, called the Westerns.

I would launch myself at several people always stopping in time. But at this level, they never counted such a technique. I was completely stretched out and there was no indication that I was pulling my punch. You had to be close enough that you would have made contact and could have completely gone through the person had you chosen. Getting closer and closer trying to win a point just meant that I smacked into an opponent. Just lightly.

I continue my training and later that year a few of the old timer black belts got together at the main street dojo. They wanted to pull out the body armor they used to use for full contact fighting.

This was a completely new venture for me. The helmets have full face screens. The chest protectors were hard plastic. Softer material covered the shins. For hands we used the traditional bag gloves. Everyone brought their own cup, thank you very much.

For my next entry, I’ll cover off  how some of that experience went.

Still standing, so it went well enough.

Shock

 

A Thoreau style Personal Vision

pexels-photo-268660Creating ‘the vision thing’[1] took me several years. Ok, several decades, and I’m still working on it. Trying to create a personal vision in simple, clear and effective ways can be tough. Taking years kind of tough. If no vision comes to mind, then some of the collected works of the great essayists might provide you enough background to pick a particular way to create one. This might even include some of the greater poets (most aspire to reading poetry but I admittedly haven’t gotten the hang of it).

However, from a collected works perspective one of the greatest visionary writers would be Thoreau. By visionary, I suggest that the writer eloquently promotes an enthralling way of life clearly and simply. When Thoreau wrote that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation he suggested that they had no real goals or visions, just a continuous state of anxiety and drudgery. He wrote that living was so dear that he did not want to live anything that was not life. Although his time at Walden Pond was somewhat short, he only lived there for two years, he wrote a wealth of inspirational prose based on these experiences. He provides a classic explanation of his rationale.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.”

Here Thoreau paints a tremendous vision of what life should be all about, living deliberately. As a true leader, he does not necessarily flesh this out in any detail as to what his really means. However, he has set out a noble objective and he has left his readers with enough flexibility to determine how they might achieve such an objective. We can look at a later passage to see that living deliberately could mean any number of things.

“I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Here we see that life can run the full gamut of a life solitary, brutish and short to a type of ecstasy only achievable by being part of it. To him, nothing is more important than life itself and having all of the money or beauty in the world will not make up for a life wasted, or even shortened. He does provide certain guideposts to determine what living deliberately would require, and this would be to “simplify, simplify, simplify”. It would be difficult to achieve one’s goal if one is surrounded by reams of trivia. Other non-life things would have to be put to rout in order to get to the core of the matter. This also includes cutting close in order to carve away what gets in the way and defining life as a type of art. The essence of any great art would be to do away with anything that gets in the way of the thing itself that is being represented.

Perhaps the other attributes of leadership are not quite there, such as facilitating the change required to make such a change. Simplifying life in order to get at the art of life may be more difficult than most of us would like to acknowledge. This again does not suggest that taking time to get the kids to soccer interferes with your living deliberately, since interacting with your children on any level could be the sublime part that Thoreau mentions.

We can look to see if there are any particular tactics you might try to use and free up some more of that precious, and most often limiting factor called time. The amount of time per day is already fixed, so we can only look at getting some more time available to set out other objectives you might want to accomplish. Do not expect time travel any time soon. Besides, if someone had already created it, you would think that they would have visited our time line already to try to find out what were we thinking when we did whatever it is that we did in the past.

Finally, you need the wherewithal to make available any resources that might be required to facilitate what you are setting out to accomplish. In a corporation, this might look like accessing the necessary training and people to accomplish a particular objective. Personally, this means something slightly different. Having the necessary resources could be as simple, or as complicated, as making the necessary time available to accomplish what you are setting out to do. This of course, can be really dependent upon your own personal situation. It can be hard to find the necessary time when you have to run the children to their hockey lessons across town, or if you are running double shifts just to put enough food on the table. Your time has already been set out to accomplish as much as you can in the time allotted. These various constraints will straighten themselves out in their own time lines, and this might not be the same as yours.

Thoreau suggests that the oversupply of resources might be what gets in the way of living a deliberate life. When he suggests that we should simplify our lives, we should be simplifying our purchasing at the same time. This runs counter to the majority of contemporary thinking that the objective of life would be to gather as many things as you can put your name on before you die. If this is not your sole objective, then it appears to be a major indicator that you ran your life well. A proud moment in any couple’s life is when they finally get their first house. Considering the life span of a mortgage, Thoreau suggests that the couple did not get their house, but rather, the house got them.

A Thoreau personal vision suits a slimmed down less stressful lifestyle which allows you to follow-up on the more important things in life.

 

 

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Source: pixabay.com

[1] George H. W. Bush and “the vision thing”. Bush was not impressed with some advice to go to Camp David and figure out where he wanted to take the country.

Ethical Dementia-the drifting moral compass, some guidelines and aliens.

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Sometimes people encounter a dilemma and they pretend to have dementia. They forget about the right thing to do.

Decades ago, we had this negotiation seminar held with another company. We split into six groups and did this prisoner’s dilemma test involving a share purchase. If all the groups co-operated in this fictitious share purchase, then we would all partially benefit in the range of tens of thousands of dollars. But if only one group acted in opposition, then all of the benefit would go to that group and they would be unjustly enriched by hundreds of thousands of dollars. The other groups would get nothing. So of course the first five groups all co-operated, but by the time the six group revealed their decision, they went in opposition to the other five groups. The sixth group won the challenge and went home with all of the bragging rights and the fake money.

Now, this seems all fine and dandy if they actually had won millions and could retire from life. But they didn’t, and they couldn’t. We all returned to our work the following week. Unfortunately, and not my proudest moment, this colored my interaction with this one manager on the sixth team that had done me wrong, along with the rest of people. So, apparently, once people show me who they are, I tend to believe them.

A number of times when speaking to accountants, in a more relaxed setting, they tsk tsk the poor lawyer or accountant that got nabbed for stealing $40,000 or $50,000.  They always boast they would never steal that amount of money. They would wait for the big deal, and go for a few million.  Not to generalize, but it always the guys that seem to say this, but my sample size is small. Is this just bravado, financial locker room talk so to speak? “When you are a star lawyer, you can do whatever you want. Grab em by their proxies” for example?

Do you have a figure (financial, not body) that would tempt you? If so, you may wish to rethink the value statement that holds you together.

As for myself, I seem to have developed an unusual value statement for situations like this. I could never see myself taking anything from an employer or trusting client. I value my freedom far too much. I would never trade my right to go into any fast food joint of my choosing at any time. If I feared being apprehended at any time, that potential joy would be lost.

This always seems odd to me since I have not voluntarily gone to any fast food place for at least 40 years. There were the times I had to when  my kids were growing up. Then you have no choice since any opium den will do. Society frowns on you when you feed your children cough syrup so you can rest. But if you take them for a greasy flat burger and sodden fries, well then you are the greatest dad in the world according to your kids and the commercials.

The first ethical problem for most people appears to be recognizing there is a problem. You should ask yourself if a situation or decision could be damaging to someone or to some group. Is there a choice between a good and a bad alternative such as you see in the plot of a superficial science fiction movie? Or perhaps you have a choice between two bads such as you find in one of your darker dramatic comedies perhaps?

As the complexity increases, unless you’re trained in ethics (like a lawyer), or unless you encounter more ethical   dilemmas than most people (a religious advisor) then you really need a framework to analyze these situations. Having a great framework does not help much if you simply don’t care. It seems that lawyers and religious advisors get into ethically tough (ie criminal) spots quite often. So knowing ethics is not the same thing as practicing ethics. I am sure that ethic professors in university get into trouble too, but the media simply does not care.

Getting all of the fact surrounding an issue would be the next thing to do, right after recognizing that you have something to do. This includes finding out who might be impacted by your decision. Consulting with this group may identify some creative options.

When dealing with an ethical issue, once you have all the facts, you should evaluate the alternative options. One way is the Utilitarian approach. Which option will produce the most good and the least harm?

Let’s take the example of a science fiction movie and a spaceship of aliens arrive in your yard. They look friendly enough. Big eyes, big tongues, long shaggy ears and a mouth that curves up in smile loaded with lots of white gleaming teeth. They all have black, cold noses. Very golden retriever looking. They say they can provide you with a new vaccine that could save thousands of people from a nasty influenza virus. But in exchange, they want your cat. Actually they want a lot of cats. At the mention of this the antennae on top of their helmet wags quickly side to side.

Usually a science fiction example is extremely forced to become unbelievable, but you are faced with a simple choice. The most good obviously means saving the most people, but that one evil act seems to taint everything. This always leaves the decision maker on the horns of a dilemma. There only seems to be two options. Both unpalatable. But in most science fiction stories we wait until the very end when a third option finally become available that saves the people and the cat(s). Just as well since no one really wants to see a negative for either option. The non-cat people may have a different opinion mind you, but that’s another discussion.

The Rights approach looks for the option that best respects the rights of all those who have a stake. Here we are looking at a more complex situation where a number of groups have a say, and ultimately everyone is going to have to give a bit in order to get along. Here the drama becomes so subtle that it doesn’t make for good movie material. Not even the straight to video downgrade. Back when straight to video actually meant something. We would have to ask the cats their opinion on the topic. There only seems to be a downside for them. The Aliens don’t really have any rights to speak of and the other people do not necessarily a have a right to a vaccine which does not yet exist. So the no-go solution seems to be obvious.

The justice approach treats people equally or at least proportionally. Now here, a lot more people would be relieved in not getting sick at a cost of only a few cats. But the cats are seemingly paying a higher price. So they are given a higher weighting when it comes to balancing off the two groups. Once again, the price remains too high from the cat perspective. And again, the Aliens do not have any rights in this approach.

The Common good approach looks at the option that best serves the community as a whole and not just some members. Once again, the community would likely be aghast at giving away a community of cats for the benefit of a smaller group that may have gotten ill. So again, we have a no-go situation.

Finally, you could examine the virtue approach which leads you to act as the sort of person you want to be. Now, this does leave room for someone to be a complete jerk, and this seems to happen more than what you would think. Personally, I could not see myself making anything suffer just so others may benefit. So we could say that the cats are saved, but the default approach should be that they would not be at risk in the first place.

You tell the Aliens that they can’t have your cat or any others. The Aliens might be sad, but their faces have this perpetual golden retriever smile. You aren’t sure how they feel, except that their antennae looks droopy.

Finally, you should examine the results of your ethical solution, and you should examine yourself. An unexamined life means that you just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

 

 

 

 

Is your true life calling?

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There is nothing outside of yourself that calls to you. (except your mother, and you should call her back).

Otherwise, if you believe you are a blank slate to begin with, then everything you sense builds upon each new sensory experience.

At some point in time, you will project beyond yourself and perceive this as a calling. It might be life, a profession or a moral epiphany . But all of this comes from within.

This means that you have to do a bit of work to discover this calling. It might come to you as any wild animal might, but otherwise any experience worth having requires effort.

If you answer this call to yourself, then you are also following your bliss. Therein lies the happiness you are seeking.

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Create a Personal Vision

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A personal vision statement asks the most important question about you. A vision statement for a corporation establishes how the company views itself. A personal vision statement asks a similar question about how you see yourself. For thousands of years, men and women have been asking themselves what is the meaning of life. However, for a vision statement, you should ask yourself what it means to be truly alive.

 

How do you feel about your own life? If you read your own obituary, how would you feel or think about those really great spreadsheets or those pithy business plans? If you did a word search, it’s unlikely that these items would come up. Ever. Would you simply carry on and read about the more interesting person in the column beside you? If the answer is yes, then perhaps you should reassess your priorities.

 

So how does one create a personal vision statement? This does not necessarily have to relate to yourself, but could also relate to the environment around you. Martin Luther King did not have a vision for himself, he had a dream on how the world should be, and he worked towards that. However, most people would find it easier to deal with one’s self as opposed to an entire society.

 

A personal vision statement should capture in a single sentence what you would want other people to think and say to others about you. Needless to say, everyone should want to become all that they possibly could be. The Army has a great brand. Army Strong!

 

You may be thinking about becoming a truly actualized individual, where all of your internal resources are fully put to the test. Jung conceptualized this as being individualized.

 

Striving to be the best possible person in all aspects seems like an overly daunting task. But you do not have to force yourself to be the best possible person you can be by tomorrow. Take some time. Perhaps even the rest of your life, since the struggle is the most important thing. Or use the term “pursuit” if prefer.

 

You could strive to be the Renaissance man or Woman. Consider what the world would be like if we all strived to be like Leonardo. No one will ever be like Leonardo since that persona has already been done, and he was the best Leonardo that will ever happen since there could only be one. Instead, be the best person you can be considering what you already have to work with and what else you could develop with the time allotted to you. Ask yourself, would Leonardo really be spending his time watching this rerun of a game show, or would he be doing something more constructive with his time, like creating the next level of mathematics.

 

If we look at the life of Leonardo we see that he was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, engineer, inventor, and scientist. He likely epitomized the renaissance person. He easily bridged the two main planes of thought including science and art. Little has been written about any of his physical exploits. And nothing about his reality drama watching habits.