Are We Using Technology, or Is Technology Using Us? That’s the fall focus of the Sinai and Synapses Discussion Forum. Each week, we’ll gather some of the most interesting articles on the topic from across the online world. We hope they make you think—and share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Here’s the news from the week ending January 16, 2015:

Social Media and the Cost of Caring

Frequent use of social media is not directly related to higher stress. But stress can be contagious through social media channels: Social media users are often more aware of the stressful events in others’ lives, and this awareness itself can lead to higher stress. (Keith Hampton, Lee Rainie, Weixu Lu, Inyoung Shin, Kristen Purcell, Pew Research Internet Project)

Capturing Changes In The Way We Connect

Marcelo Gleiser: After reading a recent post of mine focusing on whether we should be living our lives, or capturing them, photographer Jacob F. Lucas got in touch. He recently put together a book called Commute Culture that addresses this same topic through pictures. I decided to find out what inspired him to delve into this subject matter. Here are some highlights from our discussion. (13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR)

Is There an App for Empathy?

We are hardwired to feel unease, and even fear, around strangers. Meanwhile, every religion on the planet (at least at their most evolved levels) teaches us to “love the stranger.” Well, it’s pretty clear religion – with its technologies, wisdom and practices – has not gotten the job done. But what if there were new, innovative technologies that could help us nurture empathy for the stranger? (Irwin Kula, The Wisdom Daily)

Religion: The Game

Jason Anthony: In NetHackMud, and Gods, the wired world’s first rulers were admins known as wizards and gods. When digital first dreamed, it dreamed religion. And it did so in the logic of games. The world of game design has never stopped dreaming of religion. The professional game community, while deeply suspicious of organized religion, packs its games with religious tropes, language, images, and pursuits. The design community, flush with resources and the brightest creative minds of our era, continues to call for a new approach to great human questions—deep, transportive games with narratives that are mythic and far-reaching. (The Immanent Frame)

What Do People’s Online Avatars Say About Them?

What can a given avatar tell us about the person who created it? It’s a hot area of study given the proliferation of interesting online worlds, and a new studyin Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Katrina Fong and Raymond Mar of York University seeks to shed some light on it. (Jesse Singal, Science of Us, New York Magazine)

Confessing Your Sins to a Phone

A new app offers the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation, better known as confession, in the privacy of your own portable device. The app is not yet approved by any religious body, but it may offer future opportunities to re-awaken interest in Reconciliation among laity who value anonymity. (Jon Mitchell, In Real Life)

Artificial Intelligence Experts Sign Open Letter to Protect Mankind From Machines

“The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence. … We recommend expanded research aimed at ensuring that increasingly capable AI systems are robust and beneficial: our AI systems must do what we want them to do,” the letter said in part. A research document attached to the open letter outlines potential pitfalls and recommends guidelines for continued AI development. The letter comes after experts have issued warnings about the dangers of super-intelligent machines. (Nick Statt, CNET)

A 100-Year Study of Artificial Intelligence? Microsoft Research’s Eric Horvitz Explains

The One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100), based at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and funded by Horvitz and his wife, aims to track the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on all aspects of life, from national security to public psychology and privacy. Horvitz recently helped create a standing committee of interdisciplinary researchers who serve rotating terms, to convene study panels that will produce a major report every 5 years. The first report is expected at the end of this year. (Jia You, Science)

The Cathedral of Computation

We’re not living in an algorithmic culture so much as a computational theocracy. The algorithm has taken on a particularly mythical role in our technology-obsessed era, one that has allowed it wear the garb of divinity. Concepts like “algorithm” have become sloppy shorthands, slang terms for the act of mistaking multipart complex systems for simple, singular ones. Of treating computation theologically rather than scientifically or culturally. (Ian Bogost, Atlantic)