Interesting article: Unexpected Consequences of Self Driving Cars by Rodney Brooks

This is an interesting article about the unexpected consequences of self-driving cars. I’m still unconvinced that 100% self-driving cars will happen in my lifetime.  I’m not even sure I’d want it, though I do understand there is probably a significant safety argument to be made to get humans away from the steering wheel (many of us are quite dumb and reckless).

But I come at this from a rural-ish part of the USA where I don’t see everybody being able to afford, let alone want or trust a fully autonomous vehicle. But who knows.

In this post I will explore two possible consequences of having self driving cars, two consequences that I have not seen being discussed, while various car companies, non-traditional players, and startups debate what level of autonomy we might expect in our cars and when. These potential consequences are self-driving cars as social outcasts and anti-social behavior of owners. Both may have tremendous and unexpected influence on the uptake of self-driving cars. Both are more about the social realm than the technical realm, which is perhaps why technologists have not addressed them. And then I’ll finish, however, by dissing a non-technical aspect of self driving cars that has been overdone by technologists and other amateur philosophers with an all out flame. And yes, I am at best an amateur philosopher too. That’s why it is a flame.

Source: Unexpected Consequences of Self Driving Cars – Rodney Brooks

Build It To The Sun: A Short Story

I wrote this story a number of years ago when my daughter was quite a bit younger than she is now. I quite like this story, actually. To be honest, I’m surprised at the quality. Doesn’t seem much like me. Anyway, I thought I’d share it here because I think it deserves some more views.

Build It To The Sun

“What are you building there, honey?”  said Ashley, raising her eyes from her smart phone just enough to verify her daughter was still in the room and that she was playing with something that was neither breakable nor lethal. The prior night had been such a trying one, again, and all she wanted to do was veg. At least her Facebook friends would provide her some sympathy.

“I’m building a ladder to the Sun, Mumma,” answered Sam, a pink spoke amidst a colorful loop of Duplo bricks.  “I’m makin’ it real high.”

“That’s nice honey,” Ashley answered. “You do know you can’t really build a ladder all the way to the Sun, though, don’t you?”  She was all for imagination, of course. However, preschool was less than a year away and theirs was a house of science, not fancy.

“Yes I can do it,” cried Sam, squeezing a brick with all her strength. “I’m doing it right now.”

“You don’t have enough bricks to build all the way to the Sun sweetie,” said Ashley. Why did they make the keys on phones so tiny anyway, she thought. And were the letters getting smaller and smaller, or had her eyes begun to age like the rest of her body?

“We could buy some more,” said Sam. “I don’t need much more.”

Ashley hit the send button on her status update, waited a moment, and then refreshed the screen, hopeful for the oncoming parade of comments and likes. She skimmed her friend’s status updates, clicking Like here and typing LOL there. “And how would you breathe when your ladder exited the Earth’s atmosphere? There is no air in space, you know.  You would need a helmet and oxygen.”

“I have my Dora helmet,” said Sam. “But I don’t wanna wear it.” Now on her tip-toes, she placed a blue block on top of the stack. The blues ones always went on top of the stack.

“Mmm hmm”.  Ashley  launched her phone’s web browser because Facebook was so dead. Her status update had received just a single Like. Everybody was probably eating breakfast, she figured.  She and Sam had done that hours ago, early as always.

This conversation was definitely post-worthy anyway. She contemplated putting away her phone and walking to the office to get the laptop, but she was just… so… tired.  The thumb pain would be worth it.  She logged into her blogging dashboard.

“Mumma,” said Sam, her voice loud with excitement.  “I’m really very close to the Sun now, Mumma.”

“Sammy,” said Ashley, typing a title to her post as fast as she could. “I’m sure you tried very hard but it just isn’t possible. The Sun is just too far away.”

“I know, Mumma,” said Sam. “You said.”  She turned the remaining blue brick in her tiny soft left hand. “But could you help me please Mumma?”

“Fine,” Ashley said. Come to think of it she was too tired to write anyway. She would blog later.

Placing her phone in her pocket, Ashley lifted herself off the couch. Stretching her arms, then her legs, she cracked her neck.  Then, finally, she looked up at her daughter’s creation. For the first time that morning, she saw.

A winding, mish mashed tower of blocks, thin in some areas and thick in others, was balanced just so against the living room wall. The ladder stretched ever onward to the ceiling ending just below the Sun-patterned border at the top of the wall.

“You were right Sam,” said Ashley with a whisper, kneeling down to kiss the top of her daughter’s head. “You really are close.”

Ashley reached in her pocket and for a moment considered taking a picture, but instead walked to the kitchen and placed her phone in the top drawer. The junk drawer.  “Why don’t we finish this up and then get out the play-doh,” she said, dabbing away the tear from the corner of her eye.  “Would that be fun?”

“Yes!” replied Sam, clapping her hands.  “I’m gonna make a car that can fly to the Moon.”

“That sounds brilliant,” answered Ashley.

Worth a look via Smithsonian: When Robots Take All of Our Jobs, Remember the Luddites

Another interesting article on automation and how workers responded in the past, and how things might play out in our future.

What happens then? If this vision is even halfway correct, it’ll be a vertiginous pace of change, upending work as we know it. As the last election amply illustrated, a big chunk of Americans already hotly blame foreigners and immigrants for taking their jobs. How will Americans react to robots and computers taking even more?

One clue might lie in the early 19th century. That’s when the first generation of workers had the experience of being suddenly thrown out of their jobs by automation. But rather than accept it, they fought back—calling themselves the “Luddites,” and staging an audacious attack against the machines.

Source: When Robots Take All of Our Jobs, Remember the Luddites | Innovation | Smithsonian

What the Robots Are Doing to the Middle Class…

So we’ve been told that the election of Voldemort in the most recent US election is a reaction to people losing their jobs and being scared for their future. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I thought this might be of interest.

The simplistic response to the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on employment is that we’ve experienced this before, during the Industrial Revolution and beyond, and that the “market” will eventually provide plenty of jobs. The reality is that tens of millions of Americans will have to accept food service and retail and personal care jobs that don’t pay a living wage.

Source: What the Robots Are Doing to the Middle Class | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

And this…

At a time when robots crowd factory lines, algorithms steer cars and smart screens litter the checkout aisles, automation is the new spectre. The robots, they say, are coming for our jobs.Let them, reply the luxury communists.

Source: Fully automated luxury communism | Guardian Sustainable Business | The Guardian

I don’t know what the answer is/will be, but it would be nice if we had a united government that would seriously look at the issue and comes up with a solution that will help us all. That is probably the most far-fetched idea in this entire scenario, but hey it’s 2017 and we might as well hope.

Women of Harry Potter: Luna Lovegood’s Relentless Optimism | Tor.com

 has written several outstanding pieces on the Women of Harry Potter, but this one might be my favorite. Luna Lovegood has always been one of my favorite characters. She is considered weird (like I always considered myself) but she is also brave in her weirdness (which I never was).

Here is a tiny excerpt, but go over there and read it all. And like, print it out and stick it up on your wall.

Cynicism is tempting. It hovers constantly at the edge of every hopeful moment, whispering “it will never happen.” It looks intelligent. It looks wry and elegant and worldly.

And it has never managed to ensnare Luna Lovegood.

Luna has spent years being told to give up. She has spent years being told that if she doesn’t give up, she’ll be left alone, barefoot and reviled. She has spent years among the Ravenclaws, being treated as stupid because she will not bend to cynicism.

She is precisely what the rebellion needs.

Source: Women of Harry Potter: Luna Lovegood’s Relentless Optimism | Tor.com

Finding North America’s lost medieval city | Ars Technica

This is fascinating. It feels like so much of what happened in North America is lost to time.

A thousand years ago, huge pyramids and earthen mounds stood where East St. Louis sprawls today in Southern Illinois. This majestic urban architecture towered over the swampy Mississippi River floodplains, blotting out the region’s tiny villages. Beginning in the late 900s, word about the city spread throughout the southeast. Thousands of people visited for feasts and rituals, lured by the promise of a new kind of civilization. Many decided to stay.

Source: Finding North America’s lost medieval city | Ars Technica

A Yale history professor’s 20-point guide to defending democracy under a Trump presidency — Quartz

I came across this article today and thought it should be further shared. Defending Democracy under a Trump Presidency. I am posting the intro and the 20 points from the article, but you should really go to the article and read the text corresponding to each point.

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today:

1. Do not obey in advance.
2. Defend an institution.
3. Recall professional ethics.
4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words.
5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
6. Be kind to our language.
7. Stand out.
8. Believe in truth.
9. Investigate.
10. Practice corporeal politics.
11. Make eye contact and small talk.
12. Take responsibility for the face of the world.
13. Hinder the one-party state.
14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can.
15. Establish a private life.
16. Learn from others in other countries.
17. Watch out for the paramilitaries.
18. Be reflective if you must be armed.
19. Be as courageous as you can.
20. Be a patriot.

Source: A Yale history professor’s 20-point guide to defending democracy under a Trump presidency — Quartz

The Movie “Miracle” And President Carter’s Confidence Speech

So I was watching the movie Miracle (the story of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team) right after the election, because I like hockey and I like that movie. And maybe I needed a little something to help me feel slightly better about my country.

But this scene in the movie with a scene of the guys having fun at a team Christmas party, overlaid with the “Crisis of Confidence” speech President Carter gave in 1979 really struck me.

Here is but a small excerpt from Crisis of Confidence:

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don’t like it, and neither do I. What can we do?

First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.

One of the visitors to Camp David last week put it this way: “We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking and start walking, stop cursing and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.”

We know the strength of America. We are strong. We can regain our unity. We can regain our confidence. We are the heirs of generations who survived threats much more powerful and awesome than those that challenge us now. Our fathers and mothers were strong men and women who shaped a new society during the Great Depression, who fought world wars, and who carved out a new charter of peace for the world.

We ourselves are the same Americans who just ten years ago put a man on the Moon. We are the generation that dedicated our society to the pursuit of human rights and equality. And we are the generation that will win the war on the energy problem and in that process rebuild the unity and confidence of America.

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

Seems like much of this can be applied to today. And yeah, the special interests won. Reagan won. Trump won. America lost but hopefully isn’t lost.