Posts Tagged ‘Great Depression’

Letter From Claverack 08 2017 And the robots are coming to get us?

January 9, 2017

Outside the cottage, it is a cold winter night.  It’s sixteen degrees and feels like three, per my Weather Channel App.  Tonight, I will be leaving the kitchen cupboard doors open and the faucets dripping.  So far, so good.  No frozen pipes yet.

Soft jazz is playing on the Echo and its Alexa technology was the hit of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  Auto manufacturers are integrating Alexa into their vehicles.  It is, apparently, the “Killer App” of this year’s CES, which was, apparently, all about technology coming to automobiles.

Alan Murray, who is CEO of Fortune Magazine and Chief Content Officer for Time, Inc. writes a daily blog called the “CEO Daily.”  I suggest you subscribe.  He wrote this week, from CES, that all companies are becoming technology companies.  It also appears, to me, that all companies are becoming media companies.  It is a huge transformation that is going on.

Despite all the rhetoric about jobs being lost to China and Mexico [and some are], the biggest danger to jobs everywhere is the rise of Artificial Intelligence.  A Japanese insurance company is laying off several dozen people because it has found software they feel will do a better job than the people, an offshoot of IBM’s super brain Watson.

Because of where the cottage is located, I have trouble with my mobile signal.  I have a micro-cell.  It has been giving me trouble tonight.  When I phoned AT&T, I had an entire conversation with a gentleman who was not, in fact, anyone. He was an AI interface.

There is an Echo in my home and so I am experiencing the Alexa technology first hand.  Amazing!

Great fun and a little disconcerting.  And more and more jobs will be lost to AI in the years to come because we are looking at technology to replace us.  There are a lot of Uber drivers out there but what happens to them when self-driving cars become common?  What happens to all the long-haul truck drivers when there are self-driving trucks?  What happens to all the crews of ships when we have self-piloting ships?

We are on the way to being replaced by technology.  And we need to figure this out.  Because it is happening.

Donald Trump is going to be sworn in as President of these United States.  A lot of folks voted for him, I think, because he was addressing the issue of job degradation which has been going on but, I think, it was a backward-looking view because the real worry right now, globally, is not moving jobs off shore.  That is so 2000.  It is about the fact we are losing jobs to Artificial Intelligence.  That is so 2017.  And I don’t hear Trump addressing that.

Since I was a kid, I have loved science fiction and I am living in an age which would have been science fiction when I was a child.  Excuse me, I just ask Alexa for a new jazz station and I get it. I ask her for the weather; I get it.  It’s amazing and now we must deal with the job realities of what we’re doing because jobs will disappear as we create more and more devices to take care of us.

In airports, we have all seen the iPad devices that let us order what we want which is then delivered by a human.  In about two years, there will be robots which will take care of that.  What happens to those human servers?

Oh, and does anyone remember Hoot-Smalley?  It was a bill passed in Congress to restrict trade after the stock market crashed.  It created the Great Depression and I am fearing we will do something like this with the Trump Administration.

Look, I’m lucky.  I am in the third act of my life; I have ridden the great American boom of the last half of the Twentieth Century to the max.  Not rich, not poor, full of life experiences I never thought I would have.  Every day I do my best to remember to be grateful.

And I hope I am not Louis XV, saying “after me, the deluge.”

Letter From Dulles Airport 12 05 2016 Remembering my moral compass…

December 6, 2016

It is a quiet Monday evening and I am sitting in a waiting area at Dulles Airport; in a couple of hours I will board a flight to Albany, retrieve my car and drive the hour it takes to get down to the cottage.

The flight from Charlottesville was very short, about twenty minutes.  I closed my eyes and let my mind wander.

To anyone who reads me on a regular basis, it is apparent I did not support Donald Trump.  It occurred to me that many think I am now a disappointed Democrat.  Long ago, I became an Independent.

My upbringing was staunchly Republican.  My first vote for a President was for a Republican.  In the in-between, I have voted for worthy Republicans for various offices.

My parents were Republicans as was my Uncle Joe, who lived next door to us in the double bungalow we inhabited in south Minneapolis.  He and my father and mother had lived in duplexes and then the double bungalow forever as my father and my uncle shared responsibility for their mother, who was gone before I had cognizance of the world.

On a brutally cold morning in a February, my father awoke, complained of the worst headache he’d ever had and was dead before the ambulance could arrive.

Uncle Joe did not attempt to take his place but allowed me space to be in his life.  We took to watching television together on his huge color television set, sitting quietly, occasionally commenting on the acts on television variety shows.  He delighted in the Osmond Family and the Jackson Five.  He read paperback westerns and drove Lincoln Continentals.  His well-tailored wardrobe filled the closets.

Not well educated, he rose to be the Senior Vice President and General Manager for seven states for American Bakeries Company [Taystee Bread], then the second largest commercial baking company in the world.  He became a member of their Board of Directors.

At seventeen, it was determined by me and most everyone else, including family, counselors and my psychiatrist, that the healthiest thing I could do would be to leave home.  Relations between my mother and I had become unbearable, probably for both of us.

Uncle Joe took me to dinner and offered to help me.  I needed, in return, to maintain a B average in college and to have dinner with him at least once a month.

We grew closer.  At one of those dinners, at a restaurant looking down over downtown Minneapolis, snow swirling in the winter night, I asked him what was the thing he was proudest of in his life.  Uncharacteristically, he hesitated.

He told me that in 1932, he stood in his office building in what was then the tallest building in St. Paul and looked down at the bread lines weaving around the blocks.  He made a promise then that none of the people who worked for him, who counted in the hundreds, if not the thousands, would ever stand in a bread line.

He kept that promise.  He made sure that those who worked for him, even if they weren’t working full time, would have enough to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads.

I had not known; I was born long after the Great Depression, a child of the baby boom generation.

When I began to question the Viet Nam War, we had conversations.  He told me he no longer knew the right or wrong of Viet Nam; I must make my own decision and whatever it was, he would support me.

While he had never married, he had a great friend, Rose.  They breakfasted every Sunday morning after he’d been to church.  When she died, I suggested perhaps he might want to have breakfast with me, which began a tradition that grew to include sometimes two dozen members of the family.

It was apparent to me that Nixon’s goose was cooked when the medal Uncle Joe had received from the Committee to Re-elect the President {C.R.E.E.P.] disappeared from his desk where it had sat proudly.  If Nixon had lost Uncle Joe, he had lost it all.

He was and has remained my moral compass.  He was a humble man, not without flaws or he wouldn’t have been human, but a careful, considered, considerate man.

The last time weekend I saw him, he angered me with a comment.  Everyone told me to let it go but I marched over to his side of the house, started to speak and he held up his hand.  He told me he was sorry; he had spoken unwisely and out of turn.

It became a two-hour conversation that, when he died two months later, allowed me to feel I had had closure with the man who I now recognize as my greatest moral compass.

He was not my father but he fathered me.

On the short flight from Charlottesville, in a semi-slumber, I realized much of my hostility to the nomination of Donald Trump was because I am convinced Uncle Joe would have found his campaign deplorable and would be wounded that a man who has spoken as Donald Trump has about minorities and women would be the President Elect of these United States from the party he held so dear.

But Trump is.

I accept that and it does not mean I will not be watchful and will not civilly disagree when I feel it is appropriate and necessary for the good of this country to civilly disagree.

It is my belief that is what Uncle Joe would expect of me.

 

 

 

Letter From New York 12/13/14 Not for another 89 years…

December 13, 2014

It is 12/13/14 if you do dates the American way. That won’t happen again until 01/02/03 in the next century, 89 years from now. I can’t even imagine what the world will be like 89 years from now. Certainly I won’t be here to see it but children born today will probably be around. Life expectancy is on the rise in most countries and in the 22nd Century, 90 may be the new sixty. Who knows?

I went to a screening of the first episode of Downton Abbey last week in New York. It was set in 1924. The Earl and Countess of Grantham are celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary. One of the characters remarked that if she got married right then, she would be celebrating her 34th wedding anniversary in 1958.

It was a jarring thought because the world of 1958 was radically different from the world of 1924. In between there had been the Great Depression and World War II, forever changing the world. The atom bomb had been dropped; half of Europe was shut up behind the Iron Curtain. Germany had been pared down and cut apart into East and West. The Soviets had pierced space with Sputnik. We were off on the race to the moon.

What a difference a few decades can make.

Lunching today at the Red Dot in Hudson, I was asked by someone if I knew where the Mimosa had come from? So I did what we all do today when faced with a question for which we don’t have an immediate answer – I googled it. The Mimosa apparently was the invention of the bartender Frank Meier at the Ritz Hotel in Paris in 1925. Thank you, Google. Thank you, Wikipedia.

As I was finishing my omelet, I decided that I would serve asparagus soup tomorrow for dinner. Not knowing what was needed, I googled asparagus soup, found a recipe that I liked and then made a list of ingredients on the notes section of my iPhone and went off to the Price Chopper for the ingredients.

Amazing. Having been the first boy on my block to have a car phone and one of the first to have a cell phone and one of the first to upgrade to a smart phone, I am dazzled by how far we have come since that big black box was installed in the trunk of my car.

I don’t take it completely for granted but I am sure anyone under twenty can’t imagine a world before these devices. If they really thought about it, I am sure I would seem quaint, an antique from another world. Could someone actually have lived at a time when you couldn’t put the world in your pocket?

There’s far more computing power in my little iPhone than there was on the first space shuttle. It’s boggling for me to think about.

And that’s only in thirty years, it having been early 1984 when I got both my first Mac and my car phone. It’ll be interesting to see what the next thirty years will bring, not to mention the next 89 when, if we’re still using the American style of dating, it will be 01/02/03.