Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

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 New York November 11, 2012

November 12, 2012

Or, as it seems to me…

It’s a Sunday night and I am in Seattle, where I came to attend a surprise birthday party for a friend of mine, Jerry May.  I’ve known Jerry for a long time and we’d actually fallen out of touch but found each other again through the wonders of the LinkedIn.  We caught up when I was in Seattle six months ago. His fiancé then sent me an email that she was throwing a surprise birthday party for him and I came.  He’s a stand up guy.  Stood up for me once.  So I thought I’d show up for him.

Turned out they were punking the guests; it wasn’t a surprise birthday party but a surprise wedding.  Jerry and Gail got married in front of a hundred staggered guests.  They’d been planning this for months.  Standing there, I was really glad I had made the effort to come.

I spent part of today walking around Seattle, a city I have visited frequently in my life, passing places and restaurants that I’ve been before, feeling a sense of history, the history of my own life.

This has been a historical time.  Barack Obama was re-elected, much to my personal relief.  I watched the returns with friends at a restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where there was early tension in the air as the early returns went to Romney.  Then the tide began to turn and tension turned to relief as the electoral tide went to Obama.  When CNN declared him the victor the restaurant erupted in applause.

It was an election held amidst the residue of Hurricane Sandy, an event that might have helped Obama.  Republicans were incensed that Chris Christie, Republican Governor of New Jersey, embraced Obama and was embraced by him.  Christie came across well in all of this – a Governor who put partisan politics away when it came down to what was necessary for his state and has faced criticism for it.

But it is quite probable nothing could change the outcome.  Serious pollsters, math geeks in fact, had been predicting for weeks that Obama would win based on their reading of the runes of the polls.  They crawled over the numbers and came up with one answer:  Obama wins.

The number crunching math nerd Nate Silver, a blogger connected to the New York Times, predicted Obama’s win or loss correctly in 50 of 50 states nearly a week before the election.  He is not the only such math nerd political analyst who has so surprised pundits by their accuracy that some are saying we are moving into a new phase of political prediction.  They poured over poll numbers, ran them through computer simulations and out came a statistical avalanche of information that proved so correct on the Presidential level that it has left some traditional pollsters shell shocked.

Reading and hearing about them caused me to think of Hari Seldon, the great psycho-historian of the Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov, one of the great science fiction classics to which I return time and again for the wicked pleasure it gives me in reading them.  Psychohistory, a creation of the mind of Asimov, posits that the behavior of humans could be predicated statistically, with pretty great accuracy.  Hello Nate Silver, perhaps our first real psycho-historian…

Personally, I find it both fascinating and, like some of the traditional pollsters, a little unsettling.  If these guys keep it up for the next few election cycles a lot of the pleasure of the political process will be taken out of elections.  We’ll know the outcome of our behavior before we have committed the action.  Sounds like science fiction, right?  Well, it should because it is.  But it’s the reality in which we’re all living right now.