Technology may push us into increased socialism…

June 12, 2017

If you still have work years ahead of you something serious to ponder is: what happens when the robots take over? And they will.

It won’t be Robert the Robot, something you would have to be at least my age to recall from the 1950s, and it will not be R2-D2 from Star Wars, although those characters might be included, but it will be (already is in many instances) smart phone technology, self-driving vehicles, drones, computers figuring your every need and delivering it to you almost before you think of it. It will be artificial intelligence replacing those once thought-to-be-safe thinking/analytical jobs.

One problem will be that only engineers and various computer wizards will have good employment — they will still be needed. And some capitalists of the upper echelons will hire these people or make investments in companies that do.

But most of the rest of us, regardless of education level or special training, will find there is not much out there.

Of course the labor market will be so flooded that the upper classes will be able to afford to hire more people for menial work or at least will pay menial wages for all types of work.

We indeed may be forced into some kind of socialist state where the government takes on an even bigger role in supporting the populace. The upper classes, made up of those engineers and capitalists, will be willing to support it in order to keep what might otherwise turn into a hungry mob at bay.

I was having my late afternoon meal at a taqueria and at one table young men were eating and joking around with each other the old-fashioned way, at another some not-quite-as-young men were staring at their smart phones. Almost kind of counterintuitive, that is it would seem the younger they are the more they might be addicted to the phones.

But, whatever, I thought the ones without the phones seemed to be enjoying life. Those staring at the phones had dour expressions.

Back to Robert the Robot. When I was a little boy my best friend at the time had his own Robert the Robot toy. It spoke. What made it or allowed it to speak we both wondered. Finally he took a hammer and smashed it open.

There was a tiny vinyl record inside.

The robots of today just have an updated version of that.

But they have no soul.

Well, not yet, as far as I know.

We are fast becoming a society with no soul, addicted to our smart phones, afraid perhaps we will miss out on something.

What we may be missing out on is life, humanity.

I am always with mixed emotions when it comes to technology. All those decades ago now when I was a working newspaper journalist I experienced the ups and downs of it. Going from pounding on a manual typewriter to word processing to laptops, things got easier and more fun and far more efficient. What we did not grasp at the time perhaps is that this technology spelled the demise of newspapers as we knew them. Journalism is not dead but the newspaper journalism I knew is all but dead. And then I moved into the trucking world. I used to have to stand in line to use a pay phone. I used to have to hunt up a pay phone to make check calls with dispatch and of course to get dispatches. There used to be this phone booth out in the middle of nowhere on U.S. 97 that I would use. And what did we do when we broke down out in the middle of nowhere? I was in that transition stage from the old-time trucking world to the more modern. The old guys, mostly retired now, would tell you: “We helped each other”. If a trucker saw you in trouble he (usually it was a he back then) would stop and assist you. But today, no one has time. And with all the meanness out there it might not be safe. There are exceptions of course, and I have been both the beneficiary and benefactor a time or two.

Anyway all of our communication is via cell phones. And dispatch no longer has a big map with pins in it. It’s all in the computer. But when the computers crash, they are lost until they come back up again. Warehouses come to a standstill when computers crash. In the old days they just looked in their inventory lists and knew where things were. But overall of course things are far more efficient and rapid.

But technology moves on at warp speed. Driverless or autonomous trucks will likely eliminate all or a majority of driver jobs over the coming decade or so if not sooner.

Where is the line between making life easier and better with technology and throwing us all out onto the street?

Leisure is great I am sure. But humans I think need productive activity. It’s in our DNA.


Your arms hangin’ limp at your sides
Your legs got nothin’ to do
Some machine’s doin’ that for you

(from the song “In the Year 2525” written and composed by Rick Evans)

 


The shift to self-driving vehicles may lead to something we can’t quite envision now…

April 17, 2017

So where is this demand for self-driving cars?

I keep reading that automakers are racing to get them on the market but I have also read there is little apparent demand for them at this time.

On the other hand, after a couple of decades of driving a big truck and many more driving my own car I’m not wild about driving.

I am not surprised that some new way of getting around is on the horizon. In fact I am surprised that for all the advances in technology in general and all the advances within the automotive industry we are still driving cars powered by internal combustion engines that despite all our new gadgets don’t seem to be all that far away from those driven say in the 1930s or ’40s or even before.

We are not flying around in miniature space crafts like in the old George Jetson cartoons of the ’60s. And here we are in 2017 getting around about the same as we did in 1960.

Yeah, I imagine it is about time for a major change, something akin to the horse and buggy to the automobile, so actually the self-driving car somehow does not seem all that revolutionary.

But something I cannot wrap my head around is how we are going to get along in the transition, with a combination of self-driving cars and manually-driven ones. There’s going to be a lot of confusion and a lot of lawsuits and maybe a lot of crashes.

The liability in such cases is uncertain at this time. We don’t have a history yet so what is the law supposed to draw on?

Of course as a truck driver I should be concerned about self-driving vehicles taking my job. Well I am already past retirement age, but still working. I’m not too concerned. I know it’s coming, there are already some test cases.

But whether it’s on the commercial end or the consumer end I’m thinking the ultimate transition will be something we cannot quite envision yet and will just evolve.

In the meantime with various “driver assist” features on cars and in the offing we are moving into a full takeover by technology I suppose.

I have read that younger people are not as tied to the automobile-driving way of life as people have been since say the 1920s when Henry Ford made it possible for darn near anyone to buy a Model T.

Today the cost of cars is so prohibitive that the supposed freedom they offer (basically freedom of movement) is no longer so attractive or even possible for many.

On the other hand, if you live away from the major metropolitan areas and mass transit, a private vehicle is almost a necessity.

Well I don’t know where all of this is going to wind up but it would be nice to retain our freedom of movement but in a much more economical and environmentally sound way. And I think that is likely within the offing, it is just hard to grasp from our vantage point.


If we’re so lonely why do we seek virtual reality?

March 26, 2014

And I thought I was the only one who was lonely, a widowed truck driver out on the open road, but it seems much of society is even with people all around them. I mean people are constantly texting each other, sometimes when the person is in the other room — my own daughter and her daughter have done this, but they are not alone (no play on words intended), and I’ve heard others do this too. And we all have seen people sitting with each other at a dinner table having their own private texting sessions with people elsewhere.

Now Facebook has bought out an outfit that makes some kind of head gear (it looks super clumsy and dorky in the photo I saw) that allows people to have some kind of virtual reality get-togethers with folks elsewhere. The story I read did not give details, and I was in no mood to know too much about it anyway. I think I got the creeps some time ago when I read that the technology already exists to where you wear a certain type of glasses that will instantly tell you who you are talking with and their background (and can we or will be shortly be able to read their mind, that will be the end of the human race or at least any kind of meaningful relationships. I mean as much as we’d like to know what someone is thinking, it may sometimes be better if we do not).

I have a true love, hate relationship with technology. On the one hand I lament that it at first promised great things for my former occupation as a newspaper reporter and then all but did away with traditional paper newspapers. On the other hand I love having the electronic or web version of the New York Times at my finger tips wherever I go and with the latest updated stories (and of course all the other sites). I appreciate my Kindle with its e-reader and even its feature that allows me to watch movies. And as a truck driver I can’t imagine what I did before the cell phone, not only is it handy, but one could not even do the job without one these days, and it is extremely difficult to figure out how we did without them. I began my truck driving just before cell phones took over. I still recall making calls from the telephones that were at the driver booths in the restaurants at the truck stops. I don’t know what we did when we broke down. Since cell phones quickly took over my breakdowns have meant I make a cell call for help. I did have to flag down another trucker once when my cell did not get coverage in a particular area. Fortunately the other driver’s phone did — before he stopped many trucks just whizzed by (who has time?).

So yeah, it’s great to have the latest news and to have books and movies at my fingertips and to have help on the way when I am stranded on the road (and to be able to do this blog), and I’m all for breakthroughs in medicine so we can all live a longer and healthier life, but at some point I wonder, don’t we have enough?

And why are we so much after being all by ourselves in virtual reality? Has technology dehumanized us?

I think the answer is: not yet, but it will.

 

P.s.

Oh, and back to the trucking culture. When I began this phase of my life, we all used to eat at the truck stop restaurants and hang out, phones on the tables, and make calls to our dispatchers. And of course truckers swapped stories. You should see some of those restaurants these days. Many of them are deserted. Many have closed down. They have been replaced by fast food outlets. What with cell phones and other technology speeding up the dispatching of trucks and creating tighter delivery schedules — and at the dame time new “safety” rules make truckers cut corners in their time to get things done in a narrower window — no one has time. In addition, many truckers have their own refrigerators and microwaves in their trucks.

It’s a faster world. It’s a lonelier world.


I’ve seen the future and it does not look promising

December 4, 2013

Just read a few articles that basically say that delivery by drones is no joke and that it is not only Amazon looking at it but others, to include pizzas being delivered in England.

What we all know or should know by now is that probably a majority of the work we all do could be done by drones or robots or computers. Very few occupations are completely immune. I recall a few years ago a relative of mine suggesting that occupations where you use your creative and thinking skills were safe — not really. While computers don’t yet think like humans, they do have their own kind of intelligence and they already have replaced heretofore creative and cerebral work or at least there have been experiments in using them in some cases. It must have been 20 years ago or more that I read a story that said a computer was used to write a novel. I never read the novel or novels, but that’s scary. Then there was the story that a robot was used or tested as a kindergarten teacher. And what about lawyers? So much of what so many of them do is boiler plate stuff. That can be replaced by computers. Ever heard of Legal Zoom? And in law offices and all offices, word processing programs have replaced a large portion of the clerical staffs.

As I am always noting in this space, I am a truck driver (I’ve done other things too, such as journalism), and I can see the handwriting on the wall. The field of transportation is highly susceptible to being taken over by driverless vehicles and drones and pilotless airplanes. The technology is here and has been used already — Just waiting for the necessary laws (California already allows driverless cars — and how that works I have not a clue) and perhaps the necessary infrastructure.

And I don’t mean to be using poor taste, but that commuter train crash a few days ago in New York was apparently the result of human error, the engineer, it is being reported now, admits he basically fell asleep. So the argument that you are better off having a human at the controls in the interest of safety does not seem to hold. In fact, experts and politicians are calling for safety mechanisms to be installed on the trains that detect speed and can slow them down or stop them when necessary.

If you have children, you need to counsel them to do well in school. The old adage that, well if nothing else you can work in fast food is not going to hold. In fact you may not even be able to get a job at a regular restaurant. There is a move at some to do away with most or all of the wait and counter staff via automation. You’re going to need special skills and a deep understanding of automation to work anywhere in the not-to-distant future. Even that is not going to be a guarantee.

Now here is a thought, and please don’t misunderstand me, I am definitely for social programs, but if we did not have so many and people just had to work at something to make a living, then probably a lot of jobs would survive, because supply of labor would outstrip demand, and employers would find the need to automate not as great. I’m not sure about that, though. Once the ball starts rolling methods change and we are not likely to go back in time.

Automation taking away our livelihoods coupled with climate change and never-ending war in many parts of the world don’t paint a nice picture of our future. Somehow getting older does not seem so bad after all.

P.s.

At my first newspaper job the bane of our existence in getting out a daily newspaper was the uncooperative back shop — the composing room where people worked at typesetting and what was then called paste up. I was happy when most or all of that was replaced by computer technology (I had already changed newspapers, but the whole industry went that way). But now, technology has all but replaced the traditional newspaper. What goes around comes around.


And now drones threaten light delivery drivers, and technology all of us…

December 2, 2013

Sometimes you have to stop and ask yourself about technological advancements — is this really necessary?

I just read that Jeff Bezos of Amazon has announced that his company plans within the next five years (maybe not that soon) to deliver small parcels via airborne drones — beats trucks, he says.

(And some commenters are saying this is just a publicity gimmick by Amazon.)

Now keeping in mind I am a truck driver (but I am not really involved in his line of products), is this really necessary? And is this even a good idea? Do we really want to add more traffic in the air? We already have enough on the ground.

And this has to be a wakeup call for those who drive light delivery trucks (the King of Queens will be out of a job at this rate).

Are we really trying to eliminate every last job we can think of? I’m not really worried about truck driver jobs at the moment (especially as I move ever closer to retirement); no matter what, I doubt that we’ll see an end to truck driving in decades — things are always changing, though. Driverless vehicles are a technological reality (on the ground and in the air) now (although I still have not figured out how that is going to work out, well unless all vehicles become driverless — I mean how do you take road rage out on a driverless vehicle? sorry a really bad joke in poor taste, but I couldn’t pass it up — road rage is no laughing matter really).

But in at least one of my past posts I have asked: “When has technology gone too far?” One way to answer it might be when it takes your job. But of course that’s too narrow in thinking. I mean we haven’t needed buggy whip makers for a whole lot of time now — what? A century?

But how much better do we want to make life? What are we to do when we don’t have to do anything? People already do things — just about everything — via the virtual manner via computers. There comes a point when you ask just what is the purpose of reality? And I don’t know who pays for and will even understand all this technology decades from now when no one has to do anything — all the incentive to work and learn will be gone.

There must be a happy medium between the caveman and a futuristic hell I see on the horizon, maybe we’ve already reached it.

But wait, there is some indisputable good coming out of modern technology. I just read (okay skimmed) an article about a wealthy doctor who is creating a super data center that can plug in your specific DNA and come up with your own personal cancer treatment (cure). The link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/01/patrick-soon-shiong_n_4351344.html

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My latest video extra: http://youtu.be/v1o4W_oQJcI

 


Blockbuster closes; you used to have to rent the machine just to watch a video…

November 7, 2013

So Blockbuster Video is closing the last of its stores, made obsolete by the ever-changing technology in the way people watch movies.

And to think, a few years ago I was embarrassed to admit to a young kid at the Blockbuster counter that I wasn’t quite sure what the procedure was because it had been so long since I rented a video. I sheepishly told him, and I was not exaggerating (well maybe I was): “The last time I rented a video I had to rent the machine to play it too.”

Today you of course don’t have to go down to your local video store and rent one of those boxed-shaped cassettes and then worry about returning it on time, you can get it streamed live to your computer or other device, and if the time runs out on the rental, you just can’t watch it anymore. No late fee.

Currently I’m watching a lot of movies on my Kindle Fire tablet and sometimes on my laptop. I’m amazed how great the definition is on my Kindle.

But I really miss the big screen. I’d rather see a movie in a theater. I tend to go for foreign films or any film that has more art to it and a more complex story, as opposed the general shootemup or car chase or over-the-top special effects that the general public seems to be so enthralled with. And for those kind of movies I like, how they look on the big screen is part of the art.

I’m pretty sure that in the not-to-distant future you won’t even need a device (such as they are now). Somehow it will all be streamed to you to where you can watch in all play out right before yourself in some kind of three-dimensional holographic presentation.

Who knows? It might even be interactive. You might be able to step into the picture yourself.

Here’s looking at you kid… Oh excuse me, I was just doing my Humphrey Bogart so I could get into the act…


Entering the 21st Century finally with a new Kindle Fire…

March 3, 2013

I feel as though I have finally entered the 21st Century. I just bought a Kindle Fire e-reader/tablet.

Almost took it back, I got so frustrated. But a young sales gal — actually not the sales person who sold me the Kindle, but not important here — told me if you’ve never used the touch screen on a tablet there is a “learning curve”. I think that prompted me to try harder to show I can handle it.

Cut to the chase here: by now (it took a few days) I am satisfied with it and actually quite excited. I just started really. I have not even bought an e-book yet, but I borrowed one and started reading it. Now this book does not seem to have a lot of big, unfamiliar words, but I love the instant dictionary feature where you can just press on the word and get a definition.

Now I have books and newspapers and magazines and videos at my fingertips. I guess I have more too — I don’t really know all the features. I’m not the kind of buyer who shops around all that much on most things. I hate to shop. But when I get into the mood to get something or if I really have to have it I just go get it and don’t fool around with salespeople who cannot or will not answer my questions. Actually I’m an easy mark for a sales person who even acts like her or she knows the product and can sell it.

I’ve come a long way. I began my career (or so-called career) in newspapering in 1973. I pounded out my daily stories on an old manual Royal typewriter. I made a lot of pencil corrections and did a lot of cutting and pasting with the copy paper. And I had a dictionary handy and madly looked up words I was not sure about. And all of this had to be read by an editor and then went to a typesetter and then back to a proof reader and then was pasted onto a page, and had I begun but a few years earlier it would have had to have been set in metal type. I recall going to a newspaper office where my dad worked and seeing all that.

In 1978 I took a job with another newspaper and we had video display terminals hooked into giant computers that were in a separate room and manned by a technician.

And then I went backwards and took a job with a newspaper that was still using typewriters. What was I thinking?

And at the last newspaper I worked at before leaving that trade and becoming a long haul truck driver we had the old main fame computers but some of the young people were beginning to use PCs.

This tablet I have reminds me of what my beginning journalism teacher told us back in 1972 . He said that newspapers as we knew them at the time would become extinct and would probably be replaced by some kind of thin board like thing about the shape of a newspaper that would be electronic. And that is what we have now, except smaller and much more sophisticated than many of us might have imagined and it has not only made the conventional newspaper all but extinct but it has made vast changes all across the various media.

Many things about the new technology are great and some are not. And I miss the old way to some extent. But like a friend of mine told me, you have to embrace the new technology or you will be lost.

I’m trying.

P.s.

My primary interest in all of this is information over entertainment, although the latter is great too.

But with the e-reader and the access to the internet, I now have little excuse to not be practically instantly up to date on all matter of things — time permitting.

 

P.s. P.s.

I’ll try to keep you posted from time to time on my progress and may even pose questions when I get stuck. I notice that most of these things do not come with printed instructions and one must use trial and error and get info off the internet (there are some limited tutorials embedded in the device, but they seem to leave open a lot of questions). My sister says most of it is “intuitive” — if only it was for me. Well the more you use the stuff the more it does become intuitive it seems.

P.s. P.s. P.s.

If the power goes out we’re all in trouble. But the old methods required power somewhere too. I remember seeing the pressman push an electrical switch to start the printing press.