Archive for the ‘Technology’ Tag

Is Our Future Really Dystopian?   Leave a comment

Japanese Robot

One can argue that this is a great time for things dystopian. There’s a lot of discord in this world and in our country in particular. School shootings seem to happen so frequently they hardly get a notice in the news. Climate change is a reality more than a concept. Now measles is roaring back…is smallpox next? And superviruses and superbacteria threaten us all, with no cures or countermeasures in sight. Racial tensions are again on the rise, while the gig economy undermines workers’ abilities to save for the future or just be secure.

And so on…

It’s easy to picture a future without hope or purpose. I’m even going through a rough patch myself and wonder if there’s any sparkle left to dream about. Any one of those scenarios above could make great fodder for a novel. And have.

But just image if one day we all took stock of what we have and set about to make it right. Make changes that benefit all, not a precious few. Pollyanna as that sounds, one rather famous series used an evolved humankind as its background. Yes, that’d be Star Trek. In it, those who inhabit the Earth (and not necessarily humans) have eschewed wealth for equality and humanity. Sure, each episode mirrored what’s happened here on the home planet, but the outcomes often were positive, if not hopeful.

Would it even, I daresay, be an odd sort of dystopia if everything went right and nothing went wrong? Can you imagine? Sure, it’d be boring but the movie Pleasantville is based on a premise of a perfect TV world turned upside-down with the introduction of color.

I suppose it’s somehow easier to believe things’ll blow up than to bloom. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that you or me don’t have it so bad as they will in the future. Or in the past. Or on planet Zorthon. Think about it. Isn’t it cathartic to complain? A downhill slide from justice into injustice, because somehow society needs to be punished. Bombs will blow, diseases will conquer, war will end all.

Again, does it have to?

There are a few simple things we, as humans, can do to change things. They are (in no particular order):

  • Don’t like who’s in office? Vote! Or better yet, run yourself. Take an interest in your town, your county, your state, your nation. Because, believe it or not, your vote matters. Ditto for…
  • You don’t like it that school kids are being shot? Or our environment’s being polluted at a crazy rate? Or something else? Contact your congressman, senator, mayor, governor or even president. You might get the runaround. Attend town halls or village meetings. Speak up. Make your voice heard. And if that doesn’t work, see the above point.
  • Stop wasting everything. Buy enough food that you’ll actually eat so it doesn’t turn into a dystopian event in the fridge. Use one sheet of a paper towel roll instead of two. Or better yet, use a rag and wash it out. Buy household paper that’s been sourced from recycled paper.
  • Don’t litter.
  • Walk instead of drive…if you can. It’s better for you in a myriad of ways. And don’t run the car. Turn it off.
  • Here’s something to ponder: Toothbrushes. Count up the number of toothbrushes you use in a year. Six? Eight? More? Then count the number your family uses. Add that up. Now apply that number to everyone on your street. Or multiply that by the population of your town. Or the population of the United States (or whatever country you happen to live in. You throw all of that away and it lands in a landfill. It lasts longer than humankind. All for clean teeth. What’s the solution? While there are bamboo toothbrushes, which is a step in the right direction, we need to come up with something better.
  • Ditto with needles – the injecting kind – but that’s human waste…and dangerous. But it’s not recyclable either.
  • Or baby diapers. An infant goes through thousands. Add that number up by the number of births in one year. All going to the landfill…

Before you get totally depressed, all of the above can be changed. This is a nation of innovation, or was, anyway. We still can be. Let’s hand it to the upcoming generation of engineers and scientists (and anyone else who’s inspired to join in) and create/invent materials that will biodegrade and/or can be developed from renewable sources.

And maybe, our future will be that much cleaner, clearer and less dystopian.

Immigrant American Superheroes   Leave a comment

Here’s a thought I had for today, since it seems there’s an element of American society terrified of the very portion of the Earth’s population that made the United States a successful nation. That, my folks, would be immigrants. It’s what made this nation great, and will continue to do so. It’s very important to remind ourselves of this, especially if one witnesses the horrific events taking shape in the United States today.

I’ll start off with one very important immigrant: Albert Einstein.

albert-einstein-portrait

This immigrant was born in Ulm, Germany and came to the United States in 1933, a direct result of the atrocities unfolding in Europe. Nazis were conducting nuclear research with the intent of creating military weaponry. Einstein realized the potential of the catastrophic forces a nuclear bomb would unleash, and wrote President Roosevelt about it. Though it didn’t stop the eventual creation and bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he remained a pacifist and spent the rest of his life active in humanitarian causes. Seeing the parallels between Jewish atrocities and the Holocaust and the battle for civil rights unfolding in America, he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

No…he didn’t invent that car, but it’s named after him: Nikola Tesla.

Nikola Tesla American Inventor

Born in Croatia in 1856, he came to the United States in 1884. He’s responsible for inventing alternating current electrical system, or AC – the way electricity is delivered to your house. An early partnership with Thomas Edison didn’t work out, but a later one with George Westinghouse did. Westinghouse purchased Tesla’s patent and eventually AC triumphed over Edison’s direct current electrical system, or DC. AC enabled electricity to be delivered over long distances, while Edison’s DC did not. Tesla also set the groundwork for long-distance wireless communication, but Guglielmo Marconi ultimately beat him to the punch with his radio communication technology. Tesla’s also known for his famous coil, still used in radio technology today.

Here’s an esteemed Nobel Prize winning physicist who also came from Germany: Maria Goeppert-Meyer.

mariagoeppertmayer

Born in Kattowicz (now Katowice, Poland) in 1906. In 1930, she married American chemist and professor Joseph Mayer. Although it was difficult for a female scientist at that time to gain a foothold in the scientific community, she nevertheless published an important paper on double beta decay in 1935 while holding an assistant position at Johns Hopkins, where her husband worked. She also conducted early work in quantum sciences, and eventually came to Columbia University for an unpaid position, but during that time, she collaborated with Enrico Fermi, who tasked her to investigate the valence shell of the undiscovered transuranic elements. In 1942, she joined the Manhattan Project at Columbia  to investigate separating the fissile uranium-235 isotope in natural uranium. Goeppert-Meyer developed a mathematical model for the structure of nuclear shells. For this, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 (sharing it with J. Hans D. Jensen and Eugene Wigner) and became the second female Nobel Prize winner after Marie Curie.

There are many, many others, of course, who have contributed in science, art, literature, politics, education, commerce and more. Since this country came to be as the result of immigration, each and every person who arrives upon our shores has much to contribute in making this country an example of what can be achieved…if we allow it.

A.I. Vs. Me   Leave a comment

images-9

Famous actor who should have been smarter or known better

One always hears that sooner rather than later, artificial intelligence will win the battle over humanity.  People will become unnecessary, robots will rule the earth and humankind will vanish with a flicker of a dying match.

It’s true.  I read all sorts of articles from many sources that discuss both sides of the issue.  Many valid arguments from both sides.  However, I can’t get past one thing: humans build these things, don’t they?  Not machines, but flesh-and-blood types, the kind that need air to breathe and run on food instead of…well…whatever it is that AI runs on.

To be honestly, I’ve yet to see a real valid example of a machine building a machine smarter than it.  In fact, I’ve yet to see any sci-fi out there regarding a droid, robot, gizmimee or quelnodder, screwdriver in hand, lifting the lid off of the head, chest and guts of a counterpart, carefully placing a chip inside and closing it up, then miraculously watching that God moment when all becomes too real and rises up to become the conquerer of the universe.

Droids/Robots constructing improved units also presents another item for discussion: why would it?  What does a D/R have to gain by creating an improved version of itself?  That improved version might notice its creater’s a bit dimmer than it, find the kill switch and be done with it.  True. that can be part of the program and if the God D/R had any sense, it might write a code that includes a directive a al “I, Robot”, in that “do no harm” is a real and true order.  Even that statement up for interpretation.  If the God robot wants to kill its progeny, it’s preserving its own life with the successive, smarter D/R catches on that it has one chip up on its Daddy.

Bearing this in mind, why would a person create an object than can outsmart us?  Frankly, humans are too clever for their own good to do this.  First of all, we’re competitive.  Egos are sensitive enough as it is.  Some of you might remember Garry Kasparov losing to IBM’s Deep Blue, after beating it previously.  He didn’t take it well at all.  And then there’s that “Jeopardy” match with mere mortals.  Although that took some doing, again, people got the short end of the stick.

So apart from these novelty versions of AI, what else can we cook up that won’t kick our pride in the shins?  No one’s going to brag over their vodka gimlet and state to the bartender, “Say, want to hear the latest?  Remember that droid I slapped together in October?  You’re not going to believe this.  It approached my boss, got my job – AND – a raise!  Then, it locked me out of my office, drained my bank account and ran off with my spouse!  I’m lucky I had enough chump change to buy this drink.”

Of course, we all know that drink was expertly served by none of than Bob the Botender, programmed to sympathetically listen to life’s ups and downs, collect tips and cut you off when you’ve had a few.

 

%d bloggers like this: