Sunday, April 30, 2017

Return on investment?

The Artdog Quote of the Week:
Two contrasting thoughts on investing in our future, while it's still April:

Might note that 2014 went on to be the third-hottest year on record (so far), after The Donald tweeted this pearl of perspicacity.

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Triple Pundit via Pinterest, for Dr. Shiva's economic reality-check, and to the iamcorrect blog for the tweet from the regrettable orange person who currently resides in the White House. I also am grateful to Climate Central for their telling graphic.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Into the storm

The Artdog Images of Interest

Three major signals of climate change's onset are increased rates and ferocity of fires, deepening drought, and increasingly violent storms. Today's image focuses on storms.

First, a little "storm porn," because dramatic, high-contrast clouds plus lightning and panoramic skies make for jaw-dropping storm photos. Here's a mini-portfolio from American storm-chaser Mike Mezeul II:

Thunderstorm outside Cheyenne, WY by Mike Mezeul II
Thunderstorm over Big Spring TX - Mike Mezeul II
Thunderstorm with internal lightning over Graham, TX, by Mike Mazeul II

I could look at these all day, but a little reminder may be in order that gorgeous clouds can contain devastating downpours, tornadoes, and/or hurricanes that can do millions of dollars' worth of damages in just a short time. Havoc such as that shown in these photos:

This is what we denizens of Tornado Alley call "a real toad-strangler." This storm hit the San Fernando Valley in February 2017.
The website didn't give a location or date for this photo, but I hope that truck had water wings!
Stormy surf at Porthcawl Harbor, South Wales, in 2014. (photo: PA/Mirror)
A man in Northern Ireland excavates his sheep from a snowdrift in 2014. 
Dramatic flooding resulted in 2015 from Tropical Storm Etau in Japan.
2016 flooding and mudslides in Victory, WI made for some arduous cleanup afterwards.
As the EPA is still so far able to say on its website, "Extreme weather is typically rare. But climate change is increasing the odds of more extreme weather events taking place." 

One thing's clear: we'd better batten down the hatches--and make sure we have an emergency plan. Unfortunately, we never know when we'll be caught up in the next disaster.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Mike Mezeul II and The Daily Mail for the gorgeous "storm porn" series at the top. I also am grateful to Climate 101 with Jason, for the San Fernando Valley storm photo by David McNew/Getty Images, to Insurance Advocate for the hurricane-swamping-the-road photo with the pickup truck, to the Mirror for the stormy surf South Welsh photo from 2014, and to the BBC for the photo of the Northern Irishman excavating his sheep from a snowdrift the same year. Many thanks to Young Independent for the Tropical Storm Etau image, and to WXOW Channel 19 of LaCrosse, WI for the mudslide photo.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

To automate, or not to automate? Robo-health-care?

A Glimpse of the Future?
Several recent mid-week posts have addressed aspects of the contemporary and projected issue of automation in the workplace--especially in the area of "machines taking over our jobs." 

A growing number of people think that artificially intelligent robots might take over jobs in white-collar professions, moving far beyond the traditional roles of "the three D's: dangerous, dirty, and dull," as robotics expert Ryan Calo calls them. Today I want to talk about health care.

Exactly what do people mean, when they talk about robots "taking over" the jobs of doctors, nurses, or other health care workers? I'm not sure all mean the same things. One thing they almost certainly do not mean is Emergency Medical Holgram Mark I (as portrayed by actor Robert Picardo on TV's Star Trek: Voyager from 1995-2001).

Don't expect to meet any Emergency Medical Holograms in your neighborhood hospital anytime soon!

But it's a question worth asking, all the same. Richard and Daniel Susskind noted in a 2016 Harvard Business Review article that "There are more monthly visits to the WebMD network, a collection of health websites, than to all the doctors in the United States." 

Okay. But is that a salient observation? A quick Internet check to research a question for free takes a whole lot less time, hassle and expense than a trip to see your doctor. I'm not sure this compares apples to apples, guys.

Also, I don't know any health care professionals who greet with joy (or any expectation of an accurate analysis) the news that their patient looked up his problem on WebMD and has already diagnosed it, "so doctor, you just have to prescribe this kind of pill for me . . ."

Yeah, right. WebMD is a research resource, not a doctor, any more than FindLaw.Com is a lawyer. 

Do medical websites such as WebMD actually erode trust between doctors and patients? A 2015 post on LiveClinic Healthcare Blog makes a point that in some cases they might.

However, the Susskinds' research involved a comprehensive survey of the literature about changes in industry, automation technology, and society, as well as more than 100 interviews with experts in cutting-edge development from a variety of disciplines, so their analysis shouldn't be discounted or ignored. 

When they looked at all the various things doctors and other professionals do, they found that "when professional work is broken down into component parts, many of the tasks involved turn out to be routine and process-based. They do not in fact call for judgment, creativity, or empathy." In other words, although we don't have terribly creative or empathic robots currently, there are elements to a professional's job which don't require those traits. It's not hard to make the leap to the idea of the doctor delegating those things to a machine.

It's true that surgical robots can do many procedures a human surgeon simply could not. Very few of them currently involve autonomous robotics--a doctor still has his/her hands on the controls. But that could change as these machines grow more sophisticated. FW: Thinking has a really informative video on this topic that I hope you'll find as interesting as I did (relax: no blood) :

There also are other uses for robots that may not exactly eliminate the human doctor's role so much as extend it. Some retail pharmacy chains, such as CVS and Rite Aid, have been piloting in-store health kiosks. Robert Thompson of Rite Aid says his stores' interface "pairs licensed healthcare providers with state-of-the-art technology to deliver a truly unique solution to consumers looking for convenient and quality healthcare." 

Telemedicine has enjoyed a worldwide advent, out of necessity. "Doctors are examining patients continents away with interactive robots and hi-tech visuals. These robots are fully mobile, with computer screens for heads and real-time video cameras for eyes and ears. Doctors operate them by using a joystick and wireless technology." 

The Doctor will see you now . . . via telemedicine. There's still a human doctor in this equation, so it's not exactly a replacement. You might note there's also a real live human healthcare practitioner at the patient's bedside as well. Robots have seen particularly robust adoption in Japanese hospitals.

Extending the role of doctors may become an absolute necessity in the near future. We've heard about a looming worldwide shortage of doctors for years, and in April 2016 the Association of American Medical Colleges pointed to strong indicators of coming shortages in the U.S., in several broad categories. We may end up coping with this in a variety of ways, including more care given by physicians' assistants or nurse practitioners--or the use of telemedicine or other automated functions.

There's a shortage of nurses, too, which is leading some observers to predict automation will move into that job category, too. In 2015 a headline on the Horizon Healthcare Staffing website rather chillingly proclaimed, "Robots will replace nurses sooner rather than later," which I think would worry me if I worked for Horizon Healthcare Staffing. As with doctors, however, when you look at the details I think replace may be a stretch, at least in the near term. More like "assist" or "augment."

Introducing Actroid-F, a robotic nurse created by Kokoro Co. Ltd. This robot is designed to provide bedside empathy to patients, but I fear she would seriously weird me out--she's most definitely from Uncanny Valley territory, in my view! The Japanese, however, reportedly have a more comfortable cultural relationship with robots. I sure hope so.

The HHS article describes the entry of robots into the Japanese health care setting in glowing terms: "Robots already play a key role in Japanese hospitals and healthcare facilities. They are able to look after senior citizens, sing with them, and engage with them in other activities." Maybe seniors like to sing with them; who knows? After all, the Japanese were the ones who invented karaoke.

However, a motivating factor for the increasing use of robots in Japan is the fear that as the Japanese population ages, there won't be enough health care workers to take care of them if they don't create robots to do so. I think if they insist on using exclusively Japanese health care workers they're right, but that's a whole 'nother topic.

This is Panasonic's Hospi Type R, essentially a self-driving medicine chest on wheels, "designed to move fragile or bulky medicine and equipment around a hospital." Wi-fi, cameras, and preprogrammed maps help it navigate; it's locked by a system that uses an ID security card for access. It was nicknamed "the pink Dalek"--clearly by someone who doesn't have a clue about the Daleks' favorite one-word catchphrase!

In the Asian healthcare scene, "More and more, hospitals all over the world are realizing that robots are efficient messengers who transport materials like food, x-rays, and linens throughout the hospital, saving wear and tear on the feet of over-worked nurses and aides." Or medicines--pharmacy robots on wheels!--as does the Hospi Type R, shown above.

To my mind a good argument for using robots in a nursing situation would be for tasks "that are physically very demanding and stressful for humans"  (All at once we're back to Ryan Calo's "three Ds"). 

This is Robear, a prototype robot designed in an effort not to scare the living crap out of fragile elderly patients while it helps to transport them safely. Why a bear? It's supposed to look "like a friendly polar bear." Okay. Well, no uncanny valley problems here, anyway!

Not sure how Robear would work in real life? here's a very short video:

Horizon Healthcare Staffing might not be able to get their hands on this nifty new tech fast enough, but I'll be interested to see how well the public accepts Robear, the "pink Dalek," Actroid-F, and their robotic kin.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Before it's News, for the "vision of the future" graphic, and to Bonnie Hutchinson's "Star Trek Voyager" Pinterest Board for the photo of Robert Picardo as EMH Mark I. 
I appreciated not only the photo of a doctor and patient talking to each other on LiveClinic's interesting article "Do Computers erode Doctor and Patient Trust?" but also the article itself, which provides an interesting counterpoint to the Susskinds' observation about WebMD. 
Many thanks to the Re-Tails Blog's post about health care robotics in retail pharmacies, for the photo of the telemedicine delivery robot with the hospital patient. 
My gratitude also goes out to WeirdAsiaNews for the photos of the robotic nurse Actroid-F, to The Verge for the photo of the Panasonic Hospi Type R, to NationalFutur, for the still photo of the Robear, and to WXYZ-TV Detroit and YouTube for the video of Robear in action. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Moral and historical responsibilites

The Artdog Quotes of the Week:

Today I present a study in contrasts.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks for the global community on this one. United States leadership still persists in questioning the science to a greater extent than any other major nation. Including, unfortunately, this guy:

IMAGES: Many thanks to the World Economic Forum for the Ban Ki-moon quote (check the linked page for more good ones), and to Business Insider, CNN and Bill Nye for the quote graphic from the regrettable orange person. Unfortunately, Bill's solution failed to be implemented effectively.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Water stress

The Artdog Images of Interest

Three major signals of climate change's onset are increased rates and ferocity of fires, deepening drought, and increasingly violent storms. Today's image focuses on drought.

A woman in India still can get a little water from her well, but she's one of 300 million affected in the country during 2016. 
As my Images of Interest series in February emphasized, the United Nations has identified access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water as a basic human right. Yet as drought gets entrenched in regions, this basic human need is not being met. India is one of those areas, but as the map below shows, it is far from alone in its plight.

A serious issue in India is the continued heavy water use by multinational corporations (MNCs) such as Pepsico, without recharging the water tables (as required by law). This is despite the "worst drought in living memory" and dramatic drops in local water tables near their bottling facilities.

The 2015 level of California's Lake Oroville at the height of the recent drought was pretty impressive-looking, but as we know, once the drought broke the lake refilled to overflowing. More troublesome and long-lasting was the hit the aquifers took

Plunging levels of surface water or snowpack during times of drought are often dramatic (see California's Lake Oroville, above). Longer-lasting damage is done, however, when aquifers are depleted and not recharged. What has been happening in India is not an isolated case of industrial short-sightedness. Aquifer depletion is a problem in California, the US Great Plains, Australia, China, Africa, and all over the world. Few people are paying much attention to it yet, but it's a ticking time bomb we all should be working NOW to defuse.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Global Research for the photo of the Indian woman by her well, to the World Resources Institute for the Water Stress map, and to PBS NewsHour for the 2015 photo of Lake Oroville. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Future of Classical Music is . . . Band?

A guest post by my sister,
Gigi Sherrell Norwood

If you love classical music, you’ve probably asked yourself what a modern symphony orchestra should be: a music museum, or an incubator for a thriving art form?  

L-R: Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig von Beethoven, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (more notes about this image below)

The music museum folks want to preserve what they believe is the highest musical expression in human history. What could be more sublime than the music of Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven? They scorn pretty much anything that was written after World War II, and secretly long for the Edwardian era of tuxedoes and evening gowns.

Just-post-Edwardian-era Ballroom in a Hyde Park hotel, 1912

It’s artistic elitism at its worst, and often includes a dismissive attitude toward bands. Bands were, after all, spawned by the common folk, whereas orchestras were born in the royal court. Practically every high school in America has a marching band, whereas only the top schools have orchestra programs. Bands use only woodwinds, brass, and percussion. They have no strings, and everyone knows strings are better. Just ask a string player.

"Practically every high school . . . has a marching band." case in point is the 2010 Marching Lancer Band (Shawnee Mission East High School--my kids' alma mater). See and hear them in action

Symphony people complain that bands only play transcriptions of the great works, re-orchestrated to suit band instrumentation. Never mind the inconvenient fact that Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition was originally a solo piano piece, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was written for a jazz band. The familiar orchestra versions of both are transcriptions.

But a strict diet of the Great Works in their original form can make the symphony the classical equivalent of a Beatles tribute band: fun for an evening out, but not a venue for artistic growth and experimentation.  And if an art form isn’t growing, it’s dying.

Beatles tribute band Abbey Road: a special niche--but not expanding the repertoire.

The most obvious way to keep classical music alive is to welcome new music.  But back in the 1960s, when Pierre Boulez programmed tons of avant garde music at the New York Philharmonic, audiences hated it, and fled. Caught between critics, who argued that any composer as accessible as John Williams was beneath contempt, and audiences who walked out when the orchestra played Bartók, symphonies stuck with what they knew best, and became hostile territory for young composers.  

John Mackey, an outstanding contemporary composer, outlined his struggle to break into the symphony scene in his blog post, Even Tanglewood Has a Band.

And that’s where the whole “band only plays transcriptions” argument falls apart. Because bands LOVE new music. At a recent concert by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble, nothing on the program was more than 40 years old.  Three of the five works were world premieres.  Band conductors learn reams of new music every season, with few of the comfortable old classics to fall back on.  In contrast, orchestra conductors may learn Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4* when they are in college, and conduct it again and again throughout their careers. 

Here's the University of Texas Wind Ensemble in concert, led by Jerry Junkin.

Young composers have discovered they can build a career writing for band.  And, if enough bands love their music, they transcribe it for ensembles with strings, making the leap into the world of symphony orchestras as an already beloved composer.

Want to ensure classical music continues to grow?  Throw open the doors and welcome talented young composers.  That happens every day in high school band halls, college wind ensembles, and professional concert bands.  That’s why I say, if you want to hear the future of classical music, listen to a good band.

*Might note the link for Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony takes you to an article that includes an audio file of the symphony . . . ironically, the performance is of a transcription for wind band. 

Gigi Sherrell Norwood
ABOUT GIGI: In addition to being my much-admired sister, Gigi Sherrell Norwood is the Director of Education and Concert Operations for the Dallas Winds (formerly the Dallas Wind Symphony), so, although she might be somewhat biased in favor of the importance of wind bands, she also is in a privileged position to observe the dynamic about which she writes in this post. In my experience, if Gigi takes note of something, it tends to be notable! Widow of the science fiction writer Warren C. Norwoodwith whom she sometimes collaborated on projects under his byline, Gigi also is a talented writer herself. She is currently working on several urban fantasy stories set in the historic Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, TX. 

IMAGES: Many thanks to Netivist for the Bach-Beethoven-Mozart composite by "G_marius" (sorry, couldn't find a link!), based on Jorge Franganillo's image and other images of public domain. I'm indebted to the Vintage Everyday website for the 1912 hotel dance photo; they have a whole page of cool old photos from that era at that link. I'm grateful to SchoolTube for the glimpse of the Marching Lancers. A tip of the hat to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, for the photo of Beatles Tribute band Abbey Road. Many thanks to the University of Texas at Austin for the photo of their Wind Ensemble. Gigi provided the photo of herself. It is used with her permission. 

PLEASE ALSO NOTE: Gigi offers these links for young composers to watch: John Mackey, Austin Wintory, Adam Schoenberg, Andrew Boss, Steven Bryant, Eric Whitacre, and Joel Puckett.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Odd politics

The Artdog Quote of the Week:

Neil DeGrasse Tyson has a good point here, as usual. Problem is, E=mc2  doesn’t threaten certain industries' corporate profits. The climate change "controversy" stems from the same root cause (and had been promoted by some of the exact same people) as the "controversy" over whether smoking causes lung cancer (brace yourself: it does!).

IMAGE: Many thanks to the Climate Reality Project (check out their website!) for this image, and many other resources. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Fires gone wild

The Artdog Images of Interest

Three major signals of climate change's onset are increased rates and ferocity of fires, deepening drought, and increasingly violent storms. Today's image focuses on fire.

Firefighters worked for days to control wildfires around Mecklenberg County, NC in November 2016. I hope this photographer didn't get singed, taking this behind-the-burning brush photo! Unfortunately, I couldn't locate a photographer's credit
This North Carolina fire was only one of hundreds (it's surprising, how difficult it seemed to be, to find a definitive total) that burned in the US in 2016. An interactive map of 2016 wildfires in California shows general locations by date range.

Total number of fires may be down, but total acres burned have doubled in 30 years.

A study released last October (2016) concluded that "human-caused climate change is responsible for nearly doubling the number of acres burned in western United States wildfires during the last 30 years," according to Bill Gabbert, of the Wildfire Today website.

IMAGE: Many thanks to WSOC-TV Channel 9 in North Carolina for the dramatic fire photo, and to Wildfire Today for the chart, compiled by Bill Gabbert, showing acres burned.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

To automate, or not to automate? The uncanny valley

A Glimpse of the Future
My mid-week post for the past two weeks has addressed a disruptive technology of major importance in the current global job situation: automation for greater productivity.

Robots and automated processes have already moved well beyond doing only what robotics expert Ryan Calo called "the three D's: dangerous, dirty, and dull." 

Last Wednesday I examined some of the ways robots and automation are replacing some types of traditionally minimum-wage or low-wage jobs, sometimes in appropriate ways, but other times in what some (including me) might consider needless, or less reasonable, ways.

Today I'd like to move up the social ladder a bit, because it's not only blue-collar jobs that proponents of automation or robotics are proposing to pre-empt. 

According to the research I've done for this series, doctors, nurseslawyers, financial advisorswriters, teachers, and child-care workers are also in the cross-hairs. At this rate, nobody can afford to get too smug. If professions requiring higher-level thinking and analysis are in danger from automation, NO job is safe. 

Is that actually a real threat, though? Won't there be at some point an "uncanny valley" effect? The uncanny valley is a problem in both animation and robotics. If you make something look or act extremely realistic--but just short of indistinguishable from the real thing--people react with revulsion. It strikes them as creepy

The Uncanny Valley can be a scary place!

Could the uncanny valley save white-collar jobs? Well, maybe. The verdict is still out. There's evidence that once people become accustomed to the almost-real look, they find it less repulsive. In other words, don't count on it. 

The end result SHOULD lie in whether the automation actually does a more satisfactory job than a competent human could. Meanwhile, this is a great source of thought experiments for science fiction writers, futurists, technological ethicists, and many others.

I've gotta say though, I find it interesting I haven't yet seen any proposals that AIs should take over research chairs in the field of robotics research.

But think about it. Once we've reached the singularity, is there any career they'd find more interesting?

I'd bet not.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Before it's News for the "looking to the future" graphic, and to G Financial Services Marketing for the "ranks of white-collar robots" illustration. I'm grateful to PandaStrike for the illustrated Uncanny Valley graph, and to HR Zone for the robot photo.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


The Artdog Quote of the Week:

Does anybody else miss President Barack Obama the way I do? As usual, he's making good sense, here. Also as usual, a lot of people haven't/aren't/refuse to listen. Gonna be a squeaker, if it isn't already too late, I fear.

IMAGE: Many thanks to TodayInSci for this image.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Who needs weather satellites, anyway?

The Artdog Images of Interest:

In early March, the Trump Administration proposed to cut almost a quarter of the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's weather satellite program, despite global dependence upon them (by both corporations and government) for accurate weather forecasting.

There seems little point to that, until one remembers that satellite photos make it harder to deny climate change. How so? Consider these photos:

This is a famous lake . . . famous for shrinking. These two photos are striking, but 2011 was a while ago. Check this more-recent update.

Yes, this is the controversial "snows of Kilimanjaro" photo. No, it's not idiotically simple; they do fluctuate, but the consensus is in, nonetheless--we're headed warmer.

Yes, polar bears can swim--but for how far? NOTE: they don't hunt prey while swimming.
Clearly there's a problem shaping up for all Arctic ecosystems when the ice recedes that much. Read an article about how diminishing sea ice is affecting European weather, as well.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Eureka Alert! the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and NASA Earth Observatory, for the 1998-vs.-2011 photos of Iran's Lake Urmia, to PatFalvey's website (an article by Hannah Devlin) for the "snows of Kilimanjaro" photo, and to Weather and Climate @ Reading for the Arctic Sea Ice comparisons.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

To automate, or not to automate? Is there value to the human element?

A Glimpse of the Future 
Last week I took a first look at some of the jobs that have been increasingly moving over to automation, and a few that might see more automation and fewer humans doing the work in the future.

In some cases this might not be a bad thing. In other cases, the robots may not do as good a job as humans might. A couple of cases-in-point leap to mind: bank tellers and retail store checkers. Which do you prefer?

Love 'em or hate 'em (I know people who feel both ways), these machines seem here to stay.
I'm older than dirt, so I remember before they had such contraptions. I remember having to plan to get money before the bank closed for the day or weekend, and how you always talked with a human being before you could complete any transaction.

I kind of liked it (confession: I still don't own an ATM card, out of security concerns. Planning ahead: it's a thing.), but then, I live in the Midwest, where bank tellers and grocery store checkers are apparently friendlier than they are in some other parts of the world. I like to get to know them, in the fond hope that if someone they didn't know came in and tried to wipe out my bank account, they'd question it. I feel quite certain my bankers at Kansas City's Country Club Bank would. Thanks, guys!!

I also remember before there was a self-checkout line at the grocery store. I even remember before they had bar codes on the groceries (what a pain that was!), and you had to watch the checker to make sure s/he didn't make an error or ring something twice that you only bought one of. Of course, now when the machine steals your ATM or credit card information, you have few ways of knowing, so is that a net gain? Depends on for whom, I guess.

There's reportedly now a trend toward automating fast-food service, unfortunately driven in part by the industry's resistance to paying its employees a living wage. I can see how an automatic timer to pull the fries out of the hot oil at the penultimate moment might be a good thing, but completely removing all or most of the people? That's a farther stretch for me.

You see, we've actually had automated fast-food delivery for a long time. They're called vending machines, and they aren't actually noted for their-high quality products or their ambiance.

Granted, Mickey D's isn't long on "ambience" either, but I kind of like to chit-chat with the smiling teens or senior citizens at the counter. Call me weird, but I prefer dealing with people, over figuring out the interface on yet another dang gadget. I've kinda perfected the human interface, at least to some extent, and I have this weird notion that people should be respected, even when they have low-end jobs.

An automated fast-food "restaurant" looks an awful lot like a glorified vending machine to me. 
As I see it, the whole key should be playing to strengths. Robots and automation do some things way better than people. Business Insider interviewed Ryan Calo, a professor at University of Washington School of Law with expertise in robotics, who said, "For a long time, artificial intelligence has been better than us at highly structured, bounded tasks." All of the applications we've looked at so far in both this and the previous post on this topic have been in that category.

Calo thinks, however, that robots are now, or soon will be, capable of moving beyond "the three D's: dangerous, dirty, and dull." It's a fine line to define (sorry for the rhyme), so where do we draw it? If robots and automation can lift us beyond those "dangerous, dirty, and dull tasks," isn't that a net gain? I think it definitely is. If they can ever design a Roomba that cleans the potty, I'm all in!

Ivan Fourie encountered this friendly store clerk in Kyoto 2006, and immortalized her in a photo. 

But people right now (and for millennia) do/have done way better at some things than robots and automation have managed so far. The determination to push automation/artificial intelligence beyond those basic limits won't stop. (we're talking about humans with an intellectual challenge. Of course they'll pursue it as far as they can).

But just as industry doesn't want to talk about the full cost of their initiatives (including environmental and human damage), so the people involved in the "second machine age" don't want to talk about ALL the costs of their initiatives.

Are these Chinese robots cute enough to be worth their cost in human devaluation? Are they worth the effort of putting "friendly store clerk" and her siblings all over the world into financial devastation?
Would their AIs put good people out of work that they need? Don't we all need people who are a positive part of their community? The friendly 7-Eleven clerk who brightens our morning? The bank teller who keeps our accounts safe? The shopkeeper who grows her small business locally? The first-generation immigrant family who runs the gas station? The custodian who keeps the school clean and well-maintained?

What's the human cost of the fancy machines? Do they make life better for the humans in the community, or only for the corporations running the businesses?

I think we're at a crossroads, in our contemporary life. We can look globally at ALL the costs of the decisions we take, or we can keep on looking only at money in a system skewed to ignore some of the most important costs of all.

Our choice.

Our future.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Before it's News for the future-vision graphic. The photo of the Safeway self-checkout is courtesy of WonderHowTo, and the photo of the ATM machine is from The Northeast Today; many thanks to both of you! The cynical minimum wage meme is from Ron Paul's "Liberty Report." Your thanks is that I acknowledged where it came from, dude. You certainly illustrated my point, anyway. Many thanks to NPR's "All Tech Considered" for the photo of the automated fast-food restaurant. I am grateful to Ivan Fourie's Flickr Photostream for the the friendly store clerk's photo. Many thanks to Business Insider for the photo of the Chinese food service robots.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

We need an intervention!

The Artdog Quote of the Week

It's April, the month of Earth Day--in a year when the environment seems more endangered than it has in a while. Don't expect me to hold back.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Earth: The Operator's Manual for this image.