What Robots Can and Can’t Do

As I was looking for poems to read at tonight’s Alchemy Poetry Reading (which was fairly successful, although not the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen there.  I quite liked the featured performers, a folk duo called Nice Verdes) I came across this, which I wrote a couple of months age and was probably originally intended as a sarcastic reply to somebody’s facebook comment, but I’ve totally forgotten the original context.sleeping with a robot

There might be some jobs that robots can’t do,

but human beings are bad at them, too.


Robots are going to take over a lot of our functions in the not so distant future.  The metro in Singapore is entirely robot controlled.  Soon the technology will be there to make all automobiles robot driven.  Human beings, proud, stupid, stubborn human beings may be hesitant to hand over the keys, but it’s only a matter of time.  Some day, all factories will be manned by robots, and they’ll be doing the heavy lifting on construction sites and farms.  Deliveries, sure, robots can do that.  Receptionists?  You bet.  Cleaners and lawn care workers.  No problem.

Jobs where a person has to think on their feet, improvise, and deal with other human beings in a human sort of way might take longer.  Teachers, police officers, lawyers, politicians, diplomats, and artists are a few that spring to mind.  But, as the poem says, human beings sometimes suck at these jobs, too. 

I can definitely see an advantage to robot teachers.  Eyes in the back of its head, super hearing, an extendable arm with a vise-like grip…but robots con’t have the necessary compassion and it will be a long time before they do.  Also, kids might get freaked out. 

A  robotic cop would not be nearly as cool as the one in the movie.  Faced with so many strange situations, there circuits would overload and they’d be standing in the middle of the street like rain-man.

But there are lots of bad human teachers who creep their kid’s out.  There are a shit ton of bad cops out there, failing  spectacularly at all aspects of their job except for corruption and beating suspects.  Human civilization  would not be in the pickle it’s in if it were not for our politicians,  but a robot in that job might be worse.  If a robot is elected with a mandate, “Do whatever is necessary to ensure enough wealth for all human beings,” it may then  decide to destroy the human  race.  The 2 or 3% remaining would  have it great, but that’s not a solution we should embrace.

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End of Summer

Summer is over and tomorrow the kids go back to school and I couldn’t be happier.  Of course, because with the kids in school several hours a day, my life becomes a lot easier.  I hope I’ll have a bit more free time (and quiet time) to work on the book I’m writing, which should have been finished months ago. summer Also, my work should pick up.  It does every autumn.  Somehow, even my adult students seem to be rooted in the schedule they learned in childhood.  They all cancel in the summer and start up again in September.

Another thing is that tomorrow is the first Alchemy Poetry Reading of poetry year 2014-2015.  I was very bummed out and depressed today because I did not have anything written for the occasion.  Although I write a couple of poems a day, they are mostly smartass replies to things on facebook and generally two lines long.  Also, a tweet a day to try and direct people to this blog.  It’s more akin to graffiti than literature.

Still, it’s what I’ve got so I went back through my activity log and started copying and pasting and voila!  I’ve got plenty of stuff to present tomorrow.  None of it’s great, none of it’s earth shattering,  but a lot of it is fun.

So, I’m not depressed any more.

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Republican Shitstorm

The Jesse Benton bribery scandal may be the funniest bribery scandal since Rod Blagojevich.  It tarnishes three key Republicans at once – Mitch McConnell, Ron Paul, and Rand Paul.  Four if you want to count Kent Sorensen, but he’s only important in Iowa.

The guy holding the baby - huge crook

The guy holding the baby?  Huge crook

I hope it’s enough to finally bury Mitch McConnell, but slimy, corrupt Republicans can be harder to kill than cockroaches, and McConnell himself didn’t do anything illegal.  He may be a poor judge of character, having Benton as a campaign manager – more likely he’s a good judge of character and figured a slimy weasel was exactly what he needed as a campaign manager – but, either way, he’s not directly involved.

Ditto Rand Paul.  Benton was probably going to manage the Rand Paul for president campaign, and that’s not going to happen now, but Rand will find someone just as lacking in ethics.  He may take a brief hit in the polls, he may get a little bit of mud on his suit, but 2016 is a long way away and nobody will remember this little kerfuffle by then.

Rand Paul is old, he’s not going for the top job again, so unless it can be proven that he personally knew about the bribe, this won’t hurt him much at all.

The real victim is the one who was victimized at the time it all happened – Michele Bachmann.  She probably would have lost in the Iowa caucuses anyway – mistaking John Wayne for John Wayne Gacy and accidentally reminding the world that her home town’s most famous son is a notorious serial killer and cannibal is a pretty serious faux pas.  The actor John Wayne was born -as was I, which  is why I mention it – in Winterset, Iowa; not Waterloo.

But the bribe didn’t help.  Here’s the story.  Benton, who was then Ron Paul’s campaign manager, gave $73,000 to Kent Sorensen, Michele Bachmann’s campaign manager and Iowa State Senator, to switch sides and support Paul.

As I said, she probably would have lost anyway, but what if she hadn’t?  What if she’d gone on to get the nomination, and won the presidency?  It could be that Republican corruption saved us from a seriously bad Republican president.  Thanks, Jesse Benton.

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Real Life v. facebook

I was walking to the grocery store this afternoon about 5 o’clock.  It had rained a bit earlier so the air was nice and cool and the world had a clean and pleasant feel to it.  As I was walking down Křižíkova Street,  two young girls, probably in their  20s, a short brunette and a taller blonde one, who did most of the talking, approached me.

About a block from here

About a block from here

I thought they probably wanted directions or were selling something, they were too well dressed to be homeless and begging for money, and I am well past the age where girls might be stopping me for more interesting reasons, so I stopped to hear them out.

They were showing me some pamphlet and reeling off their spiel, the way Czech people will do,  totally oblivious to the fact that the person they’re talking to is only understanding about one word in 5, and they were showing me a pamphlet.  O.K., they were promoting a website, and I caught something about deeper answers.  There was a JW in the site name and I asked them what that stood for and was not surprised that it was Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I smiled, handed the flier back, and said “Have a nice day.”

They said “You, too,” and we parted ways.  It made me think of how different real life is from facebook.  On facebook, I would have either mocked them or blocked them, but face to face…

Well, perhaps it’s moral cowardice, perhaps it’s just being non-confrontational, but they were nice girls,  perfectly polite, and they’ve got a right to promote what they believe in.

But facebook is a different place and I don’t see it as a shortcoming that our behavior there is different.  On facebook we can be a bit more direct, less polite, more confrontational. 

I get  to exercise the argumentative side of my nature, without it doing any harm to the real world environment.  This is a good thing.  Because, underneath this smiling, polite veneer I try to present to the world, I can be a bitter, old asshole.

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Beware of the Toy Aisle

Much has already been written about the girl with the Uzi who killed the ‘weapons instructor’ in Nevada, and I agree with most of it.  A law saying that you must be 18 years old before firing such a weapon wouldn’t infringe much on people’s rights.  A bit, of course, but if we don’t want to infringe on anybody’s rights, ever, let’s lower the drinking age to 9, and the driving age while we’re at it.  Some things just have to have age limits on them.  I don’t think films fall into that category.  Most kids aren’t going to go see adult films anyway, because they’d be bored, and because their parents aren’t going to pay for it.  But, if a precocious 14 year old with his own income gets into a dirty movie and figures out how to ‘do it,’ I don’t think the world is going to fall apart.

Many of the comments lamented how traumatized the little girl is going to be.  Very few sympathized with the dead guy.  Which is a bit unfair.  He was undoubtedly a gun nut, and probably a moron, but it’s still a shame he’s dead, and there are probably people who’ll miss him very  much.

That incident got a lot more press than this one.  A young black man, who was leaning on a toy rifle, was shot dead by police.  He apparently didn’t hear their warning to drop the weapon, as he was standing with his back to them and talking on the phone.  So, why was he standing there with a toy rifle, you might ask.  Because he was in the toy department.  AT Wal-Mart.  The shelves are filled with them.  He was probably considering buying one.

White people go into Wal-Mart and similar stores armed with very real automatic weapons and they call it ‘open carry.’ 

The worst part: one of the two officers involved in the shooting is still on active duty.  Didn’t even take a day off.

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Putin vs. Humanity


(map is from Canadian NATO delegation)

There is not much doubt about it.  Russia is actively supporting the rebels in East Ukraine, with troops, inside Ukraine.  Prisoners have been taken, press conferences given.  This is fucked up.  This is scary.

As an American, I can’t really use this to go on an anti-Russian rant.  We’ve invaded plenty of smaller countries with even less justification.  There was no American minority population living in Iraq.  Our navy did not need the ports in Grenada.  The U.S. does not have a border with Afghanistan.

But, while Putin is no worse than your average American Republican war mongering president, this proves he’s no better, either.  And it’s all so stupid.  Russia didn’t need to control Ukraine to achieve their goals.  They needed to have friendly relations with Ukraine.  They’ve kind of blown that one.

When communism and the Warsaw Pact collapsed in the late 80s, it was a good thing for almost everybody.  People in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine and like 5 or 10 other countries were ecstatic.  But, even Russia was better off.  They saved a lot of money by not having to keep oppressing all of those countries, a lot of their people got rich, people could travel to the west, and westerners could go to Russia.

Putin seems to want to go back to the bad old days.  May he fail miserably.

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Immortality is Right Around the Corner

We may not need to wait for the singularity, and submit to the hive mind, to achieve immortality.

Scientists in England have managed to grow a bodily organ from scratch.  Of course, it was in a mouse, but that’s a minor detail.  If they can do it in a mouse, they can do it in a pig, a chimp, a human.

Also, it was something called the Thymus, which is an organ I’ve never even heard of so, even though it may have a very important function, is not exactly the same as growing a heart, or a liver, or a brain.  Except it probably is.  I mean, the technology is probably not much different.

The brain will probably be a lot harder.  That involves a lot of complex functions that we don’t fully comprehend yet and, as a thinking machine, it is the sum total of a lifetime of programming.  I guess that’s mind, rather than brain, but then we’re into a philosophical discussion.

As amazing as they are (and they are, working in some cases up to a century non-stop without a breakdown), the heart is basically a pump, and the lungs are basically an air filter.

It will not be long until you can check into the hospital at age whatever, when you have your first heart attack, and get a replacement heart – and, while you’re in, they can go ahead and give you new lungs, a new kidney, a new liver, the works.  You’ll walk out of there like a 20 year old.

Of course, it probably won’t be covered by public health insurance, anywhere, right off the bat, being a new thing, and so only rich people will be able to get it, which is horribly unfair.

I have a suggestion, though.  If you want to buy yourself a whole, younger body so you can live forever, it should cost you every penny you have.  If a guy with 20 billion dollars wants a brand new start, it should cost him 20 billion dollars. 

People would pay, because life is life, and it would become affordable for all, because if all you have is what’s left from your most recent social security check, then that’s what it should cost, too.

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