Category Archives: Futurism
Not today. Probably not this century. In the next, I’d be shocked if it didn’t start happening. Outdoor farms in their sprawling plant-filled glory will one day be extinct in most “developed” countries and will be a marker of terrible, desperate poverty.
There are already experiments in urban and/or indoor farming. Experiments and practical endeavors, in fact. With tall racks of trays and hydroponic and similar setups, optimized artificial lighting and harvesting, and total climate control (oh, this is the next paragraph right here, just you wait and see) an indoor farm can produce a LOT more food in the same volume of old-fashioned dirt farm.
And there’s another benefit, one that will grow much more valuable as time advances. You see, the climate is changing, and we humans changed it mainly by burning billions of tons of the distilled hundreds-of-millions-of-years-old forests and dinosaurs we call oil, coal, and natural gas. You can’t burn that much carbon-bearing material and not impact the environment you release it into. Deny it if you want, but the facts say it’s changing and we had a lot to do with it.
Climate change changes farming. Extreme weather events become more common because the global flows of air and heat are disrupted and you can’t disrupt a gigantic complex system without introducing chaos. Rainfall patterns and which land is suited for what crop change as wet land becomes arid (and presumably vice-versa as it’s a big globe with more than the USA in it), and temperatures and season lengths change.
So how do you escape chaotic weather that threatens crops? How do you immunize yourself against the shifting of agricultural zones under the whip of a changing global climate?
You move indoors, of course.
One day, our farms will be many, many thousands of enormous warehouse spaces full of light and the smell of growing things while the hot breath of the climate we screwed up howls against the doors.
This is becoming something of a miniseries — you can see the post about the maidbot here, and there’s a link to the tinkerbot post at the end of that one.
This post appeared on my Patreon page ten days ago — become a patron and see them FIRST. Also you get a free ebook or an exclusive post sometimes!
But enough about those things. This is about gardenerbots and how I just might be willing to kill for one.
Though, maybe not yet because a ratty old trailer in a rundown old trailerpark doesn’t provide a lawn worth keeping up (barring acts of Murphy, we ought to be taking up residence in a little rental duplex or even a small house sometime in the next 1-3 months. Wish us luck!).
But it would almost be worth if just for my little urban garden that I grow in felt pots (which are awesome — plants don’t get rootbound, they grow well, and if you want to put them away for the winter they fold up pretty well). If a gardenerbot was really cheap, like maybe I found a used one on Craigslist that someone was letting go for a hundred bucks because one arm got smashed in a freak tree-trimming accident, I’d totally jump on it (assuming it was near the beginning of the month and my patronage had just hit my PayPal account — otherwise I tend to spend it on food or laundry soap or a while back I used some of it to replace a dead mouse, or contributing to the internet bill. You know, stuff that being able to afford makes this little trailer a more congenial place to live and write).
I could go for it because my gardening skills are only so-so. When I grow my veggies the yields are pretty inconsistent and I’m pretty sure I lose plants I shouldn’t. But a gardenerbot with halfway decent programming, I’m sure, wouldn’t have that problem. I just might kill for one.
It would be all the more enticing if I had a quarter-acre or so of backyard to gardenify. Even an eighth-acre. Or to mow. I’ve never been a fan of mowing lawns.
In fact, I bet within ten or twenty years of rollout a gardenerbot would be cheaper than a good lawn tractor. Then you wouldn’t have to buy a lawn tractor. Or a tiller. Or even a cheap, crappy version of either.
You could buy the absolute cheapest of each of those. An old-fashioned non-motorized push mower.
Instead of an expensive power tiller (or less-expensive but yearly tiller rental)? A couple of good shovels, a hoe, and a rake.
Because what’s the gardenerbot going to do? Get tired? Suffer heatstroke from overwork in the hot sun? Complain about the long hours during sowing and harvest?
Nope. Because it’s a machine. And in the future if self-aware AI is possible…
…it doesn’t take self-awareness to cut grass and plant bell peppers and fertilize the roses. So you don’t even have to worry about being gardened to death in the robot revolution.
It won’t forget to water the vegetables until the leaves get droopy like I’ve been known to do.
If the vegetables or grass or trees start looking unhealthy it will be able to identify the most likely nutrient deficiency or infestation and treat it. When I have to try to identify that kind of thing, I’m mostly guessing and it’s mostly luck when I’m successful.
If I had more room to garden and more lawn to take care of, it would be worth it and I’d totally kill for a gardenerbot then.
Another benefit I hinted at above: tree maintenance. Bush trimming (I mean shrubs, this isn’t a ’70s porn post — the other kind would be handled by a sexbot or a barberbot), stump pulling, digging where electrical or gas or water lines might be.
You know, the dangerous stuff. Not only would a bot not, you know, die if a tree dropped on it or it jammed a shovel blade into a live power line, but the gardenerbot would have access to online maps of these lines so it could avoid them way better than you trying to figure out exactly how the symbols on the map correspond to locations on your lawn (humans do not have GPS, but a bot would). Surely it could do a better job than you or I referencing multiple utility company maps and trying not to forget anything.
All that, and more fresh veggies and fruit than I can grow left to my own devices? Yep, I’d totally kill for a gardenerbot.
And then someone did invent the robot, and in the last threeish decades of the 20th century it was the biggest story (if underreported) again. People variously blame outsourcing and trade imbalances and minimum wage and unions and other things for the evaporation of middle-class-paying factory jobs, but the fact of the matter is that most of them have given way to automation.
Automation was a major driver in rising income inequality, in the shrinking of the middle class, in the erosion of inflation-adjusted wages, in the increase in part-time jobs and decrease in full-time employment, in the… you get the idea. The ramifications are much wider than we see. Or want to see. Political discourse is still hung up on trade imbalances (I have a HUGE trade imbalance with the grocery store but you don’t see ME crying about it) and tariffs and outsourcing. All those things matter, but not a tenth as much as jobs being replaced by robots that are more cost-effective, don’t call in sick, don’t make worker’s comp claims, don’t unionize, don’t complain about not making enough to pay the rent, eat, and pay for healthcare at the same time, don’t have bothersome events like weddings and funerals to attend, don’t have heart attacks at work which just shoots productivity for the day right down the damn toilet, and more.
Wow, human workers suck compared to workers.
But actually, there are a lot of jobs robots don’t do well. Robots aren’t very adaptable. Robots suck at human interaction. Robots aren’t creative. They just do a simple job or a few simple jobs quickly and well, over and over and over and over and over.
That’s changing. Much like computers that once took up a whole room to serve only as well as the calculator app on the phone in your pocket does today, robots are getting better at their jobs fast. They’re replacing ever more production jobs. They’re making inroads into white collar jobs. They’re heading toward being way more ubiquitous than anyone but a few technologists, futurists, and science fiction writers thought possible even twenty or thirty years ago.
They’re going to end up in places, ultimately, that they really shouldn’t be. And they’ll get there because they will have become way cheaper than now (think of how relatively cheap your smartphone is compared to the supercomputer of the 1990s, which it can outperform) and way more flexible. Adaptable.
People will be up in arms, of course, when robot nurses become common and drive out nearly all the human nurses. Or maybe not nearly, but actually all. Robots can’t show compassion, people will say. They can’t comfort the sick and dying like empathetic humans can. They can’t give the encouragement of conversation and a pat on the shoulder and the presence of another human being.
Consider, for a moment, the ATM (or, for redundancy enthusiasts, which are apparently nearly everyone, the “ATM machine”). Reaching back to 1993, I found an article in Wired that mentions what people did not like about them when they were becoming common. People didn’t like that they were machinelike. The programmed, stilted greetings and prompts. The lack of human interaction. Sometimes, the lack of security — a human presence other than one potential victim may dissuade some criminals from striking, or at least offer up the comfort of perceived safety, where a machine does not.
But they liked the convenience. Bankers liked that they could reduce teller jobs (though my understanding is they shifted employees to other positions like sales instead of reducing headcount — but that reflects human flexibility. Remember what I said up there about automation becoming more flexible? It will.).
And now the ATM is just an accepted part of life, and hardly anyone complains about them seriously as a thing. People complain about the slowness of individual ATMs just as they complained about the slowness of individual human tellers (and still do). People complain about the fees. But people do not complain about the fact that ATMs are the way we make nearly all of our cash withdrawals and a large number of deposits as well.
Automated nurses will be like that. A couple of decades after they’re introduced, people will stop complaining about them and accept them. It will become social convention that human interaction with patients is the job of family, friends, and whatever volunteers care to look in on those without many of those.
I think that will basically suck, but if the money says robot nurses, we will have robot nurses.
The same story, over the coming decades and perhaps into the 21st (robotic flexibility has a long way to go), will play out among firefighters and police officers and short order cooks and fast food staff and store clerks and warehouse workers and postal carriers and parcel deliverypeople and florists and paralegals and lawyers and EMTs and professional drivers of all stripes and and and…
In a hundred years, I think we’ll be talking about whether or not employment numbers are over five percent, not whether unemployment is over five percent.
It will be a strange world to people like me born in the 1970s. Assuming medical science advances fast enough to keep me alive into the 22nd, which I think is unlikely (DAMMIT).
(This first appeared on my Patreon page ten days ago. Become a patron and regardless of the size of your pledge you will see all of my best and beefiest blog posts at least a week before they appear here!)
Luddites are both annoying and fascinating.
They have the corner of a legitimate argument: technology has the potential to f**k us up royally. Yes, yes it does. I’m a Cold War kid. I remember watching The Day After.
I read (and sometimes write) dystopias. I’m a friggin’ science fiction fan and writer, fer crissake! OF COURSE I KNOW that technology has the potential to f**k us up!
So does a hammer. Or a spear. Or an obsidian flake.
Yes, technology usually needs to be managed. For example, in the wake of the invention of the automobiles we passed scads of laws governing their use. Where they can be used, how fast, what safety equipment can be used. Of course, we still manage to kill and injure about a million of ourselves yearly with the things, as I’ve written elsewhere.
As far as I can tell, the Luddite argument against self-driving cars is that they somehow won’t be regulated like every other invention and that they will somehow do a worse job at coordinating traffic safely than millions and millions of unconnected human brains all in various states of caffeine and fatigue and substance intoxication, plus under the influence of things like anger and grief and arguments and shouting children and dropping burritos in their laps.
Me, I think autonomous cars will do better. Sure, they can be compromised. So can your brakes and steering now — there are plenty of problems that will come up. There always are. Once upon a time fire displaced good old eating meat raw, and then someone burnt up their cave and died. I mean, a Luddite ought to be for going back to horseback… wait, you can fall off… I mean going on foot. Safety first! Hide in your cave!
Anyhow. The exchange with Luddites was amusing and silly. Here are a few tweets about it (this would be on my Patreon (sorry, patrons!), but they don’t seem to support links to tweets, so I have to put tweet-based posts here).
So, that happened. Whatever. I wonder why they just don’t go live without technology? I mean, the Amish manage it nicely without talking about it on Twitter, which you think Luddites would despise and not use.
It’s almost like their ideas don’t make sense except in at the shallowest possible glance — which they seem unable to see past.
At least writing this was fun, and I got to look up some cool images, and I got a blog post out of it. I hope y’all enjoyed it.
It’s going to happen sooner or later. The only question is, will throwing rocks at populated areas like Earth or space habitats or settled moons and asteroids be viewed as an over the top measure and approached with extreme reluctance like nuclear weapons have been following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or will our future Solar-system-wide civilization degenerate into an orgy of caveman rock throwing?
Only time will tell.
(Previously: “I Would Kill For A Maidbot“)
There are a lot of little things that go wrong around a house or whatever it is that serves you as one – personally, at the moment I’m living in a trailer that’s only one year younger than my middle-aged ass and more things than average go wrong around an ailing junkpile (and, yes, as a starving writer with a starving family to support I’m totally going to pimp my Patreon and my books right here).
But, things always go awry. Entropy shows its bony claw to let you know it has not loosened its grip on the world. Sinks start dripping, toilets running, caulk and grout grow cracks, door handles loosen, lightbulbs die, vases fall and break, dresser drawers begin to squeak and catch…
…I’d kill for a tinkerbot.
An automated little helper to watch out for all those little problems and fix them before I even notice I need to. Something programmed with the right way to fix things so I’m not improvising, covering up tack holes with toothpaste and repairing cracks in the wall with strategically placed posters and fixing drafts under the doors with strategically trimmed expanding foam.
Something to fix that funny noise the fan in the bedroom is beginning to make before that funny noise grows loud and persistent enough to start annoying me – which kicks off a week or two of “I ought to fix that” followed by procrastinating and forgetting and later testily saying to myself “why the hell didn’t I fix that? Well, maybe I can take care of it after I finish cooking dinner.”
I’d kill for a tinkerbot.
I’m sure some folks with higher income would just give the tinkerbot an allowance and let it purchase deliveries of whatever it needed to do repairs. That would be awesome. But even S.A. “Under The Poverty Line” Barton could surely benefit from a bot that would advise me what is needed and then I could either bargain-shop or look for it in secondhand stores. And some things it could probably manage with just the basic set of tools I keep under one of the kitchen shelving units.
I’d kill for a tinkerbot.
Maybe the damned thing could even fix the water leak under the elderly washing machine that still works but which I must tip up and install a thick mat under every fourth load so the water won’t start running out into the hall.
Oh, yes. I would definitely kill for a tinkerbot.
And for those of you whose appliances aren’t ancient and ailing, I’d imagine a tinkerbot could still pay for itself by extending the lifetime of your newer appliances, not to mention all the hours of changing lightbulbs and touching up the housepaint and fixing gutters and whatever – and averting the larger damages and inconveniences that our not noticing and putting off that sort of thing often leads to.
Yep. Tinkerbot. Kill.
(When I write the next one in this mini-series, the link will go here)
I do the laundry for a household of five, including a four year old and a six year old who for some reason have to do at least two wardrobe changes daily. Shirts come off (“I got hot playing”) and go in the hamper; an hour later: “I’m cold. I need a shirt.” Or there’s a mud and dirt incident outdoors – which I live with; I’d be worried if they didn’t get dirty at this age. And there’s a fair bit of evidence playing in the dirt is a shot in the arm for growing immune systems, lowering rates of allergy and illness. But still: more laundry. It’s a rare day I don’t do two or three loads.
I’d kill for a maidbot.
Vacuuming. Sweeping. Cleaning surfaces, appliances, furniture, metal, television screens, books. Books attract a lot of dust. I have a few hundred books. Which sucks. Ten or twelve years ago before a series of moves and necessary weedings-out of possessions, I had a few thousand.
I don’t dust them enough. Or do any of the other things in the previous paragraph. I’m kind of a sucky housekeeper.
I’d kill for a maidbot.
I just thought: the maidbot wouldn’t just do the laundry, it would fold it and put it away. And rearrange the drawers when they got disorganized.
I’d kill for a maidbot.
I don’t do the dishes except a few here and there as I cook during the day. My eldest does that – we don’t have a dishwasher appliance. Imagine the time and effort he’d save. I wonder what maidbots would do to dishwasher sales?
I don’t care. I’d kill for a maidbot.
I bet the first ones will be expensive and buggy. But within five or ten years of release they’ll likely be far less buggy and no more expensive than a television – and used ones will be showing up on Craigslist and in thrift stores and pawnshops.
They’ll be one of the most popular Christmas gifts. Everyone will want one.
Wouldn’t you kill for a maidbot?
[Next: I Would Kill For A Tinkerbot]