Category Archives: Science!
The article pictured above mentions an asteroid large enough to mimic a nuclear airburst, noticed only a day before a close flyby of Earth.
Right now, in the US and UK at least (likely elsewhere, but I’m not politically knowledgeable enough to point fingers in those directions) it’s fashionable to holler “fake news!” if a fact doesn’t agree with one’s assumptions and/or want-to-believes. Mostly on the political right, though I’ve sadly seen some on the left and even center catching the feelings-over-facts bug.
So. Imagine a rock from space smearing a city in a tense nation. The astronomy community says “hey, look, here’s video proof we saw it a day ago.”
And a few influential hawks shout back, sneering: “fake news! Fake video!”
Millions cheer for war. Saner heads are ignored — after all, didn’t Breitbart and Infowars and Trump (or the parallel irgs & people in another nation) say it wasn’t an asteroid?
This is one of the more out-there scenarios — more than likely, the “fake news” conspiracy theorist howl will kill us all.in simpler ways, or even just lock is into an extra-paranoid authoritarian dystopia.
But the end could begin with a real asteroid mistaken (or misrepresented) for fake.
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!)
Food printing right now is limited to stuff like pasta and candy. Simple stuff with few ingredients.
But imagine a day when it’s quick and simple to print a burger or pizza or steak.
I don’t know that day will come — it’s difficult to imagine the incredible advances it would take to do such a thing.
But if it gets done it seems likely to proceed like computer tech, from bulky and expensive to cheap and ubiquitous in a generation or two.
Maybe by 2218 we’ll see something like that. It would knock the guts out of the restaurant industry. Make famine response easier. Probably make us all even fatter. It might kill the cooking professions, or make them boutique commodities for rich showoffs.
I would totally buy a food printer. I’d print a box of meringues right now.
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]