Category Archives: Technology
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.
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 orgs & people in another nation) say it wasn’t an asteroid? In fact it was a nuclear attack! And the [whoever is in the doghouse with the struck nation] did it! LET’S GET THEM!
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 us into an extra-paranoid authoritarian dystopia.
But the end could begin with a real asteroid mistaken (or misrepresented) for fake.
Bank on it: we will set the door to let deliveries in. You think people order a lot of stuff online now? The trend is upward, the Gen-Xers and Boomers who didn’t grow up ordering stuff online and who are as likely to reject online shopping as to embrace it, are either croaking or following their Millennial and Gen Z and — what are the really little ones called? I’ve seen Gen Alpha, but… meh. Hope they think of a better name.
BUT back to the very short and direct point: more online shopping, free delivery will become the law of the land in that delivery charges will become the kiss of death (they’re headed that way anyway, I feel), and there will be ways to buy things we’re not as comfortable buying online.
I’m not comfortable buying shoes online unless they’re the one shoe I absolutely know how they fit me: Chucks.
But if you could project a true-to-life holo of the shoe over your foot and move aside the layers to see how much room your toes had, it might be a different story.
The next 20 years will be a rapid progression of business finding ways to make people ever more comfortable with buying online (assuming, of course, that we don’t find some way to destroy our own civilization).
I mentioned free delivery above. Delivered by flying, walking, and wallcrawling drones of all shapes and sizes, it will become feasible to make a zillion tiny deliveries. I need sugar — hey, SirTanaExa, order a four pound bag of sugar. Oh, this is the last of the vanilla. SirTanaExa, order a four ounce bottle of imitation vanilla. And so on. The vanilla will fly in on the back of a fat metal dragonfly and the sugar will crawl in locked in the basket atop a mechanical turtle.
And we’ll set the door to let it in, because who wants to open the door for drones 87 times per day?
And some burglars, but mostly mischievous kids who can nevertheless walk off with jewelry and drink up your beer, will wait for those drones and jam your front door for the crucial seconds it takes to dart inside…
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.
Dear state and federal government, tax time is fast approaching and of course there is no time to do it this year. Which is kind of the refrain every year IF anyone brings it up. Few people do. They’re busier talking about “abolish the IRS” because that would totally stop people from cheating on their taxes (or mainly corporations and the people with the largest potential tax liability), or “let’s have a flat tax,” because that wouldn’t hurt the poor far more than it hurts the rich (10% of vitally needed food and rent money vs. 15% or 20% of income that is mostly disposable – I know which side of THAT stick I’m rather be holding and which side would be, ah, fecally augmented) or “STUPID TAXES WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO PAY FOR THINGS I’M NOT USING AT THE MOMENT” like they don’t benefit from stuff like the roads they drive on (and which makes transport for goods easy, which keeps prices lower at the stores) and the fire departments that keep their neighborhoods from burning down, the police that discourage people from breaking into their house and pillaging them, and the schools that educate kids so we’re not drowning in way more unskilled labor than we can use and having a majority of the people being desperate and ready to riot. I could go on, but I’m WAY off track as it is.
Doing taxes. It sucks. If you’re lucky enough to have nobody but yourself in your life (if you call that luck; I have been there and I call it lonely) it’s not too hard to do your own EZ form, though I have seen folks at tax prep businesses shelling out cash to have someone else fill it in, for some weird reason. But for most people (and gawd forbid you own a small business that’s not large enough to have a professional accountant or two on staff) it’s a choice between spending hours poring through instruction books and arcane forms, or paying someone else a few hundred bucks to navigate the occult incantations that result in a refund, or at least the payment that you actually owe instead of more because you missed some credit or deduction.
And if you’re badly wrong to their detriment, the government will send you a letter that basically says, “you really screwed this up – either do over or just send us X dollars to make up the difference.”
Which brings me straight to the point of my little rant: GOVERNMENT, YOU ALREADY KNOW HOW MUCH WE MAKE, WHO IS IN OUR FAMILIES, AND HOW MUCH WE’RE SUPPOSED TO OWE OR HAVE REFUNDED.
Y’all know! And still we have to go through this bureaucratic paper-pushing like it’s 1913 and this income tax crap is new to everyone.
Look, I don’t mind paying taxes. I like good roads and law enforcement when it’s not misapplied by beating the hell out of or killing people who deserve due process like, unfortunately, WAY too many POC. I like fire departments and agencies that tell factories that no, they are not allowed to dump spare chemicals in the water table that feed the reservoirs I drink from. I like agencies that tell employers that it’s better to take some frickin’ precautions than kill off or cripple employees because, hey, a lot of people need jobs, we’ll just get another one when we break this one.
I like stuff like space programs, and even the military if only ours would calm down a bit and stop bombing 47 countries at once (actual count may vary – I really hope not upwards).
I like parkland. I like clean air. I like rivers that don’t catch on fire. I like cities that aren’t obscured by smog.
I don’t mind paying taxes, just like I don’t mind buying a fishing license that goes to support people to make sure we’re not overfishing and to maintain, keep clean, and occasionally restock nice fishing holes.
I do mind the damned paperwork!
There are plenty of countries that just figure your taxes for you and send you a postcard that basically says “please verify this amount and send your payment or receive your refund, or tell us if we’ve got something wrong or you believe you are entitled to pay less or get more back.”
We could do that. Maybe someone could ask those counties how they do it?
But, spoiler: Y’ALL GOVERNMENT FOLKS ALREADY KNOW HOW MUCH WE OWE SO LET’S JUST DO THE ABOVE INSTEAD OF ALL THE STUPID FORMS IN THE HOPES WE SCREW UP AND YOU GET TO SCREW US FOR EXTRA TAX AND PENALTIES.
Thanks for your time, government. I’m sure you’ll get it right. Probably shortly after I go for a nice dirtnap in (hopefully) fifty years or so.
(This post appeared on my Patreon page a week before it appeared here. Why not be a patron and see this stuff early, and sometimes even get a free ebook?)
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.