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Hurricanes And Tornadoes And Floods, Oh My, Will It Be Easy To Flee…

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…or at least that may be an upside of an ever-more-connected world. The “Internet of Things” future will have to ponder if that and other pluses offset living in a world where any of your belongings might rob you.

In a WiFi saturated world, it may be more than your phone or local news weather report that warns you of imminent weather threats like hurricane, tornado, flood, blizzard, and so forth.

Your refrigerator and thermostat and eyeglasses and bathroom mirror and shoes and – who knows by 30 years from now – the earbuds that semi-permanently reside in your earlobe piercings will keep you updated.

Linked to the hyperlocal weather reports aggregated not just from satellites and airports and weather stations, but from sensors integral to the solar and wind power arrays that feed electricity into every building’s batteries, your belongings will keep you appraised of the weather and what it means to you.

“Close the windows,” your windows will say, possibly via your microwave, showerhead, or belt buckle. If your house is posh enough, they’ll say, “shall we close?” and they’ll do it themselves without orders if rain starts coming in to threaten the carpeting.

“Dude! We need to get out of Dodge right now!” your car (set to “casual” mode, obviously) will exclaim as deadly weather ramps up nearby. Your shoes will wail at you to head for the car, or for the curb where a self-driving Unter can collect you – if only you acknowledge you’ll be there to be picked up for evacuation.

But what if you don’t?

“Acknowledge,” the hall light prompts as you stagger by to find a place to collapse. “Acknowledge,” your thrift store sneaks beg, hearing you, from their home tucked in under the front of your second hand couch. “Acknowledge?” your front door asks querulously, but there’s no answer.

Your snores rise from the couch where you slump, utterly zonked. Maybe you’ve hit the sauce too hard, or been at the recreational drugs, or whatever you’ve been prescribed was just too much for you today. After all, you’ve been preparing for a storm and worrying all day.

And maybe your shirt notices that you’re not waking up and the state of emergency created by the weather allows the Unter car to send in a helper bot to bypass your door lock and carry you out to safety. The Unter takes you smoothly away from the danger despite widespread service outages – it’s not dependent on a centrally coordinated net by able to function as cleanly as a fish in a school…

…to take you to a designated shelter through a flood of traffic far more dense and swift than any human driver could navigate.

And you wake in a high school gymnasium shelter thirty miles away, confused.

But your wristband wearable can tell you what happened. And you’re alive.

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My God, what a nanny state hell! you say to yourself as you finish reading the above, horrified that the humans of the future might be so helpless and coddled. Hopefully not because you’re a goddamn eugenicist, but surely some of you are. Regardless…

…let me tell you how helpless you really are, roughly from near past to distant. You may be able to contradict a couple statements below. Maybe. But how many? And as a way of life, not a hobby? Are you sure? Read on.

You save your children and yourself from death, pain, infliction of disability, and long-term malaise with medicines and vaccines, most of which were unknown a mere century ago. There’s a fair chance that you, reading this right now, would not be alive without them. I wouldn’t.

You don’t know how to ride, feed, or otherwise care for horses and their harness, because you ride around in automobiles.

You can’t organize a household based on the relatively difficult and time consuming weekly or monthly or seasonal (depending on your distance from civilization) grocery runs. Nor do you know how to keep the things people used to buy from spoilage. Could you buy one cheese wheel per season and keep it good so you could enjoy the last bite three months later? No. You buy a brick of cheese from the store and devour it two days later. Or if you forget it, you find it with a bit of mold and past the expiration date and chuck it straight in the trash.

You buy your food in supermarkets. You don’t know how to dry, salt, pickle, ferment, or can your own food to sustain you through the year. Nor do you know how to store those foods correctly.

You don’t know how to set a bone, stitch shut a wound, or birth a baby.

You can’t make your own clothes from bolts of cloth, needle, and thread.

You don’t know how to spin thread and yarn from cotton and wool or hemp or whatever fiber is local to you.

You don’t know how to winnow chaff, parch grain, grind it by hand, and bake it into bread in your own wood or dung fired hearth.

You don’t know how to bring ten children into the world and bury five of them before their fifth birthday without going mad.

You can’t accept life as a serf, slave, or even vassal – which, historically speaking, the vast majority of people were. You, like everyone else today, assume you’d be some sort of noble because you’re so damned smart. Well, smart wasn’t worth anything if you were born to raise beets. Except maybe getting your smart, restless ass killed.

You don’t know how to build a hut from scratch, or make and keep clean a packed earth floor.

You can’t form a phalanx or ply a sling.

You can’t ride a chariot nor craft a balanced wheel from pieces of wood.

You don’t know the best way to dig edible roots with a pointed stick.

You can’t till and plant a field with a wooden plow, or a hoe, or an adze.

You don’t even know how to save seed for next season’s planting, nor how to figure out how much seed you need to plant your acre.

You don’t know how to rotate crops. You don’t know how long to leave a field fallow. You may not even know what the hell “fallow” means or why it’s a concept.

You don’t know how to slay aurochs and bears with a spear.

You can’t cure hides with brains and piss, nor chew them soft, nor scrape them properly, nor stitch the finished product into decently-fitting boots and cloaks.

You don’t know how to layer for the weather without space-age insulation, processed wools, and garments involving stretchy artificial materials.

You don’t know how to carry embers all day so you can make a fire without having to fool with a bow and drill or flint and pyrite or something.

You can’t tell what kind of animal you’re stalking by looking at its poop.

You don’t know how to stalk an animal, so that last point wouldn’t do you much good if you did know.

You can’t catch a fish with just a length of gut, a bone, and a worm.

You don’t know how to make iron from scratch. Or bronze. Or how to pound native copper into a usable tool. Or knap a knife or spearpoint from stone. You don’t even know how to pick a good stone to knap, the right stone for a striker, and knock off flakes without cutting your fingers open or smashing them.

You don’t know how to cut down a tree with a rock.

Once you’ve cut it down, you don’t know how to make it into a canoe.

You don’t know how to live your entire life on foot, outdoors, in the weather, as a nomad, without even the knowledge of letters or numbers greater than you can count on your fingers.

Maybe you think you do, and it would be an adventure. Well, you don’t. And adventures are awful things that happen to other people that you enjoy listening to when you’re warm and safe.

The “the people have grown soft” of yesterday is today’s “we can get along just fine as we are, thanks.”

Unless we get all obsessive about how great the past was. In which case we may get what we wish for, warts and all.

END

This was posted to my Patreon a week before it appeared here. If you like what I do, help me do it more by contributing!

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13-Word Story: Sick Call, Late 21st Century

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[This post originally appeared on my Patreon page on 3/30. Become a patron, see posts early, get free stories! Also, PLEASE DO share the image! It’s very helpful!]

So, about the actual post: someone tampering with a self-driving car’s software/firmware is already a much-discussed concern. Most of the articles I’ve seen have explored the possibility of using the WiFi access point of the vehicle itself to access and “hack” the vehicle, and my understanding is that this has already been done in at least one controlled experiment. A hacker could lock or disable the brakes, affect the steering, cause the vehicle to see “ghost” vehicles or become blind to actual vehicles or pedestrians, ignore speed limits, ignore traffic signals (which, once self-driving vehicles become ubiquitous, will likely be ‘visible’ only to the vehicles themselves in areas closed to manually driven vehicles), or… well, you get the point. The possibilities are extensive.

And, of course, there are other possibilities that come to mind. They’ll have to be dealt with as well as possible, just like the hacking problem, as self-driving vehicles become more common.

Drivers might alter vehicles’ software themselves. This will likely be illegal, and will range from harmless to extremely dangerous. Cars that drive themselves will likely have no human-accessible controls like a steering wheel or brake/accelerator pedals; a likely illegal mod would be to provide controls via touchscreen or a videogame-like controller. Mods might allow vehicles to exceed speed limits, open doors while driving, alter pollution controls (looking at you, naughty Volkswagen), flash rude messages to other drivers on a variable-opacity touchscreen windshield, and who knows what. Once the actual vehicles are here, we’ll discover all sorts of things we haven’t thought of yet, just like just about every other piece of tech we’ve come up with.

We’ll want advertising blockers for our cars by and by, too. I can’t imagine advertisers won’t be happy to pay to have messages projected and voiced right inside your car as you drive. Imagine how quickly you’ll get tired of hearing “would you like to stop at McDonalds?” and “Come shop at Macy’s, 20% off all housewares today!” If the advertising deals with automakers get aggressive enough — and when have advertisers not gotten too aggressive for their own good given the chance — you may find yourself having to respond to a constant stream of default-yes prompts. “Stop at Taco Bell? Touch CANCEL to decline.”

Yes, we’ll need CarAdBlock.

And of course, there’s the hazard of malware as the story suggests. Imagine your family vehicle being ransomwared right before a crucial work meeting. Or before your holiday dinner gathering, and you’re bringing the main dish.

Very likely efforts to thwart malware and illegal mods to vehicle software will be more aggressive than those directed at the same with computers and smartphones. Penalties will be more draconian — and if they’re not, they soon will be after the first few malware, mod, or hacking vehicular injuries or deaths.

But that won’t stop some people from creating malware for cars and so forth. There’s always someone who wants to ruin the fun.

Some think these and other hazards will prevent the self-driving vehicle from becoming popular. I don’t think that’s going to be the case at all. We are already willing to accept a MILLION WORLDWIDE DEATHS PER YEAR for our current vehicles. If malware “only” costs a hundred thousand lives yearly, there will be a public outcry. It will slow adoption by the public. But business and government will continue to pursue the option of lesser cost in both cash and lives — and that will be the self-driving vehicle.