Futurisms – Waste of time

Some of the better pieces I write are not usually initially thought as rants or rambles and more as a normal reply to a message. In my current work I have been blessed with several peers (and one in particular) that are constantly feeding my too-easy-to-trigger rant-buttons. Sometimes I realize I have started yet another kilometric message after I hit the «Send» button and appreciate the recipients being patient with them. This is one such exchange. It was spawned by an article in marshasllbrain.com that talked about how, in 50 years, the world will be ruled by robots (humanoid robots, no less).

—–Original Messages—–
From: Eduo [mailto:email suppressed]

Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2003 2:56 PM
To: Bob [mailto:email suppressed]
Subject: Food for thought


(admittedly, some of the thoughts you’d be feeding would be cool, sci-fi ones, but I wouldn’t say that out loud, in fear of sounding pro-mech or anti-hum, to coin two phrases)


From: Bob [mailto:email suppressed]
Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2003 3:25 PM
To: Eduo [mailto:email suppressed]
Subject: RE: Food for thought

I will probably be dead or at least retired by the dates he mentions, so I’m not quite as worried as I would be if I were younger. What I worry most about is that the upcoming generations will be able to provide me what I need when I’m old and feeble. :)

History has been full of people being overly pessimistic (as well as overly optimistic) about the effect of technological changes on society. I’m sure people were predicting gloom and doom as the Industrial Revolution got really going. What can happen is that as some types of jobs are eliminated other new ones are created.
(In italics above are the two messages preceding my rant below)

—–Original Message—–
From: Eduo [mailto:email suppressed]
Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2003 4:05 PM
To: Bob [mailto:email suppressed]

Subject: Food for thought

Gloom and Doom may mean different things to different people. Back when the industrial revolution hit, those not willing to do anything else than what had done for twenty years were probably affected.

I see is as evolution, tho’. Nature’s selection of the fittest has adapted to new times, I guess, and «fittest» means other than having good birthing hips, being able to munch on stale meat instead of dying of food poisoning or having the longest hair to be pulled by horny cavemen (if we believe in cartoons).

I was thinking of sending an e-mail on my thoughts to this person, thinking of making both a «pro» and a «against» cases for his theories, the intent being that it’s easy to rationalize any future development. You don’t have anything to lose, if you’re not correct nobody will remember but if you are you’ll be recognized as a visionary.

I do believe that more and more things will be automated, because that is nothing new, it’s been an ongoing trend for years now and doesn’t look like it’s going to stop. I don’t believe humanoid robots would be used for anything else other than making people comfortable with non-humans being around. I don’t believe we would ever see robotic waiters in a fast-food joint for anything other than hipness or shock value, but I do believe you’d be able to go to the drive-in, punch what you want and have it waiting in a (n unmanned) window further down the lane. This to me makes sense. Having a robotic person doing the sale doesn’t. I don’t believe the two ends of the spectrum for food places (the mon’n pop coffee shop or the ultraexpensive french restaurants, for example) will ever disappear any more than I believe printed, non-computer-dependant books will be popular in the next twenty years (I do believe alternatives could crop up, like intelligent paper/ink or sintehtic replacements for wood pulp).

Also, there’s the fact that he fails to acknowledge 4/5ths of the world, where having someone to do the cleaning for you costs 10 bucks a day (that’s Mexico, and it’s expensive compared to India or South Africa or China), which means that a 10K robot would take 3 years to pay itself for the same work (more if, like me, you have someone come over twice a week instead of daily).

I believe that we’re going to see more proliferation of small, specific appliances, like we currently have. We like tools but we like to feel we control them. Like in Physically control them. An Aibo pet-dog is cute but most importantly is small and manageable, a roomba vacuum cleaner is a robot that vacuums the house, but I bet it wouldn’t be nearly as popular if it was the size of Robbie, the Robot. We like our washing machines, dishwashers, dryers, automatic cruise control in the car and autopilots in planes, home alarm systems and tie racks for the closets and they are exactly that, specialized robots. I feel appliances like Roomba would crop up more and more and instead of having a humanoid robot (which while being admittedly able to fit in a humanoid environment is far from being a perfect or even somewhat optimal shape). By the time we’re completely at ease among technology and robotics we won’t mind much them not being humanoid, in the same way we don’t expect a dishwasher machine to look like it’s rubbing plates and forks.

Again, all of this is speculation and while it’d be fun to see how it turns out being optimistic or pessimistic about it is as pointless as deciding which of them is worth investing in the future. Most of the technology leaps and changes in lifestyle were unexpected and unplanned, usually being a side effect of other intents (astronauts don’t like plain water, so we have Tang; two guys want to get as far from Dayton as possible, so we have supersonic planes now; somebody messes up a project for a new kind of glue and we can paste little yellow notes in a monitor; etc.) that trying to predict is like trying to hit a bullseye with a shotgun in a dark room while being blindfolded, upside down, hanging from a ceiling fan and being tickled… with boxing gloves: A fun exercise but of little actual value other than see how it turns out.

I’d keep on typing, seems kind of effortless today for some reason, but I better stop, as by now your eyes must be kind of glazed and fixed in some point between the glass and your nose, thumbing the page down button just to get to that blissful part where the window is blank..:)

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