Tag Archives: technology

Recent Advances In Nuclear Fusion (And Why We Should Cheer Them On)

Nuclear fusion: Building a star on Earth is hard, which is why we need  better materials

There a great many technological advancements that are touted as “game changing” or “revolutionary,” but very few end up delivering on that promise. I still remember all the hype surrounding the Segway and the Virtual Boy.

Granted, these might have been just a byproduct of market hype, but there was a genuine belief that this technology would revolutionize the world. It just didn’t pan out.

I know I’ve discussed a number of technological advances that are very likely to deliver on that hype. I still believe that artificial intelligence, brain computer interfaces, and human enhancement will be true game changers for the future of humanity.

However, there’s one technology that I haven’t really touched on. Arguably, it’s the most needed technology in the world right now. It wouldn’t just revolutionize the world as we know it. It might literally save it.

That technology is nuclear fusion.

Now, there’s a reason I haven’t talked about it much, aside from it not being in any particular area of expertise for me. Nuclear fusion doesn’t exactly have a lot of sexy implications like AI or human enhancement. It also has a bit of a bad reputation among those who speculate about the future.

The running joke is that nuclear fusion is 30 years away and always will be.

If you’re not laughing, don’t worry. It’s not a very good joke and it’s not the least bit funny in the grand scheme of things. That’s because nuclear fusion, if we could get it to work on a large scale, would effectively solve the world’s energy problems. It would largely eliminate the need for oil, coal, natural gas, and most other forms of energy.

If it sounds too good to be true, then you’re starting to get the joke. However, this is no magical fantasy power source on par with Dilithium Crystals. Fusion power is very real. We feel it every day. It’s what powers the sun. It’s what powers all the stars we see in the night sky.

Most people who passed high school physics know what fusion is. Basically, you take a bunch of hydrogen atoms, the most abundant element in the universe, and fuse them together under tremendous pressure and heat. The end result is helium, the second most abundant energy in the universe, and a whole lot of energy.

Unlike nuclear fission, which splits larger atoms into smaller atoms, this form of power doesn’t rely on heavy radioactive elements. As such, it produces next to no waste or greenhouse emissions. It also allows us to use seawater as fuel, since all you need is hydrogen. As a power source, it is as close to perfect as you can get.

Naturally, countless engineers and scientists have spent years trying to make fusion a viable power source. For decades, it was promised to be the ultimate solution to our energy needs. However, no matter how many times someone said viable fusion was close, it never came to be. That’s where its reputation as always being 30 years away came from.

On top of that, fusion research has had a few famous frauds. The whole failure of cold fusion was not a good look for the industry. I suspect that affair convinced too many people that we would never have fusion.

Now, there are some legitimate engineering and scientific reasons for why fusion has been so difficult. Again, I’m not an expert and I’m not qualified to explain those reasons. I’ll just say that it often comes back to making a fusion reaction self-sustaining and containing the massive heat required to keep that reaction going.

These are not challenges that require us to break the laws of physics. These are mostly engineering challenges that require study, refinement, and new materials. In the same way you can’t expect blacksmith’s from the 17th century to make a modern car, you can’t expect our current engineers to make a fusion reactor without the necessary components.

Despite what jokes and skeptics may say, we have made real progress. Very recently, an experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that utilized high energy lasers set a new energy record. That may not mean much to the average person and it certainly doesn’t mean that fusion has been perfected. It just means we’re getting closer to that magical break-even point.

That’s the point where the energy we get out of the fusion reaction is greater than what we put into it. To date, plenty of labs have created nuclear fusion reactions. They just take way more energy than they give off. Over the years, that difference has gotten smaller and smaller. Once it crosses that break-even point, then we have fusion and that will be a game-changer.

I cannot overstate just how much the world needs that kind of game-changer right now and I’m not just referring to the lingering damage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every year, we get increasingly dire reports from the IPCC about the impacts of climate change. Despite what politicians and oil lobbyists say, we’re fueling these impacts with our reliance on fossil fuels.

Fusion, once refined and scaled, could do more than anything to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. It might not eliminate fossil fuels completely, but it will make them far less necessary for all the energy we need in the present and the future. I would even go so far as to say that nuclear fusion might be the only way to adequately power the future we’re trying to build.

That’s why it’s not helpful to make jokes about how fusion is always 30 years away.

Instead, this might be the best possible time to actively cheer on the people working on nuclear fusion. Only one of them needs to succeed at getting to the break-even point. Only one of them needs to succeed at making a viable fusion reactor. At that point, the world will start changing in a profound way.

It won’t happen all at once, but it will be one of the most welcome and overdue advancements in recent memory. I certainly hope that this advancement happens sooner rather than later. If nothing else, it’ll make the world feel less dire so that the other, sexier advances in technology can proceed.

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Whistleblower Confirms That Facebook Is Harmful: So What Do We Do About It?

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There are certain products in this world that we know are harmful, but use them anyway. Cars kill thousands every year through traffic accidents. Thousands die every year by overdosing on drugs that were legally prescribed to them. However, we still use these products because they are essential for our way of life.

With that in mind, I think most people already know that certain social media platforms, such as Facebook, can be harmful. You don’t need to look that hard to find harmful or damaging misinformation on Facebook. Having been in college at the time Facebook really took off, I think most people understood to some extent that this product could be used for immense harm.

So, was it really that surprising when a whistleblower came out and revealed just how much Facebook was aware of the damage they were doing? Just like tobacco companies before them, they could see that harm unfolding in real time. They just weren’t willing to take the kinds of steps that would hinder their profits.

They’re a multi-billion dollar business. They want to keep making billions for years to come. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. That’s the nature/flaw of capitalism.

In case you haven’t been following this story, the fallout from this whistleblower’s revelations are still unfolding. If you want details on the story, here is what NPR reported:

NPR: Whistleblower to Congress: Facebook products harm children and weaken democracy

Facebook’s products “harm children, stoke division, weaken our democracy and much more,” Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who leaked tens of thousands of pages of internal documents, will tell lawmakers on Tuesday.

“When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harms [they] caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seat belts, the government took action,” she will say, according to her prepared testimony. “I implore you to do the same here.”

Haugen will urge lawmakers to take action to rein in Facebook, because, she says, it won’t do so on its own. “The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people,” she will say.

There’s much more to the article, but I singled out this excerpt because it effectively sums up the situation. Again, most reasonable people probably suspected that a platform like Facebook was doing real harm to public discourse and the psychology of teenagers, especially girls. It’s still nice to have confirmation.

As someone who uses Facebook, I can attest to its harms. There is some pretty toxic crap throughout the site, as well as some equally toxic people. Sadly, some of that toxicity comes from friends and relatives sharing content, often of a political nature, that gets people upset and outraged. That’s not a bug, either. According to the whistleblower, that’s entirely on purpose.

Now, in the interest of maintaining some kind of perspective, I’m inclined to remind everyone where that content on Facebook comes from. Remember, they’re not the one’s producing it. They’re just the platform. It’s the users and the people who are creating that. It’s people willing to lie, denigrate, demean, and troll who create the content that makes Facebook and social media so toxic.

To blame Facebook entirely for these harms is like blaming car manufacturers for traffic fatalities. At the end of the day, the car itself doesn’t cause the harm. It’s the person using it.

That being said, Facebook is not a car, nor should we treat it like one. It’s also not a tobacco company and we shouldn’t treat it like that, either. Facebook doesn’t create a tangible product that we can hold in our hands to harm ourselves, nor is it a chemical we willingly put in our bodies. It’s a digital service that we engage with and, in turn, it engages with us.

From that exchange, real harm is possible. This whistleblower confirms that and, based on the available information, I think the data presented is valid. That still leaves one question to ponder.

What do we do about Facebook and other companies like it?

That’s still an unresolved question and one that too many people try to answer bluntly. Shortly after this story came out, the ever-popular #DeleteFacebook hashtag started trending. However, I doubt anything will come of that. I’ve seen that hashtag trend on multiple occasions and it has done little to affect Facebook’s growth.

These revelations are bad, but I doubt they’ll be enough to bring Facebook down completely. They may lose subscribers and revenue in the short-term, but they’ll adapt and grow in the long run. You don’t become a multi-billion dollar company without being able to adapt in lieu of bad press.

At the same time, I think we should take some action to mitigate the impact of Facebook and social media. What could that entail? I’m not smart enough to offer a comprehensive answer, but I do know the extremes people are throwing around just won’t work.

For one, Facebook can’t be banned or shuttered. It makes too much money and it would set a dangerous precedent for every business, online or otherwise. It’s also probably grossly unconstitutional, at least in western democracies like the United States and Britain.

Even if it were banned, people would find a way to get around it. Just look at the countries that have tried to ban porn. People still find a way to get it.

Others have thrown around ideas like splitting up Facebook, just like America once did with oil companies and phone companies. That would certainly be extreme and there are precedents for doing so. However, would that really change how Facebook and social media are utilized by real people? Would those not satisfied with the newly broken up Facebook simply create something similar under a different name?

The most logical recourse might just involve demanding that Facebook make the changes they refused to make, according to the whistleblower. They could also be subject to major fines and taxes, as we’ve done before with tobacco. Will those measures be effective? I don’t know, but I’m skeptical, to say the least.

I honestly don’t think there’s an easy answer to the question. I also think that, even if governments did implement new measures on social media companies to combat their harms, both the companies and the users would find a way around it. Both sides are just too motivated at this point.

I still believe there’s a better solution. I just don’t know what it is and if anyone has one to offer, please share it in the comments. In the meantime, I guess the best recourse we can all do is to just be careful about what we place on Facebook and be more mindful of the content we consume.

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When Parents Look As Young As You: Speculation And Implications

Can aging be reversed? | Wall Street International Magazine

A while back, I was sifting through some old pictures and I found a few of my parents when they were younger. Some of those pictures were a bit faded, but some held up remarkably well. A few in particular depicted my dad when he was in his 20s. It was fun, seeing how my parents looked in their youth. They certainly had plenty of stories behind each picture.

Beyond the stories, there was also the uncanny resemblance. My dad in his 20s looked a lot like me and my brother do now. I definitely have my dad’s facial structure. More than one relative has commented how similar we look whenever I share a picture of us.

My brother definitely inherited my dad’s old hair style. There’s this one picture of my dad in a hammock with long, uncut hair and it looks eerily identical to how my brother styles his hair. Overall, you can definitely see the resemblance.

Naturally, peoples’ appearances change as they age. It’s a normal thing. We can all marvel at how our parents looked in their youth, but that doesn’t change how different they look now. Most people don’t have the luxury of looking like Keanu Reeves in their 50s. As they get older, age will affect their appearance, their energy levels, and their mental state.

With all due respect to my wonderful parents, their age does show. When we stand together for family pictures, you can tell who’s the parent and who are the kids, even though my brother and I are full adults. I don’t doubt my age will start showing soon enough. It already has in some respects.

However, what happens if we suddenly gain the ability to either stop aging at a certain point or completely reverse it?

What if our parents could look the same age as us when we turn 30?

How would that affect us personally?

How would that affect us as a society?

These are not entirely rhetorical questions. It may sound like something that requires futuristic technology, but it’s not as far fetched as we think. Reversing or stopping the aging process in living things isn’t like breaking the speed of light. We know it can be done because there are animals that do it all the time.

Certain species of turtles never seem to age out of their adult prime. Other species basically age in reverse. In biology, it’s called negligible senescence and it’s a subject of significant interest for the treatment of aging. While humans do have a lifespan that seems built into our biology, we’re steadily developing the tools to hack that biology.

The technology is new and unrefined, but the incentives for developing it have never been greater. We already have an aging population. Helping people live into their 90s is nice, but what good is living that long if you can’t enjoy life as you did in your youth?

That technology is still a ways off, but like I said before. There’s no hard rule of biology or physics that prevents us from reversing the effects of aging. The research into the mechanisms of reversing aging altogether is ongoing and anyone who develops treatments are sure to gain a chunk of the multi-billion dollar anti-aging industry.

How and when this technology becomes mainstream is difficult to predict, but if and when it does, it raises some major implications. Setting aside the issues that come about from a population that doesn’t get weaker or less energetic with age, what does that do to how we carry ourselves around family?

That’s a personal impact of this technology that I don’t think enough people contemplate, mostly because they think it’s impossible. However, there are people alive today who may live long enough to see this technology mature. At that point, they’ll have to deal with having parents that look the same age as they do once they turn 30.

Imagine, for a moment, going to a restaurant with your parents. To you, they’re your parents and you know that. To everyone else, however, you’re just three people hanging out at a restaurant. If you look the same age, how can you tell the difference between a family getting dinner and a bunch of friends hanging out?

Things can easily get more complicated and awkward from there. Imagine you’re a guy meeting your mother for lunch or a girl meeting her father for coffee. From the outside, you don’t look like a parent and child. You might look like a couple on a date. I can only imagine how tense waiters might feel if they find out a cute couple are actually parent and child.

Add grandparents who don’t age to the equation and the complications only compound. When your family unit becomes indistinguishable from a co-ed dorm in college, how does that affect your perspective? Beyond the awkward realizations that the cute girl you’re hitting on is as old as your grandmother, how do parents and kids relate to one another when they look alike at a certain point?

As kids, we know our parents are our parents because they’re older than us. Even as adults, most of us reserve some level of respect and reverence for both our parents and elders. Just looking older will garner a certain reaction. What happens when technology removes appearance from the equation entirely?

We all know young people who are wise beyond their years and old people who are as dumb as a kid. When we all look the same age, those distinctions will become blurred and muddled. How that affects our personal perspectives, as well as our society in general, is difficult to fathom at the moment. Given the rapid pace of biotechnology and all the money at stake, that moment might come sooner than we think. As such, we should start preparing ourselves for the awkwardness that’s sure to follow.

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Would You Shop At A Store Run Entirely By Robots?

Will Smart Machines Kill Jobs or Create Better Ones? - The Washington Post

Recall the last time you went to the store. It doesn’t matter if it was your corner grocery store or some big box department store. All that matters is you went there to do some basic shopping, as we all end up having to do at some point. With that in mind, try and remember how many store clerks you saw.

Maybe some were working at cash registers.

Maybe some were stocking shelves.

Maybe some were sweeping floors or cleaning up messes.

The chances are you saw at least several. I remember seeing at least three the last time I went to a grocery store. That’s fairly typical. I know I used to see more before the days of self check-out lines, but I always saw people working at these stores, diligently doing the things necessary to keep it running.

For most of us, that’s a mundane sight. For every store we go to, we expect there to be human beings working there to keep it going. It’s part of the infrastructure that keeps these stores stocked. On top of that, seeing other human beings contributing gives us a sense of comfort in that this place is being run by real people with real faces.

Now, try and imagine a store that has no people working at it. You walk in the door and you never see another human being carrying out the various operations we expect of a functioning store. All that is now done by machines and robots. They’re the ones who stock the shelves, handle your money, and clean the messes.

Does that change the experience?

Does that make you more or less inclined to shop at that store?

These are relevant questions because, as I’ve noted before, robots and artificial intelligence are advancing rapidly. Automation is an ongoing trend that promises to have major economic ramifications. Some of those ramifications are already here. It’s one of the reason coal mining jobs will never be as prevalent as they once were.

Other ramifications haven’t arrived yet, but they will eventually come. The technology is there. The incentives are there. It’s just a matter of investing, refinement, and scale. Eventually, it will reach retail work, a sector that employs nearly 10 million people. That will have a major economic impact for large swaths of people.

Unlike other forms of automation, though, it’ll be a lot more visible.

Most of us never set foot in a factory where cars are made, much of which is done by robots. Most will never set foot in an Amazon or Walmart warehouse, which already use robots at a significant scale. The impact of just how much work is done by robots these days is not visible to most ordinary people.

That will not be the case with stores and retail work. Like I said, we all have to get out and shop every now and then. Even though online retail has become more prevalent, people still go to traditional brick and mortar stores. Even as online retail improves, that’s not likely to change.

However, how much will that experience change once robots start doing the jobs that humans have done for centuries?

How will that change the experience?

Will you, as a consumer, shop at a store that had no humans working there most of the time?

If you think this isn’t that far off, think again. Below is a video from an AI channel on YouTube that shows a robot using a bar code scanner for the first time. The process is a bit cumbersome, but the robot is able to handle it. It is able to receive instructions. Given the nature of how robots improve and refine their programming, it’s not unreasonable to assume that future robots will be able to carry out retail tasks more efficiently than any human worker.

It may not happen all at once. You probably won’t just walk into a store one day and notice that everyone was replaced by a robot. Like self check-out, it’ll likely happen gradually. Once it gets to a certain point, though, it’ll become mainstream very quickly. The incentives are just too strong.

You don’t need to be an economist to see those incentives. Robots don’t need to be paid. They don’t slack off on the job. They don’t get sick or tired. In theory, they could keep a store open 24/7 without ever paying overtime. For big box retailers like Walmart, the potential profits are just too large to ignore.

It won’t stop at stores, either. Restaurants will likely undergo a similar process. There are already working robots that can cook meals from scratch. Once they get refined and scaled, then it’s also likely you’ll one day eat at a restaurant entirely run by robots.

Would you be willing to eat at such a place?

Your answer will probably be similar to the one I asked earlier about whether you’d shop at a store run entirely by robots. Personally, I don’t think I’m ready to shop at a place that had no humans working in it, if only because robots sometimes break down. However, within my lifetime, it may get to a point where stores and restaurants run by humans become the exception rather than the norm.

Are we ready for that future?

I don’t know, but it’ll come whether we’re ready for it or not.

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The Promise, Perils, And Potential Of Elon Musk’s New Tesla Worker Robots

Tesla Promised a Robot. Was It Just a Recruiting Pitch? | WIRED

We’ve all had jobs that are laborious, boring, and repetitive. In fact, for most of human history, those were pretty much the only jobs there were. If you didn’t spend 12 hours a day in a field or factory, doing the same thing again and again, you didn’t have what you needed to survive. Only royalty and the wealthy got to enjoy leisure of any kind.

These days, those types of jobs are still there. Even though we live in an age of increasing automation, there are still plenty of jobs that are hard, repetitive, and draining. Anyone who works in an Amazon warehouse can attest to this.

I have some personal experience with those jobs. I once worked a job at a fast-food restaurant that probably could’ve been done by a trained monkey. I hated it and wouldn’t want my children having to do that kind of work. The fact that many people still have to work these jobs to make endsmeat is tragic.

The prospect of eliminating these jobs with technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence has always been intriguing. I’ve written about it before, both the artificial intelligent aspect of it and the social implications. Unlike other ideas about the future or future technology, this is one trend that’s already happening. Automation is a real thing and it’s not stopping anytime soon.

However, Elon Musk is once again looking to make another massive leap and enrich himself even more in the process. In addition to working on electric cars, commercial space flight, brain/computer interfaces, and flamethrowers, he now wants to create a legion of humanoid robot workers.

Basically, he wants to create the robots in “I, Robot,” minus the part where they go haywire and try to kill everyone. I wish I could say that was a joke, but we already have killer drones, so I think that would be in poor taste.

Musk made an official announcement of this effort on behalf of Tesla. Below is an excerpt of the story, courtesy of The Verge.

The Verge: Elon Musk says Tesla is working on humanoid robots

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his company is working on a humanoid robot and that it will build a prototype “sometime next year.” The humanoid robot will leverage Tesla’s experience with automated machines in its factories, as well as some of the hardware and software that powers the company’s Autopilot driver assistance software.

Musk, who has spoken repeatedly about his fears of runaway artificial intelligence, said the Tesla Bot is “intended to be friendly,” but that the company is designing the machine at a “mechanical level” so that “you can run away from it, and most likely overpower it.” It will be five feet, eight inches tall, weigh 125 pounds, and have a screen for a face. The code name for the bot inside the company is “Optimus,” he said.

The robots will be designed to handle “tasks that are unsafe, repetitive or boring,” the company’s website reads, but little else, at least at first. (There, the bot is simply called “Tesla Bot.”) “I think essentially in the future, physical work will be a choice, if you want to do it you can,” Musk said.

Musk revealed drawings of the robot near the tail end of his company’s “AI Day” event, where it showcased some of the artificial intelligence and supercomputer technologies that it’s working on with the goal of one day powering self-driving cars. The company also had a mannequin version on the stage, which wasn’t working.

Now, before I continue, I want to make a quick disclaimer. I am not about to gush over Elon Musk and anoint him the bringer of a new techno-utopia. He might be one of the world’s richest human beings, but even he has limitations. I know I’ve gushed over Elon Musk in the past, but I’ve since tempered some of my attitudes.

I’m aware that Musk has a reputation of overpromising and failing to deliver. The article even points that out. I’m also aware that Musk, like many billionaires, has done some shady things in the past. You really can’t get as rich and successful as him without being an asshole to some extent.

At the same time, you cannot overlook the man’s success. He didn’t invent the electric car any more than Steve Jobs invented the personal computer or the smartphone. He just took existing technology, combined it into a new product, and successfully marketed it in a way no other human being had done to that point. He was so good at it that he became even richer than he already was.

Like it or not, he succeeded. He thinks big and tries to deliver. Even when he fails, he gets people to push the envelope. He underestimated just how difficult it was to create a self-driving car. I have a feeling he’ll do the same with these robots.

However, I also think that he will do more than anyone to speed up the ongoing trends in automation. Like I said before, this is not some new, fanciful technology. Robots exist. They already work in factories, doing work that used to be done by humans. They aren’t humanoid, but that’s because they’re limited to just a single task.

These humanoid robots will offer something different. They’ll be able to perform a wider ranger of tasks. The robots that make cares can’t be reconfigured to make something else. These Tesla bots could at least begin that process. Even if it’s flawed and unsuccessful at first, that’s still progress. Pretty much all technological advances are like that in the beginning.

His timing here might actually be just right. In recent years, companies like Boston Dynamics have shown off just how capable robots have become. They’re no T-1000, but they’re getting to a point where they can walk, run, lift, and jump as well as an ordinary human. With some refinement, they’ll be able to do even more.

Just like he did with the electric car, Musk could create the first true fleet of robot workers. They wouldn’t be able to replace every human working a laborious job, but they would be able to take the place of some. At a time when there’s a growing labor shortage, there’s definitely going to be a market for that sort of thing.

Personally, I don’t think Musk is going to be able to deliver functional robot workers as quickly as he claims. However, I do think he’ll get the ball rolling for a new industry. He’ll demonstrate that this technology is possible and there’s a growing market for it. In the same way other companies have started making electric cars, they’ll also start making robot workers.

Even if he only succeeds in part, though, that does raise some major concerns. Stories about workers being exploited aren’t difficult to find and the COVID-19 pandemic only made those stories more relevant. I don’t doubt for a second that if companies could replace their workforce with robots and get the same production, they would do so in a heartbeat.

I suspect that some are already cheering Musk on behind the scenes. Those same people probably won’t give much thought to the larger implications of a robot workforce. The prospect of a large population of people who aren’t working, have no job prospects, and are unable to earn a proper living does not bode well for society.

While people like Musk have advocated for a universal basic income of sorts, the politics behind that are messy to say the least. Given how politics rarely seems to keep up with technology, it’s unreasonable to expect it to be ready for a robot workforce that does all the laborious jobs that people used to do. It’s definitely cause for concern. In that sense, perhaps it’s a good thing that what Musk seeks to do probably won’t work exceptionally well, at least at first. However, even if he fails, it’s only a matter of time and engineering before someone else succeeds. At that point, we won’t be able to avoid the larger implications.

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How Should A Robot Look Before You Welcome It Into Your Home?

karalunaria — ok so upon 3 minutes of google it's the mascot...

There was a time when people were skeptical about having a computer in their home. I know because I’m old enough to remember people like that. It wasn’t that they were paranoid about them, although a few certainly were. They just didn’t see the need.

Then, computers became smaller, more affordable, and more useful. They went from being these big, bulky machines that took up an entire corner of a room into being a sleek, decorative piece of hardware that did so much to improve our lives. From information to communications to masturbation, computers revolutionized our lives.

It’s a common trend in technology. When it’s new and undeveloped, people are wary about having it in their homes. Go back several decades and people felt the same way about television. Go back a century and some people were reluctant to allow electricity into their homes. It takes some people longer than others to come around, but they eventually do when the utility is just too great.

This brings me to robots and for once, I’m not referring to sex robots. While they could very well be part of this conversation, I’m going to set that kinky angle to this issue aside. Instead, I’m going to stick to robots in general, specifically the kind with a body and some mechanism for doing work.

We’ve watched in recent years how quickly robotics technology is advancing. A while back, I highlighted a video from Boston Dynamics that showed one of their robots dancing. Even before that, this same company demonstrated a robot that could run and navigate basic obstacles. While it was certainly no Terminator, it was still no Wall-E.

These robots exist. Every year, they’re being improved and refined. Within the next decade, it is likely we’ll have a robot that can move, react, and navigate its surroundings like a human. It may not have human level intelligence, but it will have the body to match our capabilities in every way.

When this day comes, the world will be a very different place. It’ll definitely raises issues regarding robot workers and robot soldiers, but that sort of impact won’t be as direct for most people. The real change will come when we have the ability to have a robot in our homes that can do almost any kind of work a human could do.

By that, I don’t just mean a virtual assistant like Alexa or Siri. We already have those and they’ve already become an increasingly popular feature for many homes. These assistants can help us with shopping lists, music playlists, and schedule reminders. They can’t do the dishes, clean the bathroom, cook our meals, or make our beds.

Having a robot that could do all that would be nice. It would be like having a personal maid and a personal secretary. There’s certainly a market for it and the rise of virtual assistants has already laid the foundation for that market. However, that still raises some important questions.

How should that robot look before you welcome it into your home?

Ignore for a moment the paranoia about a robot turning evil. Assume, for the sake of argument, these robots are as functional as your typical Roomba. They don’t have advanced AI. They’re not sentient or self-aware on the same level as Rosie from “The Jetsons” or Hal 9000. They just these big tools that do all the work you’d expect of a maid, butler, or servant.

Would you welcome that robot into your home if it looked like one of the Boston Dynamics robots?

Would you welcome that robot into your home if it looked completely indistinguishable from humans, like Kara in “Detroit: Become Human?”

Would you want that robot to look only mostly human, but still be distinctly machine, like Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation?”

These are all relevant questions if these robots are going to be part of our lives. For some people, a robot that looked too human might be too jarring. It would be difficult to see them and remember they’re just a robot. Some people might be fine with that, especially when sex robots are involved. However, for a robot that’s primarily a helper, that might not be ideal.

For robot servants, it might be more beneficial to everyone if they didn’t look too human. In fact, having a human-like body might even hinder a robots ability to do its job. That’s why most robots you see in factories don’t look human at all. They take the form of whatever helps them do their job.

Maybe a perfect robot housekeeper doesn’t look human. Maybe it looks more like a droid from “Star Wars” that has multiple arms, a head with a panoramic camera, and four legs like a dog. Depending on the home its in, it might even need to be able to adjust its height. Such a robot may be good at its task, but would it be too weird and bulky to allow in our homes?

No matter how human they look, these robots would have to appear to us in a way that we’re comfortable being around. We have to be willing to just leave them in our homes for most of the day, possibly with pets and children, and trust that they’ll do what we want them to do. That kind of trust will take time, just as it did with computers.

It may ultimately take longer to welcome a robot into our homes than we did with computers, but once the benefits and utility get to a certain point, it may be too appealing to ignore. I don’t claim to know what typical household robots will look like before then. I just know they’ll have to look a certain way for us to embrace them as part of our world. Naturally, we’ll still probably embrace sex robots sooner, but it won’t stop there. Robots will become a larger part of our lives eventually. They may end up having a greater impact than any new technology since electricity.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, robots, technology, Thought Experiment

It’s Official: I Am Ready For Self-Driving (And Self-Parking) Cars

There are a lot of emerging technologies that I genuinely hope I live long enough to see and I’m not just referring to sex robots. I’ve written about how certain technologies could open the door to a bold new world for humanity, as well as a few that could be the end of humanity as we know it.

Some of these advances are farther off than others.

Some are probably so advanced that I won’t live long enough to see them, but hopefully my kids will, if I’m able to have them.

One technology, however, is a lot closer than most realize. That technology is self-driving cars. I’ve talked about them before. It’s fair to say this is not some advanced speculative tech on par with warp drives and light sabres.

There are already working prototypes and advanced testing going on. While it’s far from becoming mainstream and there are real challenges we’ve yet to overcome, this technology is coming. It doesn’t break the rules of physics. It’s just a matter of time, investment, and refinement.

Well, after returning from my vacation this past week, I’m ready to make a larger statement about this technology. I try not to give too many personal opinions when I talk about this sort of thing, but I’m going to make an exception.

I’m very ready to embrace self-driving cars sooner rather than later.

I’m also very ready to embrace cars that can park themselves or just find a decent parking spot to begin with.

Why am I suddenly so eager to support this technology? The reason is simple. My travels this past week have reminded me just how much I dislike long drives on roads with little to know features. It also reminded me what a pain in the ass parking can be whenever I visit a major city like New York.

Just getting to my destination, navigating traffic jams and delays along the way, can be a test in frustration. It can also cause pain in my back from being so focused for extended periods. It can also drain me mentally, so much so that it’s hard to enjoy myself once I get to my destination.

I would absolutely love it if I could just get into a car, enter my destination, lay back, and sleep for most of the way. If I have to be awake, I’d love to use that as an opportunity to write some more sexy short stories or catch up on some shows. That would make me a lot more eager to travel and a lot more willing to go to more distant destinations.

At the same time, parking can be just as big a pain. This past week, I swear I spent a good half-hour just looking for parking and a good long while getting to it. It wasn’t cheap, either. That only compounds the pain.

It didn’t completely ruin my vacation, but it did temper it at times. I feel like everyone would enjoy a life with freer frustrations and self-driving cars can go a long way towards that. Say what you will about the technology or the companies behind it. When it eventually arrives, I’ll be the first to try it. If nothing else, I’ll be happy to just be able to enjoy the open road once again.

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Why Superhero Secret Identities Are More Relevant Than Ever

Superman

You don’t have to be a lifelong fan of superheroes to know the role that secret identities play in their over-arching narrative. It’s one of those story elements that often goes hand-in-hand with a hero’s journey. Part of becoming a hero involves forging an identity and, more often than not, this identity can’t function alongside the one they start with.

It’s a story that has roots in the early days of modern superhero comics. It wasn’t just a common plot point. It was practically a given. It was as necessary as capes, colorful costumes, and punishing masked criminals.

From a practical standpoint, having a secret identity has some legitimate merit. There are things Bruce Wayne can do as Batman that he cannot do and vice versa. The same goes for Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and many other iconic heroes. In “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne set the stage for his secret identity by crafting Batman as a symbol, one that conveyed an idea that went beyond the person in the costume.

In recalling that scene, I think that idea was more prophetic than Christopher Nolan initially intended. When I look at how secret identities have come to define many characters, I believe they’re more important today than they have been in any other era.

I don’t just say that as a long-time fan of superhero comics who has used his knowledge of the genre to explore serious issues. I believe that we, as a society, are entering uncharted territory when it comes to how we manage our identities. The influence of the internet, social media, and an increasingly connected world is more powerful than any fictional hero. It’s already finding its way into superhero media.

This topic became especially relevant for Superman fans because back in late 2019, the release of “Superman #18” officially revealed Superman’s identity as Clark Kent. Now, it wasn’t not the first time Superman’s identity has been exposed, but this time it wasn’t a gimmick. Now, Superman had to learn how to be Superman without a secret identity.

Over the past decade, the value and vulnerabilities of secret identities have been under fire. One of the most jarring moments of the original “Iron Man” movie was the very end when Tony Stark didn’t attempt to hide the fact he was Iron Man. For those not familiar with the comics, it might not have seemed like a big issue. Trust me, it was a major shift.

While Tony Stark debuted as Iron Man in 1963, his identity didn’t become public until the early 2000s. That’s nearly four decades of him operating with a secret identity. In the context of his journey, this was not a trivial decision.

What happened to Spider-Man at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was even more jarring. While his secret identity has been revealed many times in the comics, it’s almost always retconned. Like Batman and Superman, he has to have a secret identity. He has to have a civilian life that’s separate from his superhero life.

There’s even a notable episode of “Superman: The Animated Series” in which Superman flat out admits that he’d go crazy if he couldn’t be Clark Kent. Think about that for a second. Superman, one of the most powerful and iconic superheroes of all time, admits that can’t handle a life without a secret identity. This is someone who can handle Lex Luthor, Darksied, and Brainiac. If he can’t handle it, then what hope do we have?

That question might not have been too relevant 20 years ago. Before the age of smartphones, broadband internet, and social media, a superhero might have been able to get away with having their identity exposed. You could say the same for anyone who happened to have a dirty secret or a double life. Whether it was an affair or a secret hobby, you didn’t have to work that hard to keep it secret.

Back then, not everyone had a fully-functional camera in their pocket or a means of sharing their media on a mass scale. Even if someone did manage to take a compromising picture or video, it wouldn’t be a huge revelation unless it was published by a major news source and even then there was no guarantee it would have staying power, especially if other major stories broke at the same time.

Now, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can capture compromising footage of anyone and share it with the world in seconds. In the world of superheroes, it makes keeping an identity harder than ever. Spider-Man found that out the hard way at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Ordinary people and major celebrities are finding that out as well in the real world.

The internet and social media has created an unusual, yet potent system that skews the dynamics of having an identity, secret or otherwise. On one hand, it’s easier than ever to create an anonymous persona on the internet. With that persona, people are unbound by the propriety of real-world interaction.

It’s part of why the comments section of any website or social media feed is full of deplorable rhetoric that highlights the worst in people. Ordinary people can use the anonymity of the internet to say thing they would never say to another human being face-to-face. At the same time, celebrities and people of influence have the opposite problem.

In this hyper-connected world, every word and every action is permanently archived and subject to greater scrutiny. Every mistake or misstep is amplified and blown out of proportion. Every bit of subtext and nuance is completely lost in the various biases and agendas of the public. In essence, public figures have little to no control of their identity. They are very much at the mercy of how others perceive them.

That kind of scrutiny can have benefits and drawbacks. You could argue that the added scrutiny of social media has held celebrities and people of influence to a higher standard. They can no longer operate in the shadows with impunity. Dirty secrets will come out. Bad behavior will be documented. The O.J. Simpsons and Bill Cosbys of yesteryear could not get away with their deplorable behavior in today’s environment.

That may be a good thing on some levels, but it comes at a cost and not just for those who have had their lives ruined by the internet. In a world where anonymous identities are easily created and valued identities are easily ruined, how can anyone hope to maintain a balanced perspective? Whether you’re an accomplished celebrity or just some random blogger, don’t you still need a persona that feels true?

For people who are stuck in difficult situations, such as those belonging to racial, religious, or LGBTQ minorities, having that secret identity might be the only one that feels true or genuine. If that gets exposed, then those individuals could be in legitimate danger. There are parts of the world who will punish these individuals in ways far more serious than online trolling.

In the past, these kinds of people didn’t have an outlet or a means of connecting with others who share their struggles. They either had to organize in secret or set up their own communities, which often meant making themselves real-life targets. The ability to create an identity, secret or otherwise, can be a powerful mechanism for helping people forge an identity that feels true to who they are.

To some extent, superheroes embody the importance of these identities. They can’t do what they do without them. They can’t remain connected to the people and the world they’re trying to protect if they’re always in costume, trying to maintain this persona they’ve created. Without it, they become disconnected and overwhelmed. As a result, they can’t be the heroes they need to be.

For people in the real world, having these identities is more important than ever. You don’t have to be a superhero to appreciate their value, but as our world becomes more connected, it’s become a lot easier to understand why Spider-Man and Batman work so hard to preserve their secret identities.

The fact they still struggle, despite having super-powers and billions of dollars, is a testament to just how difficult it can be. As the world becomes increasingly connected and increasingly tribal, it’s only going to get harder.

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Filed under Current Events, Marvel, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, Spider-Man, superhero comics, superhero movies

In Honor Of Pride Month: A Tribute To Alan Turing (The Man Who Decoded The Future)

Life of Alan Turing, Code-Breaking Computer Scientist

I’m a straight male. I don’t deny that. I’m also a strong proponent of LGBTQ rights and will gladly side with them against all those who would undermine, alienate, or denigrate that community. In honor of Pride Month, I’d like to make that clearly and proudly.

At the same time, being a straight male means I can only do so much to understand the plight of LGBTQ individuals. I can never fully understand the feelings they feel or the thoughts they think as they live their lives in a world that’s still very hostile to them. Even though I have close relatives who are openly gay, my perspective is still limited.

Having said all that, I’d like to make another small contribution to Pride Month 2021. It’s not much, but it’s something I hope adds to the greater perspective of others, regardless of their orientation. During times like this, that perspective is more important than other.

Like it or not, our lives have been profoundly affected by people who identify as LGBTQ. You may not realize it, but you wouldn’t even be able to read this, nor would I be able to share it, were it not for one prominent member of the LGBTQ community.

His name is Alan Turing. He’s the reason why we know how to make the computer or smartphone you’re using right now. He may also be the reason why some of us aren’t saluting a Nazi flag.

The life of Mr. Turing may have been tragic in many respects, especially towards the end, but few men have affected the modern world more than him. He was more than just a brilliant mathematician, computer scientist, and philosopher. He practically laid the foundation for our modern world through his work.

The fact that he was a gay man living in an era where being gay was considered a mental illness only makes these accomplishment more remarkable. However, his sexuality was still often secondary to his brilliance.

Alan Turing had a genuine gift for math and science. That gift earned him diplomas from universities like Cambridge and Princeton. It also earned him a role at Bletchley Park during Word War II, the home of Britain’s efforts to break the seemingly unbreakable German Enigma Code. It’s not unreasonable to say that this effort wouldn’t have succeeded without Alan Turing.

You also don’t need to be an expert in alternative history to know that breaking the Enigma Code played a big part in ensuring World War II ended the way it did. Even if you believe the Allies were always going to win, that victory came sooner and saved more lives because of Turing’s role in breaking that code.

The breadth and details of that effort are vast. It would take too long to go over everything he did to help the Allies in World War II. Thankfully, others with more expertise than me have done so. Check out this YouTube video to get a better feel for how Turing did what he did in cracking Enigma.

It’s also through that same effort that he laid the foundations for modern computing. He is largely credited with creating the fundamental structure of things like algorithms and computation. He may not have built the first modern computer, but he created the model by which all future computers were built.

Without Alan Turing, computer technology would not be where it is today.

Without Alan Turing, the internet as we know it would not exist.

Without Alan Turing, the modern world as we know it simply would not be possible.

That’s a hell of an accomplishment for anyone, let alone someone who was gay. It is a great tragedy that Turing had to spend most of his life hiding his sexuality. He did marry a woman who knew his secret, but that was only a cover. He still had to live a lie day after day for most of his life.

It only came crashing down in 1952 when Turing was arrested in Manchester for the “indecency” of admitting to a sexual relationship with another man. As a result, Turing lost his various security clearances. All that work he’d done to help the world was suddenly an afterthought. On top of that, he was forced to take hormones to “treat” his desires.

I put “treat” in quotes because what this did to him was nothing short of unconscionable. I won’t go into the disturbing details. I’ll just say that this “treatment” played a major role in him eventually taking his own life in 1954. It was a sad end to the life of a man who gave us so much through his brilliance and his work.

Now, to be fair, the British Government did eventually apologize for the role it played in destroying Alan Turing’s life. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen until 2009. I’d usually say better late than never, but that’s really pushing it.

It’s hard to say how much we lost because Alan Turing’s life was cut short. Who knows where we would be if he hadn’t been persecuted because of his sexuality? Even if we ended up at the same place, Turing deserved better. This is a man who served his country and contributed immensely to the knowledge of mankind, only to be ruined by bigotry.

How many other brilliant men and women suffered a similar fate?

How many of those individuals had something to contribute to mankind, but never got the chance?

How many had to live their entire lives hiding this part of themselves, suffering in silence out of fear of enduring a fate like Turing’s?

We can never know the answer to those questions. The answers are probably as distressing as they are tragic.

If nothing else, the story of Alan Turing should give us pause in how we see the past, present, and future of LGBTQ struggles. It’s true that we’ve made a great deal of progress since the days of Alan Turing. In more recent years, awareness surrounding the struggles and accomplishments of men like Turing has grown.

There are still challenges to overcome and we should be ready and willing to face those challenges. Despite how it ended, the life and accomplishments of Alan Turing should inspire us to do better. The fact we can make those efforts through the very machines he helped create is a fitting tribute. So, in honor of Pride Month 2021, let us take a moment to remember and celebrate the life of Alan Turing. He contributed immensely to our modern world, despite living at a time when his very identity was criminal. That’s an accomplishment and a strength that’s worthy of pride.

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Filed under Current Events, LGBTQ, technology

My Thoughts On Facebook And #DeleteFacebook

Here is how to delete Facebook | TechCrunch

There are certain people, groups, and companies that are difficult to defends. It’s not impossible, as is the case with tobacco companies, criminal organizations, and whoever designs unskippable video ads. It’s just difficult and I’m certainly not qualified to carry out such with any real expertise.

I’m just not that smart or informed.

I make that disclaimer because I’m about to defend a company that doesn’t have a stellar reputation, to say the least. If anything, their name and its famous founder have gained such a negative connotation that they’re just a few steps away from being a tobacco company. Given how one actually sells products that gives people cancer, that’s saying something.

That company is Facebook. I know that just typing that word out for people to read is going to garner a reaction and not in a good way.

I get that. I really do. I’m very much aware of some of the many scandals and shady dealings that Facebook has engaged in since its inception. I’m also aware of the objectively negative impacts that Facebook has had on certain people. That’s not something I can defend, nor would I want to.

There are any number of bad things about Facebook and its impact that I can go over. However, there is one important aspect to those things that I would like to highlight. I don’t think it constitutes a defense of Facebook or its practices, but some may construe it as such. I’m still going to point it out, if only to add some perspective. It all comes down to this.

Facebook is still just a tool. At some point, all its damaging ills are on us, the users, and not the company.

I understand that’s an unpopular sentiment. It’s not that dissimilar from what gun advocates say about guns. Like any inanimate object, it’s not deadly or damaging until somebody willfully uses it. That’s certainly true to some extent. It’s just a matter of the extent that people disagree on.

However, Facebook is not akin to a firearm or some tool that can actually be used to cause tangible, physical harm to someone. It’s a website/software program. Using it requires people to go out of their way to access it. In addition, getting any meaningful use out of it requires active engagement. It’s not just something you can give to a kid and they would easily figure it out.

It can still be damaging, but in a very different way. Like it or not, some of those ways are ultimately our responsibility and not that of Facebook. I know it’s just a lot easier to criticize the company, its practices, and the conduct of its founder, Mark Zuckerburg. That doesn’t change the actual nature of the product.

Yes, there is objectively toxic content on Facebook that degrades, demeans, and deceives people.

However, that toxic content doesn’t come directly from Facebook. It comes from us.

I bring this up because I saw the hashtag, #DeleteFacebook, trending again. That seems to happen several times a year, often after a new scandal or in wake of an unpopular decision. It’s becoming so routine that it’s hard to take seriously.

On top of that, the hashtag rarely accomplishes anything. Despite all the scandals and negative press, the overall usership of Facebook is still growing. As of this writing, it has approximately 2.85 billion users. Criticism and hashtags aside, it hasn’t kept the company from growing. It hasn’t made Mark Zuckerberg any less rich and influential.

I know hashtags are notorious for presenting a false reality to those who seek it, but this particular hashtag has become more a virtue signal than an actual protest. More and more these days, the hashtag has become less about Facebook’s unscrupulous business practices and more about protesting Big Tech, as they’re called.

While there’s certainly a place for protesting the practices of large, powerful corporations, I feel like the substance of that effort gets lost in virtue signaling. People are more inclined to just whine about how bad Facebook is and say how much better their lives are after deleting it. It’s rare for anyone to actually highlight a substantive policy or practice that warrants protest. It’s all about people saying, “Look at me! I gave up Facebook, so I’m better than you!”

I know that’s a simplistic statement that doesn’t apply to everyone. I’m sure there are people whose lives did improve after deleting their Facebook account. At the same time, there are people whose lives are still enriched by Facebook.

Personally, I’ve met great people through Facebook. I’ve also been able to keep up with friends and family that I never would’ve been able to keep up with. I genuinely value those connections. They even prove critical when there’s a major family crisis that everyone is trying to keep up with. That happened several years back when my grandmother got sick. It happened more recently with helping my father connect with other relatives during the pandemic.

Facebook can be used for good. Like any tool, it can have a positive impact on its users. It’s just a matter of how it’s used.

There will always be people who seek to use any tool for something wrong, deviant, or nefarious. We don’t criticize ski masks the same way we criticize Facebook and for good reason. At the end of the day, it comes back to the individuals using it.

Again, that doesn’t excuse some of the shady things the company has done over the years. I’m not defending that. This extended rant is just me reminding people that some of the worst parts of Facebook only exist because of us, the users. At some point, we have to take responsibility for that. We can’t expect a multi-billion dollar software company to do it for us.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, rants, technology