PSA-180920-Crystal Ball

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Back in the nineties I read a book titled Megatrends 2000 by John Naisbitt in which he foretold the future ten to twenty years ahead. The author did not have any unusual telepathic talent he merely watched for trends. He collected snippets of information about happenings from newspapers around the country. If a particular action appeared in many places across the country he saw it as a trend.

After having read the book, and led the life I can attest to the fact that Naisbitt’s predictions were highly accurate. A few weeks ago I told myself to look for a new book that would predict the next ten years. Things are moving so fast that quite frankly, I can’t keep up with them and I would venture that you have the same problem too. I haven’t found such a book, but I did receive a list of predictions from a friend. I believe all of them will come to fruition within the next twenty- thirty years. I only hope I am around to see them happen,

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1. Auto repair shops go away. A gasoline engine has 20,000 individual parts. An electrical motor has 20. Electric cars are sold with lifetime guarantees and are only repaired by dealers. It takes only 10 minutes to remove and replace an electric motor. Faulty electric motors are not repaired in the dealership but are sent to a regional repair shop that repairs them with robots. Your motor malfunction light goes on so you drive up to what looks like a Jiffy-auto wash, and your car is towed through while you have a cup of coffee and out comes your car with a new motor.

2. Gas stations go away. Parking meters are replaced by stations that  dispense electricity.  All companies install electrical recharging stations for their customers and employees. (The gas station goes away, but must be replaced by a charging station. Batteries and charging must improve exponentially for this to happen. Currently an electric car needs ten hours of charge time to charge fully.)

3. All major auto manufacturers have already designated 5-6 billion dollars each to start building new plants that only build electric cars.

4. Coal industries go away. Gasoline/oil companies go away.  Drilling for oil stops. (This one is hard to believe because all these cars need electricity and it has to be generated. Most likely we will use natural gas.)  

5. Homes produce and store more electrical energy during the day and  then they use and will sell it back to the grid. The grid stores it  and dispenses it to industries that are high electricity users. (This ones assumes that we have roofs made of solar collectors, and that the sun shines every day.)

5. A baby of today will only see personal cars in museums. (This one forgets about our car culture and car hobbyists who will continue to build their own cars.) 

6. The FUTURE is approaching faster than one can handle! In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they went bankrupt.  What happened to Kodak will happen in a lot of industries in the next  5-10 years and, most people won’t see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that 3 years later you would never take pictures on film again? Yet, digital cameras were invented in 1975. The first ones only had 10,000 pixels, but followed Moore’s law.  So as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a time, before it became way superior and became mainstream in only a few short years. It will now happen again (but much faster) with Artificial Intelligence, health, autonomous and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and jobs.

Welcome to the 4th Industrial Revolution.

7. Software will disrupt most traditional industries in the next 5-10 years.

8. UBER is just a software tool, they don’t own any cars, and are now the biggest taxi company in the world! (This one assumes that there will be enough Uber drivers with cars willing to shuttle people around) 

9. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don’t own any properties.

10. Artificial Intelligence: Computers become exponentially better in understanding the world. This year, a computer beat the best Go-player in the world, 10 years earlier than expected. (What the heck is “Go” and who cares that a computer beat him?) 

11. In the U. S., young lawyers already don’t get jobs. Because of  IBM’s Watson, you can get legal advice (so far for more or less basic stuff) within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans. So, if you study law, stop immediately. There will be 90% fewer lawyers in the future, only omniscient specialists will remain. (This will be a good thing because with too many lawyers our society has become overly litigious, and our government divided by politicians who are lawyers trained to win at all costs while our system relies on compromise.)

12. Watson already helps nurses diagnosing cancer, its 4 times more accurate than human nurses. (Nurses don’t diagnose cancer, doctors do.)

13. Facebook now has a pattern recognition software that can recognize faces better than humans.

14. In 2030, computers will become more intelligent than humans. (So people quit learning because the computer knows everything.Who then teaches the computer new stuff? Does the computer perform lab experiments to learn new facts?)

15. Autonomous cars: In 2018 the first self driving cars will appear for the public. Around 2020, the entire industry will start to be disrupted. You don’t want to own a car anymore. You will call a car with your phone, it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance, and you can be productive while riding. The very young children of today will never get a driver’s license and will never own a car.

16. It will change the cities, because we will need 90-95% fewer cars. We can transform former parking spaces into parks.

17. One point two million people die each year in car-accidents worldwide. We now have one accident every 60,000 mi (100,000 km), with autonomous driving that will drop to 1 accident in 6 million mi (10 million km). That will save a million lives worldwide each year. (This one assumes that sensors and computers in the cars are better than those of a human being.)

18. Most car companies will doubtless go bankrupt. Traditional car companies will try the evolutionary approach and just build a better car, while tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) will do the revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels.

19. Many engineers from Volkswagen and Audi; are completely terrified of Tesla. (Engineers fear only layoffs due to a lack of need. Electrical cars have simple drive trains, but more complicated controls, sensors, and computers.)  

20. Insurance companies will have massive trouble because, without accidents, the insurance will become 100x cheaper. Their car insurance business model will disappear. (accidents will never disappear completely)

21. Real estate will change. Because if you can work while you commute, people will move farther away to live in a more beautiful neighborhood. (If you can work while you commute, why go to the office at all? Work from home.)

22. Electric cars will become mainstream about 2030. Cities will be less noisy because all new cars will run on electricity. (People will step into traffic while looking at their personal work modules because they can’t hear the cars.)

23. Electricity will become incredibly cheap and clean: Solar production has been on an exponential curve for 30 years, but you can now see the burgeoning impact. (This will require homes that have solar roofs, streets that are solar collectors, and vehicles that can pick up electricity from the road.)

24. Fossil energy companies are desperately trying to limit access to the grid to prevent competition from home solar installations, but that simply cannot continue – technology will take care of that strategy. (Low cost solar systems for the home which can compete with the electric companies will be needed to make this happen.)

25. Health: The Tricorder X will be announced this year. There are companies who will build a medical device (called the “Tricorder” from Star Trek) that works with your phone, which takes your retina scan, your blood sample and you breath into it.  It then analyses 54 bio-markers that will identify nearly any disease. (This dreamer has never had to experience an MRI, PET scan, Ultrasound, or colonoscopy test to believe a phone can detect your problems.)

WELCOME TO TOMORROW ! ! !

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It is only natural for me to be skeptical about these predictions because many of them rely not on technology, but rather on acceptance by humans to implement. Acceptance will evolve and shift culture toward these bold inventions. I predict they will take an additional ten-twenty years to be accepted by the public.

 

Algorithm, the New Dirty Word

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Since when did the word algorithm evolve into an evil demon? So often I hear of Facebook, and Twitter leaders refer to algorithms in an accusatory way. As if the word itself resides within the computer. I haven’t read anything about how the Silicon Valley gods have breathed life into computers. The lords at Facebook and Twitter have been caught with their pants down around their ankles and to weasel out of their dilemma they blame things on the mighty “algorithm.”

Here is the definition of algorithm:

a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer: a basic algorithm for division.”

So who is giving the computer instructions within the algorithm to screen conservative voices?  Certainly the computer does not have the intelligence to do anything by itself. I admit, the beauty of modern programming languages make it easier for a man to give the computer instructions, but once an algorithm process is defined it can only change if a man changes it. The lords may allude to artificial intelligence programs doing it, but I cannot buy that at this time. Artificial Intelligence or AI has been a concept floating around since before the eighties. Men keep envisioning a day when the AI computer will replace humans as workers. I remember when computer salesmen were selling us on the idea that we will have a computers on our desks and they will be able to  perform wonderful things. That was also in the nineteen eighties. Many of the things they promised then are just becoming useful to us today. My math says the “sell” took thirty-three years to become reality. I’ve seen some tremendous improvements in computers and in software during the years of my useful employment, but AI isn’t one of them. The closest application we’ve seen that uses AI is the self driving car. I applaud Google and Tesla for testing the self drivers on real highways. It is the only way they will ultimately prevail. What I don’t applaud them for is killing people during the test. The reason they have failures is that the sensors they install on cars are nowhere near the quality or comprehensiveness of the human senses feeding data to the greatest computer in the universe, the human brain. What I predict is that AI will not become a practical vehicle to replace humans in simple jobs for another thirty years.

The lowly algorithm is being used as a political ploy by the lords to sell a line of B.S. to a seemingly ignorant public. That is where the lords are getting it wrong, we aren’t ignorant. When Facebook screens content to prevent conservatives from having a voice they are denying us our Constitutional rights.

During the early twentieth century there were a number of mega-companies that got so big their lords felt they were invincible. Good old Uncle came to the rescue and filed lawsuits to break up their bigness. It seems to me it may be time for Uncle to kick into gear again and set some regulatory controls that will protect we the people from evil algorithms, or better yet the evil people who program the algorithms to do evil things.

Robot Or Not To Robot

There is a lot of news these days about robots, and how they will replace workers. Yes, there will be some automation to replace human beings in the work place. How soon? It is hard to say because of all the possibilities. Robots have done amazing things in car factories. They weld, they paint, they assemble, they replace human effort. Or do they? We tend to think a robot is human. It is not. A robot is a machine that is controlled by a computer. Who controls the computer? Answer, a human. Ah, but the level of artificial intelligence has grown rapidly, and computers can now think like humans. Maybe, yes, but maybe no. even with artificial intelligence (AI) software the amount of memory and programming it takes to get a machine to think like a human is enormous. But, computers are now defeating humans in the game of chess, isn’t that proof that AI is gaining on us? Yes, but again, the computer required to play chess at that level is enormous. We take our brains for granted, but within our skull resides a computer the likes of which no computer designer or programmer will ever be able to match. Well, at least not in my lifetime.

How about the claim that robots that look like people are now able to act as sex surrogates. I’m not ready to try that one, nor do I want to. The idea of placing my very valuable and sensitive member into a machine to pleasure myself gives me visions of gears and ratchets, and gnarly wheels that turn and grind and abrade, and well you get the idea. Robots are a poor choice for having sex, maybe only a little better than the blow up sex dolls available. Think about this, you are engaged in a passionate french kiss when the saliva from you tongue leaks into the robot’s circuitry and causes the electrons to short circuit making the robot lock its arms around you in a bear hug that leaves you breathless and lifeless.

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I worked at a factory and my primary goal was to reduce labor from the manufacturing process. After trying many concepts that failed our R&D boys came up with a novel idea that worked in a prototype system. We loved it and ran with it. The concept was workable, but the practical execution was not. My teams worked out a better mechanical way to make it work. Our system had problems too, but we continued to take baby-step improvement toward long term success. When we got the thing running smoothly and steady we switched to solve another problem which was start-up. The start-up procedure we invented was purely manual, and it took a skilled technician to make it happen. Often start-ups required ten or fifteen minutes to achieve. Fifteen minutes doesn’t sound like much in a twenty-four hour day, and it wouldn’t be if things ran smoothly for twenty-four hours. The whole system was complicated, and often problems totally unrelated to automation caused the system to shut down, and that required a new start-up. To make a very long story shorter this project took a team of too many engineers twenty-years to accomplish. At the end, the system was equal to a lights out operation with very few humans present. Except when an alarm sounded and the technical-department had to come to the rescue. Automation requires a level of expertise to maintain. Alley-garage level mechanics were not the level of experts it took to get to the heart of the problem.

If automation was so easy, why do companies choose to move their operations to China and places more remote? First is the cost of automation. Making machines to make things is expensive and time consuming. The investment required to automate is enormous. It is easier to pay very cheap wages to make things by hand.  Second, maintenance is expensive and automation requires highly skilled workers to maintain them, and highly skilled workers make a very good salary.

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After finally achieving the goal to automate an entire factory the owner decided to ship the whole thing to a foreign country anyway. Why? We cost him too much. True, he eliminated most of the labor of making the product, but he was going broke paying for the technical staff required to maintain the process, and to keep it running. Think about that sex-robot you are dreaming about. Again, you are actively engaged in the act with the robot when a previously undetected bug causes the bot to go wild and he sends an alarm to the tech-staff for help. In the meantime he shuts down with his arms locked around you in an embrace of passion. There you are stuck until the Robot-nerds can come from wherever they will come from to unfreeze the operation.

It is my professional opinion that robots have come a long way toward becoming successful workers in our society, however, they will require a staff of experts to manage and maintain. It will be years before they are reliable enough to be safe in our midst. Of course Hollywood will make them glamorous and desirable by showing us how useful and good they can be. Except, that Hollywood lies a lot in the name of creativity, and over simplifies, and glorifies the actual mechanics of operation.

Back in the thirties we had some wonderful automatic food dispensers called Automats. Previous to that there were automated food vending machines in Germany in the late eighteen hundreds. The systems in the US lost favor with the public for various reason, the main one being it worked on nickels only. Think about paying for your $4.95 hamburger in nickels. At twenty nickels to the dollar you would have to pump 99 nickels into the machine to get the burger. Of course we won’t have that problem because we use credit cards today, even for a candy bar.

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Robots replacing humans is a scare tactic used by businesses who stand to lose profit if political issues like a minimum wage are on the docket. In that regard a robot works, but I don’t believe the business people understand the technical issues that would drive them into bankruptcy. Eventually, robots will succeed in making our lives better, but for now I think they are just a vision of the future. I remember the sales pitch I got from computer salesman who convinced me of all the wonderful things I would be able to do with a personal computer.  He was right, except the computer he sold me was twenty-five years away from doing all those wonderful things. Mr. Robot is probably at that stage today.

Cheering for the Underdog

This video is about an amazing robot. A technician deliberately tries to defeat the bot by giving him unexpected new situations to deal with. I found myself cheering for the bot, and hoping he would kick the technicians ass, instead the bot does an amazingly smart thing. You will not be sorry you watched this video. You are looking at your future job replacement. The upside is the world will need millions of bot mechanics to keep them going.

Why Not?

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I have often said that the USA needs to be run like a business, and lawyer-politicians are the wrong people to become Administrators and Commanders-in-Chief. Now that we have a businessman running for office, and my vision has been achieved I am beginning to run scared. The problem stems from the fact that We the People have been conditioned over many years to listen to the rhetoric of polished lawyers who are honed in wordmanship, and debate. Donald Trump the current Republican front runner has none of these qualities, but instead he is a street fighter. He has no problem attacking his opponent without regard  to the etiquette of debate. A smash at an opponents character or his standing in the polls takes precedence over logical argument of the issues. The end result is a debate that resembles a street brawl rather than polite argument of ideas.

Our media does not help the matter  because they love the brawling. It gives them fodder for sound bites and analysis that keeps people listening and customers paying for commercial air time. The First Amendment of the Constitution allows freedom of speech for the purpose of giving the press the ability to ask tough questions of candidates and to dig for answers and the truth. Modern day media outlets avoid spending money on digging for answers. Instead many of them create answers or avoid answers by sticking to analyzing the brawls and poll numbers.

People ask me If I will vote for Trump. My answer is that I like Trump because he has upset the established organization of politicians and is redefining the rules of running for office. He continues to poke his finger into the eyes of the establishment and We the People are loving it. Why? We the People are sick and tired of the elected establishment ignoring our voices. They pander and say what they have to say to get our votes, then forget about us until the next election. They become the elites who don’t work very hard, have eons of time off, and plenty of money to spend when they are vacationing. In the meantime our country suffers from massive numbers of people unemployed or under-employed without a single ounce of effort being expended to change things.

What scares me about Trump is his fix for leveling the playing field with China. He continues to spew rhetoric about installing tariffs to make China pay. A friend reminded me of a former business man president who did much the same thing. He installed tariffs on countries getting the benefit of our market and they in turn installed tariffs on our products coming into their country. The resulting trade war only exacerbated the Great Depression. The president’s name is Herbert Hoover. It frightens me to hear a businessman spewing such nonsensical rhetoric about tariffs. I agree that China should be more grateful for the gift we gave them beginning in the seventies when Richard Nixon visited and opened the doors of trade. Ever since the USA has rushed to send all of its manufacturing jobs and machines to them. The Chinese should be kissing our butt for opening that door for them. Instead, they celebrate having more billionaires than the USA.

Capitalism survives by making profit. Without profit companies die. In order to make profit, companies must continuously cut their costs. Cost cutting is necessary to compete in a world market. China can out compete with US companies because they play low wages. Their starving people are very happy to make a dollar a day or hour because it is more money than they have ever seen in their wretched lives. Suddenly these dirt poor farmers have cash to live on. They can afford to go to the market to buy a cat for Sunday dinner rather than have to search the neighborhood for strays.

Cheap labor comes from poor people who are starving and will do anything for money. They don’t care about minimum wages, they care about having a few dollars to spend on food for their kids. They are willing to work for those few dollars and avoid protesting for more. They just work. Where do these poor people come from? They are immigrants. That is why the governments across the world are now competing for immigrants. The US economy needs immigrants willing to do the work our native born people won’t do. Why won’t our natives do the work? Most of them are too highly educated to get their hands dirty. We have brain washed our kids to go to school and get smart so they don’t have to work hard. The end result is we have bred generations of kids who don’t know what physical work is, nor do they know the value of physical work.

I taught my kids that they should be willing to work at  many jobs. That way they will understand the value of going to school. They will understand what kind of education they need to earn a living. All of my kids have done that. They all began working when they were fifteen. My oldest son worked on a maintenance crew for a manufacturing pant. His summers consisted of painting a cyclone fence with a brush; he is now an engineer. My daughter found work in a nursing home changing diapers and feeding patients, she became a nurse, my youngest son worked in a video store as a clerk then promoted himself to become burger flipper at the Golden Arches, He is now a computer scientist. My grand children are being taught similar values. Work be it physical, or mundane repetitive tasks is good experience for life.

So why does Donald Trump scare me? He isn’t talking about making America competitive with the world market. He wants to make America Great again, but he hasn’t showed me how he is going to do it. Perhaps it is his campaigning technique to not show his hand sooner than needed, but right now his brawling ways are his strongest suite. He needs to show us how he is going to stimulate the economy to resurrect the 93,000,000 jobs that disappeared from our country.

The Good Old Days?

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
Since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow . . .

Today, Peg and I sat and watched the snow blowing outside our front window. We commiserated about winters past. My thoughts returned to 1961 the first winter I had as a married man. Barbara and I rented a three room apartment in Chicago on West 87th Street. The front of our house faced the border between Chicago and suburban Hometown, Illinois. We both worked and had long commutes. My drive(11.4 miles)took me to Danly Machine Company in Cicero, Illinois, Barb’s (12,5 miles)took her to the Westside VA (Veterans Affairs) Hospital in Chicago. I spent every dime I had to buy a used Volkswagen, and Barb did the same to buy her Uncle Tony’s 1954 Chrysler New Yorker. The apartment provided parking spaces perpendicular to 87 street which is a CTA(Chicago Transit Authority) commuter route for busses.

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Winter snow began in December with regular snowfalls followed by very cold temperatures. It snowed in January, February, March and April too for an accumulation of over 50 inches for the season (avg. Chicago snowfall is 39 inches). What I remember most was digging the cars out after the CTA snow plow pushed the snow off 87 street into a mound behind our cars. It seemed like every morning I’d be exercising by shoveling snow from behind two cars. In the evenings when returning from work we had to turn sharply and gun the car to plow through the mound to get back in. Many times my VW lifted off the ground and I had to shovel snow from under the car to get the wheels back onto the ground.

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The joy of owning a Volkswagen to save gas which was selling for under 2o cents per gallon at the time, was the German engineer’s idea of efficiency. VW’s used the air that cooled the engine to heat the car and to defrost the windows. It didn’t take me long to use my knowledge of thermodynamics to conclude that air-cooled engines don’t make it for heating in a Chicago winter. When it is thirty degrees outside and the engine transfers thirty degrees to the air, the passenger compartment gets sixty degree air. When the outside air is zero degrees the engine still puts in thirty degrees, and the driver gets a chilly thirty degree breeze blowing into his face. That winter we had ample days with sub-zero temperatures which meant scrapping ice off the inside of the windshield to see the road. I took a blanket with me to wrap my legs for warmth.

When the temperature dropped below fifteen degrees, I removed the battery from the bug and took it into the house to keep it warm and charged. How did I learn to do that? Trying to start a VW with a six volt system in sub-freezing temperatures is next to impossible. There was not enough power in a cold battery to turn over the engine. I learned another trick from the German mechanics when I complained about the terrible starting situation. “Did you put five weight oil in the engine? No, well no-wonder you have trouble, we always use five weight oil in the winter.”  Duhuh.

By the end of that winter I became proficient at dealing with both cars, what worked for the VW also worked for the Chrysler, and we somehow managed to survive.

“Why didn’t you take public transportation,” people would ask? I tried taking busses and the elevated, and learned that waiting for, and riding CTA buses in sub-zero was not fun. Even if I caught the buses without waiting, it took me two and a half hours to make it to work, and that was in an era when the CTA service was better than it is today.

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Yes, I sang the song lyrics above while looking at the snow swirling about in a thirty mph wind and recalling the “good old days.” The only thing good about them is that they are old and gone forever.

A Minor Twist and Pow!

At this point there are four husky fellas pulling, banging, cutting away at my old kitchen countertops. One of them just retrieved a saws-all and is now busily buzzing away between the backsplash and the wall.  At first the job looked too easy, and I thought my god why am I paying such an exorbitant price for this project? Contractor Mark’s crew pulled the old countertops, and then paraded in with pieces of shiny new granite. Most cut so precisely they were perfect as is, and dropped into place without any adjustment.  Then, it began. Little things, like the stove and refrigerator, are in the way, the new sink doesn’t fit.  One of the men disappears, and I see a cloud of granite dust flying past my office window. Frank, the Master Craftsman, is sawing away at another slab to finish fitting the buffet. My front lawn scattered with old countertop pieces which now will no longer work even if I wanted to stop the job and have them put it all back together again. In other words, I have committed, and there is no backing out now.
My early appraisal of the job was the result of not knowing what this kind of job entails. Now, I am beginning to see that I don’t know my ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to installing granite counter tops. Especially ones with multiple angles and notches to fit an architect’s dream of a house.
An aw shit moment occurs when the four men tilt the largest piece to slide the new sink under. Mark gives instructions for how to handle the piece, and in spite of his precautions it happens! One man pushes just a tad bit harder than the others. It was a minor twist, but the slab broke in three places. The crew turned deadly silent. I cannot imagine what went through Frank’s mind as he saw his masterpiece turn to crap in an instant
By the time, Mark’s crew finishes the job I’ll realize that I got my dollar’s worth. The kitchen is not functional until Frank makes a new piece, and the crew again gingerly man handles the three hundred pound piece of granite into place.

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