The Good Old Days??

HavingMySay Banner   Everything has two sides, a good side and a dark side, a happy side and a sad side, but nothing is totally black and white.  How’s that for an opening sentence. 🙂

canstockphoto30875540.jpgThe main crux for this post is about all those who want the “good old days” back  as to mean when we didn’t have so much technology in our lives. They constantly complain about how so many people seem to be glued to their cell phones and such. But if they thought it through would they really like to go back fifty year or more?

Would they give up all the medical advances that technology has provided? I personally recently had a traumatic brain event that would more than likely killed me if it were 50 years ago. Today, with all the advanced imaging techniques they could precisely determine the locations and severity of my brain bleed and fix it with a two hour surgery.  So, personally I can answer that I am very grateful for all the technology advances of the last fifty year. Especially in the medical field.

I can remember in college when I had to write some papers on a subject I had to spend hours going through the card files at the university library and then spend even more hours finding and studying the sources that were on those cards.  Writing a routine paper was usually a twenty hour event.  Today most questions can be answered with a Google search which takes seconds to do. We can all learn about almost any subject at least enough to be dangerous in a matter of minutes. 🙂 How many of us would give all that up and return to all those dusty 3 x 5 index cards?

I can remember as a kid living close to the “Army Finance Center” in Indianapolis. It was a HUGE building containing about 4,000 desks and probably 50,000 filing cabinets. The job of all these people was to issue the monthly paychecks to military personnel. Today that job is probably handled in closet sized space and a couple racks of computers.

For at least us guys out there I know we wouldn’t want to go back to having our wives nag us to ask for directions when we are traveling.  Even when we did stop most often those directions were either wrong or too complicated to remember.  Then there was the time when we were visiting a southern State and they gave us completely bogus directions because they saw our plates were from a northern State.  I thank God for GPS and would never want to go back to what is was fifty years ago.

Ok, just one last example and I will let this all rest.  Fifty years ago an average car lasted for about 40,000 miles before it was a complete junk.  It probably got no more than a dozen or so miles per gallon and broke down on a monthly basis.  Fast forward to today and my little 2012 Chevy Sonic gets 35 mpg and has had nothing but a few very minor problems. It should easily last for 200,000 miles or more. And it has twelve airbags to protect me in case of an accident.

If you really want to give up all these and thousands of other things then by all means do it.  But, don’t ask the rest of us to join you in your retrograde desires.

Artificial Intelligence… and the Second Industrial Revolution

2015-10-18_11-44-58DO YOU THINK WE RUN THE RISK OF “TECHNOLOGICAL UNEMPLOYMENT” WHERE MACHINES TAKE ALL OF OUR JOBS?

HAWKING: The outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

Source: Highlights from Stephen Hawking’s Reddit AMA: ‘Women’ are the most intriguing ‘mystery’ – The Washington Post

I’m not a fan of Stephen Hawking, he just seems to be a guy who dreams up stuff that is impossible to verify. Just because you can’t be proven wrong doesn’t make what you say right.  But his words above are insightful but not unique to Mr. Hawking.  I recently read a book entitled Machines of Loving Grace – The Quest For Common Ground. It is about automation and the two completely different approaches  to it. I will be getting into the book and quotes from it soon but wanted to mention it during this post.

There weren’t any blogs or 24/7 reporting during the first industrial revolution but if there were I’m sure many would be lamenting how all the farm jobs were disappearing and how fearful they were about the future. Change, especially sudden change is a very traumatic thing to many of us then and now.

Replacing humans with robots started more than fifty years ago and it now expanding at an exponential rate.  It will soon be that any job that simply requires repetition will be done by robotic means. This phenomenon started out with physical activity and is now quickly moving into the intellectual area.  From blue-collar to white-collar with no end in sight. Where there was once a good paying job in industries such as auto, and office work they are now replaced by robots  and computers who work twenty-four hours a day with no breaks.

I personally think that eventually this will be a good thing. Humans will be rid of the mind numbing work of the past and can then move on to more creative and productive endeavors. This revolution could also cause the family unit to be stronger than it has been in a century. Recently we have farmed out the care giving and moral education of our children to others so that both parents could work at providing income for the family.  Now with robotics doing much of the day-to-day work there will be no need for double income so a permanent care-giver can once again be the norm.  Another possibility is for a 30 hour work week.

Of course this all hinges on how the gains due to robotics are distributed.  Will it go to the stake holder or the remaining workers.  Right now the top 1% are getting a very inordinate share but that doesn’t have to be the case. Unfettered capitalism naturally favors them but if proper regulations are put in place things could quickly change to even out the distribution of the gains.

I have high hopes that, even though I won’t be around, things will be much better in the future than they are now. We will be more educated, informed, and diligent citizens. We will reign it the capitalistic greed that is inherent to our current system.  Yes, I am a dreamer…. and if you are going to dream why not dream big positive things… 🙂

Those New Credit Cards 

U.S. consumers on Thursday will have a new way to protect themselves against cybercrime. Instead of the familiar magnetic stripe, their armor will take the form of credit and debit cards with a built-in chip, which retailers must be able to read as of October 1….

Experts say the slow rollout could be due to the cost of new card-reading equipment. Merchants must weigh the expense of buying new payment systems and training employees on that gear against the unknown hit from fraudulent charges. Some may even consider their new liabilities the cost of doing business.

Source: New credit cards aim to protect consumers and banks from hackers – CNET

One of my personal credit cards just got hit with a fraudulent charge from someplace over in Africa I think, so that one had to be cancelled and replaced by a new number. This is the second time in the past year that it has happened but to different cards. The credit card companies are getting pretty good at spotting these guys early so no great damage is done. It is hard to say how they got my number, maybe it was from a list sold to them?

The new chip cards as cited above does a good job of preventing this from happening. Every time the card is used it generates a one-time number. Some algorithm generates these new numbers so they are pretty much impossible to duplicate.  Like so much else it seems these days, the chip cards have been in use in much of the rest of the world for a several years now and are finally being implemented here.  When we took our month long trip to Canada in 2011 there were some businesses that hesitated even taking our cards with magnetic strips. We are the inventors of much of this type technology but seem to be the last implementors. Strange….

I know this article said that retailers must be able to read the chip cards by October 1 but I still find the majority of them unable to do so. Those that don’t are not mom & pop places but national chains. According to the list I put out last week we are, believe it or not, pretty far down the list of even cell phone usage. Credit card fraud is on an exponential rise due to all the hackers out there stealing numbers in vast quantities. It will only get progressively worse as time goes by. Canada and Europe has been using the chip cards for almost a decade now and therefore are for the most part immune to this hacking. Why does it seem to be  that we in the U.S. have to go to the  brink on almost anything before we take action? While I love my country that is one area I just can’t understand…

Why We Can't Yet Build True Artificial Intelligence…

2015-02-13_09-55-29We’re still pretending that we’re inventing a brain when all we’ve come up with is a giant mash-up of real brains. We don’t yet understand how brains work, so we can’t build one.

We bolded that last sentence because it pretty much explains the predicament for AI. Until we more fundamentally understand that which we’re trying to clone, everything else is an impressive attempt up Everest that never totally summits.

This jibes with a sentiment that renowned author and cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter posed earlier this year. He calls current prominent pursuits in the artificial intelligence arena “vacuous”

[IBM’s “Jeopardy!”-winning supercomputer] Watson is basically a text search algorithm connected to a database just like Google search. It doesn’t understand what it’s reading. In fact, “read” is the wrong word. It’s not reading anything because it’s not comprehending anything. Watson is finding text without having a clue as to what the text means. In that sense, there’s no intelligence there. It’s clever, it’s impressive, but it’s absolutely vacuous.

We’ve got a ways to go before machines are truly smart.

SOURCE: Why We Can’t Yet Build True Artificial Intelligence, Explained In One Sentence – Yahoo Finance.

I seem to come across a lot of talk lately about how machines will eventually rule the world and the humans will become obsolete. Having lived a big part of my life in the software development area maybe I understand a little more than most how this worry is very much unfounded. We have nothing to worry about for probably centuries. We simply can’t simulate something we really don’t even understand in the first place. Plainly speaking artificial intelligence is not even yet on technology’s radar screen.

When I first become interested in computer things back in the 1970s I purchased a TRS-80 personal computer and spent hours of my free time learning to program it. It costs a whopping $500 (that’s about $3,000 in today’s dollar). It had 16 kbytes of Ram and a 85k floppy disk (today’s computers have about a million times more memory and storage). But even this gargantuan increase is still not even close to what the human mind is capable of doing.

Even when the hardware finally comes in the neighborhood of our minds we still have to write the programs to simulate our mental processes. That is something we still don’t begin to understand.  We got a long way to go before we have to be concerned with machines becoming smarter than their inventors if that is even possible….

On Both Sides of the Fence….

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To the U.S. technology industry, there’s a dramatic shortfall in the number of Americans skilled in computer programming and engineering that is hampering business. To unions and some Democrats, it’s more sinister: The push by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to expand the number of visas for high-tech foreign workers is an attempt to dilute a lucrative job market with cheap, indentured labor.

The answer is somewhere in between, depending as much on new technologies and the U.S. education system’s ability to keep up as on the immigration law itself. But the sliver of computer-related jobs inside the U.S. that might be designated for foreigners — fewer than 200,000 out of 6 million — has been enough to strain a bipartisan deal in the Senate on immigration reform, showcase the power of big labor and splinter a once-chummy group of elite tech leaders

Source: U.S. technology, labor unions clash on immigration – CBS News.

I seem to fall on both sides of this debate about job related visas. On the one hand in order to maintain our technological dominance in the world we need people who have the skills to continue to innovate and if our populace doesn’t meet this challenge then we need to look elsewhere.

But on the other side, maybe we should be doing more to get our kids to do the work to meet the needs internally. That is a big problem as it seems that many are just not willing to put in the work to make that happen. The common answer to not having enough people with the necessary skills is to put more money into our educational system but that has been the solution for more than one-hundred years now and money just doesn’t seem to bring about the desired results.

I know my teacher friends who frequent this blog will have some comments about this and I certainly welcome them. How do we encourage more of our children to get the advanced education needed for twenty-first century jobs in this country?  To me the first thing is to take the financial roadblock away from them  that prevents many for attending college or trade school.  Many of the more affluent countries in the world  extend free education beyond high school. Why aren’t we one of them. It has been proven time and again that doing this has a very high buy-back.

I see all the studies about how those in Japan, Korea, and several other countries make education for their children their number one family priority.  That attitude instills the mentality of working hard into the children. I can’t understand why so many parents in this country allow their children to drop out of high school! That dooms them to a lifetime of  want and distress. How can any parent think that is enough for their children?

Yes, we need to do something to convince more kids to make a commitment and do the extra work to obtain technical educations. Yeah it is harder to learn physics and calculus but if  taking the challenge doesn’t happen then by all means let’s do what we can to bring in kids from other countries to fill the gap.

15 technologies we’ll still be using in 2030…

source:  15 technologies of today we’ll still be using in 2030 – Gadgetbox on NBCNews.com.

This is a very interesting article about what the author thinks will still be around in 18 years.  It is kind of risky making these types of predictions but since money is not on the line there isn’t much to be lost by the author. For the most part I agree with him but there are some items that I don’t think will make the cut.

But like the author, I remember going to the World’s Fair of 1960 and believing as they showed there that we would be driving levitating cars and working only four hours a day by the beginning of the 21st century. How wrong or maybe naive we were back then.  Of course many advances have been made since 1960. For instance all the computer power in the moon landing spacecrafts would now fit in a $500 iPad. And, of course all those row after row of clerical workers from the 60’s have been replaced by a couple thousand dollars worth of computers. Let’s not forget the factory workers who have been replaced by robots. So, we have made massive progress but just not in the areas we predicted.

I am going to keep these comments short to give you time to read the article. Just click on the source above to go there.

Scientists invent lightest material on Earth. What now?

Source:  Scientists invent lightest material on Earth. What now? – latimes.com.

This is a fascinating article about a new material. The picture at the right says it all. It sits peacefully on top of a fluffy dandelion.  And proudly it was invented by a U.S. institution at CalTech.  I just hope that some U.S. firm can manage to take this concept into a usable stage. It seems that many of these types of things have to leave the country lately in order to find practical applications.

Being a retired engineer my mind leaps to see all the practical uses.

  • What if the majority of the weight of our cars were the inhabitants instead of the vehicle itself? Couldn’t we make a vehicle that is so energy-efficient the we could rid ourselves of our deadly dependence on non-renewable resources.
  • The basic structure of this material is much like current-day insulation. What if we could make up our living habitats out of a material that is 99.99% air?
  • The article mentions that it has battery making potential. If we could make super lightweight batteries are electric cars not then a sure-thing?

The progress of technology has been an astounding thing during my life.  We have replaced thousands of square feet of computing power down into the size of less than a fingernail. We have increased our food production per acre to many times more than it was at my birth. This list could go on and on.

Will bank branches wither away?

via Will bank branches wither away? – USATODAY.com.

In the past year, the number of bank customers who prefer to bank online has jumped sharply, according to a survey conducted in August by the American Bankers Association. Sixty-two percent of bank customers said they prefer banking online to all other methods, up from 36% in 2010. Only 20% of customers said they preferred using a branch, down from 25% last year.

I can remember as a youngster taking some of my hard earned grass mowing money to the bank to open a savings account. The lady there that handled all the money praised me for saving some of it. After that I regularly visited the lady behind her big counter to add to my account. I don’t remember how much I eventually had in the account or even what I used the money for but the bank itself made a big impression on me. It seems like local banks are going the way of many other institutions in relenting to cyberspace.

I know personally I very seldom am in the door of our local bank. I do visit their bank machine on a regular basis but only go inside when I need to do something with my vault box.  Everything else is done electronically as I seldom even use paper checks anymore. So, I guess I am contributing to this trend. As the article state that last year 36% preferred on-line banking and now 62% do. That is a very drastic increase in a little over a year. How much longer will banks, especially locally owned ones like I bank at, be able to afford keeping tellers behind the counters if no one actually goes inside? I’m sure the local small business owners frequent the bank on a regular basis to get currency for their cash registers so I imagine there will always be someplace to accommodate them but vast majority of the tellers will likely soon disappear. I wouldn’t be surprised if they disappear faster than our local video stores.

It seems that the internet is eliminating quite a few previously well established job opportunities and I expect this trend will continue in the future. The trouble with all this is that there just doesn’t seem to be many newly developed jobs opening up to replace them.  I don’t know what percentage of middle class jobs that are disappearing are due to technology as opposed to off-shore outsourcing. That would be an interesting statistic.

Most middle class jobs today require some post high school education and the U.S. is doing poorly in that category compared to other nations. Are all the kids who have only a high school education or less (almost 1/3 of U.S. kids don’t even finish high school) doomed to working for fast food and retail stores throughout their lives? Their doesn’t seem to be any leadership around today to change these trends and that is the saddest thing about all of this.

As a senior citizen I am mostly an observer in this type of thing. They say the average person today will change jobs about ten times in his/her working life.  I guess I was very fortunate to have worked for one  employer for 30 years and managed to retire with a pension plan.

Seniors are a Complex Group of Individuals…

I am going to do something unusual here and do a post primarily by merging the thoughts of two posts of my fellow bloggers. I read these two blogs back to back today and could not get over how well one message meshed into the other. The first one is by Bill Birnbaum from www.adventureretirement.com entitled Senior Citizens and Technology. The second one is from Quaker friend Raye from www.quakerquaker.org entitled Time For A “Station I.D.” – When Speaking Of Personal Experience

Let’s start with the first post. As the title implies Bill was talking about how senior citizen’s deal with technology. Before I start I want to tell you that I enjoy each and every post that Bill puts out. He is on my automatic watch list. Here are some excerpts from his post:

That fellow on the airplane represents the common stereotype – that senior citizens are resistive to technology.  Seems to me though, senior citizens aren’t so much resistive to technology.  It’s simply that they insist that any new technology they might adopt serve some useful purpose.  They ask, “What can this new technology do for me?”

Bill went on with the story about how he is struggling to decide whether to move to a smartphone and also get a GPS for the car.

After I read the post I looked around my office. I am typing on a quad core desktop unit with a 22 inch flat screen display as well as a 32 inch hdtv display hooked to it. Beside that is my Samsung Moment Smartphone plugged into its charger for the night. Just to the left of that is my netbook which I have connected to yet another 20 inch flat screen. This one, when it is not being used on road tripes, is constantly running a digital slideshow of my 12,000 plus pictures (half digitized from the old film world and half taken with my Canon 12.1Mb Rebel Xsi DSLR camera that sits on the shelf behind me. Also on that shelf is my Kindle loaded with scores of books I am in the process of reading. And this is just in my study! I won’t bore you with going through the rest of the homestead. Suffice it to say that this senior is not at all resistive to technology 🙂 I embrace it just as easily as the younger generations today.

Then I read the post by Raye. Here is part of it:

Sentences that begin with “Quakers do” or “Quakers believe” or similar, and then proceed to fill in with their observations are very likely painting with too wide a brush.  Those who identify themselves as Quakers are a large and complex bunch of groups and individuals.  I understand that trying to be precise in language can be cumbersome and frustrating.  But it seems to me that going to the trouble of adding phrases such as, “in my experience,” “Quakers I have met,” “I read in an article by so-and-so,” gives more integrity to the communication.  Friends I have met who belong to certain monthly or yearly meetings don’t fit neatly together in one theological or cultural lump.

So here I sit trying to combine these two posts. Let me say that like Quakers, I believe seniors are indeed a large and complex bunch of groups and individuals. It is hard to pin us down on just about anything related to living. Some like Bill are more adventurous and some like me embrace technology as soon as it comes available. Some are like my wife who is completely happy in life with just her mystery novels (paperback versions) and her 3,000 piece puzzles spread out on her hobby room table. I know Bill will agree that sometimes we senior bloggers like our Quaker brethren paint with just too broad a brush.