Wow unbelievable

18 05 2015

This is too easy.

Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced.

No, and no.

They will cause unprecedented job loss and a fundamental restructuring of our economy, solve large portions of our environmental problems, prevent tens of thousands of deaths per year, save millions of hours with increased productivity, and create entire new industries that we cannot even imagine from our current vantage point.

Possibly, unlikely, unclear, perhaps, unclear, unclear.

The whole piece goes on like this, ending with

But perhaps most exciting for me are the coming inventions, discoveries, and creation of entire new industries that we cannot yet imagine.

 It is exciting to be alive, isn’t it?

Well, beats the alternative, I guess.

I was going to say I don’t want to rain on Mr. Kanter’s driverless-car parade—but of course I do.

Of course I want to smack him upside his head and say “Have you never heard of the steam engine? the telegraph? high-yield agriculture?

ANTIBIOTICS, fer-cryin’-out-loud-from-the-top-of-the-Empire State Building!”

Or how about the freakin’ bar-code, which, while certainly not up there with ANTIBIOTICS (fer cryin’ out loud. . .), is more innovative than a car. Without a driver.

You know what was innovative? The car, that was innovative.

The driverless car? Cool tech, bro, and it may eventually become more popular than the drivered-car, with some of the effects (good and bad) Kanter mentions.

But it’s still a car, still takes up space, still requires roads, still requires traffic infrastructure (signals, policing, snow removal, road work) still requires maintenance, still moves people one or a few at a time.

It’s more of the same, except hands-free.

Maybe my perspective is skewed because I live in a city in which most people get to and from work and wherever without getting behind the wheel. Granted, we enter vehicles (taxis, limos, buses, trains) which someone else is driving, but the idea that one can get from here to there without paying (much) attention to what happens in-between is. . . old.

Perhaps someone living in a place less densely crossed with mass transit or car-service options might be able to grab the sweepiness of the no-driver-car than I can—maybe if I had to drive from Sheboygan Falls to Milwaukee every day, I’d be more excited at the thought of spacing out while hurtling up and down I-43.

But one of the advantages Kanter lists of driverless cars—that these would also be ownerless cars—would likely not be seen as an advantage by those in rural areas and small towns, not least because it’s not clear that there would be sufficient population density in a place like Sheboygan County to make it worthwhile for some company to set up a fleet of to-rent cars. And even if they did, I doubt that people would be willing to wait for that car to show up from the other side of the county just so they could make a beer run.

And hey: why would driverless cars necessarily be ownerless? I mean, maybe they could be, but why would not-driving a car make you want to not-own a car? Yeah, owning a car in New York City is a pain, but the rest of the country is most definitely not the city.

I could go on—no, really, I could—but who wants that. So let me end by saying, yeah, driverless cars might someday take over the road, and maybe that’ll lead to some of the (not-so-) nifty things Kanter mentions in his essay.

But it’s still a car. On a road.

Ain’t nothin’ new about that.

~~~

h/t Robert Farley, Lawyers, Guns & Money





I turn to my computer like a friend

24 02 2014

This isn’t creepy at all:

Language, [Ray Kurzweil] believes, is the key to everything. “And my project is ultimately to base search on really understanding what the language means. When you write an article you’re not creating an interesting collection of words. You have something to say and Google is devoted to intelligently organising and processing the world’s information. The message in your article is information, and the computers are not picking up on that. So we would like to actually have the computers read. We want them to read everything on the web and every page of every book, then be able to engage an intelligent dialogue with the user to be able to answer their questions.”

Excellent.

Google will know the answer to your question before you have asked it, he says. It will have read every email you’ve ever written, every document, every idle thought you’ve ever tapped into a search-engine box. It will know you better than your intimate partner does. Better, perhaps, than even yourself.

Nope, not the least bit creepy.

Or it would be if it weren’t horseshit.

Yeah, yeah— “Computers are on the threshold of reading and understanding the semantic content of a language, but not quite at human levels. But since they can read a million times more material than humans they can make up for that with quantity.”—but brute force isn’t always for the win. And a bit of code which allows a computer to understand the documents it scans doesn’t mean that computer will have attained human understanding.

It’s not that I doubt computers can learn in some sense of the word, that it can incorporate algorithms and heuristics which will allow it to attain some kind of understanding of what it learns; I don’t doubt that computer understanding is possible.

It’s just not clear that computer understanding is comparable to human understanding, not least because it’s unclear what human understanding is, and across time and space, becomes.

Human understanding may also incorporate algorithms and heuristics, but I don’t know that it can be reduced to that. It is fragile and unstable and prone to break down, and even when we think we understand, well, maybe we don’t.

And can I mention disagreement in understanding?

Ray Kurzweil is, as the Observer writer Carole Cadwalladr, notes, a “techno-optimist”, someone who believes tech can make turn us all into bionic women and six million dollar men (Better. Stronger. Faster.).

As someone who wears glasses, uses the elevator to trundle my overstuffed laundry bag down a couple of floors, and likes to sit back and watch Leverage on my computer, I ain’t anti-tech, far from it.

But I am a skeptic. Especially of the idea that tech will allow us to escape the human condition.

Maybe someday we will no longer be human, we will be immortal or transformed or perhaps we will truly have figured out some way to transcend the immanent. Perhaps someday we will escape being—we will no longer be.

Actually, we already can achieve that: it’s called dying. But I don’t think that’s what Kurzweil has in mind.

~~~

h/t HuffPo