People who knock on doors and proselytize on behalf of some set of beliefs are people riddled with doubt about those beliefs and probably every other thing they claim to believe. The reason I know this is that if they were sure about the things they were saying, they would not care what I think about those things. They would not be on my doorstep trying to convince me to come around to their way of thinking. If they were so sure, they could just send me a post card or wait until I discovered the truth as they did.
The point here is that people trying to convince you of something, in almost all cases, are not doing it because of altruism. Sure, dad telling you not to drink and drive is doing it because he loves you. The cop telling you the same thing is doing it because he has a soul and hates seeing car accidents. Outside of those very narrow areas, people trying to convince you of something are either full of doubt and looking for validation or they are full of crap and looking for a sucker. Sometimes it is both.
I find myself thinking these thoughts whenever the robot future is pitched to me in news stories or by John Derbyshire in his podcast. In John’s case, the doomsday nature of the robot future is, I suspect, the main appeal. If the robot future promised puppies and ice cream he would dismiss the idea as silliness. In the case of news stories, my instinct is that the people pitching the idea really really want to believe it, so they try really hard to get everyone else to believe it. This piece is a good example.
One of the most convenient changes in the modern era of air travel has been the ability to check in online, drop your bags at the counter, and stroll off to security, potentially without having to speak to a single human. But when everyone else started doing the same thing, the lines at check-in got shorter, but the drop-off line got longer.
SITA, a Swiss telecoms firm specializing in the air transport industry, working in parternship with robotics firm BlueBotics, has a solution: Autonomous robots that check your bags at the curb.
SITA’s robot, called Leo, is being tested at Geneva Airport, the company said in a release late last month. To use the bot, passengers with luggage tap a few buttons on Leo’s touchscreen, scan their boarding passes, drop their bags in its cargo bay, and affix the luggage tags that Leo prints out. The bot then closes up its cargo area—so that no one can tamper with your bag while it’s in transit—and drops the bags off at a loading station, where a human drops the bags on a conveyor belt to be scanned and loaded onto the correct plane.
For starters, the person writing this has not been in an airport since the 90’s if their last memory is “drop your bags at the counter, and stroll off to security.” Maybe in fantasy land or at small airports for private aircraft this is the norm, but in normalville, standing in endless lines and suffering endless humiliations is the norm. I’ve been flying for decades and I don’t remember a time when air travel was anything but a hassle and it has not been made better by technology.
Putting that aside, there’s the fact that this wonderful leap into the robot future has existed for a long time. In America, many airports have kiosks where you check your bags. You slide your credit card, answer a few questions, get the bag sticker and then deposit your bag onto the belt. Maybe an attendant puts it on the belt, but that’s his only job and you have no reason to speak with him. After 9/11, DC airports had you put your bag through a screening machine first. Again, no humans involved.
Having a clumsy mechanical man handle the placing of the bags on the belt is hardly a great leap forward. It looks like a publicity stunt. That’s the thing with the robot future stories. They are short on practical specifics and long on predictions about how the clumsy mechanical man will soon be ruling over us as a mechanical overlord. Yet, we remain stuck in the clumsy and inefficient mechanical man stage. It always feels like we are being sold something that the seller does not truly believe. They just want to believe or pretend to believe it.
Don’t get me wrong. I tend to agree that automation is the great challenge to Western civilization in the long run, but it is the long run. No one reading this is going to live to see the day when they are enslaved by smart robots. In fact, few will see the day when smart robots are doing work in public places. That day is a lot further off than the futurists want to believe. Technologically, it is really hard and expensive to replicate even the most basic of human labor. Getting more complex stuff right and cheap is going to take a long time.
It’s the solar power narrative. For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve been hearing about how solar is ready to take over the world and make fossil fuels obsolete. It never happens. The best we have are small panels for running a small devise like a traffic camera. We’ve had those for decades. The large scale projects turn into tax sinks and then white elephants. The solar companies spring up and then go bust. The glorious solar future always seems to be just over the next hill, along with electric cars and forever life.