Sunday, September 30, 2012

Who's driving this car?

In September 2012, the state of California passed a bill (SB1298) allowing self-driving cars onto California's roads.  This is a great step forward for a technology that many have been researching, though perhaps none as enthusiastically as Google, which has logged over 300,000 miles so far in its fleet of self-driving automobiles.

While still in its infancy, this technology shows every sign of maturing very quickly.  Nearly everybody is eagerly anticipating the day when they can spend time doing something other than grimly staring at the road while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic.


One group that is not so thrilled is Consumer Watchdog (CW).  In an open letter to California State Assembly Speaker John Perez, Consumer Watchdog urged the banning of driver-less technology without strict controls preventing the collection of information for marketing or other non-driving purposes.

Really guys?

I have to say, I'm a hate receiving advertisements, mostly because advertisers are universally incompetent.  In the seventeen years I've been using the internet, I've seen exactly two advertisements that were of interest to me.  Not a great track record.  Monkeys on typewriters could probably do better.
But still, CW is really missing the bus on this one.  If they had their way, it would be illegal to offer a reduced fare or free bus or taxi service that used driver-less technologies that subsidized its service using advertisements.  Such a service offered to people too poor to own a car might be the difference between having a job and not.  And preventing this is CW's best idea for how to improve the world?

Even ignoring this point, you have to take a look at the bigger picture,  we now have face recognition technology that can identify people from photographs.  We have have license plate scanners that can read and identify up to 1800 plates per minute.  And CW thinks that the driver-less technology is the Pandora's box in this equation?

So let's keep some perspective.  Much as I dislike it, the concept of privacy is vanishing fast.  Let's not stand in the way of some of the most promising technology we've seen in many years in a quixotic attempt to slow down this process.  Because I can think of all sorts of better uses of my time than staring at the road in bumper to bumper traffic.

After all, when else am I going to find time to keep up with funny cat videos?

Dinosaurs on a spaceship!

Doctor Who fans were recently treated to the second episode of Season 7, called "Dinosaurs in a Spaceship".  Awesomely cool?  Absolutely.  Really stupid?  Perhaps.  But who cares?

This is probably the most awesome mash-up of genres since this classic incursion in the late Mesozoic:

Calvin's logic was simple.  Carnivorous dinosaurs are cool.  F-14s are cool.  Put them together, and you've got something 2x cool, or perhaps even cool^2.  Half the population reading the strip agreed with Calvin on this.

The other half agreed with Hobbes, that mixing these elements was just stupid.  (There's another half that never read Calvin & Hobbes, but I choose to pretend these people simply don't exist.)

Once upon a time, the culture was defined by people who liked their genres one at a time, thank you very much.  Detective stories, sure.  War movies, good.  Mythology?  Absolutely.  But mix them all together?  No way, that's just ridiculous.

But now things are different.  There's a new sheriff in town.  And a whole new set of rules.

Call it the triumph of the geeks.  Growing up, geeks hung out in the background while the popular kids played football.  They were mocked for reading super-hero comic books, and scorned for spending huge amounts of time with these weird counting machines instead of socializing like real people.  It was sometimes grudgingly admitted that there might be a place for them in society, but only on the fringes.

Very people considered that some day, the geeks might take over.

This happens over and over throughout history.  Julius Caesar and his pals were the radical outcasts of the Roman Republic, shocking people with their new styles of dress, and redefining the entire social and political order.  The thinkers of the renaissance threw out a thousand years of medieval philosophy and culture as they embraced new worlds of art and science.  Each generation redefines the world as they see fit.

And now the comic book geeks have come of age.  We no longer have the Dirty Dozen, we've got the Avengers.  Science Fiction and Fantasy is no longer relegated to cheap pulp fiction and considered second class literature, it regularly sells in expensive leather-bound editions and tops the New York Times bestseller lists.  The old myths are not forgotten, they're just being recast to a new set of tastes.  Have you seen the trailer for "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters"?

So deal with it.  Gen X is in charge.  Life moves on, and the culture moves with it.  While some things are lost, and some of those losses are a tragedy, it's hard to get too worked up about it when we've got...