101 posts categorized "Paul W. Smith" Feed

How Convenient (by Paul W. Smith)

Tremont_House _Boston

Things don’t always turn out as promised.    If you’ve ever waited in a long line at a fast food restaurant or searched all over for a convenience store, you know what I mean. 

While it’s true that technology often woos us with bright shiny objects that make us feel special, it also portends to be a key enabler for “progress”, seeking to make our lives more convenient.  Being only human, we often take these conveniences for granted. 

In 1994, when we were living in Santa Barbara with our two young children, my wife and I were awakened one day in the predawn hours by an unmistakable shaking of our home.  My thought was that if the epicenter were very far away, this was probably a big one.  We later learned that the 6.7 magnitude quake was centered near Northridge, California. The damage in the San Fernando Valley was significant, but we were fortunate to suffer only the loss of electrical power, and the inconvenience of having to boil our water for a few days. 

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Obsolete (by Paul W. Smith)

Peak-Stand Fall

I remember when I got my first pager.  Pagers were for special people who must always be available in an emergency, and so I felt important.  The feeling was short-lived. I soon realized that it could go off at any moment, compelling me to drop whatever I was doing and head for the nearest phone (smartphones had not yet obsoleted pagers).  I also learned that it is critical to dress appropriately when wearing a pager, lest one be mistaken for a drug dealer.

Our culture’s intoxicating brew of cutting-edge technologies has always put forth shiny objects which feed our egos and, in some cases, speed our workflow.  The not-so-hidden agenda of their creators is to make them obsolete before the revenue stream wanes.  The familiar adage “technology eats its young” is not without merit.

According to the definition, an obsolete thing is outdated and therefore no longer produced or used.  As a verb, the word has become a rallying cry for business leaders – our mission is to obsolete the other guy’s stuff and take his share.  Cassette tapes, pagers, rotary phones, typewriters, phonographs, floppy disks – all these and many more could still perform their intended function, but products that seem good enough are never good enough for long.

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How Does That Make You Feel? (by Paul W. Smith)

  Psychiatrist couch robot cartoon-02

When someone asks you if robots are taking over our jobs, there are only two possible answers: (1) Yes and (2) I don’t know.  If you chose (2), then your job will probably be one of the first to go. 

If in fact a robot does replace your job, you will not be alone; each robot gaining employment in today’s economy will displace 5.6 workers and reduce overall wages by as much as .5 percent per 1000 employees in the process.  While it’s true that some humans will be employed in designing, building and maintaining these robots, this will not make up for all the lost jobs, or else there’s little reason to do this in the first place.

Ideas abound on how to rejigger the economy and lessen the impact of these changes.  Bill Gates suggests a tax on robots that could fund training and financial support for displaced workers.  Others have proposed laying the burden of care for the jobless on the robotics companies themselves.  Yet another radical idea is to implement a guaranteed basic income, paid for by a robotax. Finally, there is the optimistic view that robots will take over dangerous, menial and degrading work, while generating more higher level, satisfying jobs in the process.   So far, no word on what those jobs might be.

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Innovation Is So Annoying (by Paul W. Smith)

Dog Face Net
Innovation is all the rage.  It will drive our economy, solve our problems, ease the burdens of everyday life, and make America great again.  The past is forgotten and the present is taken for granted, but the the future will be bright thanks to Innovation. 

The great ideas that comprise Innovation seem to arise from unexpected places and strange combinations.  Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian Renaissance polymath, had both the restless mind of a scientist and the trained eye of an artist.  He spent countless hours studying the muscles of the human body and filled volumes with his detailed anatomical sketches.  His obsession with the muscles of the face informed the most famous smile ever painted.  Although few of his many brilliant engineering projects were ever completed, he at least rendered them in beautiful drawings worthy of framing.  History is not clear on the subject, but it is easy to imagine that the restless, creative mind of Leonardo was annoyed by the mundane details of building and testing his devices. 

Many centuries before Leonardo, another Italian luminary by the name of Archimedes was annoyed that his bathtub always overflowed onto the floor when he climbed in.  As legend has it, he was the first to give any serious thought to why that might be.  Rather than just start with less water and be done with it, he began thinking about how this annoyance could be used to measure the volume of any irregular object.  In retrospect, this was a brilliant Innovation.  The fact that he ran through the streets naked and dripping wet proclaiming his great idea was not so brilliant, and undoubtedly annoyed his neighbors.

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Civilization, As We Know It (by Paul W. Smith)

Destroyed city with phones

Civilization as we know it is all about an advanced state of culture, government, science and industry – the opposite of a savage, unrefined or uneducated condition.  It is presumed to include a plethora of modern comforts and conveniences made possible by science and technology.  After a week of backpacking in the wilderness, or a few hours without an Internet connection, most of us welcome a return to civilization. 

Pundits of diverse persuasion have used the potential end of CAWKI as a call to action.  Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said the end would come if the GOP took control of the Senate, but she was wrong (at least so far).  A NASA study predicts the culprit will be a combination of resource depletion and unequal wealth allocation, and while that makes sense, it’s also a bit too early to confirm this as well.  Science writer Mark Gibbs suggests it may end with a cough, which in this era of superbugs doesn’t sound too far-fetched.  There is an endless supply of such threats to worry about, but before we can properly focus our anxiety, it helps to consider how we got to this point.

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Venus, Mars and the Frontal Lobe (by Paul W. Smith)

Lobes of Human Brain

Men and women are different.  Whether this is obvious or controversial depends on your point of view, but it’s just true.  Most of us can accept this based on personal observations.  One of my favorites is the Cocktail Party Test.  When two women meet at a party, the first question will nearly always be “Do you have any kids?”  For men, it will be something like “Did you see the Broncos game last night?”  There are plenty of other ways to separate men and women, but this one is bulletproof. 

By the time my wife and I passed our tenth wedding anniversary, I was starting to grasp some of those other ways.  This was around the time that John Gray’s bestseller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus started its run to becoming a bestseller.   The national conversation turned to differences in thinking and communications styles that divide the sexes.  Many will be familiar.  Take personal care for example; women search for a hair product with protein, aloe extract, volumizers, vitamins, minerals and liquid keratin.  Men look for a bottle that says “shampoo.” 

For some reason, scientists weren’t willing to settle for cocktail parties and shampoo.  SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) is one of their many brain imaging technologies that can monitor blood flow and activity under various stimuli.  A recent study using this approach looked at 46,000 images of healthy men and women as well as some folks with an assortment of psychiatric conditions.  The researchers were surprised to find that men and women really are different. 

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