Happy Day After!

I have not been good about posting to my blog this last week and I’m not exactly sure why.

A lot of crazy things have been going on but that’s not really newsworthy. That is kind of the standard state of things 🙂

School is still school. The job hunt continues. The house remodeling continues. And to complete the meme, “still single, still not king.”

But you know what? I have had to interact with a lot of, well, ignorant people in the last two weeks. People who I would say are “just following orders” or don’t stop to think about what they say. The hold message at CenturyLink says “…please tell the operator if you don’t want us to use (your private information) to offer you goods and services. This has no bearing on the goods and services we’ll offer.” What? I challenged the operator that the message didn’t make a bit of sense and she said “of course it does” and was annoyed with me for questioning the message. I can’t say these people are “stupid” as they appear to be functioning members of society. They appear to have families and friends that love and support them. They appear to go about their daily routines.

But. Many of them seem oblivious to the surrounding world and basic world views which differ from their own like say the scientific method. 19th Century thought suggested that the entire world was knowable, either by observation or experimentation. Much of 21st Century thought seems to be based purely on our own opinions and observations. It’s as though social media has taught us that our opinion, even if based on nothing, is so important to share, that we must constantly inform our friends of our merest thoughts. We see each other’s thoughts which validate our own merest thoughts and we are reenforced.

The conspiracy shows are all talking about how the MMR vaccine is likely to be the cause of the increase in Autism. This is akin to the folks who earlier were saying, “well, this winter is the worst in recent history, therefore global warming is a hoax.” Forgetting of course that our limited experience is not the sum total of all experiences. And I hate to point it out but all of those new autism patients have also breathed air, drank water, and eaten food in this country. I agree that autism rates are skyrocketing but vaccines are not necessarily the culprit. Studies have been done that show they aren’t but this “well I just feel this is true” mentality doesn’t watch for facts.

It’s like we stopped exploring or thinking about the world when we were teens. Having worked with middle school students, so much of world history makes more sense now because the early teen-aged people are very set in black and white thinking and that there can only be one way of thinking. Witness the bullying that kids do to each other, especially that one kid that’s different. Joan of Arc was 14 when she became famous.

We bemoan the loss of creativity and STEM knowledge in our society but it seems like we’ve lost a great deal of common sense and the ability to take a step back and actually look at a situation. Business schools pump out MBAs who have to research White Papers without critiquing the authors. Anyone can write a White Paper. Anyone can publish a study or an OpEd. I can’t tell you the number of Dissertations I’ve read where I thought “wow, these are the wrong questions for this topic” or “that solution has nothing to do with causality.” And yet, 100+ pages later the author has proved that there may or may not be a connection between what s/he wanted to prove and what they researched.

And that brings me to my writing. Here I am. I’ll likely be a Doctor in Computer Science in the nearish future. I’ve read study after study. I’ve read the background material that is relevant to me and my research. I want to see further because I stand on the shoulders of giants. But I also know that it takes a creative spark to make a leap from what is known to what needs to be known. And I know that as I get a better view, I may divert from the course set out by my colleagues. I may have to blaze a new trail but I can’t do it without observation and experimentation. I can’t blaze it without being able to tell people where I am and how I got there. I can follow my gut and explore but if the data I have doesn’t shine on my path, I may need to check my maps. The method I follow, the scientific method, allows for course corrections, it encourages me to find the flaws in my own thinking and correct it as better or more complete knowledge becomes available.

Now, how can I teach the robot that? And more importantly, “should I?”

There’s an app for that!

Today’s post may go in a strange direction. To me, what I’m about to say is almost so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said. We’ll see.

This week I received a new piece of medical technology. It was ordered nearly a month ago by doctors who I had to wait for nearly two months to see. It was supposed to be delivered last week but the company “forgot” then labelled the equipment as patient pick-up even though it had to be installed in my home.

By time I actually received the device, I was beginning to wonder just how important it was to actually have it, a somewhat negative view I admit.

The delivery guy came out with the component and wheeled it in but did not know particularly how to attach it to the other piece of equipment that I had already received as he hadn’t been trained on the new model I had. I asked him several questions about what the purpose of the machine was and how it performed its task. The driver wasn’t terribly sure and couldn’t call back to the office for help because their communication equipment wasn’t working (you don’t have a phone?). He made some claims about the equipment which I was able to disprove while he watched and it was clear he was reading from a memorized script and didn’t know how the machine worked at all. I shoo’d him out and connected the machine myself after signing the waivers that if I died I wouldn’t sue the company or the delivery driver.

This whole fiasco reminded me of the washing machine debacle from around Thanksgiving. I had found a screaming deal on a new washer/dryer that could be stacked in my basement. I wasn’t going to be home for a few days so I had them deliver them a week later. They forgot even though I took time off to be available. They sent the machines out the next day with a driver who was not authorized to install them because they were gas. I argued with the delivery driver who decided that company policy is to just bring the machines back to the shop if there’s any problem. A week later and several calls, the same kid brought the machines back but still did not know how to install them or that they were even stackable. The guys working in my basement helped the kids figure out how to install the machines but in the meantime the kids had accidentally broken off a component of the drainage system for the washer.


So here we go with my questions which are relevant to this article.
1) If you don’t know what your job is, eventually a robot is going to replace you doing it. A robot cannot make decisions on its own so it’s going to need failover decisions to choose when things go wrong. The robot would have reasonably taken the washer and dryer back to the shop when confronted with a gas fixture or irate home owner. A human should be able to figure these things out.
2) Conversely, our society seems to be “dumbing things down” to the point where we can off-shore tasks that are technical in nature by defining scripts that people can read to their customers, even if they don’t understand the content. If we have to do that, again a robot can take over the task.
3) With the building back-lash against off-shored tech-support and banking and who knows what all, the robots are going to have to make major strides forward to be able to handle what we now seem to consider easily scriptable processes.

Maybe the robots aren’t going to come quite as quickly as we have been thinking!

I see I have a “futuring” course in the next year at school. I’m curious to see where that class thinks we may end up… and what part I have to play in the innovation.