The Global Bullshit Crisis of 2015

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For the first time in recorded history, the total amount of bullshit being produced on planet Earth every year has exceeded the amount of human shit produced annually.

Leaders around the world are rising up to the unprecedented challenge. “This will not be tolerated any more,” said the leader of a leading Muslim League. “It has come to r misr attention that Bullshit now needs freedom and democracy,” a prominent American leader added. Meanwhile Russia has announced a zero-tolerance policy towards Bullshit: “Any shit will be shot out of the sky. We can’t afford to wait any more to confirm if it is Bullshit or not.”

China, on the other hand, has taken a rather controversial stand by declaring that they will produce even more Bullshit cheaper and faster than anyone else. India went two steps ahead: demanding that Britain should pay reparations to India for all the Bullshit. The UK’s response was to put all Indians on the Bullshit Watch List. A scandal ensued when a leading tabloid revealed that 65% of Hindustanis in the UK are in fact from other -stans. “Bullshit!” was the response from the leaders from these other -stans.

African leaders condemned the event strongly: “Whenever the world discovers something new, it leads to decades of strife in Africa. We are still paying the price for being the cradle of all Human Bullshit.” Soon after, Japanse scientists shocked the world with their discovery that radioactive Bullshit has medicinal properties.

Meanwhile, all of Europe has united against Bullshit. “We must preserve our own Bullshit and not let it get diluted by Bullshit from outside,” said a spokesperson. Canada and Mexico were the only countries to not react. Allegedly when the Bullshit hit them, they were surprised to learn that “North America” is not the same as “America”. Australia reacted strongly by deporting a prominent Hollywood actor’s dogs and New Zeland declared that they need a new flag to deal with all this Bullshit.

The same actor then announced his new blockbuster about Bullshit, expected to complete production in 2017. Bollywood promised to copy the script, add songs and release a Hindi version by 2019. Kollywood vowed to copy the Hindi version and release it in less than 6 months. This chain reaction went on until Rajnikanth announced that he had already made a 3D version of the movie in 1972.

The rest of the entertainment industry was not far behind. The video game industry responded with tons of Bullshit Simulator apps and TV channels were flooded with inspiring shows like “Bullshit Idol”. The music industry announced that Bullshit Dance Music (BDM) tracks could be downloaded for free, in return for credit card details that would be “hacked” only a year later.

Owing to all this frenzied activity, the two leading news making agencies of the world decided to form a consortium aptly named the Bullshit Universal Reporting Platform (BURP). According to their official press release: “In this connected and informed world, our viewers don’t accept plain old Bullshit anymore. Fortunately, we have the backing of such large global corporations that we can afford to create our own Bullshit.”

Silicon Valley has taken up the digital baton to solve the problem from a tech standpoint, and failing that, make tons of money consulting about it. Oogle was the first: “People are searching for so much Bullshit these days, we had to split our company into two to keep up with the demand,” they claimed. Fakebook followed with a public beta of the new Bullshit Multiplier feature. “Throw any Bullshit at it, and it will display similar Bullshit that you might have otherwise missed out on in real life,” reads their updated website. Picosoft and Zamaon almost simultaneously announced their new OneShit feature. “Why should you be limited to your own Bullshit? We want to take Bullshit into the cloud, so you can access any Bullshit, anywhere, on any device.”

Halfapple, however, was ahead of everyone else as usual with their ground-breaking product offering: iShit. No one really understands what it does yet, but there is speculation that for its price, it can probably solve California’s drought problem.

The car industry was quick to recognize the potential of all this surplus Bullshit as well. “Our best researchers are working on it. By 2020 we expect to mass produce cars that run on pure Bullshit,” and industry spokesperson said.

The impact of this event has far reaching consequences for the human race as a whole. Space Agencies around the world are launching probes to other planets to find the origin of Bullshit. Studies have shown that the weight of all this Bullshit is slowing down the rotation of the Earth, and as a result we may soon lose the Moon. “Good riddance,” said the Director of the leading Space Agency. “We didn’t find water on it anyway.”

UFO researchers as well have chipped in from the fringes: “Not since 1947 have we witnessed so many confirmed sightings of Bullshit around the world.” Countries where these sightings have occurred in recent months have been quick to cash in on the tourism opportunity, complete with guided package tours in 12 languages.

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This is a Revolution, Not a Recession

TheFutureIsAlreadyHere

“In human history, there have been three great technological revolutions and many smaller ones.  The three great ones are the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and the one we are now in the middle of—the software revolution. […] It appears that the software revolution will do what technology usually does—create wealth but destroy jobs.”

– Sam Altman, “The Software Revolution”

A lot has been said and written about the great recession, the rise of the robot economy and the loss of jobs (or the creation of them in the new sharing economy – nobody is really sure yet). Let’s take a step back and get some perspective:

“Coming out the recession” and “Economic recovery”

What I think those people (and governments) who say this don’t realize is, that the jobs that were destroyed in the recession, are not going to come back. Because just like individuals, businesses too found ways of making ends meet during the hard times. This surge in demand for more cost effective labor was met by increased automation. And jobs that were automated then are not likely to come back now.

On the other hand, for decades science fiction movies and books have painted a promising picture of a utopian future where machines would do all the work and we humans would engage ourselves in higher pursuits. Yet, here we are, wanting to get our jobs back from the machines.

At the same time, we are heading towards a global workforce crisis by 2030.

Something doesn’t add up.

The Dignity of Wage

Maybe the answer is in what I call “the dignity of wage”. It’s the same reason why people are driven to crime. Our modern economy is robbing people of the opportunities to make money, while at the same time the media constantly bombards them with the notion of spending it. I believe many of the prisoners (who, by the way, in some places outnumber students) would be willing to mend their ways, if only society would give them a fair chance at earning a decent living for themselves and their families. People need something to do, to give meaning to their lives.

Especially in a society and value system in which the education and value system is so heavily employability oriented.

Maybe it’s time for a political debate on Basic Income.

“Humans will be able to move up to more ‘creative’ jobs…”

“…while machines will do the more routine ones”. The problem with creativity is, it’s not for everyone. Neither are tech jobs. Both require a certain mindset that takes years of training to master. Finally, “higher” creative jobs are only relative to “lower” mundane jobs. If all jobs became equally creative, people would have nothing to aspire to. We will be back to square one. For example, The Netherlands’s success is based on acknowledging this distinction.

Automation or Population: Pick One

There are some other longer-term issues with our current employment scenario. Life on this planet is heavily dependent on two things: oil, which we are rapidly running out of, and electricity, which, if disrupted, could instantly send us back to the stone age. Collectively as a civilization, we are not very well prepared for large-scale change.

This planet is currently on an unsustainable trajectory. And automation is only unbalancing our society more. In order to ensure continued “dignity of wage” we need to either limit automation, or limit our population. The reason is that automation is that it can transcend international borders without a visa, but human beings can not.

Sometimes this leads to strange side effects. When I was in Bangalore, the parking lot at my office had a security guard who would flag you down while entering and note down the vehicle’s registration number. Years later, someone decided it would be a good idea to install an automated parking gate, as seen around Europe and North America. I’m not sure what they were thinking, but then we had 3 security guards instead of one: one to press the button on the gate since it was installed too high up to be reachable by drivers of average Indian height in average Indian cars, one to make a manual note in the register as a back up, and a third to supervise over the first two.

Which brings me to the next point: Any transaction that involves a human being is inherently potentially flawed. No amount of automation will make our world perfect or optimal, as long as it’s still “our world”.

“Creating Jobs”

The tobacco industry employs more than a 100 million people worldwide. If we want to create more jobs, we should all smoke more cigarettes. By extension, conflict has traditionally been the biggest source of employment: In research, manufacturing, exports, destroying settlements, and providing private security while rebuilding them. As a Green Beret recently pointed out, in today’s job market a Special Forces training is better than an MBA.

So there you have it, the solution to all our economic problems is perpetual war.

Or we can take inspiration from a bunch of African kids, and grin and share it. In other words, a Resource Based Economy instead of an Employment Based Economy.

Endnote: You really should read the link about the rise of the robot economy.

Update 2015-05-25: More food for thought: Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck

Why Driverless Cars?

Jetsons

Image Courtesy: Ludie Cochrane, Flickr

In case you’re late to the party, it all started with the DARPA Grand Challenge more than 10 years ago. Then Google got serious about it. Then Audi. And Audi on a racetrack. How could BMW be left behind? Then Tesla brought autopilot to it’s cars. And Apple decided to improve the experience of accelerated transportation. While Volvo decided to converge the phone and the car. And others attempt to use smartphones to augment the automobile’s current capabilities.

Meanwhile, other advancements were happening, too. Inertial navigation from Jemba. Shape-shifting cars from BMW. Augmented Reality in cars. And in Supercars. The convergence of video games and race cars, which started with instrument cluster design in the Nissan GT-R. Analytics in race cars. Infrastructural innovations, outside the car itself. Convoys of robot trucks in war zones. And some others that didn’t do so well.

There is also talk of remotely driven cars from Ford. Although clearly the poor level of software quality we have come to terms with on our desktops needs to be addressed before we scale it up to our cars. Maybe open source cars will come to the rescue.

Impact on jobs and economy aside, there are some fundamental problems with this whole “autonomous vehicle” thinking. Allow me to point out the elephant behind the SUV in the room:

  • #1: Cleaner, greener energy is a much more serious problem to solve than eliminating monotony, fatigue and accidents
  • #2: The 21st century problem is not with drivers or cars, it is with the infrastructure
  • #3: Driverless cars still need to be sturdy enough to support human life
    • It makes sense to make aircraft unmanned (whether for war, commercial or humanitarian purposes), because an aircraft without a human being in it can be lighter, cheaper and more efficient (it doesn’t need windows and safety equipment, for example). Contrary to this, passenger cars, regardless of whether they are driverless or not, will always need to carry the same level of safety and comfort equipment (maybe even more) as they do now. So making a car driverless in a sense just makes it more expensive.
    • Already, about half of the cost of a modern car is software, lest you be tempted into thinking that adding more software will make cars cheaper
  • #4: A chain is only as strong as its weakest link
    • As long as software is written by humans, there can and will be disastrous and potentially fatal mistakes. Not too long ago, the good folks who write software that puts shuttles in space acknowledged that we are still in the “hunter-gatherer stage” of software development. Although we have made advancements in leaps, there is still a lot we don’t yet fully understand.
    • Airline pilots have been dealing with a dangerous phenomenon known as automation dependence for years. It’s a problem we don’t have on our roads… yet.
  • #5: We don’t really need cars any more
    • At least not in our cities. Even though we’re driving less, there are more of us driving. And more of us driving even bigger cars than ever before. But what are the use cases?
      • Commuting to and from work? At approximately the same time every day? With tens of thousands of other people like you? To approximately the same physical location? Sounds like a classic opportunity for optimization. How about jumping into a more efficient mass transit vehicle with all the others?
      • Public transport not clean or safe enough? It would cost a fraction of the money to improve and optimize our public transport systems, compared to what it would cost to spam the planet with billions of driverless cars
      • Going shopping? Running errands? Consume less, walk (or bicycle) more and support your local grocery shop 🙂
      • Going out after work? You can’t drink and drive, anyway!
    • The only reason we need cars any more are for inter-city travel, emergencies, last mile connectivity and motor sports (because no one wants to see a bunch of algorithms racing each other). We need to fix our infrastructure and our way of life, not our cars.
    • Peak Car. It’s a thing.
  • #6: We are reinventing the wheel. Literally.
    • Given the problem statement that driverless car manufacturers have set out to solve, wouldn’t it make more sense to make cars that can fly themselves, rather than be constrained to the limits of 2 dimensional roads? After all, that’s already a solved problem.

Update 2015-05-25: More food for thought: Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck

Only After…

An old Cree Indian prophecy:

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Karnataka Tourism

Karnataka Tourism maintains a mostly-up-to-date website here. As is the case with other Indian states, greedy and inconsiderate politicians have prevented the outside world from discovering the true beauty of Karnataka. What is known has been highly commercialized, and what is ecologically rare and vital remains neglected.

Ocean Alliance

Founded by biologist Roger Payne, the Ocean Alliance is one of the most prominent organizations in the world working with whale and ocean conservation. Roger Payne has done a lot of research on how whales communicate using sound, and had also produced an LP in 1970 titled “Songs of the Humpback Whale”.

Although unrelated, also stop by WhaleSong.net, which broadcasts live sounds of Humpback Whales from Maui, Hawaii.

My Pen has a Website!

So I pick up this really futuristic-looking pen in black and green and turns out that not only does it look like it arrived from outer space, but:

1. It is 68.1% recycled

2. It has a website dedicated to it