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

Forget UAVs, The OPVs Are Coming

Imagine a behind-enemy-lines rescue operation where a pilot-less aircraft penetrates enemy territory, wreaks havoc (or not), picks up some friendlies, and lo! The helicopter now has a crew to fly it around, make their escape, wreak more havoc, penetrate deeper into enemy territory, any or all of the above. Kinda like KITT returning to Michael Knight, isn’t it?

As technology increasingly shrinks the gap between science and science fiction, the US Army estimates that half of its aircraft will be OPV, Optionally Piloted Vehicles. And here’s the clincher: this is their estimate for the next 15 years. In other words, OPVs are already here.

And you thought Skynet’s electronically waged real war was unbelievable.

(On the brighter side, it may not be Skynet that wages the war, it could just be some Iraqi militants using a $26 shareware program.)

“War Is Virtual Hell”: SIMNET

Noted Sci-Fi and Cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling wrote an article for WIRED magazine way back in 1993, relating his first-hand experiences of SIMNET, the predecessor to the now industry standard for real-time wargaming across personal computers: DIS (Distributed Interactive Simulation). Rarely does one get to see his or her fantasies turn into reality during their own lifetime. We truly live in a golden age.

But then again, I’m sure pretty much all of our ancestors felt the same way at some point of their lives (for example at the beginning  of the Industrial Revolution), and felt the exact opposite as they grew older, when the younger generation found innovative and unforseen ways to use the technology that they had invented, leading to unforseen side-effects at an unforseen scale (for example pollution). I’m certain this goes all the way back to cavemen (“Hey, I can use this spear tip to kill other men, not just animals”). And oh, yeah, someone once thought nukes were a good idea (oh wait, apparently that hasn’t changed yet).

Will we live to regret Artificial Intelligence and our dependence on machines? Or will the future be bright (though I doubt that it will be sunny) and flourishing? One can only hope for the latter. Yet, the textbooks say, history repeats itself.

Flight Simulators: How Humans can no Longer Tell the Difference Between Reality & Illusion

That was the title of my session at Barcamp Bangalore 9. It was more of a presentation actually, since I was talking about a topic that not many people know about (at least not in what was going to be my target audience that day). In fact, that was the idea behind the whole thing: to raise awareness about how advanced & mature simulation technology is today, where it is going, and where lie the obstacles and opportunities. I also included a bit of philosophy and some high-res photos. Here’s the synopsis of my session:

Since you are in some way associated with technology, you are probably aware that technology is/can be used to train humans for dangerous, skilled and expensive-to-repeat tasks, such as Driving, Surgeries, Operating specialized equipment, and well, flying.

– Did you know that there is something known as a “Zero Flight Time” Simulator, which is so realistic, that every hour that a potential pilot spends in it, is considered equivalent to flying an actual aircraft? And that pilots go flying on an real, revenue-generating trip for the very first flight in that type of aircraft without having ever set foot in it before?
– That there are only a handful of companies in the world that have the technological capability to create the accurate reproduction of reality (sight, sound, motion & vibration) that makes this possible?
– That Simulation is probably the only field of Computer Science, that makes use of just about everything that Computer Science is made up of, from Algorithms to 3D Graphics, from Embedded to Web, from Usability to Networking?

This discussion is going to be about Simulation (mostly Flight Simulation) and some of the amazing technology that lies behind it. How the Simulation, Gaming & Movie industries are feeding each other, and feeding off each other. And finally, Simulationism: the possibility that you and I are complex objects living inside a Computer Simulation.


Here’s a stripped-down, text-only PDF version (77 KB) of all the PPT-fu that I did (Sorry about the crazy contrasts, they make more sense with the pictures behind them). Do leave a comment letting me know your thoughts.

Peak Water and Water Banking

Just came across this interesting problem that scientists are calling “peak water”. Akin to “peak oil”, it refers to the idea that freshwater is a limited commodity that we are running fast out of. One of the interesting answers to this problem is called “water banking”. An implementation is already in place South-Western United States as the GRUSP – Granite Reef Underground Storage Project.

Incidentally, the system is also a good example of computers potentially taking over control of a resource critical to human life. The many water gates and valves are all controlled by a mouse clicks by the “water master”, who is currently a human being.