Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Trying to see the future through clouds of drones



     The clouds in the east were pink early Tuesday, painted by the rising sun.
     It was about 6:30 a.m. I was taking our dog Kitty on her morning stroll and did what people nowadays do upon seeing anything unusual: whipped out my iPhone and took a picture.
     Why? Who knows? Possible Facebook cover shot. Potential blog illustration. The truth is, it's a habit. Almost a reflex. I worry I'll step in front of a truck someday and lunge to snap its picture as it bears down on me when what I really should be doing is leaping out of the way.
     Clouds documented, I continued on. A buzzing sound. I looked up: high in the sky, a drone, lights winking. I looked down: standing directly in the center of the intersection, a young man bent intently over a control box.
     The young man never looked up as Kitty and I approached. I stopped and — what else? — took a picture of him. Intrusive? One's expectation of privacy standing in the middle of an intersection is quite small or should be. We rounded the corner of Briarwood and headed down Center Avenue.
     Are the skies soon going to be thick with these things? Delivering books for Amazon, sushi for GrubHub. Each house with its droneport, a 4-by-4-foot platform, raised off the ground so the squirrels don't get at the fruitcake your Aunt Agatha sends.
     The future is hard to perceive. Maybe impossible. So many ways to misread what's coming. There is what I call the Arthur C. Clarke Syndrome. Clarke, the author of "2001: A Space Odyssey," extrapolated a few moon landings to expect colonies on Mars. Are drones this year's Space Food Sticks? Or the Model T in 1910?

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20 comments:

  1. I've taught my kids to look at morning clouds like that and be sure to pack the umbrella ." Red sky in morning , sailors take warning" is I've found all too accurate!

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    1. Much to my wife's dismay, the ditty didn't do Tuesday -- no rain!

      john

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    2. No rain yesterday? It poured here in my leafy suburban paradise close to Neil's town ( about 7 pm). But it was short lived. My husband didn't even notice it.

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  2. Neil, you've planted a marvelously confused image in my head. That of Aunt Agatha - looking like Aunt Polly in the Tom Sawyer movie - wading through a dozen or so chickens and goats to get to her backyard drone-port with a freshly made fruitcake. When worlds collide....

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  3. I can foresee how drones and self-driving cars will create a whole new field for lawyers.

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  4. Drones already have a niche in businesses that require land survey or work documentation. I know one foreman that just packs a drone and photographs his worksite progress at the end of each day for said documentation.

    I'm less optimistic about the drone delivery business.

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  5. Along with many others I'm sure, I've thought, "Why not build a larger vehicle using the drone configuration?" Lo and behold, the Russians have done it per a Yahoo article today. Our world gets crazier by the day.

    john

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  6. "The future is hard to perceive. Maybe impossible." Except it seems when people who "believe in" climate change predict the future. Cataclysm is all they see as a possibility. Let's agree that the climate is changing. Can we also agree we don't know what effect it will have on : the weather, the ocean , the ice caps, our standard of living, agriculture, geopolitics, human health in 10- 50 - 100 years and that while we need to stop polluting the air , land and water at this rate . Can we stop imagining that anyone even scientists can accurately predict the future and try to see these dire predictions for what they may be? An effort to convince people to change their consumption behavior. Or corporate powers vying for our consumer dollars . Maybe dial back the vitriol and engage in some more reasonable discussion surrounding what the future holds for us ?

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    1. And who are scientists supposed to engage in "some more reasonable discussion" with, FME? The folks that deny that change is taking place, the ones that deny that human agency has anything to do with it, or the ones that "believe" that the world is 6,000 years old?

      *If* some of the predictions of what might happen are demonstrated to be wrong, scientists will accept that and adjust their thinking. We can already see some of the effects on the oceans, the ice caps and permafrost right now -- pretending they're not significant may make one feel better, but is not a step toward a more reasonable discussion, IMHO. And the last time that Evangelical Christians adjusted their thinking with regard to the inerrancy of the Bible because of a demonstrated scientific fact was never, from what I can observe.

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    2. Yes thank you Jakish for basically disregarding my point. Which is people need to be able to engage in reasonable discussion without always reverting to their default position which is that anyone who questions even the idea of being able to predict the future should be shouted down and lumped in with the Christian right and flat earthers. Yes human behavior is a part of the ecosystem on Earth and it's up to each of us to drastically and immediately reduce our consumption and not spend so much of our time aruing about what the government should do to "assure our children's future". Or trying to convince others how important it is to understand science or government policy The key to polluting the earth less is using less not using something different. It's hard. It's easier to argue.

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    3. Sorry to be so dismissive, FME. Perhaps I overreacted to your scare quotes around "believe in." I agree with your point about limiting consumption. More discussion about that would be beneficial, indeed. But, it's gonna be hard to have a very bi-partisan discussion about that when half the folks don't believe there's any *reason* to limit consumption and, in fact, find the idea wrong-headed, independent of climate change. "Using something different" is going to need to be at least a transitional phase, while also encouraging folks to use less, it would seem to me.

      Anyway, this cartoon is my favorite with regard to the climate debate. For the purposes of this exchange, you could add "or we can't precisely predict the consequences" after "a big hoax." Accompanying it is a nice little piece by the cartoonist about how it went viral, starting in 2009.

      http://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article44162106.html

      And I appreciate the shout-out, Susan!

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    4. It may be easy to disregard your point because your point is a little hard to figure out. We could use less of the same if there were fewer of us, but curbing population growth doesn't seem to be a feasible goal of public policy. The reasonable alternative is to promote a shift to less polluting sources of energy, also known as "something different."

      Tom

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    5. Well said, Tom. Unfortunately, we won't get around to "something different" until "something different" is profitable. Big money would drop carbon-based fuels in a heartbeat if a more profitable alternative was available.

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    6. Jakash:

      Thanks for the cartoon and commentary. Alas, those who need to won't appreciate the irony.

      john

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    7. FME --

      That's tortured reasoning. The science of climate change isn't "predicting the future," it's describing what has happened, is happening and, based on what we know, will happen. For instance, I've come to see that the observations you offer are almost invariably skewed, divisive, and mistaken in a way that doesn't add to my blog and, in fact, subtracts. You might want to consider whether that is the reputation you want. I do this for fun, not to give the deluded a platform to prance. A word to the wise.

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  7. These drones could do some good, like eliminate the Paparazzi. The drones can sit all day waiting for celebrities to emerge from their homes or wherever. Then the launch themselves in a surrounding swarm and take videos and upload them to the clouds, all the while maintaining a respectful distance of about three feet.

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  8. While he seems to have missed the boat with regard to ferries to the moon and space colonies, Arthur C. Clarke did come up with the idea for the geosynchronous satellite and the space elevator.

    His novel with Stephen Baxter, "The Light of Other Days," is a wonderful exploration of a new technology that's extrapolated to create new ways to explore space and time. By creating a worm-hole to view the past, the histories and myths that nations are based on are challenged.

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  9. Neil, you are truly a man after my own heart. I thought my wife and I were the only folks who would name one of our dogs "Kitty". In our case, it was an homage to my first cat (whom I will never ever forget). I was inspired by a one-hit-wonder by Norma Tenega from 1966 to name her "Dog". So, naturally, since I had a cat named "Dog", it was only fitting to name one of our rescued dog's puppies "Kitty". How did yours come to be named "Kitty"?

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    1. A long story. We had two cats, which my wife named Anna and Vronsky, for the lovers in "Anna Karinina," one of our favorite books. They lived to be almost 20. Then we had a third cat, named "Hercules" who died after just a year. So when we got a dog, it seemed prudent to return to Tolstoy. The other couple in the book is named Kitty and Lev. "Lev" was out, so "Kitty" it was. I think my older son suggested it.

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