The older I get the more wary I become of technology.
What I haven’t figured out is whether one necessarily follows the other: Am I just becoming more fearful as I age, or is technology proving itself more worth fearing?
Both are unstoppable forces. Just as one can’t stop the march of time (even with anti-aging technology), one can’t stop the march of technology.
It keeps coming — whether it’s wise or not, safe or not — and we all blindly jump on board and become dependent on it. If it makes us prettier, gets us where we’re going, let’s us accomplish things more quickly, or function without actually using our brains, we humans are generally all for it.
Already we’re reliant on the Internet, GPS, and cell phones. Already we can purchase almost anything we want online. But the day may soon come when, once we order it, it gets delivered by a robot, perhaps a flying one, or a terrain-traversing one, or one capable of hurling 35-pound cinder blocks 17 feet.
I would say these robot dogs could become the newspaper delivery boys of tomorrow, if newspapers had a tomorrow.
Last month 60 Minutes revealed that Amazon was working on drones that will be able to fly to homes and deliver packages at our doorstep.
Last week the New York Times reported that Google has purchased Boston Dynamics, the engineering firm that designed the graceful beast known as “Big Dog” (seen in the video above) and other animal-like robots, mostly for the Pentagon.
It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year, but Google’s not divulging what it’s up to.
Given search engines don’t generally need to climb mountains, or hurl cinder blocks, to find their information, one can only wonder.
Is the company branching into war machines? Does it want to corner the market on robot pets? (Boston Dynamics did serve as consultant on Sony’s ill-fated pet robot dog, Aibo.) Is it hoping to take Google Earth one step further and have robots take photographs through our windows? Or, more likely, is Google, like Amazon, positioning itself to become the place where you buy everything, and working on lining up a delivery team whose members don’t require salary, or health insurance, or coffee and pee breaks?
It almost looks like Amazon is poised to cover air delivery, while Google, with its latest purchase, is positioning itself to cover the ground. (That, at least until Big Dog becomes amphibious, leaves the high seas open — aye, aye robot! — for, say, a Yahoo, Bing or eBay).
Boston Dynamics, based in Waltham, Mass., builds animal-like machines that can traverse smooth or rocky terrain, some of them at speeds faster than a human. Most of its projects have been built under contracts with Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts held by Boston Dynamics, but that it did not plan to become a military contractor on its own.
So why does it need computers with legs, or robots that can climb walls and trees? Surely Google isn’t working on ”Terminators” that can track you down, knock on your door and provide you with the top 10 recipes for apple crumb cake.
The Times reports: ”… Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts … The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.”
EVEN ELDER CARE? Oy, robot! I do not want a robot dispensing my medication if I end up in such a facility. At that time, I will be even more terrified of technology, and the last thing I would want to see would be a robot coming into my room – no matter how sexy its voice – saying, “Time for your sponge bath.”
I’m not a total Luddite.
I can publish a website or two, and can hook up my cable TV, and can figure out about 10 percent of what my cell phone does.
But I resent how steep the learning curve has become — how much effort is involved in keeping up with technology. That device promising to make life easier — once you spend a week programming it — may be smaller than your little finger, but its owner’s manual will be fatter than a James Michener novel.
What I fear, though, is where technology can lead, especially technology without forethought, and how quickly and blindly many of us hop on the bandwagon, giving little consideration to the possible repercussions, and how easily it can run amok.
The one futuristic (but already here) technology I’ve researched most is dog cloning. Once achieved, the service was offered to pet owners hoping to bring their dead dogs back to life, and willing to pay $150,000 for that to be accomplished in South Korean laboratories. It bothered me so much, and on so many levels, I wrote a whole book about it. You can order it through Amazon, but don’t expect drone delivery for at least a couple more years. Might one day drones deliver our clones?
I realize my fears are both irrational and rational.
Fretting about the future, I guess, is part of getting older. Old fart worries were around back when automobiles first hit the road (and went on to become a leading cause of death). And it’s probably true that once we stop moving forward, we tend to stagnate. But there’s moving forward and smartly moving forward.
I’m not a fan of big government (except when it helps me get health insurance), but I sometimes wonder if we need a federal Department of Whoa, Let’s Take a Look at this First. Maybe it could monitor emerging technologies, and their ramifications, and determine whether they should be allowed to emerge at all. Maybe that would prevent unimaginable (but, with enough research, entirely predictable) things from happening — like cell-phone shaped cancers forming on the exact spot of our bodies where we pack our cell phones.
But we tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to those kinds of things. We wait for the damage to be done and leave it to personal injury lawyers to straighten it out — whether it’s a new anti-psychotic drug that unexpectedly made young males grow female breasts, or irreparable harm done by robotic surgical devices. (If you’ve been victim of either, lawyers are standing by to help you. At least that’s what my TV tells me.)
I want to enter my golden years without shiny silver robots assisting me in living, and without drones hovering outside my door (even if they are delivering a good book). Though I’ve met some clones, I wouldn’t mind getting through life without having any contact with droids and drones and robot dogs.
Sometimes, at least from the Fearful Old Man Perspective (FOMP), it seems we’re so focused on the future that we fail to see and appreciate the present, and don’t even begin to learn from the past.
Sometimes it seems we like dancing on the cutting edge, then cry foul when our feet get sliced up.
Sometimes it seems we embrace technology too quickly and casually, when it should be a careful and thoughtful embrace, made with the realization that, as much as technology can make life better, it can also screw it up badly. We tend to view technology in terms of what it can add to our life, not even considering what it might subtract. And, in what’s the biggest danger of all, we tend to let it overrule our hearts and do our thinking for us.
It can save and prolong lives, even, in a way, re-create them. It can make our human lives – though it’s arguable — more convenient.
But it can also gnaw away at us until we become tin men and scarecrows — maybe not actually missing our hearts and brains, but at least forgetting we ever had them.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 18th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: age, aging, aibo, amazon, androids, animals, aye aye robot, big dog, boston dynamics, brains, clone, cloned, clones, cloning, cutting edge, darpa, defense, delivery, dependency, dependent, dog inc., dogs, droids, drones, elder care, elderly, emerging, evolution, fear, fears, fretting, future, google, government, government regulation, hearts, high tech, human, human race, i robot, jobs, john woestendiek, machines, man, oy robot, pentagon, pets, regulation, research, robot dogs, robotics, robots, scarecrow, science, society, tech, technology, Terminator, tin man, war, worrying
Breed: Boston terrier
Age: 14 years
Encountered: At Heart of Gold, a jewelry store in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Backstory: Ace and I were sitting outside a coffee shop when suddenly I felt my seat start moving. I’d looped Ace’s leash over the back of my chair, and he moved it a full inch before I turned around to see what he was trying to get to.
It was a Boston terrier. She did her business in the pine needles and disappeared as quickly as she had appeared.
Despite the situation, she was happy to talk about her greying old dog, Betty, who comes to work with her every day.
She got Betty as a pup in Florida, part of a litter sired by a pedigreed Boston terrier who went by the name Willie B. Cute.
Betty’s owner, who’s moving to Texas after the shop gets packed up, happily agreed to me taking Betty’s picture, but — not wanting to be in any pictures herself — handed the dog off to her employee.
The result was a photo that captured — if I do say so myself — both the quiet dignity of old age and the joyful energy of youth.
After our quick photo session, Betty, who’s going deaf, was returned to the floor, where she immediately began scooting her butt across the carpet. She was scolded only mildly and continued scooting. That’s one of the things that comes with the dignity of old age — when you have an itch, you scratch it.
Posted by jwoestendiek March 13th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: age, animals, betty, boston terrier, boston terriers, breeds, closing, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, economy, encounters, gold, heart of gold, jewelry, north carolina, pets, road trip, roadside, roadside encounters, travels with ace, winston-salem, youth
Snickers died last week, shortly after arrival at the Hartford airport aboard Delta Flight 738.
Airline officials had promised Heather Lombardi, who had purchased the cat from a breeder in Utah and was having her delivered, that the cargo hold the cat would travel in was climate controlled.
If you can’t guess what happened next, here’s some additional information:
Snickers was 11 weeks old.
Snickers was a Sphynx, or hairless cat.
It is winter, and a particularly cold one.
Once a plane lands, the cargo area is depressurized, and that climate control stuff doesn’t apply anymore.
Lombardi sent out an email blast to tell the world about “the worst tragedy I have ever personally experienced” — not to gain pity, or money, or, we’d hope, bolster her odds in a lawsuit. Instead, she says, she wanted to inform the world of the dangers of shipping a cat, by air, in winter.
With her two children, Lombardi arrived at the airport and was told to wait in the baggage area. Fifty minutes passed after the flight landed, the delay in unloading baggage being caused at least partly by a cargo hold latch that was stuck, she was told.
“I wasn’t incredibly alarmed … I figured she would be fine as long as she wasn’t outdoors,” wrote Lombardi, who paid $290 to transport Snickers. Outdoors, it was 7 degrees.
Upon being handed the crate, Lombardi opened it and pulled Snickers out:
“The kitten was ICE cold, limp, and unresponsive. I IMMEDIATELY put her into my coat, grabbed my kids by the hands & ran out of the airport to get her into my car & cranked up the heat putting all vents on her as I rubbed her trying to warm her up. She couldn’t lift or control any limbs, her breathing was labored, she had a blank stare in her eyes, and she let out a meow. As if to say help me — please. We rushed her to the emergency vet clinic, but to my utter devastation, on the drive, she let out a blood curdling cry & went completely limp …”
Ten minutes after handing the apparently lifeless cat to the vet, Lombardi was informed that Snickers was indeed dead.
“Her last hour of life was spent frozen & unable to escape. I am so utterly devastated — I cannot express to anyone how this feels. I am so sad for her, her little 11 week life lost for no reason. A tragedy that could have been prevented if the airline had valued her little promising life.”
Delta told her it is investigating, but, she said, “the bottom line is that they can’t bring her back to me or my family, there is nothing they can say or do to make this whole. We don’t want a new kitten; we fell in love with HER. She was our new child & there is nothing that can be done to bring her home to us. Snickers lost her life unnecessarily … Value life everyone, I have just experienced something I pray no one else has too. Don’t let Snickers lost life be in vain, I pray you guys read this & maybe another animals life won’t be lost to the cold & lonely Delta Cargo holds.”
Reading over her summary of events, what stuns me most is that a customer would even consider having an 11-week-old hairless cat transported by air in the dead of winter. That the breeder would permit it is surprising as well. That Delta signed off on it is equally shocking.
So, much as we regret Snickers’ passing, we, unlike Lombardi, wouldn’t aim our anger solely at Delta. There appear to be plenty of humans to share the blame, including the one who — though her subsequent warning not to ship animals when it’s below 30 degrees is valid — probably should have done a little more research and used a little more common sense before having her new hairless cat placed on a plane.
And we have to wonder a little bit, too — coldhearted as it may be at her time of clearly anguishing loss — why, any allergies aside, someone would opt for a pricey, high-maintenance novelty pet from the other side of the country when hundreds of cats are in the Hartford area’s animal shelters, waiting for homes.
Heather Lombardi responds:
“… I first wanted to thank you for bringing attention to what happened to Snickers. Knowledge is power & even if you don’t agree with my actions & poor decision, not everyone knows or understands the risks of placing your pets in a climate controlled cargo hold. I myself was guilty of that. I do not place blame solely on Delta, my lack of knowledge & belief that travel was safe for animals in this weather was the obvious reason she was on the flight. It’s why I decided to share her story. She died due to my lack of knowledge & an obvious service failure on Delta’s behalf. I can’t control Delta, their practices or policies, what I can control is how I handle the situation. I choose to raise awareness, and I thank you for helping with that.”
Posted by jwoestendiek January 26th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: age, air travel, airplanes, airport, animals, blast, breeders, cargo, cargo hold, cat, cold, death, delta, email, exposure, grief, hair, hairless, hartford, heather lombardi, kitten, loss, mourning, novelty, pets, shipping, snickers, sphynx, transporting, travel, traveling with pets, winter, young
So, with only three days left to Valentine’s Day, your honey still hasn’t firmed up the plans?
Could be he, or she, is planning to spend it with the pooch.
Rather than spending Valentine’s Day with their human partner, a fifth of adults would prefer to be with their pet, Reuters reports, based on a global poll conducted in conjunction with the market research company, Ipsos.
The survey of 24,000 people in 23 countries found, globally, 21 percent of adults would rather spend February 14 with their pet than their spouse or partner.
Interestingly, Turkish people were most inclined to want to spend the day with the dog (49 percent), while the French were least likely (10 percent).
The survey found that age and income were even bigger factors than country of residence, with younger, less affluent people more likely to choose their pet as their Valentine’s Day companion. About 25 percent of people aged under 35 opted for their pet over their partner, compared to 18 percent of those aged 35-54 and 14 percent of people aged 55 and over. Men and women were evenly split over the question.
About 1,000 individuals per country took part in the poll, with Turkey showing the largest numbers by far of owners who preferred their pet’s company on Valentine’s Day. Next came India with 41 percent, Japan with 30 percent, China with 29 percent, the United States with 27 percent and Australia with 25 percent.
The nations where residents were the least likely to want to spend the day with a pet over their spouse or partner were France at 10 percent, Mexico at 11 percent, the Netherlands at 12 percent and Hungary at 12 percent.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 11th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: age, animals, cats, companions, companionship, countries, date, dog love, dogs, gender, global, humans, income, love, partner, partners, pet love, pets, poll, prefer, preference, reuters, spend, spouse, survey, turkey, united states, valentine, valentine's, valentines day
Dogs, among all the other things they teach us, show us how to live in the moment — to see the snow as something to be played in as opposed to something to be whined about.
Then again, they don’t have to shovel it.
Part of me, upon confronting two feet of snow, wants to go to sleep in that moment and wake up in a future moment when it has all melted, and then proceed to live in that moment.
Which brings us to this weekend’s momentous snow.
Like most dogs, Ace loves the snow. A good covering of it seems to take years off his age. Snow, for dogs, is a fountain of youth. It brings out their inner child, which, with them, is already pretty close to the surface anyway.
That said, even Ace was briefly flummoxed by 25 inches of it — the most he’s ever seen. When I opened the front door, there was a two-foot wall of snow. He stared at it for a few seconds, then busted through and down the steps.
Even for a big dog like him, the only way to move forward was with a series of bunny-style hops — and, unlike with me, each hop served to invigorate him more. “Let’s go! Let’s go!” his entire body said. With me trudging and him hopping, we worked our way to a plowed road and to the park, where other snow-invigorated canines frolicked with abandon.
Even among more elderly dogs at the park, the snow seemed to have made them young again, bringing more spring to their steps, more sparkle to their eyes. It made me reflect back to my New Year’s resolutions – to look at things, including burdensome ones like two feet of snow, and see the joyous opportunities they present.
Like dogs do.
(Photos by John Woestendiek)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 7th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 2010, 25 inches, ace, age, animals, blizzard, bulldog, dog, dogs, dogs in the snow, fountain of youth, frolic, invigorate, joy, living in the moment, old dogs, park, pets, photography, photos, play, rottweiler, shovel, snow, snowfall, two feet, weather, youth