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
I’m a big fan of dogs, and not a fan of dentistry at all, so as you might expect I’ve got some problems with dogs being used to test out dental implants, in hopes of making better and safer ones for humans.
Especially considering that dogs are suffering and dying in the process, as The Humane Society of the United States says is the case at Georgia Regents University.
The HSUS last week released this report, containing undercover footage obtained during its three-month-long investigation at GRU. The experiments lead to two questions in my mind.
First, since the research is supposed to benefit humans, why not use humans for the tests? I’m sure there are plenty of people who are in need of dental implants and who, unable to afford them, might be willing to volunteer. I myself might take the risk, assuming that the researchers don’t insist on killing me afterwards to get a sample of my jawbone.
And that’s question number two: Why is it necessary to kill a dog after he’s already made an unwilling contribution to science — or at least a contribution to us humans being able to have gap-free permanent false teeth and not having to mess with things like denture adhesives?
As one dentist told the Humane Society, it’s not.
“In the two studies I reviewed, human research subjects could have been used, given that the products were already approved by the Food and Drug Administration and bone biopsies are commonly done in human studies,” said James P. Jensvold, DDS.
“Animals used in research are often ‘sacrificed’ at the end of the study, and this is accepted as standard practice without taking into consideration the unnecessary emotional and physical suffering that the animals must endure,” Jensvold added. “As a dental student and oral and maxillofacial surgery resident, I witnessed laboratory animals being treated as little different than a test tube, which is inconsistent with the values of compassionate healthcare.”
“Dogs don’t need to die for frivolous dental experiments,” said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. “It’s painful to watch these forlorn dogs sacrificed for these questionable purposes…”
If you tend to distrust dentists, and Wayne Pacelle, perhaps you’ll believe actress Kim Basinger, who narrates the HSUS report:
“GRU buys dogs from a Class B dealer who’s under federal investigation,” she notes. “Dogs like Shy Guy, along with others, who may have been famiily pets, were all used for unnecessary dental experiments. Their teeth were pulled out and replaced. It’s very painful, just look into their eyes.”
(Dogs used in the experiments, after having their teeth removed, are given a canine version of dental implants, not human ones, like you find in those freakish — to me, anyway — ads for Pedigree Dentastix.)
The HSUS investigator witnessed dogs having their teeth pulled out and replaced with implants. Once the experiments were over, the dogs were euthanized for a small sample of their jaw bone. GRU has been conducting dental implant research on random-source Class B dogs for years.
There are only six random-source Class B Dealers still active in the U.S. They are permitted to gather dogs and cats from various sources, including auctions, “free to good home” ads, online sources, flea markets, and even animal control and some shelter facilities — and resell them to research facilities. There have been cases of stolen pets ending up in research laboratories via ClassB dealers, the HSUS says.
The dealer who sold the dogs to GRU, Kenneth Schroeder, has previously been charged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including obtaining dogs from unauthorized sources, according to the HSUS.
Dr. Mark Hamrick, Senior Vice President for Research at Georgia Regents University, issued the school’s response to the HSUS allegations:
“As an institution, we are committed to research that will provide a direct benefit to patient lives by restoring function to damaged and diseased organs and tissues … The Food and Drug Administration, which provides oversight for medical device safety and procedures including dental implants, requires preclinical studies in animals demonstrating that the device or procedure is both safe and effective for its intended use in humans … The research being done with dogs is neither frivolous nor unnecessary, as alleged by the investigation, and is performed in order to develop safe, effective dental procedures for people.”
The HSUS says the studies are being done at the university in part to compare a dental implant invented by researchers at GRU, in conjunction with a private company, with that of a competitor.
According to the HSUS, 65,000 dogs per year are used for research, testing, and education in the U.S.
Posted by jwoestendiek November 25th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animal welfare, animals, class b, dealers, dental, dentist, dentistry, dogs, experiments, georgia regents university, gru, humane society of the united states, humans, implants, investigation, kim basinger, laboratory, medicine, pets, random source, science, teeth, tests, undercover, video
With all the research into how the medical issues of dogs often run parallel to our own, it’s no surprise that eight obsessive-compulsive Doberman pinschers are adding to our body of knowledge about that disorder.
A new study made use of MRI brain scans and found dogs and people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) have similar brain abnormalities and share certain brain characteristics.
Three years ago, researchers found the shared gene believed responsible for flank-sucking, blanket-sucking and other compulsive behavior in Dobermans.
The new study shows what’s going on in their brains is similar — at least as an MRI sees it — to what’s going on in our’s.
“We have a lot of commonality with our best friend the dog,” said study leader Niwako Ogata, an assistant professor of animal behavior at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in Indiana.
Just as elderly dogs with the canine equivalent of Alzheimer’s are being used as models to understand the degenerative disease in people, studying dogs is providing some clues into OCD, an anxiety disorder afflicting anywhere from 2 to 8 percent of Americans.
For the study, Ogata and colleagues recruited eight Doberman pinschers with CCD (canine compulsive disorder) and a control group of eight Dobermans without CCD, according to National Geographic. The team obtained MRI scans for each group and discovered that the CCD dogs had higher total brain and gray matter volumes and lower gray matter densities in certain parts of the brain. That’s similar to the structures of people brains’ with OCD.
It’s not known why both species’ brains show these features, Ogata said, but her team plans to repeat the experiment with more dogs and more breeds.
The team chose Dobermans because of the prevalence of CCD in the breed. About 28 percent of Dobermans in the U.S. are afflicted.
People with OCD often perform the same rituals over and over again, like washing and rewashing their hands and locking and relocking doors. In dogs, common compulsive behaviors include paw-licking and tail-chasing.
Ogata, whose study was published online in April in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, said the study provides a better idea of “”how brains develop, and when and how genes interact with [their] environment to cause some behavior problems for both humans and dogs.”
Posted by jwoestendiek June 14th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, behavior, blanket, brain, ccd, compulsive, disorder, doberman, dog, dogs, flank, gene, genetics, health, humans, licking, medicine, mri, Niwako Ogata, obsessive, ocd, pets, pinschers, purdue, research, science, species spanning, study, tail chasing, veterinary, zoobiquity
Call it an “aha” moment for the AHA: The American Heart Association has finally, officially, recognized that dogs are good for the ticker.
Last week, the organization issued a statement saying enough evidence now exists to make that assertion, and it didn’t even recommend dogs be taken in moderation, or consulting your doctor first.
Heartening as the news release was, the statement was overdue, or at least a few beats behind the thinking of those of us who already knew, and didn’t need studies to tell us, that our dogs are good for the heart, by which I mean the organ and more.
Dog owners are more likely to get exercise. Stroking a dog lowers blood pressure. Stress is handled better by dog owners — even when their dog isn’t with them. Studies have proven all those things.
But the mysteries of what dogs do for the heart, and the soul, have only begun to be unraveled. And on top of all the benefits to humans that can be scientifically confirmed and quantified, there’s much more dogs do for us — much of it undetectable by microscopes and double-blind studies, and part of me hopes it always will be.
Being humans, we can sometimes get so wrapped in measuring something that it interferes with treasuring that something. We can get so intent on delving into something’s complexities that we fail to savor its simplicity.
Dogs, could they speak, would tell us that, and they’d likely advise to look for the simple answer first.
How important, heart-wise, is the simple fact that a dog can give us reason to live, and love? While I am not a medical professional, or even a medical amateur, I think a heart that’s engaged and occupied is more likely to keep running smoothly than one sitting empty in the garage, getting dusty.
“Perhaps when one owns a pet one tends to be happier,” said Dr. Glenn Levine of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who led the committee that wrote the statement. “Pet owners might be more likely to take their medications and eat healthier meals.”
Pharmaceuticals and spinach, important as they may be, don’t make you happy to be alive, though, and want to continue in that state.
The AHA isn’t saying everyone should go out and adopt a dog to lower their risk of heart disease. The statement emphasizes there’s much more involved in keeping your heart healthy, according to an NBC Today report.
“We did not want people to see this article and just go out and adopt or rescue or buy a dog …while they continue to just sit on the couch and smoke cigarettes,” said Levine, himself a dog owner.
In one study cited by the committee, researchers signed up 30 people with borderline high blood pressure who were about to adopt dogs from a shelter.
Then they persuaded half of them to wait — in the best interest of the study, if not the dogs.
Those allowed to adopt dogs right away had lower blood pressure two and five months later than those who had not adopted.
And once all the study participants had adopted dogs, systolic blood pressure was found to be lowered in the deferred-adoption group as well.
The study didn’t say whether those that adopted had lower blood pressure than those who bought dogs. Nevertheless, and even though I’m not a doctor, that’s what I’d prescribe.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 13th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aha, aha moment, american heart association, animals, benefits, blood pressure, doctors, dogs, exercise, health, heart, medicine, official, pets, research, science, statement, stress, studies
In a collaboration between Penn and the Monell Chemical Sciences Centers, Ohlin and McBain (above) and Thunder (left) will use their noses to detect the disease in humans.
Ovarian cancer kills more than 14,000 women every year and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the nation.
The collaboration, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, takes aim at the silent killer with a combination of chemistry, nanotechnology — and dogs.
Canines have been detecting lung and breast cancer for years. With an $80,000 grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation, the new project will assess their effectiveness in sniffing out ovarian cancer, and continue an investigation that has been underway in Sweden.
The Swedish professor behind that project, who was using his own dogs for the study, is retiring. But he’s lending his expertise to those involved in the Penn project.
“He’s been advising us along the way to we don’t repeat the same mistakes he made along the way,” said Dr. Cynthia Otto, director of the Working Dog Center and Associate Professor of Critical Care at Penn Vet.
While the disease is often difficult to diagnose, ovarian cancer’s victims have a survival rate of 90 percent. No effective screening protocol yet exists to detect cases in the early stages.
In the new program, scientists from Penn Medicine’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology will take tissue and blood samples from both healthy and ovarian cancer patients. The samples will be analyzed by chemists, scientists, computers and the puppies at the Working Dog Center, who will be exposed to healthy samples and cancer samples in vented containers they can’t access, but can smell.
The dogs began their training at 8-weeks of age.
“They’re all fabulous and they are very strong in olfaction,” Otto said.
(Photos: Philadelphia Inqurer)
Posted by jwoestendiek May 9th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cancer, cancer sniffing, chocolate labs, collaboration, detect, detecting, detection, dog, dogs, Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation, mcbain, medicine, Monell Chemical Sciences Centers, ohlin, ovarian, ovarian cancer, penn, pets, project, research, science, sniff, sniffing, springer spaniel, study, thunder, university of pennsylvania, working dog center