Category Archives: A little sad

I’m back…sort of

Yes it has been a very long time and no I haven’t forgotten that I am the writer of this blog. So at the risk of sounding perhaps a tiny bit presumptuous it seems that I have had some more important things to do lately. First of all there was that little contract I may have mentioned three, four or five times before. It has kept me busier than expected. And then there was the 103rd birthday party I attended which, if you have ever been to one (and most I am guessing have not) was a really big deal. Beyond that there’s nothing much more to say except that I’m back now….sort of. And I say “sort of” because once again, and not for any reason connected to those excuses I just made, this will be a blog post, but not a shallow blog post. Mostly because I have had a long time to think about what I am going to say next and what better place to say it than in my own blog? At any rate, I do this every once in a while ‘cause even I can’t be shallow all of the time.

This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, although it may be a surprise to those who don’t, but the thing is I have quite an aversion to dolls. I especially don’t like dolls that can talk, walk, eat, pee or do other things that something without blood coursing through its veins shouldn’t be able to do. And to be totally honest, it’s not just dolls I don’t like. While it’s a little hard to explain, for the most part I don’t like any type of inanimate object made to look like people, animals or even insects. Anything really that can be purposely or accidentally dismembered. Because when things can be dismembered they will be. Like when your little bro’ decides it would be fun to see what Barbie looks like without her head. Or has a grand old time slowly but surely eating each of the parts of a gingerbread man, delivering a virtual play by play in between bites. And it should suffice to say that I can in no way condone the travesties that occur around Easter and Christmas when the markets are flooded with chocolate bunnies, chicks and Santas.

Before you get too concerned let me state categorically that there was no early trauma in my life to blame for this state of mine.  As Ms. Germanotta would say, “I was born this way”. This is not a phobia (I’ve checked) but rather a preference, one which doesn’t have a significant impact on my life. It’s quite simple. My chocolate comes in bars, my cookies are round or square and it’s been a very long time since Barbie has been in my life. Besides, as someone once politely suggested when I explained why I was turning down their offer of a gummy bear, everyone has their quirks. This is mine. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about robots. Because for reasons I am sure you now understand, I don’t like them very much either. And while my problem with other inanimate objects might not have a huge impact on my life or yours, robots will.

In case you missed it, (or as the young people say icymi) not so long ago there was an article in the Globe and Mail, (so most probably not fake news) about a start-up in Vancouver where some very smart people are dedicating their lives to the development of some very smart robots. These robots they proclaim, will “move, speak and think for themselves and interact – as intellectual peers – with real people on a daily basis in intimate and vital roles…” . This, the article goes on to say, “will fundamentally alter the basis of capitalism itself by introducing an entirely new type of synthetic species that could do much of the work now done by humans”.  And not only will this new species talk, walk and think like us, they will also look like us since the creators have determined that we (as in humans) prefer to interface with our own likeness. Just in case you should think that this is some “pie in the sky” hoopla, the writer assures us that Mr. Rose (the fella at the helm of this project) is a successful visionary entrepreneur who is “the closest thing Canada has to Elon Musk”, although given the events of the past few weeks that might not be as stellar an endorsement as one would have previously thought. Nonetheless, it seems to me, even as a shallow person, that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that what these people (yes there is more than one really smart person involved) are doing is just about as big a deal as that 103rd.  

As I made my way through the article, learning perhaps more than I ever wanted to know about things like AGI (that would be “artificial general intelligence”) and the apparent inevitability of robots becoming part of our not so distant, and depending on your perspective Utopian or Dystopian future, I found myself wondering if any of these enthusiastic, and possibly overzealous geniuses had spent even a moment of their time thinking about the ethics of what they are doing.  So you can imagine my relief when quite near the end of this very long article the question of ethics was finally raised. I mean they had to, didn’t they? And they did. In black and white. Because they know there might be issues. Like what would happen if some unscrupulous human got fed up and decided to erase their robot’s memory? Or started taking advantage of their robot? Or treated their robot as a lesser being?

Wait a minute. Am I mistaken or are they thinking more about the welfare of the robots than they are about us humans? Surely these people have thought about how the creation of a whole new species might impact the species that currently inhabits this planet of ours. Alas, it would seem not. When asked “what if thinking robots challenge the goals or motivation systems programmed by humans?” or “who would be responsible if human-like robots commit crimes?” the answer was a very definitive “I don’t have any solid answers to these questions yet.” So here’s a suggestion. Maybe we should all try to come up with a few solid answers to these questions before you start creating robots that can fundamentally change the course of history, not to mention the human race. You know.  In case something goes wrong.

Ok, I’ve gone on a little long so I’ve only got one more thing to say. Truth be told, this whole thing scares me a whole lot more than biting off the arm of a gingerbread man.

BTW…If you want to take a gander on what’s going on in the lab, have a look at this.

All excerpts from Sean Silcoff, The Globe and Mail, Saturday, September 8, 2018. In the Company of Robots.

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Not a Winner

Remember that contest I entered? Well I didn’t win. Not even an honourable mention. But I’m ok with that. Mostly because now I can post it here.


An Open Letter to an Old Friend

Dear Mr. Starbucks,

I’m not one to complain. It’s just my nature to let things slide, forgive and forget, look the other way. When, of course, there is another way to look. Truth is, I’m an easy-going kind of gal who just needs a grande, nonfat, no foam, extra hot, one shot (perhaps with a  pump of vanilla) latte each day right around 2:00 pm to stay that way. I don’t even grimace when waiting in line to plunk down the 4 bucks and change for my afternoon indulgence. And all I have ever asked in return from you is a comfy chair on which I can rest my larger than I ever remember, middle-aged, or so, behind. Which brings me to the reason for this letter. Mr. Starbucks, what exactly were you thinking?

Don’t get me wrong. I was excited to learn that you were embarking on a revamp of my neighborhood haunt. It was going to take a month. So what? Who’s Mother hasn’t told them good things come to those who wait? Besides, that month gave me more time to dream. Soon enough I’ll be nestled in a brand new overstuffed, cocoon-like, leather chair, adjacent to a cozy, glowing fireplace, whiling away the afternoon sipping on that perfectly made latte, reading the latest offering of my favourite author, sharing philosophical banter with one of my many Starbucks’ friends. Perhaps a short snooze if the time is right.

It’s hard for me to explain the feeling of anticipation as I watched the brown paper that had covered the windows for what seemed like an eternity (you really should revisit your definition of “coming soon”) slowly peeled off to reveal the fruits of your labourers. Stepping over the threshold, my eyes quickly traveled from one corner of the room to another, and then yet another. Wait. There’s no fireplace. No comfy chairs. Hardly any chairs at all. As you can imagine, I was overcome with dismay. This renovation is for someone else. Someone, I suspect, with a much tighter behind than mine; one that has no trouble settling into the miniature wooden structure I’m supposed to believe is a bar stool. Someone whose body is still supple enough to duck under the long, sterile looking table to plug in an electronic device that becomes her conversational partner for the remainder of the afternoon. Someone who is definitely not me.

I get it Mr. S. Time does not stand still. There’s a younger generation primed and ready to fill my chair. But just for the meantime, while I’m still around, would it kill you to make that chair just a little more comfy?

Your friend,

Wendy C.

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I am not a Robot

I gotta tell you. Writing a shallow blog these days is tough. There are just so many things that make it hard. Believe me. It’s not just about the “moron” (not my words) down south. He’s a problem but like many things, he too shall pass. Unfortunately there are more endemic issues we all face over the long term. Like climate change. Unless you have been living under a rock, and one that miraculously hasn’t been uprooted by a major hurricane, or bulldozed by those brave men and women fighting the extraordinary fires of late, it seems almost impossible to deny that our climate is, in fact, changing, leaving paths of death and destruction in it’s wake. And guns. I suppose not guns in and of themselves. But guns without controls. Guns that end up in the hands of people who, perhaps due to mental illness or, in my less benevolent moments, are quite simply horrible, decide to use them to take away hundreds and thousands of innocent lives. Lately that’s happened a lot. Honestly, it seems not a week goes by without some natural or unnatural disaster taking place and so it’s hard. Hard to be shallow in this world of ours.

Here’s the thing. I’m sure you understand by now that even though I am a self professed shallow person, I have feelings. Just like you. Well almost. So all this stuff bothers me too. Afterall, I am not a robot. Google knows that ‘cause I always check off the “I am not a robot” CAPTCHA on their sites. Which is a good thing since, to be brutally honest, I don’t really like robots very much. As a matter of fact, I find them pretty creepy. And if I must say so myself, I’m in pretty good company with the likes of Elon Musk, and my personal fav, Dr. Sherry Turkle, weighing in on what our collective future could hold with a bunch of tin men and women walking by our sides. Ok, they might not be made of tin but, make no mistake about it, they will be walking by our sides.  

I’m guessing that for some of you this revelation may come as a bit of a surprise. Because you might expect that if anyone was going to embrace the prospect of having a companion who, for all intents and purposes, looks and feels like you and me but remains unencumbered by the complexities of the human condition, it would be me. After all, we’re talking about a facsimile that will pretty much do your bidding without batting an eyelash, which, by the way, they will have. No questions asked. No drama. No feelings to hurt. Actually, no feelings what so ever. They’ll laugh when you laugh, cry when you cry. Out of bananas? They’ll get those for you without all the whining that would normally accompany such a request to the “real” people who reside in your home. With a robot by your side you could start to think that life had become that proverbial bowl of cherries. And I’m pretty sure they’ll pit those for you too. So what’s my beef? Why would the shallow gal feel so apprehensive about what is clearly touted as the next best thing since sliced bread? Well, here’s why.

Call me crazy but somehow I don’t cherish the prospect of sharing my life with an animate, inanimate object. Especially one that has a brain programmed to learn way more than my brain ever will. I’m an adult educator. I know all about lifelong learning. But this brings that concept to a whole new level. We’re not talking just about intelligence. We’re talking about artificial intelligence. This is not computer assisted learning. This is computers actually learning. Computers that are walking around your homes, businesses, playgrounds. Yep, there too. Computers that are getting smarter and smarter every day. Certainly smarter than you and me but also smarter than the smartest people we have among us. And they’re going to look a lot like us, although they are never going to get blemishes or wrinkles or big brown spots on their faces and hands. Elon Musk is worried that robots will take away our jobs. Rightly so. They can already teach themselves how to walk and talk and very soon they will be able to do what you and I do, only much better. Sherry Turkle worries that we have become so accustomed to interacting with devices that soon we won’t know what’s real and what’s not. Nor will we care. It’s a worry for sure. But I’m worried about a couple of other things.

Like guns. Guns and robots. We all know that guns are a problem. Guns in the hands of the wrong people are a bigger problem. Guns in the hands of robots? A problem perhaps too big to imagine. Here’s a scenario for you. A robot walks into a gun shop. Asks to buy a gun. Of course they do a background check. Not a problem. Robots don’t have backgrounds. It gets the gun. Now it tells its robot friends how easy it was. They all decide this is a really good idea and do the same. Remember.  There are hundreds and hundreds of robots who are smarter than us and have no real feelings. But now they have guns. Maybe they decide they don’t like people who are not as smart as they are. Or maybe they decide they just want to have some fun. You know. Like in the movies or the video games. I don’t know about you but this seems like a big problem and a pretty good reason to not like robots very much.

But that’s not the only reason I don’t like robots. It seems to me that if anyone or anything could be more shallow than me, it would  be a robot. A really smart robot. With no feelings. Smarter and shallower than me. I’m guessing that robot would never be stumped for ideas about what to write. No matter what’s going on in this world of ours. Hmmmm. Maybe I need to give this some more thought. Under the circumstances, getting a robot to write this blog might not be such a bad idea. 

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I’m Learning a Lot

capsuleSometimes when you start thinking about things in a different way you keep thinking about them that way. Sometimes it even makes you wonder why you never thought about those things that way before. Which is what has happened to me over the past three weeks since I last wrote about, what I have now come to know as “degrees of dislike”. It hasn’t been hard to do all that thinking. You see, for the last of those weeks I have found myself sick and pretty much relegated to my chair, yet again. As a result I have confronted first hand something I now know, and am happy to admit, I strongly dislike. Yep. I can now honestly say that I strongly dislike being sick and pretty much relegated to my chair, twice in two months. I mean, who would like that? It’s really not all that pleasant. And when you’re as sick as I was there’s not all that much to do. Which lead me to discover the next thing that I strongly dislike.

Imagine. You wake up one morning and all you know is if your head had actually fallen off your neck and onto the floor you’d feel and probably look, a whole lot better.  Everything hurts. Somehow, and you don’t really remember the exact details of this event, you make your way from your bed to your chair where for the next four days just about all you have the energy to do is press the little button on the remote, and you only do that to avoid watching consecutive repeat episodes of the  “Big Bang Theory”. Someone, and you’re pretty sure it’s someone who is rightfully in your home, brings you a little pill which they assure you will make things better, you swallow it and sometime within the next couple of hours you realize that the very sharp pain that has been pulsing through your head every ten to twenty seconds has abated to the point where it occurs only a few times each minute and you rejoice, because a small victory is a victory nonetheless. And that’s when it happens. The insult to the injury.

So I’m minding my own business watching, for the umpteenth time, Sheldon deride poor, ol’ Wolowitz for only having a lowly Master’s degree from MIT, (so what if he’s been to the International Space Station), when the commercial break takes me to the bedroom of some poor sot like myself who is apparently suffering with an affliction similar to my own. Since we all know that misery loves miserable company, I am immediately drawn to another’s suffering and so find myself directing my attention to what’s happening on the screen. The scene is of a pyjama clad woman who, like me, is holed up with a nasty head cold. Within moments, and what a coincidence this is, she pops the very same pill that I myself had just popped. Only in this version of the story it’s no time before she is literally dancing her way to, what appears to me to be, a rather miraculous recovery. Now as a shallow person I am honest to a fault, (it’s way too much work not to be) so it is with some dismay that I have to conclude that either she and I have significantly different reactions to the same medication or someone isn’t telling the exact truth, and since I am pretty sure about how I feel I can only conclude that it must be her.  It’s possible that, if I hadn’t been feeling quite as lousy as I was, I might have been just a tad more forgiving of this whole thing. Perhaps my judgement was even clouded by the piercing pain coursing through my head. But under these circumstances and in that moment I can confidently say that her feeling so good so fast, while I continue to feel so bad for so long, is something I strongly dislike.

I suppose I’m learning a lot from writing this blog. Since I started reflecting on this whole “dislike” stuff I also figured out that I strongly dislike fridge magnets. I mean, whoever thought that refrigerators were meant to be bulletin boards? But perhaps that’s a story for another day.

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Sleeping in Seattle

Seattle skylinePicture this. You’re in the shoe department of Nordstrom’s on Black Friday and, in most people’s books, it’s pretty frenetic. Not that there are shoes flying everywhere or anything like that. I mean this is *Nordstrom’s* where a live pianist replaces the drone of the mood-altering Musak and shoes range in price from “ok I can do that” to “maybe not, I’d still like to eat this year”. And everything considered you gotta know that they’ve done this before because things go like clockwork. I mean you nonchalantly pick up a shoe and before you know it there’s someone with a loud speaker summoning help on your behalf. Almost instantaneously they provide you with not only the “E.T.A.” but just about all of the information you need to become good friends with your “shoe consultant” (their term not mine) which, in my case of course, might just happen. All in all, given the circumstances, it’s not a half-bad experience and, as my Mother would say, worse things could happen to you. This however, is apparently a sentiment not shared by the woman I unfortunately came to know when paying for my purchases.

I should make something clear. The shoe consultants at Nordstrom’s all work on commission which explains the great service you get and the fact that you are bound to walk out with more than you had planned. But who can’t use an extra pair or two of Tom’s especially when the design is exclusive to Nordstrom’s so there is no way you are going to pick them up once you are north of the 49th and anyway, you’ve just bought yet another few pairs of shoes for children in need. (Note: excessive shoe purchase justified.) And for the most part, they are nice people just like you and me who simply want to do the best job they can even on days like Black Friday. Which is why I found the “woman from New York City”(WFNYC), as I have now come to know her, particularly heinous.

I’m not one to make generalizations about extremely large populations of people but, according to WFNYC, all people in New York move quite a lot more quickly than the rest of us. And by the rest of us I mean (and again, I defer to her judgement here) the people of Seattle. Now I am aware that there is a slight tendency for those who are partial to life on the Pacific to be a tad laid back but I am not certain there was evidence of this in the flurry of activity I was witnessing behind the cash desk at Nordstrom’s on this, the busiest shopping day of the year. And yet, her conversation went something like this:

Shoe Consultant: Let me ring this up for you. Was there someone helping you today?
WFNYC: I can’t believe how slow things are here. Just ring the f—— thing up! (Might I add here that this is the first time since the inception of this blog that any such language has been used or alluded to but in this case I am afraid it is germane to the telling of the story so please accept my apology on her behalf.)
WFNYC: I’m from New York! I’m not used to this! Everyone is so slow here!
WFNYC: I can’t believe how slow they are here! I’m from New York! This would never happen in New York!
WFNYC: It’s so slow here! WTF!!!! I’m not used to this!!!!

Well as you can see this was a rather one sided conversation but more importantly, and what should be noted, was that the WFNYC was not only speaking like this to those of us who had the misfortune of being able to hear her but also to whoever it was that she was simultaneously talking to on her phone which solidified for me just how busy a person she really was. And how a delay of even a few seconds was eating into her otherwise “chock full of important things to do” day.

But wait. Isn’t this Black Friday? Is this not a holiday in the U.S. of A? Are not all of the businesses, other than retail closed on this day? And didn’t she mention once or twice that she was from New York? Would it be reasonable then to assume that she was not on her lunch break from work where, if she was a minute late to return would risk being fired on the spot? So where exactly was she going? Now I can’t say this for sure but given the day and the circumstances I’m thinking she was going to do more shopping. Which leaves me to wonder why it was that she couldn’t take a second or two to let the cashier know who had helped her buy her multiple pairs of boots and shoes so that sales person could be appropriately rewarded for their time. Because it seems to me that if you are sleeping in Seattle you should at least take the time to be decent to the people who live and work there.

And then a rather frightening thought occurred to me. For one split second I realized that I may just have met the person who is better placed to write this blog than I am. Good thing she will never have the time to do it.

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