Thursday, April 20, 2017

Possible Futures – Trial stores

In the not too distant future, there may come a day where the supercomputer – or low level AI – that runs your house notices that you are almost out of toothpaste.  It will then order some, possibly scheduling the delivery to occur at 3 AM so as to not disturb you.  Either an autonomous drone would fly the package to a dronepad on the roof of your house, or an autonomous delivery truck will drive it to your house and a robot will walk it to your front door.  Your botler (robotic butler) will take delivery and place it in the bathroom for you to find in the morning.

But your house wouldn’t just keep you in a steady supply of toilet paper, it would also keep you supplied with bananas, coffee, and mint ice cream.  Instead of you taking a minute to open your cabinets to see what you need and making a list, your house will either just reorder it or you’ll go, “House, I’m hungry for lobster,” and it will arrange to have some flown in to you.  And unless you’re particular about preparing it yourself, your botler will take care of everything.

For people who stick to the same brand of toothpaste, or coffee, or whatever for years, such a setup would be ideal.  But for people who want to try new things, I predict the emergence of what I’m calling trial stores.  These would be stores where, instead of having full size bottles of shampoo, would just have trial sized bottles.  But instead of having just a shelf full of Brand X shampoo, there would be dozens, or hundreds of brands from manufacturers all over the world.  You’d select a handful, take them home and try them.  Any you like you’d tell your house and it would add them to the list of brands to order.  You could have it set up that when you run out of the Number 1 Brand on the list, it orders the Number 2 Brand, and just cycles through them all.  Or you could have it set to random, or you could say to make sure you have Brand Y whenever you’re going on a date, or any other setup you can think of. 

Now these trial stores could be completely autonomous with robots stocking shelves and an Amazon Go style checkout.  There could also be systems – screens or more robots – you could ask for suggestions.  But I think, especially at first to make older people more comfortable, there may be human sommeliers, but for shampoos.  “You’re looking for a flowery shampoo?  Well I tried this Vietnamese brand last week and I really enjoyed it.”

You may be asking, if your house can just order stuff online, why doesn’t it just order a sample pack of a dozen or so types of pudding to see which you like.  That will also happen.  But people like to get out and be with other people.  How often while you’ve been grocery shopping have you seen people who bump into someone they haven’t seen in months?  Probably an important part of a trial store will be a little café for customers to just sit and chat for a bit.  Especially when things can be so easily ordered online, such cafés would be an additional reason to go out.

Automation – in the production and delivery of items – will drastically change the everyday idea of shopping.  We may not end up with trial stores, but the stores we have now won’t last forever.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

“The Future is Coming” is free!

I am a big supporter of science.  Science is the foundation of our society and it will allow our species to go beyond anything we can imagine.  So I was happy when I heard about the March for Science which will take place this Saturday.  The marches in DC and in cities around the world are to put a spotlight on the importance of science in our lives. 

While I’m not going to any march (I’m not fond of crowds) I did want to do something.  So from now through Sunday my Kindle ebook “The Future is Coming” will be free to download.  “The Future is Coming” contains ten essays dealing with issues that are science fiction, but will quickly become just … science.  No matter how some try to ignore it, the future is coming and we need to start thinking about it.

Here’s an excerpt from the essay “Cloning Humans.”

Someday – almost certainly sooner than anyone suspects – a human will be cloned. There will be protests, boycotts, marches, condemnations, congressional hearings, etc., all for this one minor event. I say minor event, and here is why.

The short term issues

The biggest problem human clones will face comes from people watching too many bad science fiction movies. In those movies, 99.9% of what they show of cloning is utter crap. In reality, clones will not be mindless automatons who will blindly follow the orders of some megalomaniac out for galactic domination. Nor will you run the risk of walking into an alley where someone will jump you, and ten minutes later a clone will walk out of the alley to steal your identity. And clones will not “remember” the lives of their donors and do … whatever. A clone will just be another human. That’s it. If they can escape the mental scaring caused by “parents” or guardians bent on making them into exact duplicates of the people who donated some DNA, they will be no more screwed up than the rest of us.

Cloning will – especially at first – be extremely expensive. That combined with the fact that we already have over seven billion humans made the old fashion way begs the question, what need is there to create clones? Seriously, what will be the point? Yes, grieving families will want to replace loved ones, and companies will take their money to give them a clone who will have the same DNA as the person they lost. But the clone – because they will have lived a different life – will not be the same person. And yes, some historical figures will be cloned as well as the best and brightest of various fields, but when the Einstein clone takes up poetry instead of physics, what will be the point of continuing?

There will be clones, but they will make up a miniscule fraction of the population. But a ton of legal and ethical questions will surround them. Will the donor of the DNA have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent? What recompense will people have if they are cloned against their wishes? Will the donor be able to abort the clone, and if so, how far into the cloning process will they be able to do that? If the donor is Canadian but the cloning is done in the United States, will the clone be Canadian, American, or have dual citizenship? Will a clone be able to become President? It’s probably a safe bet that few – if any – of these questions will be answered by the time human clones walk among us.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

So, about Iron Fist

Two weeks ago I wrote up my initial thoughts on Iron Fist after watching the first six episodes.  My plan was to finish the series in a couple of days and write up the rest of my thoughts.  I finished the series a day or two later, but then things came up and I kind of forgot about Iron Fist.  And now, two weeks later, I only have a few dim memories of the show.  A lot has been written about problems with the series, but I’ll just point out two of my biggest issues, both of which deal with the writing of the show. 

Obligatory mention that there will be some spoilers below.

First off, I know that Claire and Matt had a disagreement when the Hand attacked the hospital in the second season of Daredevil, but is she holding a grudge or something?  I lost count of how many times I almost yelled at the screen for Claire to call Matt because someone else with talents would have been a help. 

What makes it worse is that this first season of Iron Fist kind of damages The Defenders.  I’m looking forward to the show because I love Daredevil and Jessica Jones and am curious how those two will interact.  But I’m going to be bugged because – I’m assuming that as the common thread to all the shows Claire will be the one to bring them all together – I’ll be yelling at the screen “Why didn’t you do this six months ago when you went to China?  You know, when you could really have used the extra muscle.” As it turned out, Claire, Danny and Colleen did just fine, but they didn’t know that going in.

But the bigger, second issue, is Danny.  In my initial thoughts post I wrote that “an easy way to really screw things up is to not give an insight to the motivations of the main character.” And after thirteen episodes, I really have no idea about Danny’s motivation.  Why did he leave K’un Lun?  He got bored?

To be fair, there’s a little more to it.  He lost his parents and ended up in a weird world.  He felt empty and thought being the Iron Fist would solve all of that.  But after achieving that and realizing that he’d just stand at a little mountain path for the rest of his life, he realized he was still empty and left to find something more.  There’s something there, but I think that all came out from three or four conversations and while I think a lot of people can relate to it, it’s in a rather vague way. 

Compare that to Matt’s motivation.  In the episode where Foggy finds him all cut up and Matt tries to explain everything to him he tells the story of hearing a guy down the block molesting his daughter.  Matt called child services, but the mother denied everything.  Matt says that the system failed the girl, so he beat the crap out of the father one night.  And Matt adds that he slept peacefully that night.  Now I hope nobody has any experience with someone molesting a child, but we can relate to Matt’s motivation in a far more visceral way.  With everything we had seen Matt do up to that point, and that one minute conversation, we completely understood his motivation.  You can’t say that about Danny.

So what are my final thoughts on the first season of Iron Fist?  In the weeks before Iron Fist came out, I rewatched both seasons of Daredevil as well as Jessica Jones because I enjoy those shows.  As to Luke Cage and Iron Fist, someday, maybe before Daredevil Season Five, I’ll do a complete rewatch of all the shows.  That will likely be the only time I rewatch the first seasons of Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  I’ll watch their second seasons, which I hope will be better, but the only reason I see to rewatch their first seasons is to be a completist in the Marvel Netflix SubUniverse.