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July 25, 2003


Interesting essay from Marshall Brain,

Interesting essay from Marshall Brain, the force behind How Stuff Works, about the way automated processes are seeping into everything we do. He postulates that by 2050, millions of employees will be displaced by robots. His argument is predicated on Moore's Law holding true until then. He raises a lot of technical issues that are worth discussing, but I just want to mention the sociological undercurrent of the essay. He calls the essay "Robotic Nation", and it's an apt description of where things are headed -- not just because automata are increasingly present in our lives, but the way that process and rules for human interaction are being enforced in commercial and political and -- to a lesser degree -- social environments.

He talks about his recent experience at McDonald's, so I guess I'll add to that: When I was at McDonald's the other day, every time an employee handed something to me, s/he said, "Enjoy!" I'm obviously not the first person to make this observation (cf. Office Space and "flair"), but it's funny how language that is meant to be pleasant and suggest "we're both special" is actually understood by both parties to be purely transactional in nature: "I'm saying this because I have to and my company defines the phrase as courteous and efficient." "I'm saying 'Thanks' because I'd be rude if I didn't reply courteously to your enforced courteousness." As we get used to machine-based automated systems, we get used to a set of automated responses from humans as well, and deviation from the script is like a bug in the system, a problem to be avoided.

ps. How Stuff Works is featuring a discussion of 3-D technology, appropriate for today's big movie release.

posted by adm at 3:49 PM | #


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