Why Not Solve A Real Problem, Uber?

Screenshot_6I love the idea of Uber, since I’m not a traditional taxi driver working within the old paradigm, but it upsets me that the ultimate goal of this company is to join the rush to replace human drivers with robots. As a Sci-Fi guy, I ought to be thrilled as pie over the prospect of autonomous robot cars taking us where we want to go–visions of retro-futuristic transparent capsules whisking us through tubes from one place to another come to mind–but I’m weary of the profit-driven philosophy of eliminating good, honest workers from the dynamic.

skytran_stationI’m also wondering: how long before these robot cars are hacked by some Ukrainian 14-year-old who takes one on a demolition derby joyride through downtown at lunch hour?

I jest, but not really. It would be great, if the goal was to lift us all into some sort of morally elevated “post-economics” economy where folks are freed from the necessity of earning money and able to pursue livelihoods as passionate pursuits rather than life or death struggles for shelter and sustenance, but we all know that robot Yelp cars are not being made so poets can be poets, singers can sing songs, and scientists can toil, free from funding concerns, to right the wrongs of a few centuries of egregious consumption.

Uber robot cars are being made so taxi drivers can lose their jobs, and their former salaries can land in the oversized pockets of wealthy investors. There is no thought or concern for 53695250.cmsthe welfare of the displaced, and that’s a bad thing. Uber cars are also not going to do a damned thing about the real transportation problem, which is that too many of us have too many cars, a problem we can only fix with improved mass transit or, preferably, birth control. Lots and lots and lots of birth control.

Now, you’re thinking: listen to the mealy-mouthed socialist ranting about economic justice; but you’re wrong. I’m a money grubbing materialist just like the rest of you–the difference is that I’m fundamentally lazy and just unwilling to do a lot of the stuff I’d need to do in order to have the cool stuff I covet. The result is the same, however: a life mostly unencumbered by commerce.

What is bad about Uber, and all the other technologists laboring diligently to trade manpower for money, is that none of them exist in a vacuum and when these advancements reach widespread implementation the cumulative effect will be staggering, as the wages of first tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, pool in the pockets of a few score of speculators and “innovators.” Now, if you believe in the gospel of trickle-down economics, you may not be concerned, but the years have shown me that those pools are deep, with almost unlimited capacity, and only a fraction of what goes in actually drips out.

When Henry Ford began implementing his assembly line factory in the early 1900s some of his fellow industrialists were put off by his insistence on paying his workers a salary far closer to a living wage than was common at the time. They argued that other workers would demand similarly “unreasonable” treatment, but Ford shrugged them off, not out of any great fondness for the utterly replaceable men whose sweat and blood comprised the building blocks of his fortune. No, he simply recognized that if he wanted to sell his automobiles there would need to be sufficient prosperity in the middle class for enough people to be able to actually buy them.

It is happening already, though we don’t see it. Take two primary extraction industries whose howls of government persecution and vilification at the hands of tree-hugging liberals, if you will. I won’t bother with the details here, but I invite you to compare the number of coal mining jobs lost to environmental regulation with the number of reductions caused by automation in that industry as well as the significant effects of competing energies–largely natural gas–in which increased efficiencies, many of them labor-saving, have resulted in more competitive pricing. On the west coast, ten times as many jobs in the timber industry have been lost to automation as have been lost to environmental concerns, like the infamous Spotted Owl.

That’s where we’re heading with each labor-killing step towards automation: an economy in which the only viable industries will be built around servicing the super-wealthy, a flawed and dangerously unstable prospect. I can’t be alone in thinking that we’d be better off incentivizing technology that elevates people and creates jobs–and solve real social and environmental problems, rather than rewarding those who revolutionize the time-honored tradition of filling our pockets with the contents of others’.


More Snow Headed To Georgia–Tourism Idea

Not to put too fine a point on it, but another winter storm is casting it’s Winter Weather Atlanta.JPEG-05108frosty eye on Atlanta as it blusters it’s way across the south, promising as much as .75 of an inch of snow and a mere 40F as a high temperature–time to run for the grocery store and stock up on toilet paper, bread, and milk. (that’s an old Pittsburgh joke you probably won’t get, but so what….)

snowmiserIt occurs to me that the city could make a small fortune in tourism revenue sponsoring “flash tours” at such times by selling affordable package deals to northerns who would likely pay good money to watch the carnage while savoring the relatively balmy weather.  They already have the infrastructure–the only thing missing is some bleachers down by the highway for when the Snow Miser comes to Southtown, even though it’s in his brother’s clutch.

Hey, Atlanta–this was my freaking weekend. Want to swap?

I guess I feel bad for being a winter bully–especially if (when?) someone dies down there, but it’s hard to take this seriously–probably in the same way that some guy from Death Valley is bemused when we have a “drought,” the rich folks have to stop watering their lawns, and we can only wash our cars on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I truly believe in this plan.  The rare southern businesses to stay open will make a killing, and the municipalities can use the additional revenue to, I don’t know, buy a second snow plow or something.  This makes me wonder what people in Calgary are thinking.  Hell, Minnesota is like this ten months a year–only it’s -40 degrees F, not the balmy 0-10 we’ve been seeing.

I heard God apparently told some guy in Decatur to build a massive 12703_650365338358467_1109895274_nbobsled and fill it with a pair of every creature (starting with Lolo Jones)….

*All kidding aside, as the storm is poised to strike, here’s all the luck and best wishes I can summon to Atlanta and the rest of the South.