Dan Rattiner's Stories

Future Bots: How Robots Will Bring $ and Leisure Time to the Working Man

Did you know that Edward Snowden, the man who accessed millions of top-secret messages from our government’s computers and let them out for public viewing, is not exactly still holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Moscow?

It’s not exactly because his living, breathing body is still holed up there, unable to get out, but his cyberself is elsewhere, wherever he wants. Currently his cyberself, his personal robot, is wheeling itself around America, visiting the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Yankee Stadium, wherever he wants it to go.

Perhaps you have seen him. You know what he looks like. His live video image is at eye level on a computer screen, held up atop two six-foot poles. At the bottom of the poles are wheels. Snowden controls where they take him by remote.

“Hi,” he says. “How ya doin’? It’s me.”

And it’s him, or cyberhim, thanks to the merging of Facetime, Wi-Fi, a robot and a Segway. He can see you and you can see him. He can hear you and you can hear him. So he’s out there. But you can’t round him up. He’ll just turn himself off. And he’ll turn himself on again after you’ve left.

Recently, he watched a movie after getting an award at the Tribeca Film Festival, he looked at the art in the Whitney and he lectured at Columbia University. His whereabouts are being monitored in New York Magazine. So go see him, come up to him and shake his hand. Or whatever.

* * *

I was watching a Mets game on TV when a commercial came on. I think it was for Nationwide, but I’m not sure. There’s a man at the wheel of a car that is being parked in a parking space. You are in the passenger seat. The car goes back and forth. But the man does not have his hands on the wheel. His head is turned toward the camera and he’s talking to you about the insurance he’s selling. It’s just incidental that the car is parking itself. I say it flunked, because I can’t remember the sponsor.

* * *

High schools and colleges have high-paying administrative jobs to fill in categories that you’ve never heard of. For example, you can be a member of the Bias Response Team (BRT). Around the country, more than 100 colleges have such teams, according to a story in The New York Post. Somebody bullies you, you call, and they come. Recently, the Post reported, a student squealed on a journalism professor at the University of Northern Colorado who suggested, while teaching journalism and saying that the class should think about opposing viewpoints, that “transgender is not a real thing.” It seems the professor had read an article in The Atlantic that suggested that students today are getting overly sensitive, and wanted them thinking about such things as climate change and transgender issues.

There it was. A bias underway for the BRT. The BRT team visited the professor in his office after class and told him to never talk about transgender issues again or even mention other opinions about it.

* * *

Many people in the auto industry believe that car ownership will soon be a thing of the past. Outside, on the roads, electric cars will be slowly taxiing around just waiting for you to call them to come by, pick you up and take you safely wherever you want to go. It’s a variation on Uber, but without those pesky drivers.

* * *

There are now many places in America, particularly on campuses, in front of sports arenas and in shopping malls, where the surveillance and guarding is done by robots. One is in a shopping center in Palo Alto, another is in San Diego. Designers have found that if the robots are about five foot three, shaped like an egg and appear to have smiles and flashing eyes, they do very well. Except when little kids get at them. Little kids want to talk to them and stroke them and so forth and so on. The robots do talk. But then a kid will kick at one to try to make it say “ow.” So it says that, so more kicking ensues. The developers, noting that interacting with children is nice but they’ve really got a job to do, have trained the robots to scream if it goes on too long—and that sends the kids scattering. So then it gets back to work.

The New York Times wrote about this. They report on a San Diego robot that appeared at work wearing a lipstick kiss on his face. Nobody knew how that happened. Then they report on another, called HitchBOT, that was beheaded at a mall in Philadelphia.

Robots do better if they have “eyes.” Without them, people can’t project expressions onto them. They’re designed to stop moving if cornered. Then whoever cornered it gets bored and leaves. They’ve designed buddy robots. If one is messed with, the other reports it.

* * *

Filmmaker Michael Moore was in the Hamptons last fall to premiere his new documentary, Where to Invade Next. He would go to Italy or Norway or Finland with a big American flag on a pole and then, arriving, stick it in the ground and claim it for America. Then he’d interview some of the residents. In Italy, he interviewed a young couple at a beach resort who were factory workers with time off. They’d get paid for a full year, but every three weeks they had one week off. So here they were in lounge chairs on the Riviera. Isn’t that how it’s done in America?

Moore visited a jail in Norway where criminals got jailed for what they had done but were free to come and go so long as they came back every night. The food wasn’t bad. They had lots of reading material. They played checkers and chess. They were just being kept isolated from their families for the length of their sentences, and that was bad enough. Isn’t that how it’s done in America?

Moore visited a French grammar school. Lunch for the kids was cheese and baguettes, ham and vegetables, a sweet for afterwards. They had no dietician. They had a chef. The chef showed Moore an entire refrigerator filled with different kinds of cheeses. Isn’t that how they do it in America?

It’s my contention that as the years go by, more and more of the work that needs to be done will be done by robots. There won’t be enough jobs for all the people who want to work. But Americans feel shame without a job. Instead, working part-time, they should cheer about all the time they get off with pay. Work 24-hour weeks with, by government decree, pay for 40. And the rest of the time you do what you want—paint, write a novel, teach children, go on trips. Whatever makes you happy. And just relax about it. Businessmen make more money with robots than with humans. They should share the extra money they make with the employees they relegate to part-time work. What’s wrong with that?

I just read that France has a new law, a national law, which makes it a crime to send business email back and forth after 5 p.m. or on weekends. It’s another feather in the cap of a group of people who have learned how to live.

* * *

There’s real good news from outer space. About 10 years ago, the greatest scientists in the world got together and sadly announced they had found where everything went at the end. Everything—and I mean the sun, the moon the stars, gravity, everything—got sucked into a black hole and, from there, simply vanished. They’d found black holes all over the universe. The universe is so filled with stuff that just one black hole isn’t enough. This was really depressing. Until I read that, I thought that there was such a thing as eternity. What a downer.

Well, now scientists have gotten together again—Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair is one of them—and they say that there seems to be a way that after you get into a black hole, mathematically anyway, you can wriggle your way out at the bottom. But they are not quite sure just yet.

Wow. What a turnaround. It IS possible that everything will just go on forever. So stick around.

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