Siri Plans to Stop Taking Orders and Start Giving Them

Apple CEO Tim Cook has announced the company is going to focus on developing self–driving car “systems” instead of the car itself. In an interview with Bloomberg Television he explained this qualifies as an “MOA” effort as in “The Mother Of All AI projects.”

The decision to concentrate on software, rather than both hardware and software is a new one for Apple. Normally the company designs the hardware along with the operating software and then ships the entire package off to China for manufacturing and intellectual property theft.

When the finished product returns to the US, Apple does its best to control the sales of all related products.

I’ve been with Apple longer than I’ve been with my wife. This is a fitting comparison since buying Apple is the hardware equivalent of matrimony. And even more fitting personally, since I’ve had excellent luck with refurbs, regardless of whether it’s Apple computers or wives.

Apple, like my wife, is a closed system that takes a dim view of playing the field. Cupertino prefers customers make all software purchases through the App Store. The same goes for hardware and the Apple Store.

Android, on the other hand, is a wild and wooly open system with many hardware manufacturers, many software producers and little if any standardization. Apple’s closed system is designed with control in mind.

Think of Hillary Clinton running a Best Buy.

Under Apple there is much more look–and–feel uniformity across the product spectrum, which comes with a price. Usually higher.

So, I would have had mixed feelings about owning an iCar.

I wouldn’t have liked being limited to buying gas at Apple stations. Sure the free operating software updates are nice, but that’s balanced with the thought of being lectured on the size of my carbon footprint by an Apple “Genius.”

Cook, at the time, hadn’t ruled out electric vehicles. He rhapsodized, “It’s a marvelous experience not to stop at the filling station or the gas station.” This only proves the chauffer maintains the car without Cook’s help.

Gassing up takes about five minutes. Charging up takes hours. Electricity may start cheap, but at the rate Apple changes the design of its propriety connectors, the cost of new adapters to plug into the power outlet will no doubt balance out the iFuel cost.

I think for the foreseeable future I’ll keep my manual car. If I want to drive with a woman that argues about routes and how fast I drive, I’ll just invite the wife.

CORRECTION: I was wrong last week. That column concerned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decree allowing NFL players scoring touchdowns to make fools of themselves — while the blockers that made it possible are ignored.

That may have been attractive for ballerina ball fans accustomed to method acting from their players, but football should be a serious game.

If I wanted to watch bad dancing and mini–charades I’d attend a GOP townhall meeting when Obamacare repeal was on the agenda. When I watch the NFL, I’m hoping professional football players will act professional.

You may recall my temporary burst of optimism when Cameron DaSilva of Fox Sports reminded us next season the NFL will also institute a snap clock. It starts when an official signals touchdown and teams will have 40 seconds to get set and begin the conversion.

DaSilva reported there were 32 touchdowns that weren’t followed by a booth review, penalty or injury. Even without the Original Tap–Dancing Kid performing his routine, teams were taking an average of 45 seconds to snap the ball. Adding choreography would only make the situation worse.

My optimism crashed when I mistakenly calculated those 32 TDs were thinly spread over the 119 games in the season’s last seven weeks and playoffs. At that rate only one quarter of a TD per game would be influenced by the snap clock.

But I was wrong!

It wasn’t the last seven weeks, plus the playoff games. His survey was only for the seven playoff games.

I should have known something was off. Reviewing 119 games, even with fast–forward or NFL Red Zone is a significant investment in a research project for a reporter facing multiple deadlines. That kind of time commitment spent watching streaming video is more characteristic of the government; say the US Patent and Trademark Office.

While only seven games cuts the sample size and increases the margin of error, the results will do in a pinch. (If you know someone in the USPTO who is not under investigation by the Inspector General, maybe you could ask them to examine the other 112 games.) For me, 4.5 touchdowns per game, unsullied by freestyle ego–mania, is much better than what I feared.

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Robot Buses & Lord of the Rings

A reporter at the Dailydot.com writes “We’re one step closer to the automated bus future of our dreams,” which tells you something about the content of nerd fantasies.

Mercedes Benz is currently testing its “Future Bus” that’s described as “an autonomous, self-driving bus that can navigate complicated routes without the aid of a human being.” The most recent test took the bus from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam 12 miles down the road to Haarlem.

Some customers are complaining about the fit & finish on Mercedes' new driverless bus.

Some customers are complaining about the fit & finish on Mercedes’ new driverless bus.

The Benz bus successfully negotiated stoplights and a tunnel while avoiding bicycles and marijuana peddlers. Naturally Dailydot types can hardly wait for the auto–bus to roll out worldwide, but I’m not so sure. Tech nerds think swapping human control for silicon control is a great idea.

While I’m picturing a 42,000–pound robot battering ram.

Just picture Grond — the battering ram used on the gates of Minas Tirith in “Return of the King” — hurtling your way because the software mistook your dark gray car for a particularly lumpy stretch of asphalt.

Sure the law requires a human driver be present at all times, just like the Tesla autopilot setting warns drivers to continue paying attention to the road while the Model S hums along. The designer’s childlike optimism in human nature expects someone who paid $70,000 for a car to sit glued to the windshield watching The Highway Channel, without even a commercial to break the tedium.

Test observations show the first thing the driver does after engaging the autopilot is to take his eyes off the road and leave the driving to Musk. The Benz bus “driver” will be using his cellphone, sending text messages and surfing the web, just like Metro drivers do everyday on Washington, DC’s no–tech busses.

I’m not certain what goal the robot bus is designed to achieve, other than increasing the boredom quotient found in unskilled labor. Replacing a human driver with no social skills with a robot with no social skills is hardly going to cause a rebirth in wheeled mass transportation.

Happenin’ people don’t think it’s cool to ride buses. Mental associations triggered by thinking of bus rides include being trapped with bullies on the way to school, prison transport and taking seniors to church. In my recollection the only instance where buses were cool was during the brief interval The Who’s “Magic Bus” was on the Top 40 charts and that was 46 years ago.

Heretofore the closest most US drivers came to auto automation was when they engaged the cruise control, although for a surprising number of “undocumented” motorists, it’s when they breathe into the ignition interlock.

Cruise control eliminated the number one cause of stress behind the wheel: Speeding tickets. Before the invention of cruise, keeping it under the limit was so exhausting I could barely stay awake. Now I’m Reddy Kilowatt behind the wheel.

Ford tried to “enhance” the cruise experience with something called “adaptive cruise control.” This additional automation is like putting your mother in the back seat. All it does is give you motion sickness as the adaptor cuts your speed each time someone cuts you off in traffic.

There are also sinister implications to self–driving vehicles that news coverage ignores.

Most systems involve linking the car to a nationwide network, which makes it very easy for Big Brother or Big Hillary to monitor where and when you go.

Speaking of sinister, China is currently working on a self–driving car, too. Their model will take dissidents to the concentration camp at the touch of a button, without tying up valuable personnel during transport. Security officers can be breaking up the next Falun Gong meeting while the first class enemy is still enjoying his ride.

The civilian model is rumored to have an optional feature that automatically rolls the window down when passengers turn their heads to spit.

Reuters puts a nice spin on living in a totalitarian state when it says China has “regulatory structure that could put it ahead in the popular adoption of autonomous cars on its highways and city streets.”

Persuading Chinese consumers to buy or even ride in a car with no way to open the doors from the inside may require some patriotic exhortation. Or a few visits to a self–criticism session.

Still Li Yusheng, head of the autonomous auto program at Chongqing Changan, remains optimistic, “If we can convince the government that every company, every car on the road must use this (single standard) … then there is a chance China can beat the rest of the world”

And if they can just lure Mercedes into building a plant in China they can steal the blueprints in no time.

Now Humans Are Just Along for the Ride

Google self driving car lucky buttonI have seen humanity’s future and it is cargo. Not shipping cargo, but being cargo. One cannot pick up the newspaper without discovering a new area of transportation where human control will soon be superfluous.

I don’t know whether to blame the auto–pilot or Roomba.

So much of flying today takes place while the aircraft is on auto that some safety experts believe the human pilots are at a disadvantage — due to lack of hands–on practice — when they have to seize control in an emergency.

AP reports Government Motors is working on a self–driving car in cooperation with Lyft that will automatically apply for a government bailout when the car is involved in a crash. Even better, if any of the humans at fault are illegal, the car’s CPU will file an emergency asylum request.

Google is hard at work on a self–driving car just perfect for anyone that’s ever considered human cannonball as a career option. The control freaks there are lobbying Congress to grant the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “special, expedited permission” to allow it to sell cars that don’t have steering wheels or brake pedals.

Even if you refuse to relinquish your steering wheel until its pried from your cold, dead, flattened hands — programmers can still affect your driving experience. Daimler, a major auto manufacturer from the country that gave the world the Panzer, is part of an umbrella body in Europe working on the self–driving truck.

AFP says the concept is called “’truck platooning’ similar to concepts with self-driving cars” only there will be two to three trucks driving in a convoy where the lead truck determines the route, speed and who gets mashed on the way — much like the elephant march in the movie Dumbo.

Think of a traffic jam that has the power to move independently and is never cleared.

Melanie Schultz van Haegen, a cheerful EU bureaucrat, speaks with certainty when she says, “Truck platooning will ensure cleaner and more efficient transport. Self–driving vehicles also contribute to road safety because most accidents are caused by human failure.” Meaning regardless of how it occurs, any time a “truck platoon” runs over your car, it’s your insurance rates that will be increasing.

There’s no refuge on the ocean either. The Telegraph has discovered Rolls’ marine unit is developing “drone ships.” These automated leviathans are destined to be controlled from land bases as they cruise from port to port. Rolls predicts the S.S. GetOutofMyWay will be in commercial use by the end of this decade.

“Sensors such as radar, lasers and computer programs will allow the ships to pilot themselves, with shore-based captains taking over if there is a problem or for complex docking procedures.”

Don’t let that reference to “complex docking procedures” get your hopes up for maintaining a modicum of control in your robot vehicle. The Israelis are working on taking that away, too.

Israel21c found the Unitronics Group is automating parking garages. Here’s how it works: If the programmers at Google approve and you’re allowed to go there in your self–driving vehicle, the car is directed into a 20’ X 20’ entry bay. At which point you need to step lively, because a “Unitronics robot scoots under the car, engages the wheels and lifts the vehicle” into it’s parking spot.

No speed–demon valet parking attendants. No cellphone–under–the–ear idiot banging their door into your car. No car burglaries.

To retrieve the auto you swipe a credit card through the terminal and if your carbon footprint for that day is low enough, the car takes you home.

No wonder the Mail Online predicts if current trends continue — lack of exercise, gluttony and the common belief that a 16 oz. bag of Fritos is a single serving — “by 2025 18 percent of the world’s men and 21 percent of women will be obese.”

You may not even be able to use a Lark scooter to get to your car, if your waist is too large. But tech can solve that problem. Amazon is building robots that can load even the biggest cargo into the proper transportation. And Prime members will be able to choose between headfirst or feet first.

Google Designs the Self–Absorbed Car for the Self–Absorbed Man

Self Driving Car memeTo give you an idea of how far the nation’s confidence has retreated from the exuberance of the 60’s — I promise this isn’t an endorsement of Donald Trump — just look at current automotive culture.

Government Motors designs flimsy boxes to conform to arbitrary fuel efficiency standards. Electric cars, which the government wants a select few to drive while the rest of us are on a bus, are so expensive the only way to persuade the average person to own one is to subsidize the purchase with thousands of tax dollars.

Naturally “activist” busybodies worry those geek hummers don’t make enough noise to warn headphone–wearing idiots of the auto’s approach. That certainly wasn’t a problem with the Shelby Mustang. The roar of the exhaust in even the stock model approached NASA decibel levels.

Muscle cars were the perfect compliment to a muscular country. “Big Daddy” Don Garlits was a household name, “Fun, Fun, Fun” dominated the radio and Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Today we’ve gone from the “Little Old Lady From Pasadena” (Go granny, go granny, go granny go!) to the Little Old Robot from Cupertino (No baby, no baby, no baby no!).

The future according to Google features a self–driving car characterized an inability to relate to the moving culture around it. I call Google’s effort the Asperger Auto because of the effect the cars have when they leave the Google test track.

Individuals with Asperger Syndrome have trouble with social interaction and are often bound by limited or restricted patterns of behavior. Google’s car has all the classic symptoms: inward directed, reluctant to change behavior to fit surrounding social circumstances and a refusal to acknowledge social cues from other drivers.

Bloomberg Business reports a California motorcycle cop had experience first–hand when he observed traffic stacking up behind a suppository–shaped auto.

He entered the history books as the first motorman to initiate a traffic stop on a robot car. Equally unique, he resisted the temptation to inquire: “Do you know why I stopped you?” because there was no one to ask.

The self–involved vehicle was putt–putting along at 24 MPH in a 35 MPH zone, ignoring the jam it was creating as drivers with a rapidly deteriorating opinion of Google stacked up behind.

The quandary for the cop was to whom to give the ticket? The car couldn’t sign the summons and the two engineers aboard claimed to be just passengers. So the officer let the human cargo off with a warning and threatened to drop a magnet into the car’s CPU if it happened again.

Depending on whom you ask, auto–autos have between twice and five times the accident rate of human drivers. One similarity the cars share with humans is the accident is always the other guy’s fault, although in the car’s case it appears to be true.

A study from the University of Michigan found driverless vehicles, like your teenage daughter, have never been at fault in an accident. The auto–autos are “usually hit from behind in slow-speed crashes by inattentive or aggressive humans unaccustomed to machine motorists that always follow the rules.”

In essence, an auto strictly obeying the law is such a rare occurrence it may actually constitute a road hazard.

California is ready with a solution similar to the old law that required a horseless carriage to post a man with a lantern walking before it to warn unsuspecting horses. Regulators want a “backseat–driver–on–call” vehicle that “would require a human always to be ready to take the wheel.”

Naturally Google, the inventor of the “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” model that doesn’t have a steering wheel or a gas pedal, objects to the new rule.

Google has managed to automate the velocity vigilante who parks his sanctimonious speed limit observing vehicle in the fast lane and forces drivers with a greater sense of urgency to pass on the right.

The self–righteous, self–absorbed Asperger Auto coming to a highway near you.

Robot Cars: The Return of the Sunday Driver

self driving car licensePerceptive conservatives have long been suspicious of ‘mass transit’ because of the term’s Karl Marxian connotations. For the left that’s a selling point because wedging the masses into mass transit allows ‘experts’ to decide where we will work and where we will live. The only roadblock, so to speak, is the automobile.

People like cars because personal vehicles embody individual transportation decisions, which in turn is why the left hates the automobile. As far as it is concerned individual transportation decisions have been nothing but trouble. Mobility nannies blame the horse and wagon for making Manifest Destiny and the westward expansion possible —a grievous example of sprawl that killed the buffalo, put asphalt on top of the aquifer and finally produced Ronald Reagan.

(Simultaneously lefties are strangely silent on the northward expansion that brought us a quarter of Mexico’s population, closely followed by the rest of Central and South America. This may be because illegals didn’t drive here and it’s hoped these new residents will prove to be bus riders.)

Since individuals are proving to be so stubborn, planners are adopting an incremental strategy. Uber had real promise as a bridge solution because it bypassed sclerotic, unresponsive cab companies and increased utilization of cars that were already on the road. Unfortunately enthusiasm dissipated after female riders found trading dirty cabs for dirty drivers was no improvement.

Now the people who know what’s best for us have decided that robot or self–driving cars are the stepping-stone to a mass transit future. Assuming they can pry the steering wheel out of our cold, dead hands — whoops, bad analogy, particularly when USA Today reports “self-driving test cars are involved in crashes at five times the rate of conventional cars.”

Naturally human error, instead of programmer error is blamed. An explanation that creates more than a little skepticism among computer users who have had to reinstall Windoze. Trial lawyers aren’t too happy either. Robot cars may have four times the injury rate, but the injuries aren’t ambulance–worthy — meaning cable viewers probably won’t have to endure a deluge of “have you been injured by a robot car” commercials.

In my view are two factors causing the increased accident rate. Robots are extremely cautious drivers that obey all the laws. Think 16–year–old student driver out for his first test drive. And the robot’s software doesn’t assume human drivers are idiots, which is the only way to avoid most accidents.

Here are a handful of situations robot drivers may not anticipate in time to avoid collision:

  1. When robots perceive flashing blue lights on the shoulder it’s no cause for concern because authorities have the situation well in hand. Humans immediately rubber–neck to see if the victim was the fool that cut them off earlier.
  2. Robots may have no experience with drivers whose lives are so filled with spontaneity they are unable to predict turns early enough to use a signal.
  3. Robots can’t tell if a motorist comes from a culture where driving is such a cause for celebration that alcohol is liberally applied to both pilot and passengers.
  4. Robots may not accurately predict levels of distraction because they aren’t required to document their lives for future generations through texts, selfies and conversation.
  5. Being childless, robots have no experience with turning around to admonish unruly toddlers or fishing sippy cups from the floorboard.
  6. Finally, robots don’t routinely hit their brakes before changing lanes and might fail to realize many drivers use their brake in place of thought.

So far the only real advantage to robot cars is their lack of vigilante spirit. You won’t find a robot convinced the car has been deputized to reduce speeding by camping in the leftmost lane of the highway at exactly the legal speed.