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.