Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Electronic People



Dmitry Ikskov is a Russian billionaire. He is the founder of the 2045 Initiative. The goal of the project is "to create technologies enabling the transfer of an individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality. We devote particular attention to enabling the fullest possible dialogue between the world’s major spiritual traditions, science and society." In other words, the goal is to allow people to live forever.
It sounds wonderful, too good to be true. With this technology you can go on enjoying life forever. When an electronic copy of your brain is placed in some sort of robotic body, you no longer have to worry about the slings and arrows that flesh is heir to. Instead of leaving your money to some ungrateful heirs, you can continue to enjoy it. You'll be able to eat rich food, drink champagne, make love to beautiful people.
Wait! Robots can't eat or drink—anything. And love? Only in the platonic sense. Will your money last for centuries? If you don't have a pile of money when you pass on, how will you maintain yourself in this life after life? Have you thought about those things?
Before you sign up to have an electronic copy of your brain made to be put into some kind of robotic body, you need to ask yourself a lot of questions. First of all, will this procedure be available to everyone? Obviously, it will not. The process will take a lot of time and will cost a lot of money. Many people already are resentful of the privileges that are available only to the affluent. It will not seem fair that well-to-do people, who already have so much, will add extended or even eternal life.
If the practice becomes widespread, what will we do with all these electronic people? How will they support themselves? Will they keep biological people from the best jobs? Will they want to continue working? How will ordinary people react to them? If ePeople continue to work, they will hold most of the senior positions in their field by virtue of their seniority. Do we want our businesses and institutions run by people whose thinking is decades out of date? Do we want to keep our talented younger workers from moving into leadership positions?
If these electronic people choose not work, what will they do with their time? Will they just sit back and complain about what a mess the younger people are making of things?
Where will they live? Will the typical family include the robotic parents of both husband and wife? And in time, maybe the parents' parents? Or since their needs will not be the same as those of biological people, maybe the ePeople will live in special housing units or even special communities, like those that exist now for senior citizens.
Most retired people live on a combination of Social Security and a pension. Will these income sources dry up after people cease to be alive biologically? Will the people who run Social Security and other pensions say, “Sorry, you have died. You can't expect this money to be coming to for eternity”? If pension plans continue to pay out, they will eventually run out of money. If they don't continue to support ePeople, how will they pay for their needs? If they continue working they will take away the earning of biologic prople.
Will ePeople be accepted by biological people, or will they be regarded as some grotesque Frankenstein monsters by real people? How will electronic people respond to seeing most of their friends pass away?
Will the ePeople still be considered citizens? Will it be legal for them to vote or run for office?
Will this extension of the natural life be pleasant, or will it be a burden to the electronic people as well as to the biological people around them?
According the Psalm 10:90, The days of our years are three score years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Maybe there are some things that people should not fool around with.

Monday, October 14, 2019


Open letter to GOP Members of Congress

Despite his lies, his incompetence, his corruption, his lack of class, his destruction of previously forged agreements with other countries, you have gone along with President Trump. You have done this presumably because he has delivered many long-time conservative goals. Under his watch Congress passed a huge tax cut. He has appointed scores of conservative judges to federal posts. He has made it much more difficult for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free to enter the United States.

Let me ask you: Was it worth it? Was it worth it to have this unprincipled, weak, authoritarian, impulsive man make uninformed decisions over twitter rather than heeding the advice of military and foreign policy experts? Was it worth it to have this crude, low-class ignoramus litter the news with his tweets, his outrageous charges, his scurrilous attacks against his critics?  Was it all worth it?

In his latest betrayal, he has deserted the Kurds in northwest Syria, the fighters who bore the brunt of the battle against ISIS. He stood back to allow Turkey to attack these people  even as they prevented ISIS from rising again, even as they guarded 10,000 ISIS POWs. He said he pulled American troops back to get us out of endless wars. Instead his actions have unleashed more war with even more participants involved.

Do America’s promises mean nothing? Can they be cast aside on whim? America was once the hope of the free world. Now our allies have no faith in our word. We once saw ourselves and we were seen by others as a shining city upon a hill. That is no longer true.

Tell me, what will it take for Republican members of Congress to help cut this cancer out of the heart of America?

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

An Open Letter to Nancy Pelosi


Dear Speaker Pelosi:

Every day brings new lies and new outrages. By his own admission, the President of the United States put pressure on the head of a foreign country to find some dirt on Joe Biden, who is one of the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination. What does this man have to do before the House of Representatives takes action to impeach him?

Some may feel that impeachment is a futile action because the craven Republicans in the Senate will not uphold the impeachment. That is probably true. Mr. Trump will likely be able to hold onto his office until the end of his term. However, there is a matter of principle involved. The legislative branch has a responsibility to say, “No more! The kind of things Mr. Trump has been doing and saying are not acceptable in a President of the United States.”

In the last election We the People elected a majority of Democrats to the House because we wanted someone to stop Mr. Trump before he can do any more damage. If the Republicans in the Senate do not vote to sustain the impeachment, their failure will be remembered in the next election. We the People will also remember the Democrats who failed to rein in a president who is so unfit for his job.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019


The Internet of Things
            I’m writing this from Motel Six, where I have been staying for the last three weeks. I have a nice little house in the suburbs, but my wife Stella won‘t let me back home.
            Stella is a good woman, but she’s stuck in the last century. She still has a flip phone, and she won’t have anything to do with a computer. A couple of months ago I came home with an Amazon Echo. While I was setting it up, she kept complaining, “Those things can spy on you.”
            God! She’s so paranoid. Have you ever seen an Amazon Echo? You can do anything with it. You can turn lights on or off, adjust the thermostat, play music, check the weather or your calendar. You can get the news or ask it a question. It can answer almost anything you care to ask it. More stuff is coming. In a few months you’ll be able to order pizza or any takeout and have it delivered to your house. It’s voice activated. All you do is talk to it, and it will do what you want.
            Stella wouldn’t listen to me when I tried to show her how it worked. But when her sister Mavis came over and showed her how she could do things like control the television or check on the traffic in her morning commute, she became enthusiastic about it. She would turn the thermostat down to 65°, and I’d be freezing. I would turn it up to a normal temperature, and then we would be squabbling. Or I would be watching a game on television, and she would turn it to some damn cooking show. I suppose we should have just got another TV, but we were both too stubborn to give in.
            Then we had a big blow-out three weeks ago. I came home after a bad day at work, and there was some classical music playing on the device. I was in no mood to listen to that, so I changed it to some soft jazz. She came screaming into the room, saying, “I was listening to the choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”
            I tried to apologize, but she was too angry to listen. I fixed myself a scotch and soda, and Stella told me I was drinking too much. The arguments went on all evening.
            The next morning Stella had an early shift at the hospital. I was sitting there, drinking my second cup of coffee, when there was a knock on the door. It was Jeanne, the cute redhead next door. The postman had left a letter addressed to me at her house by mistake.
            “You’re looking awfully glum today,” she said.
            I said it was nothing, but she kept digging, and pretty soon I told her the whole story.
            “It’s too bad she treats you the way she does. If I had someone like you, I would know how to take care of you.”
            I tried to protest, but she moved closer and kissed me. And then we were rolling on the couch, taking each other’s clothes off.
            Afterwards I felt guilty, and promised myself that what had happened would never be repeated. I would try to be better to Stella and try to rekindle the romance that had faded away.
            On the way home from work that afternoon I bought some flowers for Stella. At first I didn’t notice the suitcase parked near the door. Then I heard it, the dialog between Jeanne and me that morning.
            “I told that thing to record anything that was said this morning. I never dreamed it would pick up something like this. Your suitcase is all packed. I want you out of here right now.” She glared at me.
            “But, Stella, where can I go?”
            “That’s for you to figure out. Maybe you could ask that thing for advice, except it’s too late.”
            So here I am at Motel Six. Stella won’t take my calls, but I have talked to Mavis a couple of times. Mavis says Stella might take me back, but there are going to have to be some changes.
            “Whatever she wants,” I told Mavis. “I’ll even take down the Amazon Echo if she wants.”
            “Oh, no. She wants to keep it. We have been learning a lot about computers. She’s going to get an iPhone and take some computer classes at the local night school.”

This story first appeared in Mad Swirl


Friday, June 28, 2019


A Robot’s Ransom
            I heard a strange noise in the kitchen. Mr. Fitz told me later that a human being would have gone to investigate. But I was not programmed to do that so I just stayed where I was, sitting on a chair in the bedroom.
            I heard footsteps coming through the living room and a rough, gravelly voice says, “There ain’t nothin’ here worth takin’. That TV is a piece of junk.”
            A high-pitched male voice answered, “We might as well check out the bedroom before we go.”
            The two of them walked in. First a short, hunched-shouldered man with practically no neck. His hair was cut close to his skull. He looked like a gnome. The other man seemed tall at first, but I realized that he was so thin that he looked taller than he was. He had a scar down his right cheek.
            Scarface looked at me and said, “This must be Old Man Fitzpatrick’s robot companion.”
            “I don’t think that’s gonna do us no good,” the gnome said.
             “That’s cause you don’t use your head, dummy. We can hold it for ransom.”
            “We can’t get much ransom from Old Man Fitzpatrick, can we?”
            “We can get some. These old guys love their robot companions.”
            The gnome shrugged. “I don’t know, Francis.”
            Scarface turned on him.  “I told you not to call me that!” he snapped.
            “Sorry, Frank. I slipped.”
            “Well, grab his feet. I’ll take his shoulders. We better get out of her before Old Man Fitzpatrick gets back.”
            So they picked me up and headed out the back door. Of course I could have stopped them, but I hadn’t been programmed to do that. And one of the first things a robot learns when he is registered is the golden rule: never hurt a human being.           
            I’m not that heavy, but they were moving awkwardly as they moved from the back yard to the alley. “You don’t have to carry me,” I said. “I can walk.”
            The gnome went, “Yikes!” and dropped my feet. “The thing talked!”
            Francis let go of my shoulders and I stood up. “Yes, I can walk and I can talk. So where are you taking me?”
            “Oh, ah, we’re just taking you on a little vacation. It must be about time you had a vacation, isn’t it?” Francis tried to smile, but you could tell he didn’t mean it. “Don’t pay any attention to the dummy here.” He gestured at the gnome. “He’s afraid of his own shadow.”
            In a few minutes we crossed a lawn littered with trash to enter a frame apartment building. On the second floor Francis unlocked the door to let us in. Francis invited me to sit with them at plastic table in the small kitchen. The gnome said, “I’ll find some paper to write a ransom note.”
            Francis turned to the gnome and said, “Geeze, you’re even dumber than I thought you were. You don’t write a ransom note.”
            “Well, how do you let them know about the ransom and stuff?” The gnome’s face twisted in despair.
            “You cut the words out of a newspaper and paste them into the note. That way the cops can’t analyze your handwriting and prove that you wrote the note.”
            For the next hour they toiled with the message, cutting words out of an old magazine and pasting them onto the paper. When they were finished, Francis said to me, “I’m going to have to chain you to something. I’m afraid you’d get lost if you went out by yourself.” We went into the bedroom, and he chained me by the ankle to a heavy chest. I didn’t tell him that I wouldn’t be likely to get lost because I had a built-in GPS. The two men left, and I sat on the floor by the chest.
            About a half an hour later I heard a sharp knock on the door, and a loud voice called, “Open up! Police!”
“I’ll be right with you,” I yelled back. I lifted the chest so I could free my ankle. Before I could do anything else, the police crashed through the door with raised
pistols. “Where are they?” one of the policemen asked.
“They’ve gone to deliver the ransom note,” I answered.
The other cop went back into the hallway. “It’s okay. You can come in.”
Mr. Fitz ran into the room and put his arms around me. “My dear friend, Rupert,” he said. “I’m so happy to see that you’re all right. They didn’t hurt you, did they?”
“No, I’m fine. It’s a good thing they didn’t know I could send you an email just by talking and give you the coordinates of this place for the police.”
A few minutes later Francis and the gnome came back to find the police waiting for them. They both seemed quite puzzled by the turn of events.


Sunday, May 26, 2019


BURYING AMBROSE                                                       
Carl Perrin
            “What’s that hole in your back yard for?” Raymond asked.
            “To bury Ambrose.”
            “You can’t bury Ambrose in your back yard.”
            “Why not?”
            “Because he’s a robot. That’s why not, Frederick.”
            Frederick put more sugar in his coffee and stirred it vigorously. “Don’t tell me that’s against the law,” he said.
            “Of course it ain’t against the law. It just don’t make sense. That’s all.”
            “It makes sense to me. He’s been my closest companion since Becky died. He’s like a member of the family.”
            Raymond pulled out one of those stinky cigars and lit it, moving the match around so the fire touched every bit of the glowing end. He took a puff and blew out the smoke.
            He shook his head and said, “Frederick, you’re my brother, but sometimes I don’t understand you.”
            Frederick ignored his brother’s comment.  “I wanted to bury him at the cemetery, but they wouldn’t allow it. Even if they would, I couldn’t afford the fees. All that money just to dig a hole, so I decided to dig my own hole. This way Ambrose will always be near me.”
             “I don’t suppose you’re going to have a funeral for him,” Raymond said grinning.
            “Don’t get all sarcastic with me, Raymond Merryweather. I did want to have a regular funeral for him, but the hypocritical minister wouldn’t have anything to do with it.”
            “I thought you didn’t believe in that stuff anyway.”
            “I don’t, but it don’t do no harm to buy a little insurance.”
            He sighed and got up to get the coffee pot and offered it to Raymond. Raymond held up his cup for a refill. Frederick refilled his own cup and sat back down.
            Frederick added some sugar to his coffee and said, “Really, Frederick. Your robot is just a piece of machinery—.”
            “Don’t give me that, Raymond. You made a big to-do when your cat Muggins died.”
            “No, hear me out. I was just going to say, machinery can be repaired.”
            “That’s only true up to a point. I’ve had to take Ambrose back to the shop a dozen times in the last couple of months.”
            “So why can’t they fix it so it stays fixed?”
            “It’s a hardware problem. They can’t put a new operating system in because the hardware does not have enough resources to support a more up-to-date system.”
            “So, why does it have to have the latest and greatest? What difference does it make?”
            “The manufacturer no longer supports the operating system with updates, so it is vulnerable to viruses from the internet. Since you communicate with robots through the internet, it was always vulnerable. It reached a point where I could not longer afford to keep getting it repaired.”
            “I’ve never heard of anyone burying a robot before. You could at least take him to the recycle center. There must be parts that could be reused.”
            “Would you have sold Muggins for spare parts?”
            Raymond got up and hugged his brother. “I’m so sorry that you lost Ambrose. Anyway, I’ll be here for the funeral.”
            There weren’t many people for Ambrose’s funeral, Raymond and his wife, one of the neighbors, and a couple of guys who worked with Frederick. An old friend, Jack Stillings, said a few words over the deceased.
            “Ambrose, you were a loyal servant and companion to Frederick. You will be sorely missed. Here are some words from Genesis 19 in remembrance: Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me.
            After they shoveled dirt over the Ambrose’s body, they went inside. Raymond’s wife, Lucille, had set up some light refreshments. In less than an hour everyone except Raymond and Lucille had left.
            Raymond took his brother by the arm. “Come on,” he said. “I have something to show you.”
            They went into the spare bedroom where a robot was lying on the bed that used to be Ambrose’s.
            “I know you depended on Ambrose for lots of things. I’m getting a new robot assistant. This is my old one, Fosdick. I’m giving him to you. He’s not Ambrose, but at least he has an up-to-date operating system.”
            Fosdick looked up at Raymond.
            “Come on, Fosdick, get up and say hello to your new owner.”  






           

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Another story from The Robot Revolution
First published in  CommuterLit


Rip Van Winkle                                             
            When Rip woke up, he didn’t know where he was. Then he looked around and saw that he was in his own bed in his own house. But something didn’t seem right. It was the color of the room, a soft pink. He remembered painting it a light green. There were things on the bureaus that he didn’t remember seeing before.
            He climbed out of bed and looked into the mirror that hung over the dresser. He pulled back in alarm when he saw an old man staring back at him. Then he remembered: he had woken up a few days ago in a hospital room, it seemed like. There was a lot of excitement when he woke up. Nurses kept running into the room and talking excitedly. Then a doctor came and explained what had happened to him. But Rip didn’t understand. It didn’t make any sense to him. After a couple of days they brought him back home, but it was late when he arrived, and he had gone right to bed.
            He shook his head at the image in the mirror. Then he got dressed and walked out through the living room to the kitchen where he saw a plump blonde woman stirring a pot on the stove. She looked familiar, but he didn’t recognize her.
            “Oh, good! You’re up. How are you feeling? Are you hungry? I’ll fix you some breakfast.”
            Rip sat at the kitchen table. He thought the woman must be his daughter Alison, but she had changed since he had last seen her.
            The woman brought him a cup of coffee and hugged him.
            “Can you tell me what’s going on? I’m confused, Alison.”
            The woman laughed. “I’m not Alison. That’s my mother. I’m Heidi, your granddaughter.”
            It was getting more confusing all the time. “How can you be my granddaughter?” he asked. “Heidi is still in high school, and you must be…”
            “I’m thirty-four, grandpa. I graduated from high school many years ago.”
            “But where have I been all those years?”
            “Didn’t they explain it in the nursing home? You were in a coma for almost twenty years.”
            “Twenty years? How did that happen?”
            “Evidently there was some kind of unusual reaction between your heart medication and Tylenol. Didn’t the doctor explain that to you?”
            “I guess he tried to, but there was so much noise and confusion going on, that I didn’t understand very much of what he was saying.”
            “Do you still like your eggs over easy?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she went on, “Mom will be coming down this week-end. In the meantime I will be staying with you for a while. But you should be okay. The doctors put you in a hospital for a few days to undergo some tests, but they said you are fine.
            Heidi put the eggs on the table and popped two slices of bread in the toaster. She reached into the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of pills, which she put in front of her grandfather.
            “Here are you heart pills. You need to take one with your breakfast. There is some Tylenol in the medicine cabinet. They are for my sinus headaches. Don’t you take any of it. We don’t want you to take another twenty-year nap.” She smiled.
            After Heidi took the dishes to the sink, she said, “I’m going to the market to pick up some things for dinner. Do you want to ride along with me?”
            “Sure. I don’t suppose my old car is still the garage.”
            “No, it’s long gone, but that’s no problem.”
            She picked up her phone from the counter and punched something into it.
            “What did you do?” Rip asked. “Did you just order a taxi?”
            “No,” she laughed. “I ordered a LandCar. I belong to an organization, and I can order a LandCar whenever I need it.”
            “You just order it on your cell phone?” Rip asked.
            “That’s right. I have a LandCar app on my phone.”
            “I have an old cell phone around here somewhere. Can I get that on my phone?”
            “Your old phone is obsolete. We’ll have to get you a new one. You need a cell phone for practically everything you do these days.”
            In a few minutes a car pulled up in front of Rip’s condo. They went outside and Heidi climbed into the back seat.
            “Are you sure you want me to drive?” Rip asked. “I haven’t been behind the wheel of a car for a long time.”
            Heidi laughed. “No, you get in beside me. This car drives itself.”
            Rip started to back out. “I don’t think I want to go,” he said. “I don’t trust a machine to drive me through traffic.”
            After she coaxed Rip back into the car, Heidi said, “Take us to ShopRite,” and the car started moving.
            Rip felt his heart leap up to his throat. “Stop the car!” he yelled. “Stop the car!”
            Heidi laughed. “Don’t worry, Grandpa. These self-driving cars are much safer than cars driven by people. In fact very few people drive cars themselves anymore.”
            When they entered the grocery store, Heidi showed something from her phone to a small monitor near the entrance. Then she picked up a basket and walked through the store picking up the things she wanted.
            When she had everything she needed, she started walking toward the entrance.
            Alarmed, Rip asked, “Aren’t you going to pay for the stuff you took? Are we going to get thrown in jail for shoplifting?”
            She chuckled. “Sorry,” she said. “I should be more careful to explain things to you. I checked in with my phone first when we got to the store. After that, everything I picked up was charged to my bank account. “I’m sure you noticed, there were no cashiers or cash registers. It’s a lot easier this way. People rarely pay cash for things these days. They just use their cell phones to make a direct payment from their checking accounts.”
            After Heidi put away the groceries, she made tuna sandwiches for lunch. As they were finishing their sandwiches, they heard a knock on the door. Heidi opened it to admit a short robot who rolled in on small wheels.
            “Good afternoon,” the robot said. “I am Murdok from the Office of Vital Statistics. Are you Rip Van Winkle?”
            Rip said he was.
            “Well, Mr. Van Winkle, you are delinquent in filing your Personnel Reports. You are supposed to file it by March 15 every year, and we haven’t had one from you for over twenty years.”
            “Iris used to file them. All that paper work gets me all confused. Besides, I was in a coma for almost twenty years.”
            “No one is excused for any reason from filing Personnel Reports. It is your responsibility as a citizen.”
            Murdok reached into a brief case, pulled out a pile of papers, and thrust them into Rip’s hands. “You have until Friday to fill out these forms for the past twenty years. I’ll be back to pick them up.”
            “I can’t do that by Friday.”
            “You should have been doing them every year, as required by law.”
            “I couldn’t do them. I was in a coma.”
            “I’m sorry, Mr. Van Winkle. I don’t make the rules. I just enforce them.”
            He wheeled around and went out the door.
            All the stress had given Rip a headache. He went into the bathroom and got a Tylenol. He took a couple of pills and lay down for his afternoon nap.

The Robot Revolution