Is the Self-Driving Car Un-American?

I don’t know which is more difficult for me to believe: That humans will be on Mars within my lifetime… or that cars will drive themselves. Apparently, both of those things are going to happen and I’m fine with that. “Our republic of drivers is poised to become a nation of passengers,” writes Robert Moor in New York Magazine. Mr. Moor provides a most thoughtful look at where we’ve been and where we’re headed. A few excerpts:

Will middle-aged men still splurge on outlandishly fast (or, at least, fast-looking) self-driving vehicles? Will young men still buy cheap ones and then blow their paychecks tricking them out? If we are no longer forced to steer our way through a traffic jam, will it become less existentially frustrating, or more? What will become of the cinematic car chase? What about the hackneyed country song where driving is a metaphor for life? Will race-car drivers one day seem as remotely seraphic to us as stunt pilots? Will we all one day assume the entitled air of the habitually chauffeured?

Many readers currently blanch at the news that the roads will one day be filled with cars hurtling brainlessly along at high speed. But those people fail to realize one thing: They already are.

Driving correlates with obesity rates, which, separate studies have shown, correlate with poverty rates. Heavy street traffic lowers real-estate values, and the people who live on those streets tend to spend less time outside and have worse relationships with neighbors. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death worldwide for people ages 15 to 29. Emissions have a disproportionate effect on the health of communities of color, and nearly 90 percent of air-pollution deaths occur in poorer countries. A quarter of America’s greenhouse gases are released by our transportation, imposing a future climate cost that will be paid mostly by the nation’s, and the world’s, least fortunate. Meanwhile, 80 percent of car capacity goes unused, which means that most cars on the road, which can seat at least five people, carry only one.

For those of us who see driving as a kind of imprisonment — which, spatially speaking, it quite literally is — an extra hour to work or play (or eat, or read, or meditate, or fix our hair and do our makeup) will be cherished. But for those who see driving as a physical expression of freedom — which, spatially speaking, it also quite literally is — the end of driving will feel like confinement.


Watching Trump tweet

don-twitter-nightI’d give $1,000 to watch Donald Trump on one of his middle-of-the-night Twitter sessions. Just let me stand behind him (I somehow think of him at a desk, not in bed) for 15 minutes. Is he alone? Gotta think so. Does he visibly react before tweeting? His mentions must be in the thousands so how does he decide which ones to read? He only follows 41 accounts of toadies and sycophants so he’s got to be cruising mentions. That’s where he gets stuff for retweets, right? Somebody will have to figure this out because it will be a key narrative element in the movie that eventually gets made.

The Age of Scrutiny

“In the 1700s, politics was all about ideas. But Jefferson came up with all the good ideas. In the 1800s, it was all about character. But no one will ever have as much character as Lincoln and Lee. For much of the 1900s it was about charisma. But we no longer trust charisma because Hitler used it to kill Jews and JFK used it to get laid and send us to Vietnam.”

“We are (now) in the Age of Scrutiny. A public figure must withstand the scrutiny of the media,” Ogle said. “The President is the ultimate public figure and must stand up under ultimate scrutiny; he is like a man stretched out on a rack in the public square in some medieval shithole of a town, undergoing the rigors of the Inquisition. Like the medieval trial by ordeal, the Age of Scrutiny sneers at rational inquiry and debate, and presumes that mere oaths and protestations are deceptions and lies. The only way to discover the real truth is by the rite of the ordeal, which exposes the subject to such inhuman strain that any defect in his character will cause him to crack wide open, like a flawed diamond.”

Interface by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George (1994)

Deepgram finds speech with A.I.

“Searching through recordings is really difficult. In terms of workflow, usually the raw audio is transcribed into text, which is then fed into a search tool. If you transcribe using human transcription, it’s too time consuming and expensive. If you try to do it with automatic speech-to-text then search accuracy is the problem. […] Deepgram is an artificial intelligence tool that makes searching for keywords in speeches, private conversations and phone calls faster, cheaper and easier than the old way of doing things. Deepgram indexes audio files in more than half the time of a human transcriber, and costs only 75¢ per hour of audio.”

Amazing. Try it for yourself and see if it doesn’t blow your panties off.

The Apple of TV new

Watched my (the) first installment of Vice Nightly News last night. And loved it. But not sure I can describe it. But I’ll try.

  • Different look and feel. Black and white graphics. And big. More web-like than TV’ish. Faster pacing.
  • No anchor. At least no “talking head” anchor. Just a normal (female) voice over the video and graphics. And the package reporters were normal people as well. Looked like real people and talked like real people. You’ll have to watch this to get what I’m trying to describe.
  • Natural writing style. I noticed this immediately. Sharp contrast (for me) to the “news speak” we get from the networks and cable news.
  • Watching debate #2 with Glenn Beck. One of the longer segments. A bit like a serious Stephen Colbert interview.
  • No ads. Thank you, HBO. Didn’t realize how a dozen adult diapers and Flomax ads trash up a news program.

The producers didn’t just take the ancient evening news format we’ve been watching for 60 years and tweak it. They started fresh. Your grandpa ain’t gonna like Vice Nightly News. But I ain’t your grandpa.

UPDATE: Music critic Bob Lefsetz says Vice News Tonight is “the real thing.”

“The hosts were a cornucopia of sexes and ethnicities. They looked like America. Where everybody is just not an old white man. […] The networks think it’s about slickness. The local stations are a joke, peopled by bimbos, both male and female, it’s a caricature of the news. […] They humanized Glenn Beck, a seeming impossibility.”