The basic foolishness of flying cars is the idea that it makes sense to fly around with a huge car engine for turning the wheels of a car, as well as with the engine and the wings that do the flying, all in one gigantic and gigantically impractical conglomeration. Car engines are one thing, flying machines are another. You either have two entire engines, one to do each job properly. Or you somehow contrive for one engine to do both jobs, sort of how the Harrier Jump Jet gets the same engines to do both its jumping and its jetting. That works, after a very fuel inefficient fashion, for Harrier jump jets, because jumping and jetting are sufficiently similar for one engine to be able to do both jobs. But car engines and flying engines are very different.
But now here comes this Airbus idea, where, instead of flying the entire car, you fly just the box that the people sit in. When being flown, the box is carried by a flying machine. When being driven, the box is carried by a driving machine. Note that once our container is plucked away from its road-driving engine, that road-driving engine can still then drive itself intelligently, to a park, for instance. Or, it could make itself useful by carrying other human containers. Robots, unlike engines, can be very light, so having several in one contrivance, cooperating as needed, is entirely possible.
I always believed that only when robots fly the cars will flying cars become a real possibility, because only robots can fly well enough and with enough collective discipline. This, it seems to me, is how the robots will do it. This is what they will fly.
Flying cars and robot cars, in other words, are all about human shipping containers.
Once you talk about containers rather than entire machines, you realise that these containers could perhaps also, in addition to being individually flown, be bulk flown in bulk carriers, over vast distances, for a fraction of the cost of driving, and if desired, a fraction of the time. All the nonsense of packing and unpacking, of clambering onto and extricating yourself from an airplane could then be dispensed with, as would all the ridiculousness of airports. All that can be handled by the robots, at their leisure. Also, at your destination, you’d be able to go on living in your own container. Multistory car parks would mutate into cheap hotels.
What all this illustrates, I think, is how very radically the robotising of transport, and of life generally, is going to change transport, and life generally. I don’t say that we will for certain see exactly the sort of human transport system that these Airbus envisagers envisage. Nothing is certain, when it comes to exactly how our new robot overlords will choose to go about their business. But this is the kind of change that the robots will surely bring. You can envisage, for instance, a world where we each own one or two human containers, while merely hiring whichever engines we need at any particular journey.
Might the same or a similar container shape then find itself being used for transporting other things besides humans? The possibilities are endless.
Or, maybe … not. The above ruminations are only that, ruminations. Please sprinkle words like “it seems to me” (there actually was one of those) and “surely” and “presumably” and “maybe” and “my guess would be”, for what you have just read is only me guessing, and what do I know? I am looking forward to the comments on this, because this is the kind of thing our often very tech-savvy commentariat is really good at commenting on.
Ruth Potts, writing in the Guardian with a quill pen, says that,
…a deeper understanding of humankind’s place in a living world of materials suggests the need and opportunity for a different kind of love affair with “stuff” – a long-term relationship of appreciation, slow pleasures, care and respect.
Instead of abstinence and austerity, embracing the New Materialism could have profoundly positive effects. Inverting classic expectations of productivity in which fewer people produce more stuff for consumption, the New Materialism points to an economy in which, in effect, more people produce less stuff for consumption.
There are other steps we can take to accelerate this healthier relationship with stuff: a minimum 10-year guarantee would help end the scourge of built-in obsolescence. Community Supported Agriculture reconnects communities with the people who grow food. The same approach could be applied to more of the objects we use: Community-supported potteries could deliver tableware, gradually, by subscription. The same could apply to clothing and furniture. A culture of repair and re-imagining would create ample skilled employment; high street making and mending hubs could bring life back to the hearts of our towns and cities.
Speaking as the last woman in England who can properly darn a sock, I know well the pleasure to be had from “make do and mend”. Darning is quite satisfying. By plying my darning needle I have kept going heirloom socks knitted by deceased great aunts. I have been known to darn a hole in a beloved Fair Isle jumper in multiple colours of antique darning wool, which I acquired from an eBay seller in France. Don’t think I don’t see the appeal of caring for a dear old thing rather than buying a rubbishy new thing.
But that appeal is strictly contingent on it being a hobby not a necessity. For generations of women, darning was the most wretched of tasks, ruining their eyes and wasting their lives trying to eke out a little more use from a garment that was certain to “go” again almost on the next wearing. Men had it no better. George Orwell wrote in Homage to Catalonia of seeing the type of tools in use in 1930s Spain:
A broken ploughshare, for instance, was patched, and then patched again, till sometimes it was mainly patches. Rakes and pitchforks were made of wood. Spades, among a people who seldom possessed boots, were unknown; they did their digging with a clumsy hoe like those used in India. There was a kind of harrow that took one straight back to the later Stone Age. It was made of boards joined together, to about the size of a kitchen table; in the boards hundreds of holes were morticed, and into each hole was jammed a piece of flint which had been chipped into shape exactly as men used to chip them ten thousand years ago. I remember my feelings almost of horror when I first came upon one of these things in a derelict hut in no man’s land. I had to puzzle over it for a long while before grasping that it was a harrow. It made me sick to think of the work that must go into the making of such a thing, and the poverty that was obliged to use flint in place of steel. I have felt more kindly towards industrialism ever since
That’s because Orwell, though a Socialist, had trained himself to the habit of opening the door when reality came knocking. Ms Potts has not. Every pretty vision she describes, the minimum ten year guarantee, the “Community supported agriculture”, the idea that “Community-supported potteries could deliver tableware, gradually, by subscription” (sounds lovely, all the family sharing one plate while waiting for the rest to arrive); they all boil down to deliberately making things more expensive and people poorer.
Back in 2012, the European Union passed a law requiring websites to give visitors a warning regarding browser cookies. These pop-ups or banner warnings are now common place across the web and were initially intended to protect user privacy but for the most part, they are just seen as an annoying box getting in the way of whatever content you are trying to access. It seems the European Union now also agrees with that and has proposed new regulations to do away with cookie pop-up warnings.
We initially saw a drafted version of the proposed law back in December but this week, the European Commission officially unveiled its proposal. The plan is to essentially remove website banners that provide disclaimers on browser cookies. A user’s browser preference in regards to cookies will automatically apply to sites they visit instead.
See, Brexit is doing them good already.
January 14th, 2017 | 15 comments - (Comments are closed)
The miniature Perdex drones, different from larger, more common remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) like the well-known Reaper and Predator, operate with a high degree of collective autonomy and reduced dependency on remote flight crews to control them. The large group of more autonomous Perdex drones creates a “swarm” of miniature drones. The swarm shares information across data links during operation, and can make mission-adaptive decisions faster than RPV’s controlled in the more conventional manner.
In a statement released by the U.S. Department of Defense, Strategic Capabilities Office Director William Roper said, “Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” Director Roper went on to say, “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”
Doctor Who fans will know exactly where this sort of thing leads:
You have been warned.
January 12th, 2017 | 16 comments - (Comments are closed)
Yesterday, at my personal blog, I expressed extreme gratitude to Christian Michel for letting me talk last Friday, at his home, on a subject which, when I first floated it to him, must have seemed very vague and vacuous, although judging by what he said about my talk afterwards, he was almost as pleased by it as I was.
Tonight, I will be attending another meeting organised by Christian Michel, partly out of gratitude for last Friday’s meeting. There is a London tube strike happening today, and I am pretty sure that Christian is now feeling a bit nervous about attendance, so I will make a point of being there.
The title of tonight’s talk is “The Collision of Fintech and Traditional Banking”. The speaker will be Sasha Karim. (I’m guessing that this is the Sasha Karim mentioned here.)
I am hoping that what Sasha Karim will say is, among other things, that, by radically lowering transaction costs and thereby making the life of a “financier” (formerly only available to ultra-clever (but not necessarily ultra-wise) people who had access to or who were attached by ultra-rich (but again, not always ultra-wise) employers to expensive machines in expensive buildings) “fintech”, aka the new world of financial transactions on mobile phones, now available to all people who are above dirt poor, is creating a world in which the old dream dreamed by the likes of Friedrich Hayek of denationalised money, can become a reality and rescue us all from the great catastrophe that has been governmentalised fiat paper currencies, of the sort denounced by another friend of mine, Detlev Schlichter. We shall see. But maybe I am being too optimistic, both about the talk and about the world. Concerning the talk, I will report further.
Hayek’s crucial little book on denationalised money has long been available on the www as a free .pdf download, but I only just found out that Detlev Schlichter’s book is now available as a free-to-download .pdf file also. Blog and learn.
January 9th, 2017 | 10 comments - (Comments are closed)
Well there’s a big report coming out on Monday actually, a government report on integration, which tries to kind of unpick who it is we are, what it is that we can all convalesce around. …
It sounded as if she thought we had all been suffering from some sort of medical condition. Brexit? Perhaps she does think this, about that. But, she presumably had the word “coalesce” in mind.
At first I tried to type out what she had said from memory. But the only reason I was watching this was that my video machine had switched to it from something else, because it was about to record some rugby. And this machine can play back a recording even as it is still making it.
December 5th, 2016 | 17 comments - (Comments are closed)
Samizdata is being moved to a newer, more lush, perhaps more louche server. This will also provide for freshening-up of the blog software, and a gradual migration to HTTPS.
Impact: Samizdata will be irregularly-offline this upcoming Monday, December 5th, starting from an estimated 3pm London time (10am Eastern, 1600h CET) for an estimated 4-to-6 hours, perhaps a little longer depending on how long the DNS bookkeeping takes.
If the migration fails we’ll fall back to the existing machine and continue, but it’s likely to be okay. Assuming that everything goes well, you may still expect a little flakiness when accessing the blog for up to 24 hours afterwards; after that time it’s a “bug”, or else we dropped something in transit.
“Fortune favours the bald!”, or something like that…
December 3rd, 2016 | 11 comments - (Comments are closed)
A little over a week ago I came across a little “gotcha” story of political news, or rather gossip, which stuck in my mind, not because of the of the commonplace instance of political insincerity it revealed, but because of the way this story reached what we still call the newspapers.
One of the tireless advocates of Corbyn during the prolonged LAB leadership battle in the summer was the ex-Newsnight correspondent Paul Mason. As you’d expect he’s articulate and good on the telly and figured prominently in the coverage of the election.
But there’s one video of him which he’s probably less keen about. He was caught by someone sitting near him in a bar in Liverpool as he talked about Corbyn’s failings and lack of electoral appeal. This has now found its way into the hands of the Sun which is giving big coverage this morning.
This is one of the dangers about the modern world. Most people have smartphones with pretty sophisticated video facilities which they carry with them all the time.
The quote is from by Mike Smithson of politicalbetting.com. The emphasis was added by me. It is funny to see the “postcapitalist” journalist Paul Mason caught out, but disquieting to think that this is the future for everybody even slightly famous. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s famous meeting at the Granita restaurant in Islington in which Blair is said to have promised to pass the sceptre to Brown would not now be possible. Famous and powerful people must now remove themselves even further from normal people in order to have any hope of privacy. Is this on balance good? I don’t know.
However much I worry, the ability of every ordinary person to spy on the media-political elite (a category that most certainly includes the former Newsnight Business Correspondent and Channel 4 Economics Editor) is one of the few things that might temper their belief in their right to spy on and “expose” everybody else. It also reminds them that what constitutes “news” can be decided by people other than them.
In the video below, filmed at the University of Cape Town, members of the science faculty meet with student protestors who wish to “decolonise” the university and not pay their bills. During the meeting, one of the staff, one of the “science people,” points out that, contrary to claims being made by a student protestor, witchcraft doesn’t in fact allow Africans to throw lightning at their enemies. He is promptly scolded for “disrespecting the sacredness of the space,” which is a “progressive space,” and is told either to apologise or leave. The offended speaker, the one claiming that Africans can in fact throw lightning at each other – and who disdains “Western knowledge” as “very pathetic” – then uses the apparently scandalous reference to reality as the sole explanation for why she is “not in the science faculty.”
There follow some related links. I’m afraid I can’t remember which I read first to give proper credit. I think my brain has been frazzled by all the witchcraft flying about.
A quick science lesson for the #ScienceMustFall idiots. I sincerely hope that the unnamed staff writer who wrote this reply for what seems to be a Zimbabwean online publication is more representative of the state of scientific thought in Africa than the Social Justice Witches.
Fallism: Into the intellectual abyss – Michael Cardo, a South African MP for the opposition Democratic Alliance, wrote a good post lambasting the cowardly response of the UCT authorities.
This might be the ur-video, posted by someone called “UCTScientist”.
Oooh, here’s a good one, from the University of Cape Town Left Students Forum: “As the UCT LSF we will like to clarify our position on a recent statement by a member of the movement, captured in a viral youtube video #ScienceMustFall”. I bet you would.
It seems these people do not want to pay fees for university, and also do not want to be taught Western science. Thinking about it, that might not be so difficult to achieve. Could they not go to learn at the feet of a shaman, who obviously would not take money to pass on his wisdom, and let the silly people willing to pay to learn Western science do that?
October 17th, 2016 | 37 comments - (Comments are closed)
“Hitherto it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being. They have enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment, and an increased number of manufacturers and others to make fortunes. They have increased the comforts of the middle classes. But they have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish.”
Ars Technica ran a story about a man in Cardiff charged with using encryption to aid terrorism. A VPN provider wrote about it on their blog. Scotland Yard supplied more details about the charges.
Count 3: Preparation for terrorism. Between 31 December 2015 and 22 September 2016 Samata Ullah, with the intention of assisting another or others to commit acts of terrorism, engaged in conduct in preparation for giving effect to his intention namely, by researching an encryption programme, developing an encrypted version of his blog site and publishing the instructions around the use of programme on his blog site. Contrary to section 5 Terrorism Act 2006.
It appears the charges include that he used encryption (probably HTTPS) to secure his blog, and that he had a USB stick with an operating system on it (probably Tails). This is just silly. Use of encryption is not related to terrorism. We use exactly the same encryption to protect our communication with shopping sites and banks as we do share our family photos with other members of our families. Learning about encryption or teaching others about encryption is not a crime, so why is doing these things in relation to terrorism listed as a separate charge? Terrorists might eat eggs for breakfast but they are not charged with eating an egg in connection with terrorism. If there is evidence he was doing terrorism, charge him with that. There is no need to bring encryption into it at all.
There is a risk in connecting such things with crime in the public psyche. People need to be encouraged to make use of privacy tools, not be afraid of them. They need to use these tools to protect themselves from crime. It is not helpful if encryption becomes to be seen simply as a tool of terrorists and criminals.
It is a short step from there to demands for the state to Do Something About It. The state will inevitably do silly things, like insisting on back doors in encryption systems. As our own Perry Metzger pointed out on Fox Business, it is impossible to weaken encryption used by terrorists to communicate without also putting people at risk from fraudsters attempting to manipulate their bank accounts.
October 11th, 2016 | 31 comments - (Comments are closed)
The Samizdata people are a bunch of sinister and heavily armed globalist illuminati who seek to infect the entire world with the values of personal liberty and several property. Amongst our many crimes is a sense of humour and the intermittent use of British spelling.
We are also a varied group made up of social individualists, classical liberals, whigs, libertarians, extropians, futurists, ‘Porcupines’, Karl Popper fetishists, recovering neo-conservatives, crazed Ayn Rand worshipers, over-caffeinated Virginia Postrel devotees, witty Frédéric Bastiat wannabes, cypherpunks, minarchists, kritarchists and wild-eyed anarcho-capitalists from Britain, North America, Australia and Europe.