When life is stranger than fiction

When life is stranger than fiction www.alliepottswrites.comIt is a well-known truth among my friends and family that I am not a good driver.  It’s not for lack of awareness or trying. It’s just not a talent of mine. Recognizing people in a crowd when they are outside of context, such as not realizing the woman in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store is my son’s teacher until minutes of awkward one-sided conversation, isn’t one either. What can I say? We all have our faults. Now, I’m not the worst on the road, by any stretch of the imagination, but let’s just say I don’t have a career ahead of me teaching driver’s education.

For this reason, I used to think that self-driving cars couldn’t get here fast enough.

I’m not so sure now.

image courtesy of xkcd.com

The magazine, Wired, put out a story about a former employee of both Google and Uber who was at one point was involved with the efforts of both companies to put these driverless vehicles on the roadways. This same engineer may or may not have passed along trade secrets, but the part of the story that really caught my eye was not the corporate intrigue, but the fact that he has founded a religious organization with the stated goal to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.”

Then there was this quote by one of his former colleagues –

“He had this very weird motivation about robots taking over the world—like actually taking over, in a military sense,” said the same engineer. “It was like [he wanted] to be able to control the world, and robots were the way to do that. He talked about starting a new country on an island. Pretty wild and creepy stuff. And the biggest thing is that he’s always got a secret plan, and you’re not going to know about it.”

Those of you who aren’t troubled enough by the potential threat of the roboapocolypse can read the full article, entitled “God is a bot, and Anthony Levandowski is his messenger,” by Mark Harris here.

The author of the article asks “can we ever trust self-driving cars if it turns out we can’t trust the people who are making them?” It’s a fair question and one that I might dwell on longer than is probably healthy.

Thankfully, we might soon have other options. Elon Musk, formerly of the company that became Paypal and of Tesla, SpaceX, OpenAI, and more recently Neuralink (a company which intends to produce implantable brain to computer interfaces, which is fascinating/troubling in its own right), has come up with a way to travel anywhere in the world in under an hour. All you have to do is board a rocket with the code name BFR as in “Big F—ing Rocket”.  I know – it’s so simple, I can’t believe no one else has already thought of it. You can read more here, or simply watch the video below.

I watched the video with Kiddo and while I was bothered by details such as the sheer amount of energy that would be required to make this a viable option for the general public, both in fuel costs as well as heat released into the atmosphere, he took the entire idea in stride. Considering his is the generation that will most likely see a man or woman not only step on Mars but establish a base on it as well, I suppose his lack of reaction is somewhat understandable.

This same generation, like the millennials that came before, will have grown up in the age of instant gratification. Even an hour of travel is too long. There has got to be a better way! Guess what – the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to three scientists who have detected gravitational waves in space caused by the collision of two black holes, thereby proving Einstein’s theory of gravitational relativity, which means that it is actually possible to bend spacetime.

Does this mean I could one day be in two places at once? (The answer is yes if you are an electron as proved by previous Nobel Prize winners)

But even with all these advancements in travel, at the end of the day, I am a homebody. Most weekends I don’t leave my neighborhood (which is a good thing for all considering my aforementioned lack of driving skill). I don’t need to. It is one of those planned neighborhoods with its own parks and a cozy small town center styled commercial hub as well as thick wooded walking/biking trails that make you forget you are in the middle of a city situated hours away from the mountains.

If you encounter a mountain lion

Something tells me this might not be solid advice… (image courtesy of flickr.com)

It turns out, I am not the only one who forgot that key bit of information. I received an alert on my phone from a diligent neighbor which read, “Not to be an alarmist, but I just spotted a 40-pound cat-like creature at the corner. Animal control has been called.”

It turns out that creature may have been a bobcat, but it also could have been a mountain lion based on the witness’ description, which would be no small thing considering cougars have thought to have severely reduced populations, if not be extinct, on my side of the country since 1938.

This caught both my sons’ attention in a way that no rocket, wormhole, or crazed genius intent on ushering in the age of the machines could and I spent the rest of the evening assuring them that a large cat would most likely not attempt to scale our house or enter their bedroom windows. Who needs to worry about what unbelievable news the future may bring when the local reports of the day’s events can be so much stranger than fiction?

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26 thoughts on “When life is stranger than fiction

  1. Many interesting questions and ideas here Allie. What stands out for me is that so many of us consider nature an intruder/ stranger/ invader on our territory. Yes, I would be concerned if a cougar/ mountain lion was wandering the neighborhood, but I’m more concerned with the crazies who want to take over the world, whether with AI, bombs, or idealism. May love and compassion rule…

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  2. I love the mountain lion advice.

    Is it sad that i would be really excited to see the bob cat/ couger. I’ve never seen one so I’d probably be there with my camera (through a window, hopefully!)

    I still do like the idea of driverless cars though. I cycle to work at the moment and some drivers are sooo aggressive towards me. I have a feeling a driverless car would be more careful around other road users.

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  3. I live in cougar country, Allie, and love it. Though we are a bit careful with the kiddos. I’ll take wildlife, streams, and trails over rocket ships any day. I suppose there’s no stopping it, but I sure do hope human’s leave room for the organic life of the planet too… or all that will be left is robots.

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    • I need to come out your way some time to see it. I absolutely love being out in nature and hope that when we are flying around in our personal jetpacks we can do so without torching the ground beneath our feet.

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  4. Lots of great points here, Allie! Scary stuff. I worry for the kids today, who will never grow up without phones. They make my growing up life seem so quaint. High tech has a place, but I never want that place to be replacing nature! Not sure how we can balance, but we can hope that if we give kids enough exposure to nature, they will see how crucial it is to keeping our planet and ourselves alive, and then fight for it!

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    • I have no idea how my parents managed to drive us across the country to see my grandparents before phones, nor do I know how they managed to keep order at restaurants when the food was slow to arrive, but I’ll take a good hike over a wasted day in front of a screen any day.

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  5. only yesterday I read they had implanted code into dna and read it back complete… much like your scary first book – fiction becoming fact far too fast. And staying in Boulder north of Phoenix once I stepped outside our cabin with the kids only to watch as a mountain lion sauntered past. I had to hold onto to the boy to stop him running after. They remember that for sure.

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  6. Just this past week I had conversations with my son about what a cassette tape is and about how when I was a kid we only had one phone that the whole family had to share and it was attached to the wall with a cord. He was pretty puzzled about that one. This world that they are growing up in is so, so different than mine as a kid. It’s just amazing how quickly the world changes.

    That being said…I too am a terrible driver and would love to have a driverless car…..but I’d be pretty excited to see that mountain lion. I’d probably be giddy-excited about both.

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    • We haven’t had the corded phone conversation yet. I can only imagine how much their minds will be boggled by that one. They had a difficult enough time trying to understand how I did my homework without a computer.

      I really did hope to catch a glimpse of it too, though I suspect my dog would not be nearly as happy.

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  7. I suppose what is really strange here is that our children are so completely removed from nature that any sort of wild animal is very scary while they are so used to technology that anything in that sphere, not matter how wild, is taken in their stride.

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