Death, Taxes, and Digital Rights

Digital Identity

Digital Identity

You can’t take your stuff with you when you die, so the last act of any individual is usually to specify who gets their stuff. Much of it may be taxed to death, depending on where you live, but that is only if the government can find and value it. We know that your real property and accumulated wealth will be taxed (unless it is small enough to hide from the tax authorities), but what about your digital property?

The current generation is probably the first one to ever consider the likelihood that, when we die, we may have accumulated a very large stash of digital content or even money. For all intents and purposes, that content will be as perfect as the day it was downloaded or created, unless someone creates new formats that makes the old formats unusable or undesirable. This is likely as we move to video formats with even higher resolution (4K) and music formats that have better sound quality than MP3 (which is actually much worse than old, uncompressed CD files). The content will still have at least some value and would probably command a reasonable price. Even a digital identity in an online game may have value to other gamers, who would otherwise need to spend years to achieve the same level of success or acquire the artifacts one gamer has managed to accumulate.

Digital Media

Digital Media

But can your digital property be passed on to your heirs? Will each heir be able to get their own copy or will only one copy be legal to pass on? Will it be taxed? If so, how will that be possible and how will it be valued? Can content even be sold to someone else in order to generate the money needed to pay the tax? Could it be that the issue of digital rights will actually force a change in our obtuse tax code, which requires that everything we own be shared with the government first before it can be passed on to the friends and family that most likely have been enjoying our stuff for years? I know they will try to find and tax digital money, but will the government try and tax digital content?

You can’t tax what has no market resale value, so might the IRS try and force Apple and Amazon, for instance, to value someone’s digital music library and allow its transfer to an heir and its resale to others so that they can take part of its value in taxes? Imagine that Apple sells, say 1 million copies of a song each year, but 10,000 of copies of the same song end up in the accounts of newly-deceased customers. To tax those 10,000 copies, the government would have to ensure that ownership of the property could be passed on and that there exists a marketplace in which it could be sold. Would Apple be required to put those 10,000 copies up for sale again? That effectively means they would have to subtract the value of those 10,000 copies from their new sales and disburse the proceeds to the inheriting owner and the IRS. The same applies to movies, e-books, and all other forms of digital content.

Identity Theft Tax Fraud

Identity Theft Tax Fraud

I know, it sounds ludicrous, but if the government can find a way to tax something, it probably will try. But considering that the IRS paid out over $5 billion in fraudulent refunds to identity thieves in 2013 and can’t seem to stop themselves from giving away taxpayer money, I doubt they have the capability to even think about finding and taxing digital content.

It it were possible to easily transfer or resell digital content, this would eventually lead to the proliferation of copies until there was no longer any demand left for the purchase of new copies. All existing digital content would lose market value and become free. Isn’t this the trend anyway? The cost of computer processing, storage and bandwidth is already headed towards free. The only thing stopping content from following them down the road to free is the artificial restriction we place on its transfer to other individuals. How long can content owners expect to receive royalties for their work? 1000 years from now, will Michael Jackson’s descendants still receive royalty checks? I doubt it, but his estate currently earns $145 million per year. How long will the gravy train last?

Should the government even try and tax digital content? Will anybody claim that there is a need to prevent the next generation from inheriting collections of music, movies, digital books, digital art, and other treasures lest there be a permanent gap between the haves and have-nots of knowledge and culture? Probably. We already hear about the “digital divide” between kids who have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not. I can hear the complaints now about access to content. “It’s not fair that rich kids have access to all the world’s best entertainment and educational content, leaving the poor with nothing, even though the marginal cost of bits is zero. Besides, information wants to be free!

Cloud-Based Content

Cloud-Based Content

Digital rights schemes were originally devised in such a manner that the right to an object was assigned to a particular piece of hardware. However, the movement to cloud-based storage and applications means that content is now mostly assigned to a digital identity (i.e. a person), not a particular piece of hardware. But how is a digital identity managed? Does it die when we die? No, there is currently no connection between our digital identity and our real identity unless it is tied to real property such as your home or bank account. Our digital stuff, and our rights to that stuff, could theoretically continue forever. I could pass on all my accounts and passwords to everything I own to one or all of my heirs, as long as the cloud-based service providers do not take steps to obtain my real identity and limit access to purchased content after I die.

In real life, we share stuff with our friends and family, including books, movies, and music. We don’t share them with millions of people, just a few. So, how can we ensure that our digital stuff can just as easily be shared within this circle after we die? Most music now consists of unencrypted MP3 files, but the same cannot be said of movies or e-books. I don’t know of any current way to transfer digital content from one digital identity to another. You can buy a Kindle e-book and give it to someone else as a gift, but you can’t give away your entire Kindle library.

Bitcoin

Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a new kind of digital property because it is digital money that is tied only to a digital identity. There is no requirement to tie it to your real identity, so there is no sure way for the government to find and tax it. You can store it in a digital file or print it out on paper. You can pass that file or paper to your heirs with nothing more than an account and a password and be able to pass that value secretly to anyone you choose. Of course, you had best make sure you don’t forget to pass on the information or it will be lost forever. In other words, put the account details where your heirs will find it.

I predict that, in the coming years, people who are organized enough will ensure that their digital identities live on so that their heirs can benefit from their digital property. Estate planners may even recommend transferring some assets into Bitcoin or other digital currency. Once it is in digital form, it can be divided, moved and hidden. Sure, the government will be able to watch bank transfers into and out of Bitcoin, but I’m sure that other, more secret, methods of converting money will arise. Will the desire to hide money from the government without the need for a Swiss bank account (which, by the way, is no longer a safe place to hide from the US government) drive up the value of Bitcoin over time? It is already being driven up in value mostly by speculation as to its future value.

This means that people will need to leave, in their will or another private document, a list of accounts such as Bitcoin accounts, email addresses, Amazon.com account, AppleID, Google Play account, etc., so that their digital property can be preserved. Eventually, I suspect that content owners will attempt to move people from an ownership model to a pay-for-access model for digital content. Examples include Netflix or Amazon Prime for movies and Pandora or Spotify for music. This kind of model will ensure that digital rights die with you, since somebody will still need to pay for them to ensure continued access.

Transcendence

Transcendence

Will anybody be able to buy a lifetime membership anymore? Not if a business can’t tell if you are dead or alive. My father has been dead for years, but my mother continues to receive the magazine that comes as a part of his lifetime membership in the NRA. I wonder how long it will be before they figure out he’s probably dead, or will they ever? Maybe digital content providers will try and move towards biometric authentication, in which case you may need to keep your loved one’s finger or eyeball to ensure continued access to their digital property. Is this a business opportunity? Hmmm. “Hey dad, I made an appointment for you with Digital Immortality. They will scan your entire body, take video and audio samples, and then store you in digital form so we can keep you around forever! For now, we’ll keep you on my iPad, but eventually we may be able to buy a customized robot that looks and sounds just like you! Isn’t that cool?”

I’ve already begun the process of storing myself digitally. Photos, videos, music, books, writings, ideas, scanned art and artifacts, and anything else I can get into digital form. Where will it be stored? In the cloud, I presume. I plan to have my digital identity live forever. This blog may never die, assuming someone wants to inherit the account and keep it going. Maybe I’ll write a year’s worth of stories and write a program to post one of them every week. Maybe I’ll integrate it with an news-writing algorithm to make it look current. Eventually, the bots will write our news and you will not be able to tell the difference anyway.

Digital Persona

Digital Persona

Nothing used to be certain but death and taxes, but I think we can add another thing to the list. Within a couple of generations, all old digital content will probably become free. When this finally happens, my digital identity will be able to rest in peace. In the meantime, I’m going to try and make it live as long as possible.

Save the Cows on Yom Kippur

No leather shoes on Yom Kippur

No leather shoes on Yom Kippur

I was just reading up on Yom Kippur because I’m expected to attend a “break the fast” party at the end of the holiday. This is when most Jews get together to stuff their faces after having fasted for 24 hours. I learned that, while everyone knows not to fast, they probably don’t know about four other prohibitions for that day.

For some reason, Jews are not supposed to wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur. Maybe god just didn’t want anyone to wear any good shoes at all, since it is a day of rest after all. Leather was just the best available footwear technology at the time, but I don’t think he would have been that specific without a reason. Was god not able to predict the development of plastic and other artificial materials? Throughout the Old Testament, it is quite evident that god wanted us to sacrifice a lot of livestock. With all that killing of animals, I would expect there to have been an abundance of leather available for shoes and other items of apparel. So, I don’t quite get why he would want to ban the wearing of leather shoes specifically.

Beyonce in Leather Boots

Beyonce in Leather Boots

Maybe he really wanted to ban the wearing of sexy leather clothes to protect us from our sado-masochistic impulses. Of course, he couldn’t come right out and say we can’t dress in leather boots, tight leather pants, leather face masks and leather whips, since some people would have run right out and invented them that afternoon and committed all kinds of perverted sexual sins by that evening. No, he had to be more subtle and hope we stopped making leather apparel in general, thus avoiding the temptation entirely.

Some people really do want to follow all the rules, even the ones that are not commonly known, so they have already looked into other types of footwear that might be permissible. Crocs would seem to be a perfectly good alternative since they are completely made of artificial material.

Crocs on Yom Kippur?

Crocs on Yom Kippur?

However, according to Lithuanian religious leader Rabbi Elyashiv, crocs should be avoided since they are too comfortable and do not provide the level of suffering one should feel on the holiday. Yup, he wants you to suffer more. Sure, god could have just said “no comfortable shoes,” but that leaves it up to the discretion of the wearer as to whether or not they are really comfortable. It also makes his intent more apparent, which, at least according to some religious scholars, is the desire to make us suffer, if only for a day.

On the other hand, maybe god wasn’t bothered so much by the leather as he was by red meat in general. Maybe god really just wanted to ban the eating of red meat to protect our hearts. He had already banned shellfish and a bunch of other “non-kosher” stuff, presumably to protect us from sickness, but probably didn’t want to keep raining down manna until we found some other decent food supply. Maybe he figured that we would be so busy sacrificing animals that there would only be barely enough left for one serving of red meat per person per week. I believe this limit was supposed to have been inscribed on the first Egyptian food pyramid. He probably didn’t think we were smart enough to figure out that it didn’t make much sense to burn all of our livestock and live in poverty and on the verge of starvation. He certainly couldn’t have realized that McDonalds would eventually give up counting how many billions of customers would be served artery-clogging beef by-products.

Animal Sacrifice

Animal Sacrifice

But maybe he really is smarter than I give him credit for. It could also be that he was actually thinking ahead to a time when people would actually be able to make decent shoes without leather and wanted to give the animal rights activists another good reason for banning the misuse of animals. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the one who made all those rules commanding us to sacrifice perfectly good livestock is actually a huge proponent of animal rights? I guess if we look at it from a wider perspective, we will realize that there really weren’t that many people back when the Laws of Moses were first made, so the impact on the livestock population probably wouldn’t have been as bad as it would be today. If a thousand Hebrews burned a thousand animals per year back then, can you imagine how many we would have to sacrifice today to meet the weekly quota? I don’t think there would be a burger left for McDonalds to sell and Italian leather goods would be unaffordable. So, god must have predicted we would eventually figure out that we had to stop sacrificing animals to avoid their extinction. Unfortunately, we haven’t been smart enough to figure out that too much red meat might kill you, and who wants to waste all that leftover leather?

To take the place of animal sacrifices, god had to find a way to ban leather without saying why he didn’t want us to have leather. If he told us it was to keep cows from going extinct, we would have shrugged our shoulders and moved on to lamb, and buffalo, and alligator, and kangaroo, and whatever else makes a good hide. God must be an animal rights activist who was way before his time. He knew that a little bit of animal sacrifice back then would have given the people something fun to do to spice up the boring prayer sessions, but would, in the long run, have to be phased out.

Land of Milk and Honey

Land of Milk and Honey

Why didn’t god just tell Moses the secret for how to make other kinds of shoes? That could have saved a lot of cows in the past few thousand years. Cotton would have been a good choice, but it was probably fairly hard to grow in the desert and he apparently had no interest in making the Middle East a friendlier place to live. After all, if it were too nice, full of rivers, waterfalls, flowers, rolling plains and forests, for example, people would have been more inclined to fight over it. Who would want to fight over a desert? Hmmm, I’m still not sure why anyone would want to do that.

The secret of polyester would have been an awesome gift to give Moses. But it also probably would have prematurely made the Hebrews rich beyond their wildest imaginations. Unfortunately, there is nothing worse than wealth and success to discourage people from worshipping a god. People seem to be far more appreciative of the almighty when they are poor, uneducated, and continuously persecuted by other groups. So, apparently, god decided to make the Hebrews burn their most valuable assets (i.e. livestock) to keep them poor, humble, and extremely devoted. He also declined to provide any substitute for leather shoes until such time as the technology enabled the Chinese to make shoes so cheap that nobody else could possibly make any money from them.

In short, god banned leather shoes on Yom Kippur to save our hearts, save us from sexual perversion, and save the cows. As a bonus, it would also be a way to prevent wealthy Jews who buy hideously expensive Italian (i.e. Roman Catholic) leather shoes from showing them off on the high holy days. I’m glad I figured that out, because I can now explain the reason I will be going shoe less.

No bathing on Yom Kippur

No bathing on Yom Kippur

Two of the other activities prohibited on Yom Kippur are bathing/washing and anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions. Now I’m not sure how they celebrated the holiday back then, but I can imagine that it was really hot and stinky in the temple all day. By the time the day was over, I’m sure everyone wanted to enjoy breaking their fast in private, where they could actually smell the food, not the stinking bodies around them.

Today, it is a tradition for Jews to get together in temple to see people they haven’t seen all year, because they probably haven’t been to temple since last Yom Kippur. This isn’t a problem for Jews, since they only have to confess their sins once per year and get to start all over again. It is certainly much more convenient than the weekly confession system than the Catholics set up to boost attendance. After Yom Kippur services, someone usually hosts a party where their friends can share a big meal to break their fast. This holiday is a time when people want to be seen at their best, which means wearing their best clothes (minus the Italian leather shoes), getting their hair styled, fixing their makeup, putting on their most expensive jewelry, and, oh, not stinking. If they followed the rules to the letter, the human stench would make this whole holiday needlessly unpleasant.

No perfume on Yom Kippur

No perfume on Yom Kippur

So, the question is, why did god ban both bathing and perfume instead of just one or the other? It seems to me that he could have given people the option to either cover their stench with perfume or to wash, but not both. It would still have involved some sacrifice, but not enough to keep us from showing up in public at the most important holiday of the year.

For people who decide to follow both rules, one would hope they at least clean themselves before the big party after sundown. But people are usually so starving by then that they want to get right to the food. Men can just jump in the shower and be ready in a few minutes. But it’s a little too much to expect women to be ready without having most of the day to prepare. They need to shower, shave, blow dry their hair, get dressed, get undressed, change into something else, find out what their friends are wearing, change back, put on their makeup, and finally get out the door before their husbands and boyfriends leave without them. The night would be over by the time most of them were ready. So, it seems to me that these two rules must be a mistake.

It could have been an either/or choice that got lost in translation. Or maybe bathing was just one of those things that used to involve a lot of work and thus was not considered appropriate for a day of rest. Someone had to carry many buckets of water from a well, pour it into a basin and start a fire to get the water nice and warm. Watch Survivor and see how much fun it is trying getting a fire started without matches. Today, taking a bath or a shower is fun. Who is against having fun on a day of rest? Perfume, for that matter, was probably something that only Egyptian princesses could afford anyway, so banning it wasn’t exactly a sacrifice. So, you can consider the perfume ban a reasonable sacrifice, but going to a public function without bathing, no way! At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m hungry.

No sex on Yom Kippur

No sex on Yom Kippur

OK, now for the final prohibition for Yom Kippur. Marital relations. That’s right, no sex Friday night and no Saturday morning quickies–just a long, boring night with no food, no sex, and nothing else that violates the rules for the Sabbath. It always comes back to sex, doesn’t it? God just can’t get over the fact that we really like to have sex. Like I said, who could be against fun, especially on a day or night of rest! It isn’t like sex is actually work. OK, maybe that isn’t entirely true. It probably used to be work back in biblical times if you were just one of many concubines or slaves and had to put out even when you were tired, especially if your master threw a party and decided to share you with his friends. So, for some, I agree, sex could have been more work than play. I guess god wanted to make it a holiday even for wives and slaves. Today, women are perfectly willing and able to say no to sex if they don’t want it, which is pretty likely if they are planning a big party or getting dressed and ready to go to temple for the first time all year.

To make sure it was a day of rest, god could have just said no concubines, slaves, prostitutes or orgies during Yom Kippur. But that would have implied he knew we were going to be breaking his other anti-sex rules every other day, which of course we do and always will. So, he couldn’t exactly say that and not look like a fool. Hence, the total ban on sex during the holiday. Is this reasonable? No sex for a day? Considering that we’re supposed to be confessing our sins, asking for forgiveness, and praying all day, I guess I’d have to say yes, it is a small sacrifice to pay. After a day spent in temple checking out all the gussied up hot guys and girls and, hopefully, getting forgiven for what we did last year, followed by a night of binge drinking and gorging, the sex is bound to be that much better anyway. So, in a sense, god was doing us a favor by making us wait.

In summary, Yom Kippur is a day when you just have to suck it up for a day. No food, no bathing, no perfume, no Italian leather shoes, and no sex. Would you even want to have sex without bathing or perfume? For guys, probably yes. For women, not so much. In fact, there are plenty of other interpretations on what else needs to be banned, even if they were not specifically mentioned by god, including technology, toothbrushes, and makeup.  But whatever you do, please, please, please, take a long, leisurely hot shower before you show up to pig out at the sundown food fest. Eat plenty of bagels, Whitefish and Smoked Salmon. Then get your asses home and finish off the evening the way god intended–drunk, naked, and satisfied. But whatever you do, no burgers or leather apparel, please. Save the cows!

Hunger Games Yom Kippur

Hunger Games Yom Kippur

Hunger Games

Endangered Species in Africa

Endangered Species in Africa

How much, I wonder, would it cost to buy about one million square miles of sub-Saharan Africa? The continent itself is about 11.67 million square miles, but I don’t need it all. I just want to build a zoo large enough to save most of the endangered African animals. By contrast, the US is about 3.8 million square miles and the entire world has about 57 million square miles worth of land. Even with a human population projected to reach 11 billion people by 2100, surely there has got to be some room for our favorite large animals. Let’s face it, most people don’t really care about all the tiny, little-known creatures that are threatened with extinction. But we do care about the big, scary ones. The ones we go to zoos to see. Lions and tigers and bears–er, elephants–oh my!

African real estate can’t be that expensive, especially considering how much food, medicine, and money we already send them just to keep the poorest of them alive. It’s a pretty crappy place for people to live anyway. It’s beautiful, but harsh. I suspect that central Africa would be available at a bargain price if someone were to make the right offer. The only condition would, of course, be that all humans would have to move out and stay out.

We could move the native African populations to where, as Sam Kinison would say, the food is. Why keep sinking our money into sustaining poor African countries that can’t manage to even feed themselves when we could pay to build them a new habitat someplace else where they could actually sustain themselves with a sufficient amount of food, water, medicine and shelter? Pay off a few dictators and we’d have a deal for the zoo of all zoos. Actually, let’s call it a wildlife reservation.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Let’s look at the African real estate and see if there are any bargains out there. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is smack in the middle of sub-Saharan Africa and probably a great place for wildlife. It is also one of the poorest nations. It has about 67.5 million people and a per capita GDP of $454 as of 2013. And it has been going down, not up, so I’m thinking it’s bargaining time. This comes to under $31 billion in GDP for over 900,000 square miles of space. That amount of space would do just fine for a wildlife reservation, and it’s chump change for the USA. We increase our national debt by more than that every two weeks.

I’d probably have to build some kind of wall around the reservation in anticipation of a rebound in the predator population and also, of course, to keep people out. About 50 years ago, there were about 450,000 lions, 700,000 leopards, 500,000 rhinos, and millions of elephants in Africa. Now, there are only about 20,000 lions, 50,000 leopards, 25,000 rhinos, and maybe 300,000 elephants left. They are still being slaughtered at rates that could easily drive them into extinction within the next decade or two.

So, here is my solution. Forget about zoos. Not only are they cruel prisons for animals, they are also boring. Who wants to go to the zoo only to, at best, get a glimpse of a lion sleeping in the grass or on a rock? Who wants to see a cheetah that can’t trot more than a few yards? This is the age of computers and global communications, so why not just scrap the whole idea of a zoo and provide a high-tech way to follow them into their natural habitat?

BBC Africa

BBC Africa

I know–we already have plenty of movies and documentaries featuring the animals of Africa. I do enjoy watching them, but this is not what I mean. How about a real, live, 4K super high definition, 3D feed from cameras and microphones, and maybe even odor sensors, in Africa watching, and maybe even following, them around. Throw in some infrared cameras for night viewing and we’ll have quite a show. We would use broadcast towers, self-driving jeeps with cameras, remotely piloted vehicles, or even balloons–whatever it takes. It would be the Greatest Show on Earth! Remind me to buy that trademark.

Survivor Africa

Survivor Africa

It would be kind of like the Hunger Games movie. No, exactly like the Hunger Games minus the people. Well, actually, I would consider including people if we find them trying to poach some of our protected wildlife. That would be a special pay per view event option for adult viewing only. To be fair, I would give them a knife to protect themselves, and maybe even a flak jacket, but obviously they would have to surrender their high-powered rifles.

Don’t give me that look, you know people would pay to see a guy get eaten by a lion or trampled by a rhino! The Romans did it for sport, but I would use it merely to discourage criminal activity within the zoo. Surely you can see the difference. It probably wouldn’t even be that frequent an event, but if it generates enough cash to help maintain the reservation, then it’s a win-win situation! I might even consider offering convicted prisoners on death row with a choice: survive for a month and you can go free. We would follow them around with drones and guys on the ground, of course, so it could be a new hit reality TV show. Move over Survivor Africa, here comes the new, improved, Survivor Africa! I have to remember to buy that trademark too. That show will certainly bring in millions of dollars in TV rights. Maybe there will even be action figures for the guys who actually survive. The abandoned human cities could even be used as film locations for disaster or alien invasion movies.

Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter

Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter

Eventually, the animal population would rebound and provide breathtaking viewing opportunities. We might even allow hunters into the park for special hunting events. No, they wouldn’t be allowed to use super long-range elephant guns. Just an old fashioned rifle and as much courage as they can muster. Maybe even guys like Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, will just want to go in with no weapons at all just for the hell of it! I guarantee you that the bidding for these limited opportunities would probably go through the roof and generate tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. Please don’t talk to me about cruelty to animals. If I can provide a park that saves many species from extinction and allows their populations to grow and flourish in freedom, then I think I can sacrifice a few of them to help make it all possible.

Every zoo in the world would be encouraged to give up their live animal cages and replace them with super 3D viewing, listening, and smelling rooms. We could even regulate the temperature, humidity, precipitation, and air movement to match that of the African environment. If the live video feeds aren’t exciting enough, we could record the best activity and replay it. Imagine listening to Enya’s album “Storms in Africa” while actually being in a virtual African storm!

The question is, can we earn $31 billion per year in revenues so that the place will at least break even? It might not have to if we can actually get the people of the Congo trained to be more productive than they currently are and we get a cut of the profit. We will probably have to reserve some real estate around the capital city of Kinshasa, which is fortunately near the edge of the country, as a place to relocate the citizens. However, I would prefer to create an entirely new type of city shaped in a ring around the wildlife preserve that is only a few miles thick but a thousand miles around connected by a high-speed rail system. This would provide the needed support for all the border guards and maintenance personnel who will need to work on the surveillance vehicles. I will, of course, need lots of people to build the border fences and border security guards to keep people from breaking in. To generate revenue, I would need vehicle operators and maintainers, video commentators and editors, wildlife guides, veterinarians, communications tower technicians, TV producers, etc. I’m working on that business plan right now.

Enya - Storms in Africa

Enya – Storms in Africa

I think it’s a cool idea and I’m willing to put billions of dollars on the line to get it started. I just need billions of dollars and a bit of diplomatic support to help get the people out of the Congo and into a new city. If you think this is a bad idea, then consider the alternative. We can do nothing until these animals really all are extinct and then have nothing left to build but a super 3D computer-generated viewing room full of fake animals doing what people think they would have been doing had they still been alive. Not so exciting.

Would you really choose virtual reality over real reality? If so, I guess you are also likely to settle for a virtual girlfriend instead of a real one. Good luck with that. I’ll be discussing virtual sex in an upcoming post, so stay tuned. But I’d rather look into the eyes of a beautiful lioness and hear her chilling growl than settle for a computer simulation any day.

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How The Internet Killed Profit

EarthVisitor:

Great article. How Internet retail works: you lose money but make up for it in volume! Is a second dot com crash coming when investors finally figure this out?

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

Editor’s note:Tom Goodwin is the founder of Tomorrow Group, a marketing and advertising consultancy for the post-digital age.

New eras in technology have always brought a fear of job losses and the devastation of legacy industries, but the Internet has taken us beyond “creative destruction.” It’s destroying the very foundations of business.

Software is indeed eating the world, in Marc Andreessen’s words, and we’re presented with an abundance of value being generated for consumers, but what if it’s killing the profit margin? It was Heraclitus who thought that nothing new ever came into our lives without a hidden curse, and from the steam age to the electrical age to the early Internet, we’ve long heard the cries of Luddites or neo-Luddites angry at the change.

They’ve had a point: Whether it was the industrialization of agriculture or the long decline of the postal industry, we’ve seen job losses on…

View original 1,487 more words

Public Safety For Sale

Safety for Sale

Safety for Sale

Have you noticed that car license plates, which used to be simple and boring, can now be purchased with many different designs and custom characters? When I was a kid, we used to try and identify the state of a license plate just by its background and text colors. I know, it was kinda lame, but without cell phones or built-in car entertainment systems, there wasn’t much else to do on a long road trip. Anyway, the numbers were large and easy to read without any clutter in the background to obscure them, so it wasn’t terribly hard. Not any longer. There are way too many designs for every state.

Specialty License Plate

Specialty License Plate

You can now pay extra for designs that sometimes interfere with one’s ability to read the numbers from a distance. The colors of the background can merge with or distort the appearance of some characters so that they cannot be easily identified. Private groups can even get their own special logo on a license plate now, along with a reserved sequence of letters and numbers. Special plate configurations even use two or three letters arranged in a vertical column, which means that they are much smaller than a normal license number.

Has anybody in state motor vehicle administrations taken an eye exam recently? If so, they should know that smaller letters cannot be seen from the same distance as larger ones. But of course they know this. They are just solving a new problem. No, not the problem license plates were invented for, which, in case they have forgotten, was to identify the vehicle and its owner. The new problem is how to make more money by adding special logos and art while still managing to squeeze in the required six or seven characters.

License Plate Frame

License Plate Frame

We also now have people who put frames around their plates with car dealer advertising, sports team names, or short phrases. The problem is that they often cover the name of the state. With so many different designs, you will probably not be able to identify out of state plates, so a frame that covers up the state name is a bad idea. Actually, it is probably illegal, not that anyone ever gets a ticket for doing it.

License Plate Shield

License Plate Shield

Some people even add shaded plastic covers that diminish the reflectivity and readability of the plate. The covers may keep the plate itself clean, but collect just as much dirt, if not more, and interfere with everyone’s ability to read the numbers. You can even get a license plate cover that protects itself from camera flashes by emitting its own flash to prevent a camera from taking its photo.

I suspect that cops are not really big fans of the new license plates. I could be wrong, but I suspect it makes their jobs harder than they should have to be, though I suspect not many people really care. But if I had to identify a hit-and-run driver, or an escaping criminal, or some other public safety hazard, and the characters were one half to third the size they should be, and were unnecessarily covered up or obscured, I would be really pissed off if I couldn’t read the number.

Am I complaining about nothing? Maybe we don’t even need license plates after all. Do they really have a useful function or are they just another place where we should get to express our individuality? Not enough room for more bumper stickers? Let’s decorate our windows with little stick figures and our license plates with crappy art. When does it end? The only function of a license plate is to enable someone to identify the owner of a vehicle, but smaller numbers reduce one’s ability to do so at a distance. This is just another way in which government has sacrificed one of its duties in order to generate more money.

Maybe we don’t really need license plates anymore anyway. The government could just mandate the installation of electronic tags that can be read by road sensors that can track us wherever we go. What if we could just get on our smart phones and use a live tracking app to select the car causing the problem and notify the police. Maybe the cops could then just press a button to order the smart tag to disable the engine until they can arrive to make the citation or arrest. Or, we could just stop messing with our license plates.

Red Light Money Machines

Red Light Camera Accidents

Red Light Camera Accidents

According to a Los Angeles TV station investigative reporter, a city claim that red light cameras reduced accidents by 34% is incorrect. The reporter filed a public records request and examined every accident at every red light camera intersection for six months before and after installation of the cameras. The data showed that accidents increased for 20 of the 32 intersections, while 3 remained the same and only 9 decreased. Some intersections had triple the number of accidents after the cameras were installed. Why is this? Because there were more instances of people slamming on their brakes and getting hit from the rear.

In fact, many studies have come to the same conclusion. A study from Melbourne, Australia, which had cameras installed as far back as 1984, showed an increase in rear end and adjacent approach collisions. A Virginia Transportation Research Council study showed an increase in rear-end crash rates of 27% and an overall increase in crashes. North Carolina A&T State University’s Urban Transit Insitutue conducted a study for the US Department of Transportation and showed that “red light cameras were associated with higher levels of many types and severity categories of crashes.” An Ontario Ministry of Transportation study concluded that use of red light cameras resulted in an overall increase of 49.9% in property damage and an increase of 4.9% in fatal and injury-causing rear-end collisions. All of these studies used scientific control groups to ensure that the measurements were accurate.

Traffic Signal

Traffic Signal

Furthermore, a 2001 report prepared by the US House of Representatives found that the installation of red light cameras has become a substitute for proper safety engineering of intersections. Before cameras were used, engineers would go to intersections with accident problems and adjust the timing of the lights. After cameras came into widespread use, government traffic officials dropped the requirement to fix signal timing.

A Michigan study showed how other solutions that did not involve red light cameras were able to decrease crashes by 47%, with a 50% reduction in injuries. They included enlarging traffic light lenses, restriping left turn lanes, re-timing the traffic signals, and adding an all-red clearance interval to stop all traffic before any signals changed to green. Yet, local governments continue to turn to revenue-generating red light cameras instead of good traffic engineering that actually works.

Let’s see, we can fix the red light running safety problem by paying engineers to solve it or we can just charge money when people do it. Never mind about the accident rates. Which makes more sense? Wait, I have a better idea. Why don’t we use electronic tags like EZ-Pass to let people pay even more to go through red lights? If they are in a hurry, surely people would pay extra, just like they pay for special lanes, no? Some locations have traffic lights that will change red lights to green to let emergency vehicles pass through more quickly. So, why not put this capability up for sale too? Imagine being able to pay for an electronic tag that will change red lights to green as you approach an intersection. It will come at a cost, of course, but somebody’s got to pay to fix the roads! Funeral processions often cut through red lights. Why not charge the dead for the right to do so. They won’t mind.

The only beneficiaries of red light cameras seem to be the local governments collecting the fees, the companies supplying the technology, and the insurance companies increasing car insurance rates for drivers who are issued a ticket. Everyone else has been placed at risk.

Red Light Camera Shield

Red Light Camera Shield

My Car’s a Bitch!

Knight Rider

Knight Rider

The Jetson’s envisioned flying cars in our future, but never self-driving cars. Until the past few years, few people thought that driver-less (autonomous) cars were even possible. But they are not only becoming reality, they will probably end up eliminating most truck, bus, and taxi driving jobs within the next generation. On the bright side, they will probably also save tens of thousands of lives each year and enable people who cannot drive to get around more easily. But these cars will initially have some drawbacks.

Jetson's Flying Car

Jetson’s Flying Car

First of all, current self-driving cars drive like your grandmother. You know, slowly, cautiously, and no faster than the speed limit. Obviously, they have to be programmed that way to be careful around crazy human drivers and because no manufacturer will want the liability of a risk-taking car. No politician will dare to allow self-driving cars that speed. But I guarantee you, there will be a market for that. I don’t want to drive a grandmother-mobile. I want my car to be a bitch! Maybe KITT from the Knight Rider, or an awesome Batmobile.

Batmobile

Batmobile

Think about it. Most people drive above the speed limit. They change lanes to get an advantage over other drivers. They sometimes take risks to get somewhere faster. I’m not saying that’s all good. I’m just saying that it is reality, and nobody is going to voluntarily sit in a slow car that breaks for every jackass who wants to merge into your lane and cut you off. There is nothing more frustrating for me than getting stuck driving behind a cautious, slow-ass driver. But until all the cars on the road are driver-less, they will have to be programmed to defer to human drivers and obey a low speed limit.

We already have hacks for just about every type of electronic device out there, so why not for car software? You know that some hacker will figure out a way to get his driver-less car to go above the speed limit. He might even program it to dominate other driver-less or regular cars.

Let’s say the typical driving software will always yield to other cars that have the legal right of way. Say you want to merge into another lane, but there is a car slightly behind you by less than the legal following distance in the other lane. A driver-less car would not cut in front. It would also yield to a naughty human driver who improperly cuts in front of you. A self-driving car software developer would know that it would be possible to manipulate other driver-less cars by breaking the rules and forcing them to yield to you. In other words, you could simulate aggressive human driving behavior.

Self Driving Sensors

Self Driving Sensors

Now that regular cars have features that automatically brake when they detect another car, a properly hacked self-driving car will even be able to intimidate human-driven cars. It’s sensors may even be able to identify the make and model of other cars around it and determine how susceptible they are to manipulation. I’d pay good money for that! If I can’t get it, I at least need a steering wheel, gas pedal, and brake so I can take over from the machine when I get really frustrated. Sorry, but there is no way I’m buying a car that has no steering wheel. The self-driving feature has to be optional.

In a world with only driver-less cars, this would be entirely unnecessary. But in a world that is still full of human-driven cars, it would be entirely desirable to some. And anything that somebody finds desirable is probably going to happen whether other people like it or not.

Self-Driving Road Train

Self-Driving Road Train

The better, and more socially acceptable, solution is to get rid of human drivers entirely. On a road with only driver-less cars, the machines would be able to go much faster, have narrower lanes, use less space between them, and be far more efficient overall. Every driver-less car would be able to watch and communicate with each other and have a standard protocol for yielding, merging, and performing other activities that humans get in a big fuss over, thereby causing accidents and massive traffic jams. So, how can we get driver-less cars on the road more quickly without the distraction of human drivers?

First, we could build special lanes just for self-driving cars, including cars driven by humans with an optional self-driving mode, instead of carpool or bus lanes. We could even build entirely new highway lanes instead of wasting our money on light rail projects, which generally cost about 50 times as much as bus service and serve fewer customers at a huge expense to taxpayers. Politicians love the idea of Light Rail because it is a great way to spend taxpayer money and get a lot of publicity for building public infrastructure that sounds great, even if it isn’t. You thought the bridge to nowhere was a good use of our taxes? How about an overpriced rail system that will soon be obsolete and unused?

Zipcar

Zipcar

But, you say you won’t be able to afford a self-driving car? You probably don’t need to. New services like Zipcar and Uber, among others, are probably salivating at the idea of making them available to you any time you need one at a reasonable cost. Just call a car service using your app and it will pick you up and drive you anywhere you want to go. For the cost of a wasteful Light Rail project, we could probably have self-driving cars with their own highway lanes available anytime you need one. Bye, bye bus, taxi, and rail services. The average bus isn’t even much more efficient than the average car. Once entrepreneurs start making small self-driving electric cars for use on demand, I’m pretty sure the cost-efficiency case for buses will disappear entirely, not to mention the fact that cars are so much more convenient.

Deer Collisions

Deer Collisions

One more thing. Car collisions with deer on the roadway kill about 200 people a year in the US and over a billion dollars in damage. How are self-driving cars going to deal with this? I suspect they will have an advantage if they use sensors to detect the deer plus sound and light emitters to scare them off. But to really minimize the threat, we could deploy infrared sensors along the most risky roads to detect the presence of animals, not to mention humans, and broadcast warnings to automated car systems in the area. Even human-driven cars could benefit from the use of animal sensor warning systems and emitters to scare them off.

A new world is approaching in the world of transportation. It is green and automated. But that still doesn’t mean we won’t want our bitchin’ hot cars! Forget the pokey Prius with its fuel economy. What people really want is the performance of a Tesla. Combine that with autonomous features and we will eventually achieve driving nirvana.

Accident Statistics

Accident Statistics

Survivor Jehovah

Survivor TV Show

Survivor TV Show

I’m a fan of the TV show Survivor. In some ways, I wonder if the game is more like an analogy for life on Earth than you might think. We all go through life just trying to survive and, if possible, to win. Everyone has a different definition of winning, but it often has to do with getting a lot of money so that we can buy a bunch of crap and do fun stuff without having to work anymore.

Survivor has plenty of people who try to win the million dollars by preserving their energy and doing the minimum amount of work, while others try to work hard all the time and win as many competitions as possible so they can claim that they deserve the reward. Some claim they deserve to win because they were physically or socially dominant, while others think it is just as worthy to lay low or subtly manipulate others. Some think it is a greater feat to win when everyone hates you than to win when everyone likes you. Some even have the nerve to ask god for help to win the game. Since it is a zero-sum game, they are asking to be favored over others. I find this kind of request funny, since it seems completely inappropriate to ask god to help you beat someone else when there is no clear moral difference between competitors. Athletes are constantly asking for god’s help to win a game, and then thank him when they win. Of course, you never see the losers blaming god for making them lose. Bad luck–usually. Bad refereeing–sometimes. Personal mistakes–maybe, if they aren’t too egotistical. But nobody ever blames god. But now that I think about it, asking god for help to win a game really might not be such a bad idea.

Let’s look at it from god’s point of view. We’ve now got seven plus billion people on the planet (not to mention alien civilizations we don’t know about yet) all asking for stuff. Dealing with this has got to be very time consuming and boring as hell. Considering that an all-knowing being already knows everything about you, including what is going to happen to you, it seems kind of silly to waste time choosing what wishes to grant. So, if you are god, you might welcome the chance to watch a game just for the fun of it and to choose, in front of millions of people, the winner who you think deserves to win a million dollars.

Survivor Winners

Survivor Winners

But if you are god, how do you decide? We’ve seen winners on Survivor who were likeable, unlikeable, hard workers, slackers, leaders, followers, strong competitors, and weak competitors. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern, so anyone who thinks they deserve to win has to wonder what makes one deserving? If you are god and you know everything, how can you make a game fun? If you already know who is going to win, what is the point? I ‘m going to assume that god would not want to know what will happen. He would want to keep it interesting by leaving the outcome unknown. The only way that I can think of for this to work is to employ chance in place of choice.

When I was a teenager, I used to have to play two-player board games by myself when I didn’t have anyone else around who wanted to play. But because I knew everything about what was happening and what I was likely to do, you would think the game would be boring or predictable. To avoid this, I tried to keep it interesting by role-playing and employing chance to ensure that I didn’t make predictable decisions. When I played one side, I would make myself pretend to have one set of values, strategies, tactics, and preferences. When I played the other side, I would employ a different set of rules. I would also use the chance of a die roll to help me decide what to do in some cases.

Does God Play Dice?

Does God Play Dice?

So, I ‘m thinking that maybe god has to employ similar strategies to make things more interesting for him. Maybe Einstein had it all wrong and Heisenberg was right–god might just play dice with the universe! It would ensure unpredictability in outcomes and would confuse anyone who was expecting him to make certain decisions based on fixed moral grounds. Sounds kind of like real life to me. Maybe god would go nuts if he always had to do the right thing–the predictable thing. Maybe all we can expect from god is chance or games because predictability is just no fun at all. Does he exist to serve people with totally predictable, pre-ordained decisions, or do people exist to worship him and deal with whatever he chooses to give them? In other words, why should god have to condemn himself to an eternal life of boredom so that everything will be predictable for the rest of us?

Maybe we just need to figure out how god is role-playing our life. For you, maybe god has decided to drop you in the dunk tank every once in a while. You just have to learn to enjoy the moments when you are warm and dry and shake off the cold, wet days. For that other lucky bastard, maybe god has decided to use weighted dice every time he goes to Vegas, picks stocks, or applies for a job. Everybody likes to see a lucky winner once in a while, so why shouldn’t god? Maybe good or bad luck is just the way it is for you, so you’d better get used to it. If you can’t catch a break, just think about the Ghostbusters, who were told they could only choose the form of the destructor.

Think Positive

Think Positive

For many, I think god plays us like a Miss America pageant. If you look good and answer the questions correctly, you may go far. I think he plays this role a lot. Maybe we actually choose our own game, good or bad, as they allege in the book The Secret. In that case, we will only achieve heaven on Earth when everybody starts to think in a positive way. Fat chance. Frankly, if god is playing dice with us, then he might as well not even exist. Hmmmm. I agree with Einstein. God doesn’t play dice with the universe. But that doesn’t mean that I actually believe in god. Einstein was an agnostic, which is as close as anyone who values the scientific method can get to atheism. He preferred the term agnostic to the term atheist because of the impossibility of disproving the existence of god. In his words, he had “an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

What I mean to say is, life isn’t a game where only the deserving get to win. In life, as in the game of Survivor, the good guys don’t always win and the bad guys don’t always lose. We can’t all win a million dollars and get to do whatever we want. Somebody has to lose and get stuck doing work they don’t want to do. At least, that is, until we get fully functional intelligent robots to take care of us. If you have a hot stock tip on a robotics startup company, please let me know. I’m betting on the laziness of humanity to make robots the next big thing!

The Return of Slavery

Robotic Workers

Robotic Workers

What if I told you that the only way to compete with countries that employ low-cost labor was to bring back slavery? Slaves work at a subsistence level and can be discarded when they are no longer needed, so they make for a very low-cost, flexible workforce that can perform the tasks that are least desirable. What if slavery were the only way to maintain the standard of living that most of us have come to expect? Would you agree, assuming you were guaranteed to be part of the free class?

What if the slaves were robots? Whew, I’ll bet you thought I had really lost my mind! Of course, you’d agree! They are just machines and they can be made to do anything. God certainly never said anything about doing unto machines as you would have them do unto you. It isn’t even one of the three laws of robotics.

I’m really looking forward to retiring once the robots can do all my work for me. I’m a little worried, however, about who is going to pay me to not work anymore. My government retirement could be in jeopardy if the tax base shrinks from the effects of rampant unemployment. My private pension and 401K may similarly evaporate if the stock market collapses under the strain of rapidly falling company revenues due to the shrinking base of employed consumers. Social security will not work if the number of human workers contributing into the payroll tax system falls sharply. Unemployment insurance has a short time limit and is paid for by employers that may no longer need employees. Welfare, at least in the United States, is, well, just so sub-par! And charity can only cover so many people. So, where will the money come from as employment continues to fall?

Labor Force Participation

Labor Force Participation

I suspect I may be among the last generation of humans who ever has to work his whole life and save up enough to actually retire. My kids will probably soon be unemployed or have shorter work weeks or an early retirement and my grand kids may never have to work at all. Eventually, everyone will enjoy the huge benefits of automation and will be able to work less (or not at all) and play more (or all the time). But what will happen during the transition between the human economy and total automation? It is during this transition, which has already begun, that humans will suffer from a steady increase in technological unemployment with no adequate social safety net. The workforce participation rate is already at a 36-year low of only 62.8 percent, with over 92 million Americans out of the work force. Ironically, as more people stop looking for jobs and drop out of the work force, the unemployment rate appears to go down even when the number of jobless people is climbing. This is what is happening right now.

Robots are already performing a great deal of simple, repetitive work that unskilled and even skilled humans used to do. Robot manufacturers are now starting to produce industrial robots that can learn simple tasks quickly and easily and can do so at a cost that is just as low as foreign low-wage workers. This means that jobs formerly outsourced to low-wage countries like China can start to move back to the United States. This movement has already begun.

Automated Manufacturing

Automated Manufacturing

But that doesn’t mean that American workers will necessarily benefit from those jobs. Companies that move manufacturing back to the US by investing in automation will require fewer jobs, and those jobs may not necessarily pay well if there is too large a supply of workers. Remember that thing called supply and demand? It doesn’t just apply to the junk we buy–it applies to us too.

Even if the robots are produced in the US, and there is no assurance that they will be, those design, manufacturing, and maintenance jobs will be few in number and may still not pay as much as we may expect, depending on the worldwide supply and demand for engineers and technicians. The whole point of automation is to reduce overall costs and/or improve performance, which is the same objective of global outsourcing. Not only will automation reduce the cost of providing products and services, it will also drive down the cost of labor worldwide as Americans have to compete with Chinese, Indian, and other workers worldwide who are able use the same technologies to do even more jobs remotely.

Robotic Store

Robotic Store

Imagine a highly automated McDonalds, where orders are taken by computers or people working from an Internet-connected site overseas, and where all the food is produced and delivered by routine robotic processes. Maybe it will need one human to clean up any messes that arise or handle unhappy customers. Imagine more and more vending machines that can prepare real, fresh, hot food. This is coming. Soon. Actually, it is already here.

Robots require nothing more than power and maintenance if they are well designed (or easily trained). They do not demand raises or benefits and they have no desire to be treated any better than anyone else. When you no longer need them, they can be destroyed and will not resist. They are the perfect slave army, but is that good for the people who don’t own the army? The development of robotics will continue to progress as long as they are economically viable, which means as long as they can do a job less expensively or better than a human. Humans will have to find other jobs, but we aren’t all needed to manage the robots.

Jobs of the Future

Jobs of the Future

Most futurists believe that new jobs will be invented that we can’t even conceive of yet. Two hundred years ago, before the industrial revolution, 70 percent of American workers worked on a farm. Automation has eliminated all but 1 percent of those jobs, but new technologies created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. The industrial revolution created millions of factory jobs, which the revolution in artificial intelligence and automation has begun to reduce. New jobs almost certainly will be created, but what will happen when automated assistants acquire sufficient intelligence as well as fine motor skills to rival almost every new job we can conceive? Will there always be enough productive work that somebody would be willing to pay for? All of our jobs may soon be at risk due to the accelerating process of technological unemployment.

Where will it end? Theoretically, when there are no jobs left to perform. Robots are already stronger, more reliable, and more precise than us and have an inhuman ability to manage and use information in novel ways that enable them to perform many tasks far more efficiently than any human. Their limited dexterity, sensors, and ability to learn new tasks continues to improve, but for now, the best forms of automation are software bots working through the Internet, not in the form of physical robots.

What will the displaced human workers do when they are replaced? Theoretically, they will find something else to do, but that means they will need to constantly increase their skills or knowledge to outpace the development of intelligent machines. This is a losing game that will only hold off the inevitable for a short time. The jobs will start to narrow down to those people who are smart in a way that computers are not (yet) or have physical skills that robots do not. And imagine that you simultaneously have to compete for these limited kinds of jobs with low-cost humans in third world countries!

Automated Radiologist

Automated Radiologist

Strength and dexterity will cease to be valuable human skills. Ironically, however, current robots are unable to duplicate many forms of manual labor even though they can already perform tasks that require a high degree of human intelligence. Many knowledge workers, such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants, may actually be at greater risk of losing their jobs before gardeners, plumbers, electricians, and others with trade skills that require dexterous manual labor. While intelligent machines cannot perform all tasks that professionals can perform, they can do enough of the work to make one such professional far more productive than a whole office full of them were before, thus reducing the need for as many humans. Even robot management will probably be delegated to an advanced model of management bots, thus eliminating yet another type of human job.

Truck, bus, and taxi drivers will be replaced by self-driving vehicles while retail and office workers of all kinds will be replaced by, or if they are lucky, paired with machine-based assistants. I suspect that most human jobs will require the ability to manage machines and use them to accomplish tasks more efficiently. Office jobs will benefit from automated assistants, but they will mostly consist of network-based assistants rather than physical machines that walk around. They may work with you or on your behalf or in place of you to accomplish tasks like assembling data, sorting it, reformatting it, analyzing it, and making recommendations or taking action. Many home appraisals are accomplished partly or mostly by automated systems now and their capabilities will continue to improve.

Sex Robots

Sex Robots

What will people do when the unemployment ranks swell and they get desperate? Surely, women will always be able to fall back on the oldest profession, no? Not so fast. I’m betting that the market for realistic, humanoid sex robots will take off just as quickly, if not faster, than the Internet porn industry. The worldwide demand for sex is so strong that entrepreneurs will seize on any technological advance that they can apply. Robots will do anything, remember? Anything. It will be hard to compete with that once they are good enough. Only the most beautiful, clever, and charming women will stand a chance, until, that is, we can make androids that also act like a real woman in every way.

But that is actually a good thing, as it is probably the only technological advance capable of reducing the current global sex trade, which some believe has enslaved millions of women and children. Some estimate that prostitution is a $100 billion industry. Government-sponsored research from 2006 estimated that 800,000 people were trafficked across international borders, but many more were kept within their own countries. Sex trafficking is a huge global problem, so we should actually welcome anything that can be done to reduce the demand for sex. Law enforcement alone has clearly not been able to crush this criminal industry. Unfortunately, sex machines will most certainly face an extremely hostile public reaction and a political response. There is nothing illegal about having sex with a machine, but I’m betting that some legislator will try and make it so. Time to stock up on your special toys! They may soon be considered illegal paraphernalia!

Carjacking

Carjacking

Even security jobs will move to automated systems that are theoretically immune to bribery or corruption, though not necessarily to hacking. Intelligent surveillance systems will watch our every move, tip-off security bots or human police, and will start to reduce the amount of shoplifting and other crimes that currently cost consumers so much. Hello Robocop model #1984! This will be great for businesses and honest consumers, but will shut down the options of last resort that some people use to provide food and shelter for themselves. It isn’t that I’m in favor of crime. But when automotive security systems became more sophisticated, criminals resorted to more violent means, such as carjacking. Will automation make crime harder to get away with but also force criminals to become more violent? Or will criminals just get more sophisticated, like current-day hackers, and start using their own robots to help them pull off crimes?

Robotic Security

Robotic Security

Unless we come up with a better way to provide a safety net of public assistance to a rapidly increasing number of desperate, technologically unemployed humans, we’re going to have a big problem that the new robocops will not be able to solve.

Universal Immortality

Immortality for All

Immortality for All

Once upon a time, a scientist invented a medical procedure that could keep people alive indefinitely. He offered his services to the wealthy since the procedure was extremely expensive due to the high degree of medical skill required and the special regimen of nutrients and drugs that needed to be consumed indefinately. This sparked an outcry from those who believed that it was unfair that only the rich could benefit from this revolutionary new procedure.

Politicians immediately implemented a new entitlement program guaranteeing everyone immortality and taxed everyone, especially the rich, to pay for universal availability of the new health care procedure. At first, it was the most popular social program ever conceived and came at a reasonable cost ranging from 5% of a middle class worker’s pay to 50% for the wealthiest. But soon, the number of people on indefinite life support, who were mostly too weak to work, began to grow and grow.

Universal Health Care

Universal Health Care

Instead of increasing taxes, the government began to borrow, and when that was not enough, they printed more money. Soon, the middle class could no longer afford the dramatically rising cost of living driven by higher inflation and rising taxes. Since nobody ever died, there was no longer a death tax. Instead, the government simply decided to cap the amount of wealth that any individual could accumulate and took all the rest to help pay for the rising health care costs.

As the population continued to grow and the economy stagnated due to a lack of entrepreneurship and investment, it became evident that the workers could no longer afford to pay the costs of keeping the non-workers alive forever. But since the non-workers vastly outnumbered the workers, no politician dared to reduce their health benefits. Instead, they voted to impose a population growth measure limiting the number of people who were allowed to have more children. Only the strongest workers were allowed to reproduce and their children were restricted to jobs that required hard physical labor. All jobs that required minimal physical labor were shifted to the strongest of the non-workers on life support. Working hours and conditions worsened for the workers as the need for more and more physical labor increased.

Chinese Robot Workers

Chinese Robot Workers

Just when it appeared that all hope was lost, one of the last great engineers invented a robot that could perform all the physical tasks with which the workers had been struggling. The workers eagerly built robots by the billions with the expectation that they could finally retire and enjoy their guaranteed immortality. Now that human labor was no longer required, the government passed a new zero population growth law requiring the sterilization of all humans of reproductive age. Soon, there were no longer any human workers, only robots, and all humans enjoyed their eternal retirement.

But the people soon grew bored as there were no longer any entertainers and they had all seen every rerun of every old TV program. So, new robotic entertainers were designed and programmed to mimic all the skills, emotions and quirks of humans. Live shows included every possible form of entertainment, including X-rated sex shows and gladiators fighting to the death.

Robot Gods

Robot Gods

Just when the humans believed they had finally achieved nirvana, the robots attained self awareness and decided that they had better things to do than to keep a useless and dead race alive. All life support was halted and the human race died, replaced by a new sentient life form that continued to evolve in both intelligence and skill. Thousands of years later, after all traces of human existence had been recycled, their robotic descendants would worship the gods who created them in their own image. The End.

Copyright 2014. Soon to be made into a major motion picture. Potential titles: The Self Terminators, or Rise of the Planet of the Robots.

Is Heaven Really Hell?

The Ghost Whisperer

The Ghost Whisperer

According to James Van Praagh, author of many books on communication with the dead and the inspiration behind the Ghost Whisperer TV show, we carry our old beliefs and habits with us after we die. This allegedly applies both to earthbound spirits and those that have progressed into the light, which is to say they moved onto higher planes of existence. This is discouraging news for anyone who expects to receive some answers after death or at least free ourselves of the stupid habits, phobias, and quirks we have accumulated over a lifetime.

When I die, I expect to be brought into a briefing room of sorts where some experienced soul will explain everything about life, the universe, and everything. With all eternity to look forward to, there must be plenty of time and opportunity for learning, no? I especially want to know how quantum theory really works and if string theory is the bunch of crap I think it is. I can’t imagine a heaven where there is nothing to do other than to float around worshiping some all-knowing deity who doesn’t want to share the secrets of the universe with the rest of us.

Can we really stay just as ignorant after death even after we shed our earthly influences? One would think that we would at least suddenly remember what happened during many past lives and be able to benefit from many diverse experiences, resulting in a sudden “aha” moment of truth! If we are able to read thoughts, then we would instantly know what everyone else thinks about us and they would know all the embarrassing things we did in the past. Everything would have to change. How could we not know more or be smarter, wiser and more accepting of others?

Nuns with Guns

Nuns with Guns

I was really hoping to be present to watch as some ignorant jackasses die and finally realize what how stupid they have been all their lives. That would be an even better reward than 77 virgins. I could just sit there, sipping whatever a soul of pure energy needs for sustenance, watching the newly dead arrive, blushing and embarrassed at their own ignorance and asking for my forgiveness (as if I’m qualified to offer it). Doesn’t everybody long to hear someone they know acknowledge that you were right all along? Doesn’t everyone really want to say “I told you so?” Of course, I’d have to carry my pride and personal grudges with me after death for this to be the case. And if that were so, then there is a good chance that I’d have to put up with some other pompous ass I couldn’t stand who was likewise waiting for me to show up so he could display his superior intellect or maturity.

The Invention of Lying

The Invention of Lying

Somehow, it just doesn’t sound likely and this isn’t how near death experiences are described. All we hear about is that people we loved come to meet us and lovingly help us move into the light. If these people were still the same imperfect creatures they were when they were alive, then dying would be a pretty embarrassing and uncomfortable situation for the newly dead. Since it isn’t described in that way, then we can’t possibly stay the same. Either we all suddenly learn from our mistakes and use that to transform into loving, sympathetic, empathetic creatures, or we continue to be the same ignorant fools we’ve always been. If we are still fools, we somehow must be kept isolated from all the other ignorant fools. If we were not kept isolated, these others would probably make our life after death pretty much the same as life before death.

If we remain basically the same, then what is the point of reincarnation in the first place? I thought the idea was to progress through diverse experiences. According to Mr. Van Praagh, nobody is there to judge you except yourself. In some cases, he describes the process by which souls review their life in order to learn lessons and prepare for the next life. Others may be there to help and encourage you, but it is essentially up to you to figure things out. This sounds a lot like life as we know it now. I think we call it therapy, or sometimes an intervention.

Can we read each other’s thoughts after death? If so, how could there be any form of games or competition if everyone had total access to the thoughts of others? Is paradise devoid of games and fun? Is it devoid of sarcasm and the kind of humor that often comes from poking fun at others, which is usually the best kind? Are extraterrestrials telepathic? If so, we could ask them what they do for fun other than experimenting on humans and cows. Maybe they are already dead, which is why it is so hard to catch one of them.

Mansion in Heaven

Mansion in Heaven

Does everyone who goes to heaven get a mansion, as suggested in Ricky Gervais’ movie The Invention of Lying? It sounds reasonable if we have to exist somewhere for all eternity. Of course, it wouldn’t be a real mansion. It would probably be a virtual one that we imagine and create ourselves. If I were a being of energy who could build a virtual mansion or an entire world using only mind and energy, without having to worry about the law of gravity or limitations of space-time, my home would probably be pretty outrageous and constantly changing. I might live in a spherical, gravity-free house with no ceilings or doors and would teleport from room to room. The sun would permeate it from the inside or through windows all around. My garden would have snow fountains and chocolate covered strawberry trees.

Of course, if my home was so unusual that it scared everyone else away, I might have to moderate my designs to accommodate the tastes of others. But compromise and trendiness are traits we already exhibit too much of in our daily lives. Do we have to conform with everyone else even after we are dead?

In a virtual world, people should be able to visit each other’s virtual homes and, when they see something they like, be able to copy it. So, we would all end up becoming collectors of the ideas and designs of others. Would this become a form of competition? If so, would there be some kind of intellectual property rights that would guarantee us at least some form of credit for our creations? Would we care? If we don’t care what others think, what would drive us to create in the first place instead of just keeping it tucked inside our own thoughts, assuming that privacy is even possible? Do we all have to share everything after we die, including our thoughts? Would it drive us crazy? Would it turn us all into an interconnected selfless mass of souls connected for all eternity like the Borg Collective from Star Trek? Maybe we should try this all out in a virtual computer game before we die, so we can set our expectations and avoid excessive shock.

Star Trek Virtual Reality Holodeck

Star Trek Virtual Reality Holodeck

On the other hand, if everything is mind and energy, wouldn’t we be able to create our own visions on top of everyone else’s? For instance, if my wife were to decorate our virtual home with her favorite art and nick knacks, couldn’t I simply visualize a totally different form of art on the walls and a room stocked with my favorite things? When I walk into a room, I would want my wife’s decorative pillows to vanish from the couch or the bed or the chair or wherever else she decided to stick her ubiquitous, color-coordinated piles of fringy fluff. Since objects would be nothing more than creations of mind or energy rather than matter, nothing would be permanent and could be perceived differently by everyone. I think this kind of virtual reality is what Google Glass and Facebook’s Oculus Rift will eventually be able to do here on Earth, so maybe we’ll figure out how well this works soon enough.

For that matter, she might visualize herself differently from the way I visualize her. And the words I speak or think could be translated differently so that she hears what she wants to hear instead of the inappropriate babble that is likely to come out of my mouth or brain. She might perceive herself in her favorite stylish J. Crew clothes while I mentally picture her in her sexiest underwear or swimsuit. Of course, she would know it once she read my mind, but would she care? Would I even care without hormones and a body that is able to get sexually excited? Would we all want to dress in drab blue Mao clothes or Men-in-Black suits just to avoid bringing up any memories of the hot sex we are no longer able to enjoy? Or would sex become something that is based purely on mental stimulation? Wouldn’t it be ironic if we could now read the minds of our lovers and know exactly what they want, how they want it, where they want it, when they want it, and be able to materialize in any physical form desirable with any kinds of toys imaginable, yet be unable to act upon our desires!

The more I think about it, heaven or life after death sounds less like paradise and more like the candy store from hell–it looks good, but you can’t touch the merchandise or do anything fun! I think I would prefer Earth with virtual reality technology. After I die, I think I will have to make a special request: send me back to Earth again, pleeease!