thessalian: (Rant)
[personal profile] thessalian
[livejournal.com profile] yuki_onna recently posted a blog-link from Charles Stoss (which I can't link to right now because the computer I'm using at work is shit, but I'll fix that when I get home) about what the future's going to look like in 20 years, and in 80 years. Given these are speculative fiction writers doing the telling, a lot of it is probably pretty trustworthy, and it's enough to give people a pretty serious case of the depressions as we realise that a lot of jobs are going to be replaced by technology.

But nowhere near as many as this article seems to think.

Consider my profession - I am a secretary. People have been trying to automate this job until I am obsolete for decades! Computers found their way into the office predominantly because a computer meant that boss-types could feasibly handle things on their own - their own correspondence via email, for a start - and thus negate the need for a secretary. I have never met a doctor who answers their own email. I know several who won't even look at it until it's been printed out and handed to them. Word processing programme? They'll use it at home all the time but in the office, it's gathering dust. They don't have the time. They're too busy running around seeing patients. And gods forbid they ever pick up the phone.

Now, maybe one day a computer will be able to do all those things, but it's already fallen at the first hurdle - namely, voice transcription software. It works wonderfully from text to voice, but the other way around? It really doesn't do very well with accents. The software advertising blurb says that it's supposed to get to grips with a specific user's accent and specific terminology, but it doesn't generally speaking work very well. It actually takes longer to dictate something and then have a secretary go back and fix all the mistakes the software made than it does to just have a human being type it in the first place. And let's not talk about the fact that most of the doctors of my acquaintance need their entire sentence structure rearranged to make their letters make the remotest bit of sense - and I'm not just talking about the non-native English speakers here.

Look, there's a lot of stuff that computers can do that humans can't, but most of that is to do with speed rather than ability. Give us world enough and time, and we can calculate large numbers - we know the principles, at least. Thus we programme a computer to use those principles, and it can do it faster than we can. The problem with speech recognition is that it doesn't really have principles in that sense. We don't pronounce words or phrases the exact same way every time. Most humans have a hard time deciphering someone who's mumbling into a microphone, and computers can only work with what we give them. If what humans give them is unworkable ... well. Computers don't work all that well at guessing through context. Xref: Word for Windows Spelling and Grammar Checker.

As for the rest ... well, the first time something with an automated driver crashed, the lawsuits would be epic. Epic enough to make no other company want to take the risk ever again. Computers fail. They get infected with viruses. They short-circuit. They inexplicably die. They do weird shit that no one thought was possible! And people are still making them, and since they'll be commercial commodities, the manufacturers will cheap out. Yes, even on life-saving equipment. Humans may be fallible, but so are computers, and when a human fucks up, a company can place the blame on that person. If a manufacturer's product screws up, the manufacturer takes the blame. No one wants that in this age of cronyism. Humans make better scapegoats.

My real depression comes when you combine the climate issues (because let's face it; that ship has sailed and all we can do is try like hell not to make it any worse, which of course we're not doing) with the iron fist rule governments in supposedly democratic countries are trying to impose while talking about "democracy for all!" I figure that by 2032, I'm going to be living in an underground bunker somewhere, organising the supplies for the resistance and telling stories to the kids so they have some distraction from the fear. I will come bearing printouts of fan fiction and an iPod that I can charge once a week and play for a couple of hours a day, through my iPod dock, for morale purposes. 'Cos gods know I'm not a combatant.

No. Seriously.
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July 2012

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