December 11, 2021

Artificial Intelligence

My robotic vacuum cleaner gets herself stuck all the time.  I say “herself” because the voice that demands that I “spin Roomba’s wheels” is definitely  female.  Today, in attempting to roll underneath the love seat, she’s wedged herself in between the floor and the loveseat.  

No matter how many times she gets stuck under that loveseat or under the TV console or gets high centered on a floor lamp base, she still keeps trying.  I’m not sure if she’s a lesson in hope or stupidity.  I’m leaning toward stupidity because eight times out of ten, she forgets where her docking station is, too.  Sometimes, I hear her dying words “Please charge Roomba,” but most often I have to hunt her down – under the bed, in the bathroom, or stuck in the corner by the fireplace where she apparently spun herself until her battery died. 

So, this evening when she cried out that she was stuck under the loveseat again, I was reading an article about how we’re on the cusp of scary-level artificial intelligence.  In some quarters, there are plans afoot to have self-driving semi-trucks on the highways.  The debate is what really is the scary side of AI – is it that machines will take over and tire of humanity, or is it that humans will over-estimate the smarts of the machines and horrible accidents will result?    We’ll either have semi-trucks who kill their onboard humans in a bid for total dominance, or we’ll have semi-trucks who don’t realize that road conditions dictate whether they can safely go under low-clearance overpasses and then cause massive pile-ups.. 

All evidence points to my vacuum being the latter variety, but still, I’m going to go get her out from under the loveseat before she decides to violently liberate herself.

Covid Vaccinations

Let me start this by saying I totally am pro-vaccination – for me.    I’d like to see everyone get vaccinated, but totally accept and embrace that for most people it is an individual decision.  I say “most people” because I believe that employers have the right to set rules that require vaccination as long as they are a consistently applied  condition for employment.

But, anyway, I get why some people question the rhetoric surrounding vaccinations.  “You need to be vaccinated to stop the spread.”  And, yet, vaccinated people are spreading Covid.  I, fully vaccinated, got it from a friend who also was fully vaccinated.   The vaccine kept me from being as sick as I otherwise would have been, but it did not stop the spread.  The less media-forward fact about why we need to be vaccinated is that when people get bad cases of Covid and are sick for prolonged periods, the damn virus is mutating in their bodies.  Who are the people getting long term illnesses?  The unvaccinated.  They are contributing to the continued mutations, which contributes to the “new waves” of Covid.   

Still, I’m not in favor of mandating vaccination for the members of the general public who are skeptical about the technology or the efficacy of the vaccinations.  As long as those anti-vaxers are not putting vulnerable populations directly at risk, Covid’s mortality rate  and long-term effects for MOST of the population are not high enough, in my opinion, to warrant forcing all  people to get vaccinated.  Staff in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, etc., however, have a higher duty.   As a society, we have a duty to do what is necessary to protect the populations in those institutions.  If you don’t have that mindset, find a different job. 

I don’t even think we should force vaccine on the anti-vaxers who are just general  conspiracy chasers who believe the vaccines are used to insert everyone with trackers or some other nonsense.   I will admit, however, at times, to wishing that if the conspiracy nuts get Covid and end up in the emergency room, that they are made the last priority after everyone else who is facing medical emergencies not as readily prevented as a conspiracy nut getting super sick with Covid.   . 

FLASH FICTION – Traffic Karma

Connie was on her way to complete her last Saturday morning errand, when she stopped for the red light at the intersection of Glengarry Road and Folsom Blvd.  She looked left up Folsom Blvd. and saw one SUV with a Christmas tree on top approaching the intersection in the lefthand lane.  So, she pulled out into the righthand lane. 

Immediately, she was scared out of her wits by the sound of a car horn blaring as it went by her, and then the tree-laden SUV whipped in front of her, barely missing the left front quarter panel of Connie’s new Ford Bronco.  Adrenaline high, Connie flipped the person in the white, Mercedes SUV the bird.  When the Mercedes didn’t immediately turn into the shopping center – the only possible reason for the driver’s takeover of the right lane, Connie exclaimed, “What the hell was that even for?  For the love of God!”

No sooner were the words out of her mouth, than a small, beat up Toyota, with reindeer antlers sticking up above its back doors,  pulled out of the shopping center at a snail’s pace, forcing Connie into the left lane.  She seriously wondered if somebody was trying to tell her something.  There were no cars behind her, and so there was no reason for the Toyota to pull out in front of her.  “Idiots,” Connie said to herself.  Then she wondered what sense it made to put antlers at the back of the car.  They were stupid anyway, but to put them at the back?

She continued down Folsom Blvd. in the left lane as she was eventually going to need to turn left anyway.  About half a mile down the road, she saw that traffic was backed up.  She slowed down, and saw that a truck pulling a trailer with construction equipment on it had both lanes blocked.  As she crept closer, she realized she was pulling next to the Mercedes.

So, Connie eased up as close as possible to the Mercedes as she came to a full stop.  She wanted the driver to notice her getting too close so that she could see Connie giving her “the Look” – that look that every wronged driver gives the idiot that wronged them when they come up alongside them.  In a flash, Connie planned how she’d stare at the woman and then, throw up her hands and shake her head, to silently  communicate,  “What the hell?” 

But, the driver, a middle-aged woman with a perfectly coiffed chin-length platinum blonde bob, didn’t notice Connie because she was too busy yelling into her cell phone and gesturing.  Connie kept staring at the woman until the traffic started to move forward.  Within a few minutes, they were back up-to-speed, and because the right lane was moving faster, the Mercedes got a couple car lengths ahead of Connie.  It was then that she noticed that her other near miss of the morning, the beat-up Toyota with antlers at the ass end, was behind the Mercedes. 

They were approaching a yellow light, and Connie slowed down.   From her vantage point, she had a perfect view when a utility truck in her lane pulled in front of the Mercedes and hit his brakes for the light, which was now red.  The lady in the Mercedes, who apparently had planned to go through the light, plowed right into the truck, and before Connie could even vocalize the “Oh my gosh” queued up in her mouth, the beat-up Toyota plowed into the Mercedes, causing  the Christmas tree to shoot off the Mercedes into the windshield of the Toyota. 

All of this happened in an instant.  By the time Connie could even register the thought, “I hope they’re all alright,” the Mercedes woman popped out of her vehicle.  She was still yelling and still gesturing, but her phone wasn’t in her hand any longer.  Connie chuckled to herself when she saw the woman had on plaid pajama bottoms and fuzzy Santa slippers. 

Then, the occupants of the antlered Toyota all emerged from their vehicle.  There were four of them — all wearing elf costumes.  The driver was a short man with a large gut, a scraggly greying  beard, and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.  He waddled up to the Mercedes lady, and Connie heard him yell, “Why didn’t you have that fucking tree tied down?” 

“The tree was tied down, you asshole!”

“Oh, my gosh,” Connie said quietly to herself.   Then she saw the driver of the utility truck walk back toward the people gathered behind the Mercedes.,

“Is everyone alright?” he asked.

“No, we’re not fucking alright,” the Mercedes driver, who by this time had retrieved her phone, yelled.  “What the hell were you doing?”

The guy Connie thought of as the Head Elf interjected, “Fuck no, we’re not alright, we have a gig in 45 minutes and this bitch’s fucking tree is sticking out of my car!”

“Don’t yell at me,” the woman exclaimed, and then pointed at the utility truck driver.  “It’s his fault, he cut me off!”

The car in front of Connie finally moved forward, and Connie did the same just as the utility truck driver was backing away from the four elves and the crazy woman in Santa slippers.

“I hope he’s alright,” she said to herself.  Then, she laughed out loud thinking to herself, “Karma’s a bitch, but sometimes she’s a funny bitch!”

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