Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Future is Now

There's a fascinating article in this week's New Yorker magazine about Artificial Intelligence.  The same scientists who are bringing us the self-driving car are meeting to ponder the ultimate question:
Will we develop A.I. to the point where it will be capable of engineering us out of human existence?
Some consider this the prime threat while others concede that humanity may occupy a temporary spot on an ever-evolving continuum.

 The A.I. people think of themselves as futurists;  but I say there's really little to wait for. In our puny state of non-artificial intelligence, we are capable of extinction right now. The atomic bomb scientists were unable to resist the urge to solve the power puzzle no matter the result.  We watch as the polar bear swims to his death. The shooter's dream is to turn the gun upon himself.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lost and Found

My friend Bonnie's review of a play about a heist at the Art Institute reminds me of a story I love to tell.  Many years ago, I was friendly with a man who owned a warehouse on the near south side.  The business specialized in small storage for short periods of time.

One day a man came in with a package, left it for storage, took his claim ticket and left.  Over time, since no one picked it up, and since the package was sturdy and flat, someone put it next to the coffee machine.  It was a convenient surface for cups and sugar.

A few months later, the FBI arrived: "We need to search the warehouse."  They found what they were looking for:  the Cezanne painting stolen from the Art Institute.  It was undamaged except for a few coffee stains on the packaging.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Angry Times

John Grisham is angry.  His new novel, Rogue Lawyer, reflects these angry times.  As always, America's favorite storyteller tells a legal eye opener that is fierce on the page.  And, as always, his hero is up against it.  But this time, Sebastian Rudd doesn't waste a minute thinking decency plays a deciding role.  No more knives to the gun fight.  Rudd is willing to bring and use any amount of ammunition.  Grisham, in explaining his new character, puts it this way:  "If they play dirty, Rudd plays dirty.  If they play clean, he'll keep it clean."

Bernie Sanders is angry. And, he lays out in eloquent detail how Americans are up against it. "We need a social revolution," he says.  Bernie is counting on a nation of voters as tough as Sebastian Rudd to show up at the polls.

Hillary Clinton is angry.  But she will never show it. She knows personally and politically how dirty the game is played and she will be tough but cool.  She is counting on a nation of voters who will consider her good enough for the job.

John Grisham's novels always win.  He begins a new one each January and completes it by April.  The rest of the year he pursues his interests, including the Innocence Project, and golf.

I wonder who will win politically in these angry times. And, I wonder if the infuriating issues raised in Rogue Lawyer will ever be addressed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Learning that many sports stories are "written" by computers shakes me up, but not too much.  I remember when baseball announcers worked off the wire that gave them the stats inning by inning. They would then spin these facts into a tale of action on the field that they could not see or hear. Ronald Reagan did this.  Good start, huh?  Stories come from many sources.

I wonder what the robot writers are preparing for the Cubs story.  My friend Rex, the novelist and baseball lover, could get them started in an interesting direction.  Of our down-three-games team he says: "Why not stay in last place in the first place?"

I'll take that a little further.  Why not revel in being the Kings of Last Place?   Is one spray of champaign worth a metamorphosis?  Face it.  Do you feel happy or frustrated when the '85 Bears or the '05 White Sox are paraded around town?

Would anyone remember Casey at the Bat if not for the last line?

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Now that Bernie wants us to look at Denmark's social policies, my interest in Danish TV takes on an aura of "current events."  Netflix brings you the world!  My favorite show is Borgen which goes on for three seasons so it must have been a favorite in the Democratic Socialist country.

It follows the career and personal life of the first female Prime Minister.  We get high-stakes bargaining among the various parties in a parliamentary system, orchestrated by a determined and high-minded pro who takes humane policies seriously and is up to the infighting.  (Oh, if only Hilary was for real.)

This plays against the equally dramatic scenes of domestic turmoil caused by her 24/7 career. Another plot involves the Prime Minister's "spin-doctor" and the relentless, ambitious news team who cover it all.

Bernie is on to something.  Borgen portrays a complicated but better world than the mean and terrifying House of Cards.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Human Element

In the class I am taking about robots, we oldsters are in various phases of astonishment and dismay at how much "human" activity has already been accomplished by machines and how much more there is to come.  "But the machines are only as good as the people who program them.  We're still in charge," some of us say.  No so, we learn.  The computers can identify problems and fix them all by themselves.  (Did I just refer to a robot as "self"?)

I was thinking about this when listening to my sports guys rail against the umpires in a recent playoff game.  "That plate umpire was atrocious!"  Or,  "Instant replay showed he was clearly out!"  Ah, instant replay.  Until recently, we were content with the "human element" in sports.  Bad calls and grumpy umpires were part of the game.

With technology, the urge to fix is insistent.  So, now we have overlords sitting in a room far away with the power to reverse a call -- or let it stand.  With that, sports takes a step away from life.  So far, life doesn't give us instant replay to correct our mistakes and alter the consequences.

If you are comforted by instant replay and the "justice" implied, remember this:  it is a surrender of the "human" element.

Did I just slip?  Is that a slope I see?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Matt and Water on Mars

I wonder if the announcement of the discovery of water on Mars was aimed to tie in to the opening of the movie The Martian starring Matt Damon.  After all, we know these CEO's love to talk about "synergy" and maybe NASA is for sale now too.

The film is about a scientist in space who mistakenly gets left behind by his crew.  Familiar?  We'll never forget little ET who didn't make it back to the spaceship.  The whole world unites to try to get Matt back to earth.  Familiar?  We all know that one sure way everyone on earth will get together is when we are attacked by aliens.  Of course, there's nothing alien about the likeable Matt Damon.

When a film touches on these familiar themes, there's something for everyone.  Including me!