Rise of the Robots – Book Events, May 2015

These are the events related to the release of my new book Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future that I have scheduled for May:


May 5 (Tues) – book release date


May 13 (Weds)  7:30 pm – The Book Smith, San Francisco, CA


May 14 (Thurs)  7:30 pm – Kepler’s Books, Menlo Park, CA


May 21 (Thurs) 7:30 pm – Seattle Town Hall, Seattle, WA


May 26 (Tues)  12:45 pm  Governance of Emerging Technologies Conference, ASU, (conference registration required), Scottsdale, AZ


May 27 (Weds)  6:00 pm – Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, CA


One thought on “Rise of the Robots – Book Events, May 2015

  1. Martin, thank you! I’m 65 now. In 1956 my family moved to Los Alamos for a year (“perfection”) and then moved to Minnesota. On the last day at Central school I was waiting in the hallway when a man came up and sat down in one of the other two chairs and we started talking… the last comment he made before the principal’s office opened up (I was getting my first ‘exit interview’) was this “But you know ‘knowledge is power.'” Which of course, for seven year olds even in high tech Los Alamos was a bit off my base anyway. The principal bade me sit down and added “You’re not here for any negative reason, I just like to talk with students before they leave to find out what they thought of our school.” Six months later, in October of 1957, I saw the Sputnik headline on a newspaper and thought “I’ve got to be a part of that!” At 13 I’d decided to be a EE (from a paperback book obtained through a scholastic book selling operation) and proceeded to absorb everything I could about EE and got a first class FCC license in 1967 – in case I couldn’t make it as a EE student (stranger things have happened)… the license was required by the FCC for EVERY broadcast station in the US, for every second that they were emitting radio energy; it was a ‘ticket’ (meaning ‘lunch ticket’) but of course I rarely used it. In the autumn of 1969 U took my first programming class – you probably had the same kind of experience: the GREATEST GAME IN THE WORLD! A few days later, I realized that by writing code I could in theory produce software that would solve ALL EE problems if the EE would just select the right subset of software and then enter correct data. Mindboggling jolt of pure personal power! A week or so later, I realized that by connecting the core machine to other hardware, I could control just about any kind of system… and of course, when micro processors came into play… well.

    It was during these epiphanies that I realized where this was all going: unemployment. I hadn’t truly considered the totality of this future dilemma because that seemed a reasonable distance into the future… but that it would happen was inevitable. At my first job – ITT in Chicago, developing a 2000 line mini based PABX – I finished with my chunk of the code so quickly that they pushed me into a group writing tests for PCBs – this with human only involvement was tedious, particularly the shorts and opens tests – which used a ‘Fixit’ PCB testing (bed of nails) piece of hardware and was driven by data entered via card decks… required a line of alphas and numeric to test each element of connectivity between points on the board. It was three days worth of mind numbing pencil scrawling on coding sheets (then to be keypunched, then to be read by the card reader then to be converted to mylar tape and then to be run for a specific PCB in the tester. Why ITT had so many ‘unique’ PCBs I didn’t know then and don’t know now, but there were 13 hardware engineers in that test writing group and it took them three weeks to finish one board… after grinding through MY first board (I’d already been tasked to pick up the conversion software and another factory automation program that was used to help humans wire wrap the backplane) I realized that I could automate the shorts and opens testing, with ONLY about 30 strings of much simpler, hyphen separated contact point numbers. I wrote the code at home in my spare time – whose time I was using MADE ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE, THIS WAS ONE OF THOSE BEAUTIFUL OPPORTUNITIES THAT ABSOLUTELY DEMANDED MY EFFORT!

    To go back to the 1969 revelation: this was my attitude about automating people out of work, whole societies, inevitably: it wasn’t going to happen in the near future, and some of the best software to be written was going to be in my wheelhouse… so to fulfill my ethical responsibilities all I had to do was monitor the world. My ethics from then to now: WHEN KNOWLEDGE IS POWER IT CONFERS RESPONSIBILITY. Or in essence Power confers responsibility. I’ve held that throughout mylife in all areas. Unfortunately, the acquisition of power within the computer aided economy (and what isn’t CADed now?) essentially shapes the behavior of those involved as purely and as perfectly as a behavior shaping lab rat experiment.

    I’ve not read your book yet, only the review of that I just read, but because I added an MBA/MIS 40 years ago, and have kept my brain aware of this automation conundrum, I have found some just inevitable and ensured collisions that I suspect others will not notice. I also see that the traditional workings of the ‘free market’ will be threatened by almost any attempt to modify the ‘crematorium’ results.

    Well crap, I’ve run out of my zero value time – I don’t have a job but I do have a routine – because I have to do some knee PT and then lower back PT before walking 5 or 6 miles and then working on my shoulders. I haven’t worked since 2007. Ever notice how the internal dynamics of the corporation have morphed into something where control is vastly more important to managers – many of whom either never did tech work (hence fear those with such abilities) or see very clearly that to ‘succeed’ as a manager involves hiding their tech background so to match the non-tech management mindset – than whatever may be called ‘achievement’ in their purview? Medtronic in Northridge was my Waterloo… and dig this, I walked in the door with a great product principle and set of designs, thinking that I’d stay there long enough to determine whether they deserved my stuff…and then go to the legal department to offer a very modest deal. They didn’t deserve it. What a frigging mess: the managers had stumbled into mushroom management and didn’t even know it; their young people were bright enough but were stressed beyond belief, much more stressed then they should have been. I was confused almost from the time I arrived because I had gotten 6 job specs from six different agencies re that contract, had interviews, etc etc, and yet something was wrong. I thought the time required to move to Northridge from Sunnyvale (where a deal with a Jobs – Woz peer fell apart because his heart arrhythmia problems became too much and he had to retire to Sac. EVERY TIME I went to my supervisor about my disconnect problem he shook his head at me or gave me a no answer and basically told me to get lost! He was delegating to his junior people and of course THEY ALL KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING AND I ASSUMED I DID TOO. Worst, of course was that this was a medical device app, an insulin injection device… and somehow Medtronic Northridge had avoided FDA oversight of their REQUIREMENTS! It was in three pieces! There were different versions of it all over the place. It was garbage in so many ways! The people who were writing the tests were clearly NOT writing to the requirements! Even more appalling, the three test related departments: test running; software development; and test writing… had, because of the control driven mushroom management machinery… become hostile towards the other two not-them departments. It was crazy. After almost two months of bungling around trying to figure out what the hell I was supposed to be doing, I finally got through to ‘my’ supervisor with an email. Imagine my surprise when I went in to this meeting and discovered I was being let go! He was so casual about it. He’d ignored my attempts to correct whatever I wasn’t doing, and then bang zoom out the door. My response was “Well, it means a lot to me! It’s MY LIFE!” He replied: “We can’t be worried about your discomfort… you’ve become a threat to Medtronic and we can’t have that.” It was literally insane. BUT, he and the other ‘managers’ had made my decision for me: NO PRODUCT FOR MEDTRONIC. No trip to the legal department offering gifts.

    Unfortunately, the financial damage to me after three years of struggle in Silicon Valley (2004 to 2007) with no jobs, doing ANYTHING. The HR and hiring managers really are much more interested in control, that is making sure that anyone they hire is NO THREAT TO THEIR cushy job! One of the signs of the apocalypse I guess as ‘robots’ rise up to turn the jobplace into a game of musical chairs… and defective humans band together to sacrifice bodies to the new gods.

    Over the last three plus decades I’ve developed a useful model of the economy – interestingly enough, first spoken while biking in Anaheim in 1983 – the NCC, one of the last NCCs – was taking place just down the street at the convention center and it stimulated me to record thoughts with my micro cassette recorder. I actually still have that recording – long since converted to mp3 files, of course – as well as a cassette backup to the original which was overwritten a few weeks later.

    In the 1994 to 1996 period I did a series of video programs on local cable that dealt with the downsides of high technology – confers responsibility! – as well as programs showing HOW to create new products. Sadly, the patent system is such a fraud… anybody who tries to use it better have their own militia and a few billion dollars in the bank, because that’s the way it operates.


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