A Once-Baked Potato
I’m really not ready to go for a long, high speed trip in a completely automated car.
I say that because of my baked potatoes. One for me. One for my wife.
I’ve done it many times before. Here is my typical process. I take out a variety of vegetables to chop and chop the broccoli, red onion, garlic, red pepper while the potatoes are in the microwave. I put them in for some time like: 4:32 minutes and then, when that times out, I “test” the potatoes with a fork and put them in for more time. Actually, before I even take them out to use the “fork test” I shake the potatoes. I can tell from the “feel” whether they are still rock hard. If they are marginal, then, I use the more sensitive “fork test.” Meanwhile, I chop more vegetables and take out the cheese. I test the potatoes again. At some point, they are well done and I slather them up with butter and cheese and then add the chopped Vegetables.
But today is different.
I pushed a button on the microwave that says, “Baked Potato.” Right away, I think: “Baked potato? I’m not putting in a baked potato. I’m putting in a raw potato. You have a button labelled ‘Popcorn’ — it doesn’t say, ‘Popped Corn’ so … ? Anyway, I decided to give it a try.
The first disadvantage I see is that I have no idea whatsoever how long this process is going to take. I assume it has to take at least four and a half minutes. When I cook it via my usual process, it’s on “high” or “full power.” So, unless the microwave has a “hidden” higher power level that it allows its internal programs to have access to but not its end users, it seems I have at least 4 1/3 minutes to chop.
Changing the way you do things always causes a little bit of discomfort, though often, a feeling of adventure outweighs that cautionary urge. In this case, I felt a lot of discomfort. The microwave can’t feel how done the potato is so it must be using some other sensor or sensors — likely moisture — though there may be other ways to do it. How do I know that the correlation between how I measure “doneness” and how the microwave measures “doneness” is even moderate? I am also a little concerned that there are, after all, two potatoes, not just one. There was no way to tell the machine that I had two potatoes. I decided that it was likely that the technical problems had been solved.
Why? Certainly not because I have great faith in large multinational corporations to “do what’s right” rather than do what’s expedient. Once upon a time, not so many years ago, that really was my default assumption. But no longer. Too many lies by too many corporations about too many separate topics. Once upon a time, the government held some power to hold corporations accountable for their actions. Now, the power seems to have shifted so that many politicians — too many — are beholden to their corporate owners.
The corporation just tries to work for its self-interests. They aren’t very good at it, but that’s their goal.
Among the common ways they fail is by being too conservative. If they are successful by doing things a certain way, they often keep at it despite changes in the technology, the markets, the cost structures, the distribution possibilities, etc. (They are too afraid to push the “Baked Potato” button). At the same time, there seems to be no evil that many of them would foreswear in order to grow their profits; no lie that is too prosperous for them to tell.
Yet, I live, at least for now, in this world surrounded by products made by these companies and interacting with them all the time. I cannot trust them as a whole, but it’s almost impossible not to rely on some of them some of the time. They can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
I do calculate that if they put these buttons on there and they were horrible, word would get around and they would lose market share. This presumes that there is real competition in the market.
I think it likely that driverless cars will be “safer” than human drivers on average within ten years, and possibly sooner. My discomfort stems, again, partly from habit, but largely from a lack of confidence in the ethics of corporations. Normally, I would think that when it comes to life and death, at least, I can put some degree of faith in the government to oversee these companies enough to ensure their safety data were accurate.
But I no longer believe that. And even after Trump resigns or gets impeached & convicted or he flees to Russia, there is no way to know how deeply and pervasively this corrupt misadministration has crept into the ethics of lesser government officials. Any government official might think: “after all, if the President is flouting the Constitution by using the power of his office for his own benefit, why shouldn’t I? I need a bribe just as much as the next person and I certainly need the money more than Trump did!”
The microwave claims the potatoes are done.
And so they are. Perfectly.
There is still hope for America.
Maybe I will be able to take that ride after all.
Parametric Recipes and American Democracy
The Pros and Cons of AI: Part One