Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Emphasis on “Less”

Another medical day (fortunately only tests), brought us into a sunny, plush lobby of St. John Providence hospital where a grand piano was playing all by itself. Those player-pianos are proud representatives of the first automata, although ambiguously named. Player piano? No. Playerless piano.

Reminded me of something I’d stumbled across the other day, Google’s driverless car. They’re multiplying, these babies. The personless voice that answers phones and uses the Royal We (“Your call is important to us!”) is so common now we do not even flinch or curse or even sigh. The pilotless drone is yet something else. While waiting for Brigitte, who underwent the test today, a vision arose in me, a kind of sci-fi panorama. Space ships are landing on a life-supporting planet. The ships’ passengers are jubilant. Their orbital probes have discovered cities, houses,  radio traffic, farms, vehicles in motion. They land with Great Expectations. And they discover a crowded planet filled with machines. They’re engaged in doing everything imaginable: cars and trucks are driving down the highways, airplanes take off, fly, and land. The homes clean, heat, and maintain themselves; they cook food, serve it, clear the dishes, dispose of waste. Voices sing on video and radio; keyboards click as lenses read words on printed sheets, farm machinery plows and reaps, silos fill and empty. But there is no sign of anything, like, living. Where have all the people gone? It’s a peopleless planet.

YouTube has quite a few videos on Google’s driverless car. Put in those words for searching and they line up. It is now the most talked-about instance of a project that began as far back as the 1939 World’s Fair where General Motors’ exhibit, Futurama, showed cars travelling on an automated highway.  There have been multiple implementations of the driverless car since, but no commercialization.

By the way. People have now also developed programs that produce writerless news stories (here is a link). This post, however, still used a human being. So yesterday.

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