Can Robots Really Help to Make America Great Again?

I am dedicating this blog to Donald J. Trump (so-called President) in the remote hope they he might take a passing glance at what some experts say is actually happening with the automobile industry in this country.  Let’s first take a look at Trump’s version of how he will help the automobile industry and its workers (his alternative reality?).  He would like to reduce the miles per gallon requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for American-made cars/trucks. Consequently, we will then burn more gas, and simultaneously increase toxic car emissions into our already polluted atmosphere.  Detroit can then build more cars/trucks that will be less expensive than those saddled with all those environmental protection safeguards.  Not to mention that automobile makers will be hiring more American workers and bring economic relief to depressed parts of the country.  NOT SO FAST!

Thought for today: Automakers are the biggest users of industrial robots, which have hurt jobs and wages in local economies.  Real-world data supports this more pessimistic future.  Researchers were surprised to see very little employment increases in other occupations to offset the job losses in manufacturing.  A recent study analyzed the effect of industrial robots in local labor markets in the United States.  Robots are to blame for up to 670,000 lost manufacturing jobs between 1990 and 2007, it concluded, and that number will rise because industrial robots are expected to quadruple. And it obviously appears that these hi-tech robots and their “offspring” will be keeping their jobs longer than their human counterparts.

So the challenges just seem to be piling up for the Donald.  I would suggest that he READ some fact-based reporting in a real newspaper (NY Times?).  And stop believing “fake news” and watching FOX TV.

Ray Myers

iPhones in China – Oh My!

Maybe mobile phones will finally bring the dawning on the new Age of Aquarius.  We used to think that transcendental meditation would do that for all of us, but the answer may be literally in the palm of our hands.  Who would have ever thought that Communist China would now be opening its economic doors and welcoming America’s iPhones to compete in their domestic marketplace.  I guess we can all thank the Beijing Intellectual Property Court for revoking a ban that prohibited such sales.  LET THE SUNSHINE IN!

The Beijing Intellectual Property Court ruled that the regulator, the Beijing Intellectual Property Office, had not properly followed procedures in ordering the ban while there was no sufficient proof to claim that the designs constituted a violation of intellectual property rights.  Those required procedures will get you every time.  I guess we all have to wait until a legal battle between some high-powered attorneys from both sides settles this issue in court.  But I am not sure how this all happens in China when, in this case, the government’ s Intellectual Property Court has ruled that its own government’s Intellectual Property Office had “not properly followed procedures”?

Soon there will be Apple Stores all over China, and there may even be some stores selling iPhone copies.  Just a guess on my part. )

Ray Myers

Better Gas Efficiency, Better Climate

There are a lot of things Americans can do to improve the earth’s climate.  I know that former Vice President Al Gore is a champion in this effort to reduce global green house gas emissions, but the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is obviously not.  Advances in increasing fuel-economy standards for all vehicles is made possible by improved automotive technologies.  A car that gets better gas mileage cuts greenhouse gas emissions.  This is not an “inconvenient truth.”  It is a matter of preserving the planet, and improving the lives of those who live here.  

“If every American household drove a vehicle getting 56 miles per gallon, it would reduce U.S. emissions by 10 percent.  The American new-vehicle fleet now averages less than half that.  It is expected to average 36 m.p.g. in 2025 if Obama administration standards remain in place, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.”  As you may already know, “so-called” President Trump is proposing to abandon these goals in the name of helping the American automobile imdustry build bigger gas-guzzlers that his constituency loves to drive.  And he also wants to improve their health care plans so that no matter how unhealthy the environment becomes, they will have health coverage that is “bigger and better” than Obamacare.   Fortunately, Obamacare is still here, and I only hope that Trump will not succeed in decreasing    the fuell economy standards set by his predecessor.

But I guess that when your hero is Vladimir Putin, you begin to think that you can be just like him.  Oh, they also have lots of gas in Russia, and I am sure we can have as much as we want if we ever run low.

Ray Myers

Make America Great Again – Get Chinese Investors!

Sad, but true.  Now I don’t know if Confucius ever said that, but it seems that many American inventors and entrepreneurs developing innovative technologies for the U.S. military are finding more support from Chinese investors than from the Pentagon.  For example, Neurala, a Boston start-up that makes robots and drones got little response from the American military when it needed money.  But it landed an investment from a state-run Chinese company.  

Beijing is encouraging Chinese companies with close government ties to invest in American start-ups specializing in critical technologies like artificial intelligence and robots to advance China’s military capacity as well as its economy.  The size and breadth of these Chinese-U.S. deals are not clear because start-ups and their backers are not obligated to disclose them.  Over all, China has been increasingly active in the American start-up world, investing $9.9 billion in 2015.  Chinese investors have money and are looking for returns, while the Chinese government has pushed investment in ways to clean up China’s skies, upgrade its industrial capacity and unclog its snarled highways.

I bet that Donald Trump could personally help Neurala and other American technology start-ups, and make America Great Again.   Save U.S. budget dollars by NOT flying his whole family around the world and NOT going to Mar-a-Lago every weekend.  Maybe he too could begin investing in America’s future, just like the Chinese!

Ray Myers

Robots as Paralegals

Next time you visit a lawyer’s office you may find fewer staff and more computers in various forms doing research in preparing clients’ legal documents or gathering materials for attorneys’ future courtroom appearances.  One thing you can still be sure of, is that you will still be getting billed by the hour whether it is a machine or a real live paralegal or attorney doing this work.  Recent research also suggests that basic document review has already been outsourced or automated by large law firms, with only 4 percent of lawyers’ time now spent on this task.

“Technology will unbundle aspects of legal work over the next decade or two rather than the next year or two, legal experts say.  Highly paid lawyers will spend their time on work on the upper rungs of the legal task ladder.  Other legal services will be performed by nonlawyers – the legal equivalent of nurse practitioners – or by technology.”  So the law firm partner of the future will be the leader of a team, “and more than one of the players will be a machine.”  Technology has unlocked the routine task of sifting through documents, looking for relevant passages.  So major law firms are undertaking initiatives to understand the emerging technology and adapt and exploit it.

So what would Perry Mason do if he were around today?  Would he keep Della Street as his legal secretary (maybe more important than a paralegal?), or trade her in for a shiny new robot?  You decide?

Ray Myers


Presidential Multi-tasking and Making Choices

I guess job interviews are not what they used to be.  In the age of Trump, it seems that potential employers are more preoccupied with checking news, “important messages,” tweeting, etc., than really focusing on job candidates who are interested in making a favorable impression.  Or maybe it really works both ways?   Do you really want to work for someone who is too preoccupied with their own online messaging than finding out more about candidates who might be selected as Cabinet appointees in his administration.  Let’s just say I think that we now have a “so-called President” who is more interested in letting us know all about his opinions on everything than really focusing on the politics of governing.  

My humble political advice is that not everyone really cares what “Trump thinks” about everything.  Welcome to Washington!  Everyone wants to make a name for themselves, or even a bigger name of they are a President.  But our current White House occupant obviously feels that what he has to say (or tweet) is the most important of all.  And he feels it can all be said in 140 characters or less.  What an absurd and simplistic notion – “I tweet, therefore I am.”  Can someone please call a halt to this obsessive behavior before we fall into some catastrophic conflict with another world “tweeter.”
Please don’t get me wrong.  I am really a fan of social media, but it must be used responsibly, as we all have probably been told many times over our lifetimes about many things.  Even if you live in the White House (when you are not in Mar-a-Lago) 

Ray Myers



War on Drugs – Buy a Smartphone

It has now been reported that American teenagers are growing less likely to try or regularly use drugs, including alcohol.  So what is the cause of this dramatic change in teenagers’ behavioral (experimental) habits?  Are teenagers replacing drugs with smartphones?  Experts see an interesting correlation.  Researchers are starting to ponder an intriguing question: Are teenagers using drugs less in part because they are constantly stimulated and entertained by their computers and phones?

Researchers are saying that “With minor fits and starts, the trend has been building for a decade, with no clear understanding as to why.  Some experts theorize that cigarette-smoking rates are cutting into a key gateway to drugs, or that anti drug education campaigns, long a largely failed enterprise, have finally taken hold.”  Scientists also say that interactive media appears to play to similar impulses as drug experimentation, including sensation-seeking and the desire for independence.  Or it might be that gadgets simply absorb a lot of time that could be used for other pursuits, including partying?

So many gadgets, so little time to do everything else, whatever that might be?  Perhaps the most intriguing phenomenon is that we have so many addictions to choose from, if we really have nothing else we want or need to do?

Ray Myers

P. S.

I will not be posting a blog on Friday, Saint Patrick’s Day.  I know you will all be too busy commemorating this “holy day.”  Thanks for following TechtoExpress.  Back on Monday, March 20.

Choose Your Own News and TV Program Endings

Now it seems that you may never have to live in the “real world.”  Or at least when you are watching TV or searching for the latest news online (some people, I guess, still buy daily newspapers, and end their searching there).  But technology has made it possible for us to go online and search for whatever news we may like.  Sorry, but I am getting very confused here.  Maybe Kellyanne Conway was right: there may truly be “alternative realities” out there, and you can pick whatever one you like.  

Some reporting on the recent South by Southwest Interactive Festival may be helpful in trying to understand it all.  “(Netflix) is developing new interactive technology allowing viewers to direct the plots of certain TV shows, Chose-Your-Own Adventure style.”  They are also focusing on children’s programming, more as a developmental learning tool than as some new twist on the modern media sphere’s rush to give you exactly what you want when you want it.   Well, as the old expression goes: “Good luck with that!”  It just might turn out that it will be more profitable for Netflix  and others to give their audiences what they want, and then what?  They are already giving viewers the opportunity to choose their own endings!

So much news, so little time.  Who do you trust?  Dan Rather?  Kellyanne Conway?

Ray Myers


Face Time, Refugees and Trump Travel Ban

Maybe technology can really help us all stay connected in the “time of Trump” wherever we are.  I guess we are all stil free to travel whenever and wherever we want, but I am not really that sure anymore?  Luckily we now have video “portals” that allow us to keep in touch with relatives, possibly refugees, who may be stranded in some country that our “so-called” president has now decided is inhabited by terrorists who are intent on infiltrating the heartland of America.  Can someone really give this current White House occupant a more reasoned and experienced view of who are real foreign enemies might be.  Russia somehow comes to mind.

Thanks to these video portals, American immigrants from majority Muslim countries (not sure of the exact number now since it seems to vary on Trump’s whims on a given day) now have an opportunity to share their thoughts and stories about their lives in these times.  If they don’t, that’s okay too.  I can remember a time when a newly-formed NGO, Global Nomads, just before the Iraqi War, conducted a similar type of video exchange between American and Iraqi teenagers.  It all seemed so hopeful at that time, and then the bombs fell.  Global Nomads is still pursuing such video portal exchanges around the world, http://www.gng.org

But even the mundane commonalities and awkward exchanges resonate: there is the sudden proximity to a person who might share your favorite soccer team, who likes to hang out at coffee shops and scroll through Facebook – even if they happen to live in a sprawling, dust-covered refugee camp where they share a single tent with several family members.

Ray Myers




Social Media as an Addiction

I am not really talking about “so-called” President Trump here, but his use of Twitter seems to come close to this type of diagnosis.  Many prominent social psychologists are studying this digital phenomenon.  I’ll let them decide what advice is best for the current resident of the White House.  Adam Alter, author of “The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked” warns that many of us – youngsters, teenagers, adults – are addicted to modern digital products.  

“The technology is designed to hook us that way.  Email is bottomless.  Social media platforms are endless.  Twitter?  The feed never really ends.  You could sit there 24 hours a day and  you’ll never get to the end.  And so you come back for more and more . . . There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in.  You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.”  And now so many devices are portable that you literally have to put them out of reach if you want some “down time.”

It’s even getting harder now to walk down the street without having to avoid someone with a digital device in hand.  It’s even more dangerous on the highways where your fellow drivers’ eyes are focused on their digital screens and not the road!

Ray Myers

GPS on My Mind and in Your Car

Ever have the feeling that you were being followed?  That feeling may prove to be a reality if you purchased your car with an auto loan as someone with a poor credit rating.  This type of auto loaning has been booming lately, and many finance companies, credit unions, and auto dealers are using technologies to track the location of borrowers’ vehicles in case they need to repossess them.  Lenders are also installing devices that enable them to remotely disable a car’s ignition after a borrower misses a payment.  

The closer monitoring of these devices in cars purchased by low-income Americans comes as cracks are starting to appear in the red-hot auto loan market.  The percentage of auto loans that were at least 90 days delinquent increased to 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter from 3.6 percent in the third quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  The auto finance industry says the benefits of the devices are clear.  Without them, many low-income Americans would not be able to buy cars they need to get to work.  So far, there is no widespread evidence that lenders are misusing information they track from a vehicle’s whereabouts.

I still think this sounds like a case of “borrower beware.”  You may get the loan but your lender will be able to “find” you or even disable your car if you fall behind on your payments.  Some say this is all part of living in the age of the “internet of things.”

Ray Myers

P.S.  I will be away for the next few days.  Back on Wednesday, March 8.  Thanks for following TechtoExpress.



Shared Science Goes Social!

I never thought science as something that would become part of the twenty-first century phenomenon of social networking.  But this has apparently become a new form of academic “outreach” in our connected world.  So long Ivory Tower!  This new scientific social network is called ResearchGate and was started in Berlin with three partners in 2008.  Now they have signed up 12 million scientists, or about 60 percent of all such potential users worldwide.

Researchers upload roughly 2.5 million papers to ResearchGate every month.  In comparison, scientists added the same amount of research over the first four years of the network’s operation.  ResearchGate has also taken advantage of the growing trend across the scientific world to open up to the wider public and take advantage of technology like machine learning to conduct projects across borders and faster.  The network is not alone in making science more transparent and open.  Cancer researchers, for instance, recently created a video game that allows people to participate in the crunching of complex data on their smartphones by guiding a “spacecraft” along paths based on genetic sequencing from breast cancer patients.

I can remember going to science labs in high school and working in assigned teams (hopefully with people you liked who were also smarter and shared their expertise).  At that time, sharing was not always seen as a way of learning how science works.  

Ray Myers