Proctor : April 2017
63 PROCTOR | April 2017 Disrupting technology Disassembly not a bad place to start We live in an era of massive technological development which, apparently by law, we must refer to as ‘disruptive’, even if the technological development in question is a solar-powered piano accordion. That such a device would not disrupt anything that an ordinary piano accordion would not also disrupt (that is, almost any pleasant listening experience) is beside the point – if it is new and technological, it is disruptive, especially if it has Bluetooth. It is also automatically regarded as a good thing, even if it is clearly and obviously something which is the opposite of good (bad). For example, as I write this Dubai is beginning to trial an autonomous drone (no, it isn’t Ian Chappell; it is a flying taxi) which will be available to ferry passengers about the place. This may seem like a good thing in Dubai, where the consumption of alcohol is frowned upon (and as the frown usually has some form of automatic weapon underneath it, it is the sort of frown you take fairly seriously). In Australia, however, where the consumption of alcohol has achieved the same overall popularity as breathing, things may get a little more complicated. For a start, the AI controlling the drone will need to be able to understand the instructions of the customer – and of all the AI research I have read about in the last 10 years, I know of no-one in Silicon Valley who is currently teaching computers to speak aardvark (NB: ‘speaking aardvark’ is the scientific term that top language scientists use to describe the language of people who have been drinking long enough to go beyond the ‘somewhat intoxicated’ level and approach the ‘Boris Yeltsin’ stage. If you don’t know why it is called ‘speaking aardvark’, say the word aardvark slowly and loudly, and you will understand. Also, your co-workers will think you are drunk, but never mind, if you are reading this they probably thought that anyway). AI may be able to decode dozens of computer languages, hundreds of dialects and even a Donald Trump press conference, but let’s see it make sense of someone who has spent all day at the races in a sponsor’s tent. Indeed, this is before we factor in the well- known ‘humour delusion’ effect alcohol has, whereby people who have been drinking assume everything they say is hilarious despite it being about as funny as the Book of Revelations (it is due to this effect that I have concluded that Adam Sandler has a chronic alcohol problem). It remains to be seen what the autonomous drones will make of destination requests like “Mars!’ and “The fires of Mount Doom!” followed by hysterical laughter and proclamations of undying love. A further complicating factor is the propensity of almost all humans of the male version, when left unsupervised around electronic devices, to pull them apart to see how they work (and in the process render them forever inoperable). Ask any married woman and I am pretty sure she will tell you her house is full of devices which once performed useful functions, but have since been converted into expensive paperweights because their husband started fiddling with them (the devices, not the women). I realise I am being sexist, but the truth is that women generally adopt the policy of not pulling apart things they do not know how to put back together; to be fair, men adopt this policy as well, but it is rendered ineffective by the delusion that they know how to put everything back together. If you don’t believe me, consider this: there is a TV show hosted by former Top Gear presenter James May called The Re- assembler, which is simply film of James May putting things back together (which, presumably, he first took apart). I would wager whatever audience this show has (I am betting me plus about 10 others) is 90% male. The point is that with actual taxis, the driver is there to stop the passenger from doing something stupid like pulling the radio out or attempting to de-cab while the cab is travelling at 90kph along the freeway. In a driverless flying drone, however, the lack of supervision will result in flying taxis parked in backyard swimming pools because the passenger attempted to pull the guidance system apart and re-wire it to go via the kebab shop or Maccas drive-through on the way home. Which leads me to another reason why drone taxis won’t work – mankind’s propensity to take useful technology that promises many positive outcomes, and turn it into something which makes the world a much worse place. I am not taking about nuclear weapons or Pokémon Go – which I concede are very bad things – but in fact television itself. Television initially had great potential for humankind – education, public awareness, storm warnings – and in fact Philo Farnsworth battled RCA for 10 years to claim responsibility for the invention of TV. Given that we mostly use television to encourage gambling addiction and notify the public when a celebrity burps, Farnsworth is probably suing RCA in the afterlife to get them to admit they invented it. If drone manufacturers adopt the same high standards as television producers, drones will end up being used to dump radioactive waste on random households (in fact, much of what television delivers is probably worse for our health than radioactive waste, but I couldn’t think of a physical substance as damaging as reality TV). Even if they don’t do that, people will probably do something similar, given that we all now carry phones with more computing power than the Apollo space missions, but use it largely for telling people we have never met what we had for breakfast or letting them know that a cat who can’t spell has gotten hold of junk food. I could say much more on the evils of technology and TV, but I am out of space. Plus, if I don’t get the TV remote back together before my wife gets home, she’ll kill me... Suburban cowboy by Shane Budden © Shane Budden 2017. Shane Budden is a Queensland Law Society ethics solicitor.