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Caseythoughts I would think a two week hiatus from writing would do wonders for the creative urge and kick start me into another year, or at least another week, of 'Thoughts'. Kick start is the right idea, though: it felt like getting into a Model T to start after years in a barn. Can't blame the grogginess on eggnog. So, let me start with a couple of shorter ideas then move a little faster.

I was almost fascinated ( rather than disgusted) hearing a quote from an Albany lawmaker (there's a term bound to gag even the stoutest of political hearts) referencing the recommendation of a 'bipartisan' panel that their yearly pay be doubled, but still remain 'part-time' so they can earn outside income even after 'earning' over $130,000 plus lulus and per diem. This particular representative of the people said that it was only fair to allow him to make extra money because he "didn't want to saddle the taxpayer with paying for his children's college education".

Just what he meant by this baffles me but he evidently felt that $130k wouldn't be enough to finance the child's education, even at SUNY discount and tuition assistance. He evidently didn't feel his state pay should go to pay the tuition, etc. As if we the people who actually work for our paychecks can afford the same college expenses, or for that matter afford our 'state regulated' electric and gas bills. Maybe he should consider delivering newspapers in his district. Might give him a better idea of how his constituents actually 'get by' on way less than $130k+ a year. The chutzpah of these people astounds me, and it further gives the most cynical the ammunition for calling Albany one of the most crooked state capitals in the country.

And while I'm on the subject of Albany quote-ables, I heard our illustrious governor commenting on New York's loss of almost 50,000 of our state population in the latest census. I swear I'm not making this up: he said it was at least partly because 'New York has such long winters'. Then why are we subsidizing ski areas in the form of reduced electric rates for snowmaking, etc. Not to mention I Love NY advertising in the tens of millions of dollars? Must be the long winters. And good luck to those 50,000 lucky souls who, I imagine, got fed up and moved south to where the winter is milder and the tax bills are still reasonable and lower.

I ran across a fascinating story in the NY Times last week, and it almost fits into the Dave Barry category of 'I'm not making this up'.

Seems a town by the name of Chandler, Arizona (actually a sprawling suburb of Phoenix) is the home ground of testing by Waymo, an autonomous vehicle designer and manufacturer (in other words, driver-less). Waymo is a spin-off of Google, by the way. When I used to have a segment on my radio show with a library reference person I first heard the word 'Google' as a potential replacement for the ubiquitous card catalog, and now we are using it as a verb, and watching our world be gobbled up and digested by the likes of Google, Amazon, and now Waymo.

Well, Waymo has been testing its vehicles and the artificial intelligence which powers them in Chandler since 2017, logging up to 25,000 miles DAILY on these Arizona roads. They are clearly marked, have distinctive roof paraphernalia for their mapping and photo gear as well as LIDAR, mapping streets, informing its artificial intelligence of all potential situations while the vehicle learns, often with a human driver in case of emergency, but frequently 'driver-less' if that is a reasonable term. I kind of feel like I'm talking of these vehicles as if they were human. You know, it's happening here, too, as I have spotted one of these vehicles with a tell-tale bubble on the roof mapping streets and signs in downtown Ithaca (at least that's what I think it was) but the reason why this is such a weird and remarkable story is that some residents in Chandler are becoming very hostile.

Tires are being slashed, objects are being thrown at the vehicles and there have been instances of drivers purposely stopping quickly or abruptly changing lanes in front of these vehicles trying to cause accidents, or, to put it another way, to sabotage these autonomous vehicles.

People are yelling 'Get out of my neighborhood' and, even in one instance, a man waved a .22 pistol at the vehicle and its emergency back-up driver.

"They say they needed real world examples, but we don't want to be one of their real world mistakes" was one quote. Another told the Times reporter "They didn't ask us if we wanted to be a part of their beta test".

An NYU professor was quoted saying "There's a growing sense that the giant corporations honing driver-less technologies do not have our best interests at heart." That from Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist. There's a job title, for you. Reminds me of Marshall McLuhan. Maybe we need to re-read his stuff.

So, my techno-phobic heart of hearts immediately thought of the Luddites. But, wanting to check my premises (a la Ayn Rand), I was quite amazed and discouraged, first at what I knew, what I thought I knew and did not know about those 18th-19th century trouble makers.

The first protest against large textile looms evidently occurred in 1779 by textile workers in Nottingham, and eventually a secret society had some genesis around 1811. Some thought a gentleman by the name of Ned Ludd may have started it, but that may have been the 18th century version of 'Who is John Galt?'. But there are those who are stating that even at the height of protests, loom smashing and burning from 1811-16 (ending in trials and some executions) that these men were not protesting the machinery as such, but the labor conditions, and more importantly, the usage of 'scab' labor, lower paid women and children, and especially 'foreigners' to replace the skilled craftsmen. The machinery was merely a secondary target of labor unrest, not the actual focus of the anger, frustration and violence. This may be a narrow line to be drawn, but so be it. Allow the academics to have their say.

Be that as it may, I found links to what was hailed as the '2nd Luddite Congress' in 1996 in Barnesville, Ohio, and their mission statement (manifesto?) was: "A leaderless movement of passive resistance to consumerism and the increasingly bizarre and frightening technologies of the computer age."

Well. That's not exactly throwing rocks or slashing tires, is it? But passivity has its adherents in Chandler, Arizona. Recently a 37 year old Chandler gentleman, described as very intoxicated, decided to stand in front of a Waymo vehicle and refused to move. He told police he was 'sick and tired of Waymo vehicles driving in his neighborhood'. He thought standing in front of one of the intruders was a smart idea. He may have been right. Waymo decided not to route vehicles through that area and the protester was not ticketed or charged. Waymo has not pressed charges against even the more violent of the actors in this act.

Gillian Tett, a columnist for the Financial Times (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) has looked at something similar regarding the push-back against Amazon's proposed new second HQ in Long Island City. After tens of millions of dollars in promised tax breaks, etc., by New York city and state, residents are protesting, for reasons not unreasonable such as rising rents, traffic, etc. Tett states that Amazon is responding by setting up public relations efforts, and donating (throwing) money at local non-profits, etc., the normal corporate response. She came up with a novel idea, which may relate to the Chandler problems Waymo is experiencing. She states that anthropologists may be (or have) a better answer, as anthropologists "are more likely to study modern western societies than remote jungles.

And what makes the discipline so relevant for thinking about technology is its methodology. Anthropologists use patient observation, without preconception, to see how all aspects of 'culture' fit together. The core aim is to see the world through someone else's eyes and to understand cultural patterns." Another way of expressing this is that by studying others, if done with a dispassionate and neutral 'lens', so to speak, we learn about our own culture, as well. The neutral part is difficult of course, but maybe dispatching an anthropologist or two to Chandler might also give us some insight into what's going on culturally, socially and politically in this early part of the 21st century with its growing pains, its political angst and anger that is frequently, but not exclusively, showing up in the polls.

The protests against the autonomous vehicles could be a sociological flash in the pan, but I wonder if they may signify something closer to what is happening in parts of our world that we consider advanced politically, while xenophobic trends and technological backlash seem to be the news-making capital of our headlines. Maybe answers might be tricky and elusive, but I would also worry about leaders (academic or political) who think they have the answers, while Chandler continues to throw garbage and rocks at so-called 'driverless' vehicles invading their neighborhoods and lives. Looking for connections, here. Thanks for listening.

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