Monday, 24 October 2016

Simon Kuper: Traitor to the People

Simon Kuper has an article in the FT Magazine about driverless cars. Amongst other things he says “Over the next 20 years, the mostly low-skilled men who now drive trucks, taxis and buses will see their jobs decimated… If you thought Donald Trump was bad, wait for the next wave of male losers from modernity."

The Contempt is strong in this one. As is a total lack of any understanding of economics, business and engineering. He’s an anthropologist. I’m not going to discuss his vision of a driverless future. The man know nothing about rush hours, Poisson distributions, waiting times, school traffic, insurance liability, and the devil that is asset utilisation.

The reason he doesn’t is that he is a Good Person - notice the Donald Trump signal - and Good People don’t engage well with the real world (or they would be alt-Right-ers and conservatives). Notice the dripping contempt. The “mostly” in “the mostly low-skilled men who now drive trucks, taxis and buses” is so he can dodge comments about female trucks, buses and taxi drivers, and while the cab drivers in the Netherlands may rely on GPS, in London it’s very different. Black cab driving is a highly-skilled and literally brain-altering job. “Wait for the next wave of male losers from modernity”. Because the female losers will be silent?

The implication that “modernity” has resulted in waves of “male losers" is typical of a Good Person. “Male losers” since about 1970 have been created entirely by the failure of managements and governments to changes in the world economy. Faced with smaller, more fuel efficient cars from the East, how long was it before Detroit started producing what the market wanted? Uh. It didn’t. It moaned instead. Just as the job of government is to defend the borders of the country and advance the interests of the citizens, so the jobs of management is to change the products and services and re-train the people to meet and beat whatever the competition is doing. A government that opens its borders to one million unskilled young men of military age and foists them on every small town and village in the land is a failure and deserves to be damned in the next ballot and the history books. A management that throws up its hands and asays the customers don’t want what they make and they can’t compete at those wage rates is incompetent and deserves to spend the rest of its life on the dole queue, not enjoying a handsome pension. The job of leaders is to lead their followers to victory or at least from defeat, not to abandon them to the mud, wolves and thieves.

But no. Not in Professor Kuper’s world. In his world there are not treasonous politicians and self-serving managements. There is only the impersonal force of “modernity”, which, oddly, has very PC effects. If “modernity” created a mass of female losers, would Professor Kuper celebrate it then?

The article ends “[T]he smartphone…brought an epidemic of mass addiction. Let’s hope we can do a better job of handling the driverless car.” Ah yes, the usual 180-degree handbrake turn at the end of the article. They all do it. And the smartphone did not bring an "epidemic of mass addiction”. People always did dumb stuff before, the phone is a change of media, not dumbness. The smart people used to work on their papers and jot notes, now they work on their laptops or iPads-with-keyboard. The rest of the world read dumb books and now they read dumb Facebook or watch dumb TV.

Driverless cars are a concept. The spin-offs are in the precision of GPS, sensors and controls. Like Formula One technology reaching regular cars, driverless technology will reach regular cars as well. As for the whole no-accidents thing? You’re not old enough to remember when CDs were never going to slip, stick or lose data. But they were. How’s that working out for you?

All those cameras and sensors are mechanical things, as are printed circuit boards, and it all gets bounced, vibrated, shaken, heated up, frozen, expanded and contracted… Heck, the torque sensors on my Punto are playing up after twelve years and 50,000 miles, and those would be feeding into the self-driving software. As for the possibilities of hacking? If you think that anyone can make their car systems hack-proof, you need to read up on computer security. Yes, it really will be possible for hackers to stand on a motorway bridge and make your car swerve across three lanes while accelerating. (More fun and less dangerous than pouring oil on the road, so more likely.)

I’m seeing the use for an auto-pilot for motorways and main roads, but not some country back road off the B359 at night.

By contrast, the contempt of Good People for ordinary working men and women is not a concept. It is very real. It affects livelihoods, welfare budgets and everyone’s quality of life.

No comments:

Post a Comment