Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Will Robots Take Your Job? by Nigel M. de S. Cameron

In Will Robots Take Your Job? A Plea for Consensus, Nigel M. de S. Cameron asks what is a more and more realistic question.  So, will a robot take my job?  Maybe.  It depends.  Ask the bank teller who was displaced by the ATM.  Ask the grocery store checker displaced by self-checkout stations.  Ask any former assembly line worker.  Ask the taxi driver soon to be displaced by self-driving cars.

De Cameron takes a broad view of the impact of mechanical intelligence and robot workers on employment trends.  Reviewing an array of research, he determines that "there is wide agreement that the development of Artificial Intelligence and robotics is set to have an enormous impact on the future of human work--driving up productivity, but in the process narrowing or completely shutting down many traditional jobs."  While some jobs are more at risk than others, "it would be unwise to bet on any particular human function being 'secure'--safe for our species to perform, safe from the rivalry of machines."

The levels of displacement run deeper than might be obvious.  For instance, we hear a lot about driverless cars.  Obviously, taxi drivers, truck drivers, and Uber drivers' jobs would be at risk.  But if, as expected, driverless cars lead to fewer people owning cars, jobs related to the manufacture and repair of cars would diminish.  Driverless cars would be safer, so auto accidents would drop, leaving ERs without a major client base.  The ripples go on and on.

Many observers point out that historically, when new technologies displace workers, new jobs or whole industries arise.  De Cameron is not so sure that there will be enough jobs to replace those taken by AI and robots.  Will Robots Take Your Job? is a readable introduction to this topic.  It asks more questions than it answers, and ends up wishy washy on the questions he asks.  It will definitely get you thinking about whether you need to reexamine your own career choices.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Injection Burn, by Jason Hough

In the first three books of the Dire Earth Cycle, Jason Hough tells the story of the Builders, who put a space elevator on earth and introduced a virus that killed off most of humanity.  Fast forward several centuries, and mankind has bounced back.  Using Builder technology as a spring board, they have developed the ability to quickly travel great distances through space.  Injection Burn, book 4 of the Dire Earth Cycle, starts with the crew of the Wildflower.  They have travelled to the Builders' home world.  To their great surprise they meet up with Skyler Luiken and his crew.  Skyler, a key player in the events in the first 3 books, and his crew left earth in a builder ship.  Due to time dilation, little time has passed for them.  The Wildflower crew, stunned to meet these important historical figures, team up with Skyler's crew to fight the Scipios, a race who has enslaved the Builders.

Now that I have successfully made a very exciting sci-fi story sound pretty dull, I have to say Injection Burn is great fun to read.  Hough writes extended action scenes so full of detail that you can vividly see the whole thing in your mind.  He provides the details, the sights and sounds and actions and reactions.  The future science and mechanics of zero-g and space travel are not taken for granted.  The alien species are imaginatively created and described.

In short, if you like your sci-fi science-y and action-packed, with lots of aliens, interplanetary travel, and inter-species war, while leaving out the romance and philosophical interludes, Hough fits the bill.  Injection Burn continues and fills out the story of the first 3 books.  If you haven't read them, you won't be lost in Injection Burn, but the background certainly adds to the enjoyment of this new book.  And, just as he did with 1, 2, and 3, he is publishing 4 and 5 in rapid succession, so you don't have to wait long to see how the action continues!  Escape Velocity comes out next week!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Mad About Trump, by MAD Magazine

MAD magazine used to be, and sometimes still is, very funny.  In Mad About Trump they gather together a wide array of satirical comics, fake ads, campaign posters, etc., in a collection skewering President Trump.  The result is rather unfunny.

On the one hand, they follow the standard Trump comedy lines: he has funny hair, he has orange skin (Now it's OK to make fun of someone's skin color, as long as his name is Trump.), he has a lot of money and flaunts it, he sends spontaneous tweets.  Trump provides us with lots to make fun of and lots to laugh about, but the MAD folks spend too much time laughing at the obvious.

On the other hand, they take the vitriolic tone of anti-Trump comedians and perpetuate the canard that Trump is nothing but a sexist, misogynist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, moronic, joke of a political candidate and now office holder.  They are following the path of all those comedians who have given up humor for spiteful ad hominem criticism.  As they have learned, their audiences respond to this.  (Comedian: "I hate Trump."  Audience: "Hahahaha! Such wit!  Such astute political insight!  Such unabashed truth!")

So, yeah, as you can tell, I'm a conservative who voted for Trump.  You might not be able to tell, but I do have a sense of humor.  Some of the anti-Trump humor in Mad About Trump was funny, but mostly MAD's easy shots of left-wing Trump overtook any genuine political satire and the universally funny material they have long been known for.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Art of the Classic Sports Car, by Stuart Codling, photography by James Mann

Something about the pictures in The Art of the Classic Sports Car, written by Stuart Codling with photography by James Mann, makes the featured cars seem like so much more than transportation.  They are works of art.  For most of us, a car is a means to get from point A to point B.  But when a special car drives by and catches your eye, the aesthetics and engineering and sheer fun make you forget about practicality.

Focusing primarily on mid-twentieth century sports cars, The Art of the Classic Sports Car covers makers you know and makers you might not (at least that I didn't know).  Some of these might be seen prowling your neighborhood streets--I still see 240Zs from time to time--but most of them will only be seen in a museum or auction house.  A couple of these have sold in recent years for millions.

The text is interesting, giving some history, anecdotes, and technical information about each model.  But the stars of the show are the photos.  The cars are pristine, and the photos bring out their glory.  I love the fact that these cars, for the most part, are not "luxuirious" as we tend to think of cars today, with the bells and whistles that tend to be superfluous.  The luxury is in the clear craftmanship and love of design that is reflected.

If you are a car lover, pick up this book, but before you do be prepared for your heart to race a little.  You might also want your wife to change the passwords on your bank account, too, so you can't give in to the tempation to run out and try to find one of these beauties to buy.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Worn Out by Obedience, by Ron Moore

As pastor of a large multi-campus church, Ron Moore has seen and experienced his share of spiritual burnout.  In Worn Out by Obedience: Recovering from Spiritual Fatigue, Moore offers hope to those of us who are tired and weary.  Much of the book is guided by David's experience in Ziklag.  A self-imposed exile, during this time he was far from God, listening to his own counsel, and stagnating in his own poor decisions.

Sometimes we feel like this: "I feel that God has left me alone.  Therefore, my inclination is to find a place away from God."  Like David, we self counsel (never a good idea).  We "lost a sense of intimacy with God and became indifferent toward spiritual things."  We "surrendered to sin--and settled for a life of disobedience, disconnected from God."  We "no longer fight the tempation" but "embrace the sin."

This state of spiritual being could be due to flagrant rebellion.  But for many Christians, it comes as a result of weariness from service, even in a life of consistent obedience and faithful Christ following.  As Charles Swindoll wrote, "Most (yes, most) Christians . . . have very little dynamic and joy in their lives."  Moore shares many presonal stories from Christians who have faced these feelings.

His diagnosis is spot on, and his remedies are welcome.  The decision is our own to leave Ziklag, and the Holy Spirit offers us power to do so.  David himself provides "five steps of true repentence" that we can follow as a path out of Ziklag.  Even better, Moore writes about staying out of Ziklag in the frst place.

Most important of all, Moore reminds us that even when "the internal disappointment and external performance . . . wear[s] us down," we can remember that "our identity is in Jesus."  Once we are his, we are his forever.  Even knowing and accepting this, I wish Moore would have spent more time on that disappointment Christians experience, that lack of "dynamic and joy."  Why does it seem so elusive?

I would be surprised if you read this book as a Christian and didn't find some resonance with Moore's exposition.  I certainly saw myself in Ziklag and appreciate his pointing the direction out.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

I have really enjoyed movies based on Philip K. Dick's books and stories.  I have rarely enjoyed his books and stories.  PKD fans, of course, will say I'm too shallow or something and don't appreciate great literature, settling for the dumbed-down Hollywood versions.  I respond that it's a matter of taste.

I haven't seen any of the TV series The Man in the High Castle, but I suspect my experience will line up with my history.  The book, while it follows a more traditional narrative structure than some of his other novels, isn't very good.  From what I've heard and seen on the previews, the TV show is probably better.

In The Man in the High Castle, Japan and Germany won World War 2 and each occupy respective regions of the former United States.  A popular book, banned in Nazi-occupied areas, presents an alternative future in which the U.S. won the war.  That's kind of a fun idea: alternative fiction about a work of alternative fiction which more closely matches our reality.  The author, who is reputed to live in a high castle, is both admired and targeted.

The loosely related story lines never came together for me very well.  The representation of west coast cutlure under Japanese rule is a little bit interesting, but not really.  The idea that technology developed much more quickly under the Nazis--they are sending manned missions to Mars and Venus--is implausible.  None of the personal stories or disparate plot lines appealed to me.

Dick has enough good ideas here that I will still check out the TV show at some point.  As fascinating as the ideas behind his writing are, the fact that for the ideas to be shaped into a decent story requires other writers' refinement and explication tells me that PKD's influence is far greater than his talent.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Kill Decision, by Daniel Suarez

Looking for a beach read?  Daniel Suarez's Kill Decision is an exciting mix of political thriller and techno thriller.  There are dark forces with deep ties to the U.S. government that want to promote the use of lethal autonomous drones as the next stage of warfare.  Thankfully there is a rogue group of military specialists with the freedom to act independently and with a mission to stop the drone warfare.

With the mysterious Odin at the helm, this group travels the globe in response to a series of related attacks.  The attacks are initially called bombings, but it becomes clear that it's drones.  Odin and his team, whose autonomy, attitudes, and methods reminded me of the team on Agents of SHEILD, intervene in Africa, saving a research scientist who specializes in ant colonies from a drone/bomb attack.  She specializes in the swarming behaviors of aggressive ants, and they learn that her research and computer models have been coopted by those designing and deploying the drone attacks.

Odin, the professor, and Odin's team find themselves targets of the attacks and have to go off the radar to track down the origin.  The story is full of action (admittedly sometimes rather implausible) and narrow escapes.  The science of the drones is frighteningly realistic.  The drones are autonomous, using facial recognition and other software tools to hone in on their prey.  This prevents jamming signals from interrupting their missions, and allows the drones to function at any distance from the programmers.  In addition, they communicate with one another with artificial pheremones, mimicking actual insect communication, an interesting concept that I had not thought of before.

For all I know, this technology is only a short step away from reality.  Suarez makes it very believable, and  crafts an exciting story around its use.  Kill Decision won't make the reading list for American Lit 101 at your local college, but for a fun, exciting page turner, it hits the spot.