Terminal Velocity, Technical Atrocity

I grew up in the tech industry, more by accident than by design. I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, where not far from my house, Bill Gates had an idea to start a company. After college I would join that company, more by luck than by intelligence and drive. It would challenge me and change me to be a disciple of knowledge. I would be wrong more than I was right. I would fail and be humbled. Once shy and easily shamed, I would develop thick skin and welcome criticism rather than turn my back on it. I would question those I felt needed to be questioned. I learned my limits but developed new areas to explore. I embraced change as it wrapped its arms around me. I always looked over the horizon, trying to learn and understand what was to come next It would open a new world for me, one I have not once regretted in over 30yrs.

At the end of the day technology is really about disruption. When I first started, the word processor was killing the typewriter. The spreadsheet was reducing the need for a handheld calculator. Companies that made these devices all of a sudden needed new revenue terms, some made it and some did not. That trend would continue through the dawn of the internet and the birth of the cloud. As humans we feel naked and vulnerable without a smartphone. We are always connected and any information we need is accessible at our fingertips. Financial market move at the speed of light. People make millions at the click of a button. As we moved forward more disruption will take place as the move to autonomous vehicles is underway (Domino’s will deliver Pizza via autonomous). Artificial Intelligence is in full swing allowing us to make better decisions based on data (the more data the better), across any vertical Oil and Gas, Financial Services, Legal, Retail etc… Internet of Things (IoT) allowing us to capture and analyze data on billions of sensory devices across the globe. All of these technologies have one thing in common, the desire to eliminate or minimize human involvement. To kill jobs.

Throughout our history in the United States we have tended to dominate new industries and rush forward at breakneck speed, often with little thought given to the consequences of our actions.. Sometimes they were environmental costs, such as the Cuyahoga RIver Fires in Cleveland back in the sixties. Sometimes direct assaults on the US labor force as we crippled labor unions and offshored manufacturing in favor of shareholder value. Leaving a wasteland across the middle of the United States. We now enter a new phase as technology moves at an ever faster pace and displaces jobs at a foreseeable record pace – paralegals gone, cashiers gone, taxi cabs drivers gone, FedEx drivers gone, Long haul truckers gone, lawyers gone (ok we can stop and cheer this one) etc..The refrain from many will be they just need to find new jobs. My immediate response is – What new jobs? How long will it take to find? Do they need to get more education in this new the profession? Professional certifications? All while they still have expenses – families, typical children expenses, mortgages, rent, food, cable bills, mobile phone, etc..

How quickly can humans adapt to change? Part of it is generational. Younger generations have grown up comfortable with technology, being wired shortly after they are born. We can thank Steve Jobs.. Older generations struggle more just to keep up with change. We have watched our middle class slowly shrink as if caught in a death spiral. We have a real unemployment rate hovering around 9% (unemployment sits at 5.8% but that does not include people who have just dropped out of US workforce). It gets back to education in the end and for all the emphasis on STEM, not all school districts in the US are equal. If you live in a poor area of the country your chances of a decent education go do, since a large part of public education is funded locally, usually by property taxes. Not everyone learns the same, not everyone has an aptitude to learn, but they are still human and have a right to dream and hope for a better future,

If tech has brought something along with a movement away from big government to free markets, it has brought a boom for the mega wealthy. The below illustrates how wealth is distributed across the globe. Global wealth distribution 2020. % of adults worldwide whose wealth is:

<$10K 55%

$10K-$100K 32.8%

$100K-$1m 11.1%

$1m+ 1.1%

-Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2020

Wealth is power as it has always been and as we consolidate it among a smaller and smaller percentage while the gap between top and bottom increases, we do so with little discussion of the ramifications. In America we talk of the poor we just don’t like to see them. But as we displace jobs at an increasing pace, without change the number will only grow and more and more poor people will suffer the wrath of displacement. While the 1% will grow at an exponential pace.

The thing that I think a lot about is as we rapidly move towards a future based on technological progress, how many people will be lost or left behind? Will real unemployment rates increase to where 15%? 20%? 25%? becomes the norm. History has often taught us when change occurs so do jobs. As we moved from agrarian age to industrial that the jobs created would benefit society. As we moved from industrial to the information age this once again happened, but now as we look at transformation again the jobs created story will not be so simple. According to 2018 census data the US employs 9.8 million cashiers. Amazon is mastering cashierless checkout. Companies as usual will look at cost savings while increasing margins. Where do 9.8 million people go for work? Many are working jobs that pay at minimum wage or just above. They likely receive minimal benefits (paid vacation, health care, retirement etc..not available). This is not skilled labor, but what they are is human. They deserve the right to a decent life. I understand the movement against left wing elitists, who claim to have answers without a core understanding of the people they are talking to. It is easy to propose solutions when the solutions you offer will never cause you any pain.

The new world we head into will be disruptive in ways never imagined in human history. It will transform how we live and how we work. It seems futuristic and dreamy but it will also create new challenges and new sufferings. Technology has the ability and opportunity to make us far more efficient in how we operate – managing energy infrastructure, transportation, water supply, food production etc..these are all things that need to happen and will happen, the only question is when. The flip side is it will create displacement. There will be many who either do not have the opportunity to participate or the inclination to participate. As I said at the outset Technology by definition disrupts and that disruption knows no boundaries, least of all being human life.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Hoffmann 6/29/2021

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The Death of Science

I am not a scientist. My background in science is very shallow, both professionally and academically. My knowledge of science comes from what I read and what my wife educates me about (she does have a background in science). With that being said I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who devout their lives to science, usually with the goal of making the world a better place and providing a better understanding in how the world functions. More importantly, how we as humans are to function within its confines. Which has made the current public discussions and assaults on science somewhat unnerving. It is OK to question but too often the topic becomes a political topic and not a scientific topic. Rather than listen to science we say it is an attack on our civil liberties and individual rights, an assault on American values by the extreme left. I am not sure when science became the dominion of the left, but in any case that is where we are. In the end however scientific conclusions are based on data gathered over time, analyzed, and conclusions are developed. Science is the search for the truth and as its basis are facts. Politics is very emotional and sometimes irrational. Unfortunately both those traits have woven their way into the assault on science.

Throughout history science has made invaluable contributions to help our society progress. How each nation has progressed is somewhat uneven. The United States is very wealthy. Nigeria is not nearly as wealthy. But if we look at the United States so much of our success is tied to scientific endeavor. We sent a man to the moon. the work of Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution which has been key in allowing us to feed the planet. The Manhattan project which would end the second world war and foster in the Nuclear age. Breakthroughs in Aviation, medicine, Computer Science all led by American intellectual curiosity and economic expansion while positioning the US as a Global leader in the world of politics and the world economy. We have so much wealth and prosperity to thank for our status and yet when science provides a narrative we are not happy or comfortable with we turn our backs on science and choose not to believe in what it is telling us. We bite the hand that feeds us.

Many times that progresion comes with unintended consequences. We learned early in human history we needed heat, especially the further north you lived. Early on we used coal to heat homes and continue to use coal for many things today when it comes to energy, but both the mining for coal and use of coal has health consequences. We polluted our streams with waste from manufacturing facilities. We polluted our air with countless smoke stacks and the exhausts of millions of motor vehicles. In the meantime the global population has swelled to 7.7 billion people. The domographers say we will peak by 2100 at 11 billion people on the planet. All those people will need the bare necessities of food, water, shelter tec.. How abundant is the earth? Can we actually put a strain on the natural resources that are available to us? Some seem to think the Earth’s supply is infinite. I struggle with that narrative as in many places on earth where there was abundance there is now scarcity. We see populations of species dwindle from the Polar Bear in the arctic to the White Rhino’s of Africa. Fishing seasons, depending on the fish are not as plentiful as they were when I was a kid in the seventies. If the earth is forever why do so many believe time is running out? Science will be key to managing the inevitable growth, it will be key to maintaining the health of the planet.

For whatever reason these breakthroughs in science which have led us to lead a comfortable life, eradicate diseases, build huge economic opportunity, and envision a future rooted in science fiction, falls short for many. What the scientist’s are saying has become a threat to the way we live and our pursuit of happiness. The outbreak of COVID-19 is a perfect example, where some turned face mask into an assault on individual rights. Though the history and evidence were clear there will always be those who refuse to believe fact and choose fiction. In today’s world it is as if we are taught to live in fear and see evil around every corner. If you ask me why so many doubt science, it’s because that very science that led to all those breakthroughs is shattering their pursuit of the American Dream. It fundamentally goes back to human basics and something we have neglected in this country for generations. As we have forged ahead with our free market and technological innovations we have neglected a large swath of the US population who have watched jobs move overseas and technology wipe out jobs. Union were shunned as an assault on the income statement. If you did not pursue an education in STEM you were told the US would be left behind and you would be left behind. All those really smart people were right and what we were left with was a marginalized and growing white supremacist movement.

Then came “An Inconvenient Truth”, I have actually not watched the movie but it sums up what has followed (I have seen and met Al Gore as he discussed Climate Change). A lot more government regulation, climate control summits, pandemics, etc..As these arguments progressed and the villains were identified – the first being “Big” government, then the tech companies who tend to view the world more liberally, the social movements etc..the anger in ensued. It is a shame and a danger to our nation to not listen based on a perception and not being grounded in reality. But then the people being the most impacted are those who have more to lose than to gain.

We can choose as a nation to ignore science, but if we do so we do at our own peril. Much of the rest of the world is tackling the climate crisis and building new industries. In the US it is a political issue. Science has provided options to stop the spread of COVID-19 – Social distancing, masks, and vaccines. The response is I do not have to get a vaccine, it’s my right. The people who use this argument have a habit of defending their individual rights while violating yours. As David Brooks said, “We are not asking you to storm Iwo Jima, we are asking you to walk into a CVS”. But the hatred of science goes beyond COVID-19 to climate change. In California climate change is creating jobs as we look to alternative fuels, but again we have powerful lobbyists to combat the truth.

What science is telling us, is sometimes the answer to your demand will be “No”. An example is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gasses are cows. Livestock contributes about 14.5% of greenhouse gasses with cows a major contributor. Today on earth there are over 1 billion cows. They feed us either as dairy products or beef. We would be wise to cut that number in half. The problem is behind that number is a large cattle industry complex that employs millions of people. In addition if we culled 500,000 cows short term there would be a glut on the market, long term beef and dairy products would see significant price increases. th ejob losses would hurt and people who love burgers may see a change in availability. There are those that will scream “bloody murder”, but what the science tells us is true, as Neil Degrasse Tyson said, “The good thing about science is its true, whether or not you believe it”.

In the end we can choose to ignore science, but we do so at our own peril. Those who do choose will see their world (and frankly everyone else) begin to shrink around them. Golf courses need water, in the future if we ignore science we may not have as much available. Fish need to spawn, but if we keep building dams no spawning less fish. Climates that get too hot become deserts. As life disappears ecosystems become impacted. Snow pact is important for water supplies. More cars on fossil fuels means poor air quality (China can attest to this – look at Beijing skyline if you can see it). It becomes an endless list but if we chose not to listen to science and more importantly choose not to trust science we seal our own fate. If science dies, so does the human race.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann June 9, 2021

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