I Am Struggling With My Opinions Regarding The Following Technology

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I really love gadgets, like, most of the time. Most of the time I am all for technology that makes our lives easier. But I also write in a physical journal and much prefer film cameras to digital for the photos that are close to my heart. And y’all know that I truly believe we are always two small steps away from living the plot of a dystopian novel, and the robot apocalypse is something I frequently contemplate (though I think global warming is obvi our bigger issue re: apocalypses that could actually happen). It is for this reason that, while I love science and technology and innovation, I am not always behind every single tech invention ever. Sometimes it’s easy to make up my mind — with the Amazon drones, for instance. Or with food-shaming technology like HAPIfork that’s ruining the way we relate to pretty much the best thing ever (eating). Those are easily filed under NOPE in my brain.

But then there are those innovations where the pros and cons are major and also equal. Here are a few of those things:


Estimote Beacons and Stickers

What it is: tiny gadgets that stick to real life physical surfaces/objects and transmit data to your phone. The ‘what’ of that data is decided by developers — it could tell you what products customers pick up in stores or how much mileage you’ve covered while running with your dog this week. It could tell you loads of things, actually, and it’s up to individual developers and businesses.

Pros: these are really cool! I’d like to attach one to my keys and then I’d never lose them again. Man, bonus points if this hardware can make a pinging sound in its next iteration — then I can use my phone to find shit I have misplaced! I have almost no short term memory! I misplace a lot of shit! And I’d totally stick one in my bag because even though I’ve never lost a bag, I feel like when I eventually do, I’d really love to be able to track it down.

Cons: THIS IS TERRIFYING. What if someone sticks it on your CAR somewhere. Someone like a STALKER or an ABUSIVE PARTNER. And then they KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. Because these things are so tiny, you’ll never find it. Especially if they placed it inside your car, like under the seat — then it won’t even get hurt by the weather. No one is ever gonna find that shit, but people are gonna find you. Plus they remind me of the lollipop cameras in Dave Eggers’s The Circle.

Also there’s the idea of the internet networking everything — I really hate that idea. Like, can’t we just have the real world be the real world instead of cyberspacifying it all?


google-car-prototype-pic

Google Driverless Cars

What it is: what it sounds like — a car you can ride in but don’t drive. It drives itself. Automatically.

Pros: studies show that these cars are going to be much safer than human drivers could ever be. So safe, in fact, that the move toward driverless cars is expected to have a secondary impact of creating an organ shortage because that many fewer people will be dying in car accidents. Luckily, that shortage can be solved with 3D printing (oh yes it can, and that’s a technology that falls squarely in my “yay” column). And California finally solved the problem of the cars not having a steering wheel or pedals by regulating the heck out of that, thank lesbian Jesus. So the cars driving on public roads will indeed have a steering wheel and pedals, which was my number one con. However—

Cons: if (when) the computers all achieve sentience, “driver” is really the last role you want that computer to be playing. And even with manual control’s, your Hal-mobile will just lock that ish up and tell you “I’m afraid I can’t do that.” While it drives you to your new prison for (inferior) human beings. Bow down to your new Google Driverless Car Overloards.

Even if that never happens, driving is fun. Driving is an art. And we’ll no longer be doing it — cars will go the way of horses. As in, people will ride them for fun or sport, but (for the most part) not for every day use. People will go to car farms for the pleasure of taking their obsolete forms of user-driven transportation out on the trails. For the most part, we won’t be able to say “I drive a car.” We’ll have to say “the car drives me.” And there’s something sad about that. Alas. Time marches on.


Robot Bees

What it is: small robots that do all manner of things. Hopefully a replacement for our quickly-perishing honeybee colonies.

Pros: There’s hope that these robo-bees might act as pollinators for crops in the coming decades (though there’s a lot more research that needs to be done) Isn’t it nice that we can solve problems with the sheer strength of our brains? This gives me hope that humans are adaptable enough to avoid all sorts of things that could fling us into a dystopian YA novel.

Cons: JUST SAVE THE GODDAMN BEES, HOW ABOUT THAT FOR A SOLUTION???? Real bees > robotic bees.

So. What should I think about these? What tech innovations have got you contemplating the life-saver/disaster continuum?


This has been the ninety-second installment of  Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Feature image via ShutterstockHeader by Rory Midhani.

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Freelance writer and fiction author, Geekery Editor for Autostraddle.com and Fiction Editor for qu.ee/r Magazine. Keep up with her at her website.

Ali has written 264 articles for us.

40 Comments

  1. Thumb up 8

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    Another perk of driverless cars: I can sit back, read a book, drink a glass of wine, work on my laptop, have a deep conversation with a friend, or take a nap and next thing you know I’m halfway across the country! (Hopefully at A-Camp.) Do you know how much leisure time this will give back to the world? Sign me up!

    Also, robot bees will make a great cat toy. Which is, of course, the purpose of humanity.

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    As afraid as I am of the robot appocalypse, I have to say I’m looking forward to the driverless cars. Primarily because us blindies could actually get around without relying on the good will of the rest of the world. But also, think of the stupidity factor of many people who drive! Surely it would cut down on road rage.

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      I’m not sure that self-driving cars will spell an end to road rage. Presumably the cars will be programmed to not exceed the speed limit, so anyone who is running late and wants to speed to make up for lost time will still have to drive themselves.

    • Thumb up 3

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      (thank you, cat)
      about 70 meters so someone’s smartphone would have to be in close proximity to track your movements.

      GPS trackers unfortunately are fairly easy to hide and are getting smaller these days too. Really scary how these spy-movie sort of gadgets are available for the public to misuse.

  3. Thumb up 6

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    Driverless cars will be so cool it is actually getting back to where we were with horses! Like when upon leaving a pub you get surrounded and relentlessly attacked by pavement from all sides, you can fight your way to your trusty war car – i am assuming it will be a noble, purebred war car which has borne you into battle during the last days of Ascension War (1973 – 2025, resulting in the complete defeat for biocons with an attempted genocide trial thrown in as a bonus, and securing full sapient rights to individuals of fully or partially technological origin) – and hold on to its warm panel, lean down to the mic and whisper in its ear: take me drunk, i’m home! It’s like days of King Arthur all over again.

    The tracker devices are cool and inevitable. You won’t secure a negative freedom from surveillance – you are tracked by biometric-recognising spysats and cctv already, there is no way to turn the clock back, so you can only balance it with sousveillance and stand for full transparency. Meanwhile, finding our keys (i’m as bad as you are and my Ascension War souvenir shellshocks and mind scars have my memory unstable at best and often outright nonexistent) will be a wonderful little perk.

    The robotic bees …i.e. insect assassin drones by another name …again are a present day reality that can’t be wished away. All we can do is benefit from tech too – because if there is a measure, there is a countermeasure.

    yes this is antiutopian and scary and you can even unwillingly end up sleeping with an i-950 hybrid terminator, thinking the warmth of her lips or softness of her touch has been selected for by the evolution and paid for with 4.5 billions of years of those things you worship most – deaths and suffering – and because of that has a deeper meaning. Meanwhile it actually took just several processing cycles of Skynet to appreciate the desire for affection and tenderness in a broken toy you once owned but had thrown away and several more to reverse-engineer and repair it with no other reason except ‘just because :P’. It is a world where you can end up owning the original of Mona Lisa, because another of your human concepts, that of authenticity, ends up being obsolete and there are only original Mona Lisas around, all 5.000.000 of them (think of all the non-baseliners who might want to use said originals for garage wall tiles as a rebel statement), identical to the last atom.

    This world is terrifying and definitely less human than the one of big manually driven cars with chromed fins, suburban houses, fractional numbers of children and dogs. But there are also so many things that can’t be ordered back into a bottle, maybe not all of them bad.

    P.S. And as for things that leave me in doubt – eugenics, genetic screening or whatever is the fancy term for it now. While it is a lovely goal to make sure every person beginning a life is not confined to insurpassable hedonistic negatives, i don’t trust the evolutionary psychology of a baseline human not to define everyone different as defective and singlemindedly focus on pandering to their pack uniformity by eliminating difference – all the while allowing actual sufferers to come about, only to be told to tough it out.

  4. Thumb up 4

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    driver-less car reminded me of this:

    Also, does this mean there will possibly be no traffic and my road rage will disappear completely? Particularly towards those people that seem to be allergic to their turn signals? A girl can dream, right?

    Can science work on a hyperloop transport system a la Futurama instead?

    and yes, 10000% agreed about the bees.

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      The main benefit of the driverless cars for those who already drive will probably be a reduction in accidents caused by someone being asleep at the wheel / extremely intoxicated / otherwise completely inattentive. Which is most accidents.

      Theoretically, they could also be extremely useful for things like ZipCar.

  5. Thumb up 3

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    Driverless cars? no way, Jose. I love driving also and to be driven through the world would be curbing my choice. I think driving is an art, and even though there are those whose sober judgement and perhaps poor eyesight and impulse control is less than ideal, to take away their choice to drive is inhumane. We live in a world of choice and of risk, and anything less is a form of oppression. Also, just save the bees’!

  6. Thumb up 2

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    I’m so bad for fearing/taking a contrarian dislike to new technology. I’ll make a great grandma.

    I’d like to share with you all that when tablets first started being talked about, I was convinced, *convinced* they wouldn’t catch on. I said that, out loud. I said it all the time. ‘I don’t see the point of tablets; I don’t think they’ll catch on.’

  7. Thumb up 3

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    Oh my god, Estimote is a thing I’ve been wishing existed since I was in elementary school. I have the same trouble with it though– so so useful, but potentially so so harmful.

    Also, I grew up in a family that keeps bees. Seriously, just save the real bees.

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    YAY to all of it. My general opinion of technology is that it has the potential to make things either really really bad or really really good, and it’s up to us to make sure it’s the latter.

    Also the robo-apocalypse is actually an even more serious issue than you might think. It’s possible that a self improving AI might rapidly go from sub-human intelligence to super-intelligence in a matter of weeks or even hours without any warning. And if that AI isn’t carefully programed to maximize human values then it will almost certainly exterminate humanity. Not because it hates humans, but because it can better use the atoms making up our bodies to fulfill whatever purpose it was programed to do, like maximizing paperclips for example.

    Fortunately some of the best minds in the world are working on the problem of how to design an AI that won’t try to exterminate you. If you’re really concerned about preventing a robo-apocalypse you might want to check them out.
    http://intelligence.org/

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    Ok, it seems (from the info on their website) that the estimote beacons have a limited range of <100m … so they probably wouldn't be the most useful thing for creepy stalkers, and putting it on a car to track someone would probably be useless assuming that they drive more than 100m away from wherever the stalker was planning on tracking them from.

    And on an unrelated note, Hapiforks sound like a useless waste of money, but I would totally love some dinnerware that gives me the calorie/macronutrient ratio/etc info for my food. For science.

  10. Thumb up 1

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    Ah yes, as for hapiforks – fuck that concept with something square profiled and sandpapery, on the basis of hedonism. If i face consistent strategic/tactical consequences of my dietary decisions – i will throw some lovely Thai bodysculpting at it sometime when i have a month off and like 3k quid to spare. In full knowledge that there’s nothing wrong with being on the fatty side – but i’m merely paying for tech adding the right reproductive health markers for the evopsych programming of onlookers’ minds to recognise – and exhibit a positive bias. It’s like buying a fake evolutionary MOT – the things we do to stay safe and away from human natures in others.

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    No, see, estimotes are great and all, but my single most frequently lost item is my phone. So what would happen then? Would I need a back-up phone to tell me where my primary phone is? What if I lost that?

    At the end of the day I honestly just need a tracking device implanted in my skull. Sure, there’s the fact that probably government agencies could locate me at any time, and probably there’d be some kind of a tie-in with companies so that they can tailor advertisements depending on where I exist at most frequently, but pffft. I need my phone.

  12. Thumb up 3

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    I love my van, I go camping in my van…its the only way I can afford a holiday so I’m a big Nay on the driverless cars. Also I fear that it would not lead to more leisure time, as posited further up the comments, but more time working on the way to work. I read an article about the harm being done to folk by working on their commute, also working through lunch by eating at their desks and even emailing/working via smartphone from the loo…I fear this would be an extension of that.
    Also just save the damn bees already.
    Also a whistle to find your phone app would make my life.

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    I am all for driveless cars, mainly because I am terrified of how many reckless drivers are on the road. I bike and drive and welcome a safer commute. Also, I’m not a fan of driving. I’m in social work and make home visits, so the idea of being able to read a book or get work done while sitting in traffic sounds incredibly pleasant. I believe they said carless drivers would reduce traffic as well. Apparently we humans are terrible at maintaining speeds, knowing when to merge, and how much to slow down by.

    While I am not afraid of the robot apocalypse, I am concerned about robot sentience. I want robots to be tools, but once they develop sentience I personally believe they’re entitled to rights and respect as intelligent beings and I know many people won’t feel the same way. Considering how hard achieving civil rights has been, and still is, for humans, I don’t look forward to that battle on the robot frontier. We are not that evolved.

  14. Thumb up 2

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    Driverless cars will allow lots more people who would otherwise be unable to get jobs due to the lack of a driver’s license and car (which a lot of job apps demand) to access more employment options. This includes people like me, who are somewhat driving phobic, as well as people with disabilities. If driverless cars become a service much like Zip they can also be more accessible to low-income people.

    Also why are we jumping to the conclusion that driverless cars will automatically lead to a thorough ban of human-powered cars? Even horse-driven (or other mammal-driven) carriages are still a thing. You can have as much artisanal driving as you want, camp out in your van or whatever (or how about driverless vans and campers that let you sleep??).

    Your phones, computers, and any device with GPS or social media are more likely to offer stalker bait than any sort of RFID device. If you have a modern-day passport or ID – tadah!

  15. Thumb up 2

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    The thing I am wondering is, will driver-less cars still require a driver’s license? because you’d want whoever is behind the wheel to know what to do if they need to apply an emergency break or take over for a faulty AI/failing systems.

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