Weekly Link Roundup

I noticed a few stories this week that I haven’t had time to write more about, but wanted to mention briefly:

• So-called “psychics” defraud their gullible customers out of thousands of dollars, usually through laughably obvious ploys in which they claim the client’s money needs to be “cleansed”. Can we please regulate these con artists already? Or should we even try – do the suckers deserve what they get?

• And proving that corruption and hypocrisy crosses denominational lines, a Greek Orthodox “holy man” is sentenced to 15 years in prison for raping two women by convincing them that having sex with him was the only way to rid themselves of curses.

• Couldn’t have put it better myself: Stephen Hawking says that the afterlife is “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark“.

• The tight link between religion, education and income in America. The non-religious are up there, although it’s Hindus, oddly enough, who take the crown.

• And although this is in no way related to atheism, it was too cool not to share: Google is lobbying Nevada to legalize self-driving robot cars, which the software giant has been quietly testing for some time.

I’ve always thought driving was a tedious chore, and I can’t wait for cars that can do it for me. Not only would it be extremely convenient, it’ll almost certainly be safer: a robot car never falls asleep at the wheel, never drives drunk, never lets its attention wander, and ought to be able to react to hazards much faster than a human. We are entering the future, and I for one can’t wait to see it!

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Samuel

    • And proving that corruption and hypocrisy crosses denominational lines, a Greek Orthodox “holy man” is sentenced to 15 years in prison for raping two women by convincing them that having sex with him was the only way to rid themselves of curses.

    That sounds like a bad porno…

    When she was pregnant, her husband was sent parts of a video recording of a sexual encounter she was forced to have with Psichogios.

    … words fail me. (The quote is from the article linked)

  • Bob Carlson

    We are entering the future, and I for one can’t wait to see it!

    It reminds me of a cover of a the Sunday magazine of the Detroit News about 60 years ago showing a family in a car that was being driven by itself. I don’t suppose it will take another 60 years for it to happen, but I doubt that I’ll be seeing it.

  • The Vicar

    do the suckers deserve what they get?

    You can rephrase this question as “is there a moral imperative to protect foolish people from smarter but unethical people who want to take advantage of them?”

    I can see some arguments in either direction, but there’s a definite practical argument: smart unethical people should not be allowed to wield any more power in society than absolutely necessary, and in our society money is power. Therefore, we should be protecting fools not for the fools’ benefit but for our own.

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    I’m inclined to think that saying “they deserve it!” is not tough-minded in general.

  • NoAstronomer

    Personally I like driving, except in heavy traffic. I do think it’s going to be a long while before a computer controlled car is a realistic proposition. Besides the sheer mass of logic to cope with all the possible conditions that might occur on the road there’s always the problem of how the sensors behave as they age, get dirty and lose efficiency.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Fraud and theft are already illegal, so it seems like outlawing psychics would be redundant.

    As to the Orthodox case, it seems as though only the victims belonged to the Eastern Orthodox church. At least one of the assailants was Catholic. (Catholicism is the most common denomination in Australia, whereas the Orthodox church is relatively small.)

    These cases are horrific, but we really need more people to understand (as the victims now do) that others will abuse, twist, and exploit any sort of delusion to their own benefit. That’s a core flaw in believing something that can’t be disproved. It’s terrible that a few people are far enough lost that it takes a traumatic series of incidents to really disabuse them of the notion.

    Oh, and as for the whole “self-driving cars” — I fear that will never take off. How many accidents will people tolerate involving self-driven machines before they start calling for bans? (Of course, this is a totally irrational basis. People make dozens of fatal and otherwise disastrous mistakes on the road daily. As long as machines can do better on average than people, you’d think it would be an argument in favor.)

  • Dark Jaguar

    Your first comment on whether fools deserve to be taken advantage of? This is a position I can never support, not least because it’s one of the signs of a sociopath. People do need to be educated to protect them from con artists, but in the end, the blame goes to the person who lied to someone to get something from them, and the blame always stops there. One can argue that it protects us too, but I’m willing to simply say it’s worth protecting innocent people for the sake of protecting innocent people. I’m sick of the “dark and gritty” 200X where caring about others is called “immature” in medical dramas.

    As for self driving cars… one design that works well is one that’s entirely moderated by a system built into the road, so traffic is simply designed with that in mind. Cars can be much more tightly packed when braking and starting is choreographed.

    There are obvious concerns. A self driving car needs to be able to detect obstacles and instantly react, such as a kid running across the road.

    A less obvious concern to people who use cars like disposable paper towels is that for a vast majority of people, they will hang onto a car until the exact moment it simply won’t drive any more, because they simply can’t afford to keep it in tip top condition all the time. In Oklahoma, for example, about 10 years ago the mandatory yearly car checkup was removed from law simply because most voters simply couldn’t afford to pass it. Now, these cars aren’t inherently unsafe most of the time, but they do operate differently as time goes on, for example a more worn brake pad means it takes a little longer to brake full stop. Any automated driving will need to “expect” certain behavior when it plans an action, and so such a program needs to be able to adapt to the slowly changing reactionary behavior of controlling the car. If it can’t, it’ll brake too late and not turn sharply enough as time goes on.

    They need to specifically address this concern and explain how they’ve done so before I’ll support it. However, if they do that, then not only will I support it, but after a decade of use demonstrating fewer accidents than when people are driving, I’ll start asking for mandatory automated driving, with self-driving relegated to reckless behavior.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    I can’t even keep the simple proximity warning sensors on my car clean enough to keep the beeping from going off when there’s nothing behind me. You think that I, as a computer programmer, am going to trust my life to a machine that can’t see, can’t hear, and can barely think? Not to mention that the first idiot who figures out how to remotely confuse the navigation computers will destroy the system forever.

    I enjoy driving, especially long-distance(say, 15-18 hour range). Why would I want to give it up?

  • jack

    a robot car never falls asleep at the wheel, never drives drunk, never lets its attention wander, and ought to be able to react to hazards much faster than a human.

    Ah, but a robot car depends on software written by programmers who hate their managers, fall asleep at the keyboard, write code while drunk, let their attention wander during design meetings, and get careless with dynamic memory allocation. I shudder to think of all the memory leaks, loop control errors and uninitialized variables being used in the little silicon brain of that 2-ton steel monster bearing down on me at 70 mph.

    Pardon this old curmudgeon, who started writing code back in the dark ages of Fortran IV.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    it’ll almost certainly be safer: a robot car never falls asleep at the wheel, never drives drunk, never lets its attention wander, and ought to be able to react to hazards much faster than a human.

    and the advantshge ishhh…?

  • Dark Jaguar

    That is a fair point, garbage in garbage out. The idea is to make sure it’s coded well.

    As for those who enjoy driving, that’s fine, and you still can, with the old laws applying to you. That is, until its outlawed 50 years down the road. Then, well, find a stretch of private road somewhere, that is, if you can manage the fog so thick you can’t see past your own cataracts.

  • karen

    Immigrants from India are the highest-educated, most entrepreneurial and most successful immigrants, according to the latest U.S. Census Data.

    It’s likely that this is why the Hindu religion ranks at the top of the income data. It’s not Hinduism that has any magic about it, it’s the financial and educational status of Indian-Americans, who start scores of successful tech companies and dominate in Silicon Valley.

  • Syn

    What made the psychic in the article a thief was that she promised to give the money back and didn’t. Other than that, there is not much to distinguish between a psychic and one of those televangelists begging for money. Also, I expect that some psychics, tarot readers, etc. (the sincere ones) actually hand out good advice for far less than a psychiatrist charges.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    We are entering the future, and I for one can’t wait to see it!
    - Ebonmuse, OP

    To quote Matthew Boyd, I carry a device in my pocket that “can contact nearly anyone in the world, locate me on aerial maps and plot directions to any location in the country. It is unquestionably the future, and you would have crashed your stupid flying car anyway.” (Link to source.)

    I think that robot cars won’t take off because there is an irrational human preference to only be susceptible to one’s own mistakes, and not the mistakes of others. Sure, maybe the absolute number of accidents per capita will decrease, but I don’t care if it means that I might crash just because my car’s brain crashed. From the other direction, I can make sure that I won’t crash as long as I drive alert, sober, and lawfully; I can’t make sure that my car doesn’t have a bug-in-waiting, so I irrationally refuse to accept that risk (even though it’s much smaller). If you can get people to realize that giving up personal control is actually safer, then they may trust robot cars.

  • lpetrich

    When driving, one has to avoid too little caution and too much caution. The latter resulting in driving *very* slowly, making a robot car almost useless and an traffic obstruction.

    These cars would need artificial vision for seeing and recognizing the road, the other cars, and any pedestrians. I don’t think that it’s good enough, at least not yet, so I’ll believe it when I see it.

    Part-time automatic driving may be more feasible, however. Like being in automatic on a freeway, and manual on city streets.

    To date, the most successful automated land vehicles have been trains, and they have some features that make it easy. No steering necessary — the tracks do all the steering. Sometimes a fenced-off or walled-off right-of-way. Etc.

    If automatic driving gets very good, then what will become of manual driving? I once read a science-fiction story about automatic-driving cars in which manual driving had been outlawed as needlessly dangerous. Isaac Asimov’s “Sally” in “Nightfall and Other Stories”.


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