Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Let Google Do The School Run.

The folks at Google get a lot of things right.

For a start, they don't work for Facebook – which is possibly the single best idea any technically-minded humanoid could ever have.

Other good things they've done include the inexplicably legal snooping tool 'Google Earth', their search engine is clearly reasonably popular too, and personally I also prefer their web browser Chrome which, thanks to its 'Incognito' setting, allows me to indulge my passion for Barry Manilow videos without a single other person in my household ever having a clue.

But like all successful companies from this (third) 3D Age, even the mighty Google can make the odd catastrophic blunder, and the Self Driving Car (further details of which were announced today) is just the latest turkey to jump the fence of Google's funny farm.

As someone who likes to keep the door ajar for all things sci-fi, you might have thought I would welcome such futuristic vision, especially when it comes from a company with a proven track record in technology development. The problem here is that Google clearly never sent out the memo reminding their staff that certain 'futuristic visions' are supposed to remain as precisely that. They are not meant to actually happen. I mean, we're not really meant to go on holiday with robots, it's just a handy way of making movies feel edgy and dark. What today's announcement shows is that some overexcited puppies at Google see the likes of Skynet from the Terminator franchise as some sort of corporate goal - as opposed to the nightmarish cautionary tale that the screenwriters intended - and these same little wag-tailed dogs are actively endeavouring to make sure all that horrible scary stuff really does happen.

Basically, today's news update from Google's Attention Seeking Division tells us that (contrary to earlier news updates) Google are not going to adapt previously built vehicles, but are to build their own child maimers right from scratch.

Let's be clear. These cars will have no pedals, no steering wheels, and no other controls whatsoever except for a single 'Stop/Go' button.

Read that sentence again and then imagine tomorrow's school run.

Now, safety is obviously paramount in the minds of these Google pups, but that shouldn't be a problem because computers never go wrong. Especially not one's running software created by Google.

Stop laughing and consider this.

You get into cars without controls all the time. You've been doing it throughout your entire life.

It's called being a passenger.

Almost every week of our lives we entrust our destiny into the hands of ultra-fallable human beings, many of whom will have crashed a car at least once before you settle yourself into the seat beside them.

Wouldn't it feel just a little bit safer to be entrusting your life into the hands of a series of massively powerful, state-of-the-art microchips, all working in tandem to achieve what for them is an infinitely simple task – and each of them doing this whilst simultaneously monitoring each other's efficiency and performance every inch of the way?

Well, if you think that scenario might appeal more, let me run a quick scenario...

You are driving along (being driven along?) in your Self Drive Google Car, which is incapable of error. Suddenly, up ahead, a human-driven car veers onto your side of the road – driving the wrong way on a collision course directly toward you. The driver of the vehicle seems unconscious and is unlikely to take steps to avoid the collision with your car, which will happen in seconds.

What does your Google car do?

Burdened with the extra imperative 'never to make a mistake', does it move to the left and mount the pavement – on which pedestrians are walking? Does it veer to the right – into the path of oncoming traffic? Or does it make neither of these two risky choices and elect instead for the only option which leaves it blameless at the subsequent enquiry – namely to make an emergency stop.

By choosing the least 'wrong' option – the result is that you die, so do your two kids and the driver of the oncoming car – but the Google car did absolutely nothing wrong and Google's reputation is safe.

A genuine human tragedy, and an absolute triumph of tech.

Putting an error proof car onto roads with cars which make mistakes all the time is simply not going to work. To me, that's obvious.

The only thing Google can be thinking is that one day only their cars will be on our roads. This, I agree, would hugely reduce the number of accidents on those roads – possibly to zero – but taking a seat in a car without controls is going to be a giant leap for humankind, way more of a leap than it took this turkey to fly the fence of Google's funny farm, and can any of us really picture ourselves letting Google take our kids to school any time soon?

I just can't see it happening. And frankly I don't even mean 'yet'. I mean ever.

Ultimately though, amongst all the horror that lurks beneath the surface of today's announcement from Google, one aspect above all really got me fighting to keep my breakfast down.

They are going to give these non-controllable self-driving cars 'smiley faces' in order to “help people accept the technology”.


Amazing that nobody ever thought to paint smiles on electric chairs.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

There's More To Life Than Great Beer. (Right?)

The last time I posted something here was in the late 17th century, during the latter days of the reign of King Charles II.

Or at least that's how it feels... and lately I've started to wonder why.

Having enthusiastically churned out around 160 reviews of beers from across the world, why would I suddenly lose the will?

It's not as though I've stopped getting excited about beer. After all, it's arguable that things have never been so exciting in the ever-widening world of brewing - as my three most recent acquisitions (pictured above) demonstrate with mouth-watering panache.

And it's not as though I've grown tired of writing either. During this period of blog silence I've been tinkering away with screenplays, revisiting old novel manuscripts (pretty decent one of them is, too) as well as knocking out the odd beer descriptor for any breweries which ask me to do so.

So what's my problem?

Well, after a lot of thought, I suspect I may have found the answer...

I think there may be more to life than beer.

I won't blame you for reading that last sentence three or four times, I know it's hard to compute.

But I have reason to believe it must be true because very often, when I sit down to extrapolate my views on yet another golden beer from the South East of England, I find I'm actually suppressing a more urgent need to talk about something else entirely. This suppressed 'something' comes in many forms, depending on what's going on in the world, it really could be anything, even something which - just imagine - hasn't the merest connection with beer at all.

So, having had this realisation - I've decided to shake things up and make some changes to this site. I'm going to break free from the shackles of my own design concept and use this quiet corner of the Webosphere to bleat on about whatever the heck happens to be on my mind. Who knows, maybe that other side of my life - that which involves prancing around in front of film cameras - might find a voice here. It seems that my rather odd profession can sometimes be of mild interest to many of you humanoids, so maybe it wouldn't hurt to share some of my 'on-set' experiences.

Maybe something will make me laugh or get me raging and I'll feel sufficiently compelled to share it. I don't really know how this will go, to be honest.

Beer will continue to feature, that's a given. Some beers are just too good to ignore. As things stand, the hyper intensity of creative energy, the abundant raw talent, and the sheer hard graft going on within the brewing industry will guarantee that I continue to get vocal from time to time.

But the unfortunate flipside of these unprecedented levels of brewing endeavour is that there is now way too much beer out there, and a lot of it simply doesn't inspire. So from now on only the brews that genuinely raise my spirits will be given air time here. Expect to find brews from Mikkeller, Avery, Evil Twin, Magic Rock, Kernel, Thornbridge, BrewDog, Russian River, Marble, Angel City, Cigar City, Beavertown, Sly Fox, Bear Republic and plenty more firms that fit comfortably onto this "kind" of list.

(You know what "kind" I'm talking about. Some like to call it "Craft Beer". Others then demand a more detailed explanation of what "craft" means. Then someone fetches a shotgun because they're so sick and tired of all this aimless, soul-destroying infighting.)

Anyway, there you have it. It's official. The Bottled Beer Year is back in action, replete with fancy new bells and whistles, and henceforth it will be - rather like life itself - about much more than pleasant tasting liquid.

I hope you'll stay tuned, and maybe you'll even enjoy it.

In the meantime, I'm going back on set.

(N.B. - The beers pictured are 'Gamma Ray' American Pale Ale from Beavertown, '113 IPA' India Pale Ale from Sly Fox and 'I Beat You' Imperial IPA from Mikkeller.  Each can now be found on the High Score Chart.)