Previous “Our Terrible Future” posts

Maybe They Offer a Lifetime Guarantee 

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

When I first ran into QR codes in 2011, I had an amusingly miserable experience. In the decade-plus since, the technology has gotten a bit more usable, particularly after QR code scanning was built in to the camera app on smartphones. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurants switched to online menus accessed via QR code, and many still haven’t switched back. I suppose people just weren’t poking at their phones in public enough already.

While QR codes are now pretty well established, they remain distinctly unappealing to me. They feel like a kludge, unwanted technology that’s been forced on us to solve a problem in a clunky way. As such, when I heard about a company placing QR codes on gravestones, my immediate thought was “Tacky!”.

A gravestone with a QR code on it.
Sorry, Danny Boy.

Beyond that, though, it just seems unlikely that this business will last very long in the grand scheme of things. The idea of preserving the stories of the deceased is a fine one, but using QR codes to link to a small company’s website just feels terribly fragile. In 20, or 50, or 100 years, when “The Story Of” ever stops paying for their servers, these gravestones are just going to be festooned with useless trash.

Still, it could be worse. From the picture above, it appears it won’t be to difficult to remove the codes in the future. At least they aren’t engraving QR codes directly onto the headstone.

We Don’t Deserve Dogs and Dogs Don’t Deserve This 

Thursday, November 3rd, 2022

Recently, a video showing a Chinese drone dropping off a machine gun-laden robot has been making the rounds on the internet. I am certainly dismayed to see such a dystopian nightmare being made real. We really don’t have to do this, humanity!

It seems likely we will do this, though. Still, even if we’re condemned to face this monstrosity, we can at least avoid a second mistake. Let us not sully the good name of dogs by referring to this horror show as a “robot dog”:

That thing would be no one’s best friend at all.

Vocal Whiteface 

Wednesday, October 12th, 2022

A company called Sanas thinks they have the solution to problems faced by call center workers: Make them all sound white.1

The tacit promise of Sanas seems to be that callers will be more polite — and more amenable to being helped — if they think the person on the other end is more like them. (This isn’t a new concept; call center workers in India, the Philippines and elsewhere already adopt American names, and are pressured to develop accents that will sound more “neutral” to Americans.)

But there’s a fundamental flaw with the tacit promises of Sanas…Accents don’t cause bias, they trigger pre-existing biases. That bigotry is supercharged by the power dynamics at play in the hellscape of modern customer service, where frustrated callers are trapped on the phone with agents who have little authority to solve their problems, and everyone is forced to interact exclusively through dehumanizing, uncanny valley scripts…

And Sanas does little to remediate this hellscape; it merely puts a filter on it.

The problem isn’t the accents, it’s the system itself.


Footnotes:

  1. The Sanas website currently provides a demonstration of this, toggling between an unfiltered audio file and a filtered one. I’ve archived a spliced-together version of that audio here. It contains a snippet of unfiltered audio first, then filtered audio, then a mix of the two. ↩︎

4,851 People Can Be Wrong 

Tuesday, October 11th, 2022

Last year, artist Damien Hirst sold $20 million dollars worth of art tied to NFTs. That was 10,000 sales at $2,000 each. Hirst then gave buyers the option of receiving a physical piece, or an NFT representing it. 4,851 people chose the latter, and now, Hirst is destroying the physical works associated with their NFTs.

This is very stupid! These people paid Damien Hirst $2,000 to burn a painting. Fine, fine, and also to provide them with a meaningless digital asset. Still, let’s all try to be better than this.

The Future Is Here and It’s Awful 

Friday, September 30th, 2022

I have approximately no desire to go to Walmart in the real world, so the odds of me visiting Walmart in the regrettable metaverse are very long indeed.

Screenshot from Walmart’s risible video presentation
A screenshot of a truly risible Walmart presentation inside Roblox1

Personally, my hope is that “the metaverse” is the 2020s version of 3D TV: Massively hyped and an utter commercial failure. Bonus points if it bankrupts Facebook Meta on the way down.


Footnotes:

  1. The video is archived here. ↩︎

Kidnapping a JPEG 

Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

If you don’t know what NFTs and “Bored Apes” are, gosh, I don’t know, consider yourself lucky. It’s all a pretty vapid rabbit hole of cryptocurrency and mediocre-at-best artwork, and ignoring it is mostly for the best. Still, for today’s post, a brief primer is in order.

An NFT (non-fungible token) is a one-of-a-kind digital asset, which mostly has value because other people agree that it has value. That’s true of lots of things, of course, though NFTs tend to seem much dumber than most assets. You can read more about NFTs here, but I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t bother. Think of NFTs as sort of like digital baseball cards, and you won’t be too far off-base.

Bored Apes are a particular type of NFT, featuring computer-generated pictures of cartoon apes. They’re popular with celebrities, and often used as profile pictures. OK. If that sounds fairly stupid, then you understand enough.

With all that as preface, please enjoy the headline “Someone Stole Seth Green’s Bored Ape, Which Was Supposed To Star In His New Show”. In essence, someone stole the digital asset which was going to be used to star in a TV show. Because of the way NFTs work, the possessor of an NFT is generally assumed to be its owner. As such, this theft could present copyright issues for the new show. There’s a whole lot of time, energy, and money being spent on things that are at best bad art, and at worst, terrible for the environment. On the plus side, however, they at least provide the rest of us with something to laugh at.

Previously in NFT Nonsense: They Got Scammed At Least Twice

Ad Creep Continues 

Monday, April 4th, 2022

Three years ago, I wrote about Cooler Screens, the horrible cooler-door screen company trying to embed advertising in yet another facet of our lives. Alas, my plea for them to just stop has (predictably) been unsuccessful. The displays are now in thousands of Walgreens stores, and many people are not fans

To Avakian, it’s simply an expected growing pain. Cooler Screens plans to educate customers about the digital displays and launch features like voice recognition, so shoppers can ask about prices or item locations.

“This is the future of retail and shopping,” Avakian said.

I really hope not.

They’re Still Going to Want Your Phone Number 

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021

This week on “Our Terrible Future”, RadioShack is coming back to sell you cryptocurrency.

Nike’s Going to Sell Virtual Shoes 

Wednesday, December 15th, 2021

Hey, y’all, I have a slight concern. I think the future might be a little, tiny bit, completely dumb.

Monitored and Supervised by Robots 

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

In an effort to defend itself in a wrongful termination suit, Amazon recently presented proof that it routinely fires workers who aren’t meeting productivity standards. That’s not exactly great either.

Critics see the system as a machine that only sees numbers, not people. “One of the things that we hear consistently from workers is that they are treated like robots in effect because they’re monitored and supervised by these automated systems,” Mitchell says. “They’re monitored and supervised by robots.”

While Amazon has been working hard to automate as much of their process as possible, it still requires human workers for many tasks. However, it appears robots have already taken the jobs of some warehouse supervisors.