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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Foreign Affairs Magazine Hits Close To Home


I always recommend to authors and book publicists to read anything they get their hands on when it comes to the news media.  It’s so important to expose yourself to publications and media outlets that you wouldn’t normally seek out, thereby allowing you to learn more about the world we live in.  I took my own advice and recently purchased a copy of Foreign Affairs magazine.  This bi-monthly publication cost $12 but it reads well. The articles are probing and meaty.  The issue was dedicated to covering robots, focusing on work and life in the age of automation.

Editor Gideon Rose offered an interesting take on things, writing this:
“Something is clearly happening here, but we don’t know what it means. And by the time we do, authors and editors might well have been replaced by algorithms along with everybody else. Until then, we offer these dispatches from the frontlines of the robotics revolution.”

The lead article, by Professor Daniela A. Rus, said this: “Yet the objective of robotics is not to replace humans by mechanizing and automating tasks; it is to find ways for machines to assist and collaborate with humans more effectively. Robots are better than humans at crunching numbers, lifting heavy objects, and, in certain contexts, moving with precision. Humans are better than robots at abstraction, generalization, and creative thinking, thanks to their ability to reason, draw from prior experience, and imagine. By working together, robots and humans can augment and complement each other’s skills.

“Still, there are significant gaps between where robots are today and the promise of a future era of “pervasive robotics,” when robots will be integrated into the fabric of daily life, becoming as common as computers and smartphones are today, performing many specialized tasks, and often operating side by side with humans. Current research aims to improve the way robots are made, how they move themselves and manipulate objects, how they reason, how they perceive their environments, and how they cooperate with one another and with humans.”

Another moving article, written by Wayne Pacelle, covered the subject of animal welfare.  He had this to say: “People’s relationship with animals is fraught with contradictions. They express love and appreciation for them and have enacted laws to forbid cruelty to them. The United States is a pet-keeping society, with more dogs, cats, parrots, hamsters, and other pets combined than people, and a $60-billion-a-year industry for their care. Millions of Americans are engaged with wildlife in some way, and some of their happiest and most transcendent moments are spent in unspoiled settings. And yet at the same time, they exploit animals on a massive scale, with billions of creatures killed or abused every year for food, clothing, research, and other purposes.

“Americans have become masters of distancing themselves from these more unpleasant uses of animals, physically and linguistically separating them from the nation’s consciousness and their conscience. On factory farms, operators call animals “units of production”; in laboratories, they are “tools for research”; and in wildlife management, they are “game” to be “harvested” on a “sustained yield basis.” Such usage turns animals into objects or commodities, things that have practical value but are themselves morally neutral or empty. And most consumers end up getting a sanitized version of the product, with all evidence of its animal origins or connections either masked or eliminated.

“Over time, however, they—and we—may finally realize that it is possible to find better, more humane ways to consume protein, conduct research, and be entertained. There is no reason why our society cannot combine moral agency with technological and social innovation to eliminate cruelty to animals as an ordinary part of life. And when we have done so, we are likely to wonder why it took so long and what all the fuss was about.”

Foreign Affairs stimulates the reader like few magazines can.  It goes in-depth and thoroughly explores an issue or concept.  Most magazines today piece together short articles on a wide-variety of topics, usually soft news or pop-culture features.  If you want to see your brain cells at work, read Foreign Affairs.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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