Are Machines Taking Over the World?

I always start my day with a cup of coffee and a television news program. I usually watch CBS because I like the way they report the news. and Charlie Rose, Nora O’Donnel, and Gail King are entertaining as they banter with one another.

Today one of the stories was about robots. Some of us might be okay with drones delivering packages or taking a phone call from an automated voice, but this story went way beyond machines that definitely look or sound like machines.

Companies who own these devices say the machines provide economic productivity. Okay. That’s believable. But don’t you think we all should be concerned about a hotel completely run by robots? Yup. That’s right. These cartoony looking machines resembling small people move about the customers helping with check in, carrying luggage, providing room service, and eventually checking you out.

The upside of this machine takeover is you never have to tip a machine; they work 24/7; they never sleep, eat, or use the bathroom; they don’t get sick; and they do what they are told to do without an argument.

Even though each robot cost about $16,000, the owner of the hotel–who is human by the way, stated over time the robots are cheaper to employ than humans because there is a one-time purchase instead of a lifetime of salaries and benefits.

Am I the only one who’s a bit frightened by this development? Machines limit already scare human jobs. Their proliferation continues to seep into our culture and strip away jobs which were previously filled by people who do not have college degrees in computer science.

There are numerous of movies and novels about machines taking over the world. It gets worse when artificial intelligence capability makes these creatures smarter than their creators. Ouch.

Is fantasy creating reality? Hmmmm–we better think twice about these mechanical critters. I prefer a warm-blooded human serving my needs when I go on vacation. How about you?

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS — Book 2 (continued)

Chapter 16

Paris, France – August, 1939—Marta and Emma lived in Paris over a month, and Marta still didn’t take the time to write one postcard or letter to her parents. Each week she received letters from them, as well as her friend Leisel, but she never wrote back. Her chaperon, Emma insisted she take time and answer their letters. “Do you not want to tell everyone about how wonderful Paris is?”

Marta gazed at her with a blank face.

Emma tried again. “If you do not write to your parents, Marta your father will surely march into Paris and goosestep you home at once.”

Marta laughed at the image Emma painted. “If I tell them how wonderful this city is, my father will be angry. He never wants to listen to me praising a city other than Berlin.”

“Nonsense. You sit and write to your parents.”

“I’ll write tonight.”

“No. You will only complain you’re too tired and your feet ache after a full day of exploring the museums and parks. You will do it now.”

“I will not complain. I’ll writer later. I promise.”

“Marta. Stop behaving like a child.” Emma pulled out the desk chair. “Sit and write to your parents and to Leisel. You may not leave this room until you are finished.”

Marta sat with a thump pouting like a spoiled child.

Emma walked toward the door. “I will wait for you at our cafe. Bring the letters with you and we’ll post them together.”

“But—

Emma cut off any protest. “No excuses!” She slammed the door on the way out.

Marta ripped open a new package of stationary she received as a graduation present. She picked up a hotel fountain pen and stared out the window. Where do I begin? How do I recount my adventure here? She rested the pen on the paper and began.

Dear Vater and Mutter,

Here I am in my little peach-painted bedroom writing to you. I struggle to find the right words to tell you about all of my wonderful experiences here in Paris. I guess the best thing to tell you is this: you gave me the best graduation present in the history of the world. Paris is not just another city. The streets are alive with vivid colors and the pace is slower than Berlin. I’ve spent so many hours taking in the breathtaking are. I know you will not understand, Vater, but yesterday I stood in front of a Monet painting for hours and dreamed of the day he captured such a beautiful scene. I dreamed of sharing a cup of tea with him to discuss his painting techniques.

Most afternoons I sit in the park and try to paint the way he did. As you might imagine, I do not even come close to matching his talent.

Paris is full of surprises on every street corner. I try to blend in with the natives, but unlike Emma, my accent shouts I am from Germany. The people here put up with me, but they do laugh when I use an inappropriate verb or noun to express myself. Last week Emma and I crossed the River Seine in a river-steamer, and I spoke with the captain; the experience proved to be quite amusing because I speak such poor French, and he did not understand German, but somehow we communicated. 

On Monday, Emma and I went to Les Halles, a huge outdoor market. In the distance people laughed and shouted greetings to each other. We decided to check out the event. The closer we got, the richer the fragrances of the market became. A crazy mixture of cheeses, yeasty bread, strong coffee and specialty spices filled the air. Burly men cut wedges off huge wheels of yellow and white cheeses. Women sold beautiful bouquets of exotic flowers and other handmade sewn and knitted garments. Since our first visit, we return to the market every week and come away marveling at what we found.

 Last week some strange music caught my attention when I walked down the street. I followed the notes, and much to my surprise, around the corner an organ-grinder performed with his trained monkey. The two of them attracted quite a delighted audience; I gave him my spare change because I enjoyed this unique entertainment. When I walked away, I noticed all of the windows and doors in the area were open. I guess the neighbors wanted to enjoy the performance too.  

 On July 14 the French celebrate Bastille Day. As soon as we left the hotel, we joined the party. Music filled the air, while couples in the cafes spilled out into the streets and danced. A chanteuse charmed her audience with some sexy songs, but I think she enjoyed them best. Emma later commented it was lucky I didn’t understand French better. (Ha, ha.)

The day after a hectic Bastille Day, I found myself walking up to Montmartre as the sun set. We stopped at the Louvre garden, and I encountered a woman resting on a chair under a monument to a Roman god. As I got closer, I gazed on a figure carved out of granite. In another setting I met Niska, a gypsy fortune teller. She told me I would marry a rich man and live happily ever after–a good fortune for a German girl, ja?

Emma is doing a wonderful job to make this trip one I will never forget. Tell everyone that I am fine and thoroughly enjoying my summer.

Sincerely,

Your daughter Marta

Marta folded the letter, addressed a matching envelope, and then began a second letter to Leisel.

August, 1939

My dear friend Leisel,

Thanks so much for keeping in touch during my time away from Berlin. I am sorry you are having such a lonely summer. I am surprised to learn Heidi traveled to Warsaw to become a nanny, especially because most Germans consider Poles so inferior. But that’s our Heidi, isn’t it?  She is the type to bring home stray puppies and children. Her patience with little ones far out weighs mine.  (ha-ha)

Paris is so much fun. Everyday Emma and I discover new facets of this lovely city. So many times I wish I could share the beautiful sights with you. Paris is so romantic.  Words are inadequate to tell you what Paris offers. You’ll have to experience the city yourself someday.

I’m glad you decided to take the university entrance exams. I believe you will score very high and will point your life in a different direction. Living away from home for the first time is an experience you will hold dear for a long time.

I never thought you would suffer so much loneliness with Heidi and me gone for the summer. Perhaps it is time for you to make some new friends. I hate to say this, but your father is right to encourage you to take in one of the youth group dances. Put away your shyness and be bold. When you go to university you will be glad you practiced beforehand.

 That is about all I can tell you right now. I will try to write again before I come home, but I will not make promises. My days are so full by the time I return to our apartment, I am exhausted. Besides, I am looking forward to showing you my photographs and paintings once I return home.

 Thinking about you.

Always. Marta

Marta sealed both letters in addressed envelopes, locked the hotel room, and skipped down the five flights of stairs. She ran to the corner to find Emma and handed her the letters.

Emma smiled at her younger cousin. “Good girl! You did it! I never doubted you could write.”

Marta didn’t like to be forced to do anything. “Once I put the pen on the paper the words just started to come.”

“Good. Now we can get on with our day.” Emma ordered a strong coffee and a fruit tart as a reward for Marta. “What would you like to do?”

“Let’s go to the Louvre.”

Emma smiled. Everyday Marta wanted to go to the art museum.

 

Chapter 17

Lacrosse, Wisconsin – August — After Rosalie’s wedding, time flew by for Josie and Donna. Donna poured herself into her stenographer position, absorbing knowledge of the company and who managed what department. She also began to align herself with people who could help her advance in the company.  While Donna worked, Josie prepared to leave for the university.

As the departure got closer, Josie found herself making several trips to the barn to talk to her heifer. She raised Betsy since she first stood up after birth and thought of the cow like a pet. Josie confessed to Betsy. “I’m scare to leave the farm, girl. I’m just now realizing what I’m leaving behind. Mom, Dad, and my brothers. They’re pains in the butt, but I’ll miss them.  But I think I’ll miss you most of all, girl. You’re my only friend who never shares my secrets.”

The cow mooed as if she understood the girl’s angst.

*****

The day Josie left for school, she shared a private minute with her mother in the kitchen. “Mom, can I take some of your strawberry preserves to school?”

“What an odd question, Josephine. You realize there is a cafeteria on campus.”

“Yes, but school doesn’t stock your jam.” Josie choked back the tears as the label on the jam jar blurred through her tears.

Her mother hugged her. “Oh, Josie, you can’t be homesick already; you are still home!” Josie’s mother always could make her laugh. “Wipe those tears, sweetheart. We don’t want the men folk thinking you’re afraid of leaving this old rundown farm.”

Josie smiled through her tears. “Yes ma’am. We certainly can’t risk that.”

Her mother hugged her. “You’ll be all right. The first few weeks will be hard, and I’m sure you’ll probably want to call home a million times, but you need to give yourself enough time to adapt. You’ll meet people from all over. You’ll study new things and get involved in new organizations. You make friends easy. Don’t worry. It won’t be long and you’ll not want to come home.”

“Never, Mom. Never.”

“It’s time to go, daughter. Let’s not keep your father waiting. You know what an owl he can be when anyone is late.”

Mr. Schneider secured the boxes in the bed of the truck. Bedding, towels, and toiletries filled a large foot locker.  Josie packed her clothes in two suitcases, and her mother packed another box that contained special touches of home–a jar of strawberry jam and a box of homemade cookies. Her parents would take her to school while her two brothers manned the farm.

Josie sat squeezed between her parents in the front of the old pickup. Her mind drifted as thoughts of good times with her friends passed in front of her eyes. She stayed silent even after her mother made several attempts to draw her into a conversation.

After her father drove several miles out of town, the sights became unfamiliar. Josie told herself life away from the security of the farm would build character, but right now she wanted to suck her thumb like a two year old holding onto her mother’s skirt. December would be the earliest break to return and enjoy the comforts of home.

Saying goodbye to Donna and Rosalie proved to be the worst. Josie recalled their conversation as they sat in the booth at Joe’s Diner and munched on a burger and fries.

“I’m so glad you came tonight, Rosalie.” Donna Jean said.

“You don’t think I would miss saying goodbye to Josie, do you?”

“Well, no. But-

“But what?”

“From where I sit, Angelo keeps a pretty tight rein on you.” Donna’s voice hinted a tinge of jealousy.

“No he doesn’t. We just want to spend our free time together.” Rosalie blushed. “And besides, Angelo loves me, and he understands being with the two of you is important to me.”

Out of the clear blue, Donna leaned forward in the booth and said in hushed tones, “Tell us how Angelo is in bed.”

Josie let out a gasp. “Donna Jean!”

“What?” Rosalie glared at Donna.

“Your ears aren’t deceiving you.” Donna Jean thought nothing about asking her good friend about their wedding night. “Tell us about your wedding night.”

“I’m not telling you anything about that.” Rosalie crossed her arms in front of her chest.

“Did it hurt? Did you like it? Is he a good lover? Italian guys are supposed to be wonderful lovers.” Donna Jean said as she took a long swig of her root beer.

“Donna Jean! Stop it!” Josie snarled.

Rosalie said. “Mind your own business, Donna.”

Donna wore a shocked face. “Don’t you think boys talk about it in a locker room? Why can’t we do the same?”

“Donna, stop!” Josie glanced at Rosalie biting her lip so she wouldn’t cry. “You’ll just need to get married and experience it yourself.”

“I do not plan to get married any time soon, for your information.” Donna said. “And I’m not that kind of girl who flaunts herself in front of any Tom, Dick or Harry.”

Rosalie shot back. “Well maybe not, Tom, Dick or Harry but what about Tony, Danny, and Bobby?”

Donna wagged her finger. “Now Rosie, your claws are showing!”

Josie intervened. “Donna, Rosie’s love life is none of our business.”

“But don’t you want to know?”

“No. The private subject of love making is off limits.” She looked at both of her friends. “Agreed?” She slapped the middle of the table with her right hand.

Rosalie put her hand on top of Josie’s and they both turned to Donna to comply.

Donna got the last word. “Aw, you guys are no fun.”

*****

The Schneider pick-up truck entered the city limits of Minneapolis, and Josie’s chest tightened, and she found it hard to swallow. The closer they got to the heart of the city, the buildings got larger and closer together, and when they drove through the campus gates, Josie’s panic got worse. Her father drove around in circles searching for her dormitory.

The numerous campus buildings did nothing to quell Josie’s panic. She thought she’d never find her way in this maze of school buildings. How would she get to class in the winter if she’d have to travel from building to building?

After her parents found the dorm and helped to carry her belongings to her room, they kissed her and left. That night in a dream, Josie saw a crowd of students pointing at her and taunting her. They circled around her yelling “You don’t belong here! You can even get to class on time! How can you ever achieve good marks if you can’t even find your classes?”

Josie woke in a cold sweat and didn’t go back to sleep for fear the dream would reappear. She lay awake wondering if she made the right decision to come to such a big university.

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2 thoughts on “Are Machines Taking Over the World?

  1. It might be scary and it might cause some economic upheaval but it’s certainly coming. I’ve recently seen videos of everything from driverless-trucks to burger making robots. Hotels are doing everything they can to get me to check-in and out without using a person and the people who will be rendered useless are encouraging me to use those services. When I see a sales clerk at Home Depot tell me that I can use the self-checkout aisle, I just have to shake my head and wonder.

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