Friday, July 29, 2011

Volkswagen's Autonomous Vehicle System

I predict that within 10 years or less autonomous vehicles will be here.  Nevada, lobbied by Google, has already passed laws directing their DMV to regulate autonomous vehicles.  The next great age will be the age of robotics.  Agriculture is currently about 2% of the US GDP - with AI robots it will go down to 0.2%.  Manufacturing is about 20-30% of the economy - robots will bring this down to 2%.  The service economy is currently close to 80% and it will be reduced to 8%.  The big question is what will fill the gap?  Perhaps human theater troops in every neighborhood.  Or simply bored, roman-like humans eating grapes while robots do all the work.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Blue Brain Project

This is one of my favorite singularity projects: it's an attempt to simulate the human brain at a cellular level.  The human brain isn't incapable of understanding itself.  Perhaps 20 years ago citing numbers such as 100 billion neurons in the human brain made the complexity daunting and surreal.  Currently that number of neurons multiplied by 10 thousand synapses per neuron is a value at home in our world of terabyte (1000 billion) hard drives.  Intelligent machines will be real in our lives and probably within 15 to 20 years.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Eternal Tax Code Arguments - Abolish the IRS!

Today I received the following E-mail from a friend:

Democrats have criticized Republicans for defending tax breaks that benefit corporate jets, yachts, races horses and other luxury items. Those breaks have a minimal impact on the budget but have high symbolic value.

Republicans said that closing those tax breaks would hurt businesses and the economic recovery.

Those yachts, corporate jets and race horses are really the engine of a lot of job growth, right?  

It is clear that the tax code chooses winners and losers.  It puts incentives for oil drilling, for solar panels, for people to buy houses, for students to get college degrees.  All of this was intended with something good in mind (I will ignore any cynical views).  Oil drilling because energy is vital to the country, solar panels because energy independence is a good goal, houses are good for people to own as investments and stakeholders, degrees create a smarter workforce.

We have seen what the tax code created: distortion.  Oil tax incentives have perhaps made oil slightly cheaper than it should be with some detrimental effect to competing energy sources.  Huge tax breaks for installing solar panels create the illusion of solving energy problems based on future economic hopes.  Housing policy including the tax code allowing interest deduction contributed the Great Recession.  Government subsidized and guaranteed student loans are still driving up the college cost bubble (and yes this bubble will burst as well so be prepared!).

What is then a fair tax?  A national sales tax which does not choose winners and losers.  Check out (I have NO affiliation with this site).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Frugality and Car Selection

The standard vehicle advice on personal finance blogs is either don't purchase one at all or purchase a used inexpensive Japanese model (many of which are now made in the US).  Either advice is sound, but let me introduce you to the Rodent's twist: purchase a nice semi-luxury or even luxury vehicle, keep it for 15 to 20 years, and most importantly learn to maintain or repair it.  In my case this was a brand new VW Golf bought in May of 2001.  Ten years later with a 193 thousand miles it still feels just as luxurious as when it was new.  If I had to do it all over again I would have purchased a slightly used Golf.  Over it's lifetime I have never taken it to a mechanic with the exception of some recalls and tire mounting/balancing.  I don't have the equipment to mount and balance my own tires and I don't think it makes sense but I'd love to be proven wrong by a reader.  In our society there is tremendous pressure to consume, but not all is lost yet:  Driving a 1970s or 1980s diesel Mercedes is still considered "cool".  I am convinced that in 2020 when many cars will be electric and autonomous the VW Golf will be a slight head turner - look at this old timer and how cool the smelly exhaust is.  I am strongly convinced gasoline vehicles will have similar appeal as steam engines have currently.  In a future article I will talk about what basic tools I have used over the years.