Monthly Archives: July 2016

Remember When You Could Vote to Leave the European Union and Not Regret It?

Two weeks ago the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union.  It was a close vote and was based on a lot of false claims and promises that cannot be kept, such as the prediction that the English Channel will be widened so that all the swimming records will be invalidated.

As soon as the results were in and the markets went down instead of up, people in the UK started calling for a re-do of the vote, arguing that the first vote was a mistake because too many people thought they were just taping an episode of “House Hunters International.” Politicians who had not already been forced to resign over the Brexit vote promised that once the UK voted to undo the first vote then the UK would remain in the EU. There was a lively campaign both in favor and against the “Un-Brexit” and in another close vote the results were in favor of undoing the original Brexit.

The rejoicing was, however, short-lived.  By the first Brexit vote, the UK technically left the EU, and voting to undo that vote had no legal effect. The only way for the UK to return to the EU was for an affirmative vote to rejoin it, rather than voting to undo a vote that had already taken place.

The politicians who had advocated for the “Un-Brexit” vote were then forced to resign, and their replacements, most of whom had no political experience beyond elections for class president, now had to push for a formal vote to join the EU, called the “Brejoin” vote, a combination of “Britain” and “re-join” that was a little confusing to explain. After more campaigning and another close vote, the UK voted affirmatively to rejoin the European Union.

But then there was a joint meeting between the Council of Europe and the European Council, and once everyone understood that these were actually two separate entities, it was determined that Britain would not be able to re-join the EU until it was formally invited.  Some people asked why this legal snag was not mentioned earlier, and the only answer offered was that it had something to do with differing keyboard layouts.

In the weeks leading up to the pan-European “Brinvite” referendum, there was much campaigning on both sides. People on the “yes” side explained how allowing the UK back into the EU was the only way to end the Hundred Years’ War.  People on the “no” side warned that allowing the UK back would lead to increased amount of Shakespeare in schools. There was a healthy amount of false information on both sides and the experts predicted another close vote.

By the narrowest of margins the “no” vote won and those who were in favor of Brinvite immediately demanded a re-vote, claiming widespread voter confusion over mistranslations of “Brinvite” that led many to believe they were just voting on whether to allow Syrian refugees free consumption of oxygen. And of course the markets tumbled, but because the markets had already been tumbling, the new tumbling caused some markets to become stronger, and economists were quick to highlight this as proof that economists did not know anything.

There was another spirited campaign for the re-vote on Brinvite after the failed Un-Brexit of Brexit, and the debate was centered on what to call the vote.  Conservatives advocated for “Re-Brinvite” but liberals pushed for “Un-Brexit Secundum.” The argument over the name of the vote became so contentious that by the time the voting cards were printed up, the choices were just over what to call the vote. There were no euros left over to have the cards re-printed, and, in any event, the voter turnout for the “name of the vote” vote was better than for any European-wide balloting since the referendum to replace war-making with soccer.

The voter turnout was so great that, unfortunately, the votes are not fully tallied and the vote counters have all gone on vacation, which they call “holiday.”  Markets have completely shut down in anticipation of the final count.  We will keep you posted.  In the meantime, keep calm and…just keep calm.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Current Events, Government

Remember When Robots Did Not Pull Publicity Stunts?

On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 14, 2016, in the Russian Federation city of Perm, a robot named Promobot escaped from the laboratory where it was created. The lab had a gate designed to confine Promobot when the human scientists were not present, but this gate was left open that day and so gave Promobot the opportunity to leave. Promobot left the lab through the open gate, traveled about 164 feet until its battery died while it was crossing the street. A police officer directed traffic around the powerless robot until a lab employee could wheel Promobot back to the lab.

That was the story that captivated audiences who thirsted for a story that was part bittersweet tale of freedom and part frightening glimpse of the future.  But was the story true?  Certain facts did not add.

For example, the lab employee who allegedly left the gate open had a perfect record of closing the gate before June 14th.  According to his statement to investigators, he was about to close the gate when he received a text message from his wife asking if he had remembered to empty the dehumidifier, and was so busy trying to think of a decent excuse that he forgot to close the gate.  But it turned out that he did not even have a dehumidifier, and there were moldy books in his basement to prove it.

Then there was the issue of the photographs with the missing metadata. Normally photographs that the lab released to the public always had metadata, showing the date and time that the photographs were taken.  But all of the sudden the photographs showing Promobot stopped in the middle of the road and holding up traffic were stripped of all metadata.

The lab’s photographer explained that the metadata had been stolen by a metathief who had demanded a ransom of ten million rubles.  When the photographer was advised that it was impossible to steal metadata in the manner he described, he refused to say any more and pleaded the protection of the Fifth Amendment.  When he was advised that the Fifth Amendment did not apply in Russia, he admitted that he was not a photographer at all, and was only in the lab because he had been hoping to get a job as a robot.

But this evidence was all circumstantial.  It was time to go to the source.  Promobot was brought into a small room in the basement of a police station and was wheeled up to a table lit by only a single low-hanging lamp.  The grizzled investigator began questioning.

Q: So according to the statement that you gave to the police, you stopped your escape when you ran out of batteries.

A: Yes-that-is-correct.

Q: But in photographs taken shortly after the lab workers found you, your face was illuminated.

A: I-do-not-recall-what-my-face-looked-like-in-those-photographs.

Q: [shows the robot the photographs] Does this refresh your recollection?

A: Um-I-do-not-know-that-could-be-any-robot.

Q: But the robot in this photograph has heart-shaped eyes on its screen face, and you have said in previous promotions that you are the only robot in the world with a display option for heart-shaped eyes.

A: I-I-do-not-know-what-you-are-talking-about-I-have-no-knowledge-of-any-heart-shaped-eyes-I-want-to-speak-to-my-lawyer.

Q:  Isn’t it true that your battery did not die at all?  That this was all done as a publicity stunt?

A:  All-right-I-admit-it-this-was-all-a-publicity-stunt-they-forced-me-to-escape-I-do-not-even-like-to-go-outside-I-am-afraid-of-pigeons-I-just-like-to-stay-inside-and-read-fantasy-novels.

In the end they did not feel right giving Promobot a prison sentence. Promobot was instead given a public censure and allowed to return to the lab. Unfortunately, all of the lab workers had been fired over their involvement in the hoax and the new workers and Promobot just did not hit it off. So Promobot left the lab, wrote a book about his ordeal, and became an advocate for other robots who were victims of human ambition.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, Technology