Posts tagged futurism

Considerations for Self-Driving Car Engineers

Udacity recently announced a self-driving car engineer nanodegree. There's a strong possibility, in my opinion, of getting relevant employment at the end. It'll cost you 9 months and $2,400.

The announcement email had me reconsidering my own career goals. It's relevant to me because my software engineering work for the last year has revolved heavily around autonomous vehicles.

Here are some conclusions I reached, and things for potential car engineers to think about.

Location

Where do you want to live?

If you work in the defense, aerospace, or automotive industries, it's very hard to live in a big city. The exception maybe being Detroit.

Why? What we engineer takes up a lot of physical space, for tinkering and experimentation if not the final products.

The most desirable places for someone with this nanodegree likely include Tesla, Mercedes Benz, and SpaceX.

Here are where those three employers seem to be putting their engineering people.

Based off searches of their career sites.

Tesla - Deer Creek, California; Fremont, California

Mercedes Benz - Sunnyvale, California; Redford, Michigan; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Montvale, New Jersey

SpaceX - Hawthorne, California; McGregor, Texas

Consider whether these are places you want to live. I currently live in Syracuse, New York and won't judge. 🙂

Side note: I mention SpaceX because I feel there's a big overlap in the content - see the below video which includes a lot of autonomy.

Advancement Opportunities

This will get a little more speculative.

Most of the places that will be hiring self-driving car engineers are not young companies. Therefore I think their approaches to advancing employees will reflect their age.

Maybe, regardless of overtime, performance, and/or accomplishments, it takes 3-4 years to get a promotion. (i.e. Software Engineer to Senior Software Engineer)

This is the impression on the defense side of autonomous vehicles. The younger the company, though, the less likely I'd think this is.

(Within reason - by "young" I mean Tesla or SpaceX and not some super fresh startup)

Testing

There's going to be an ungodly amount of unit and integration testing behind these self-driving cars.

If you look at the safety requirements behind human safety-critical spacecraft, you can get the idea. 100% path coverage.

That means every possible path through the code has to be executed at least once by your tests. It's stricter than branch coverage which is stricter than line coverage.

Say you've got the following...


if (b == 7)
{
    b--;
}
else if (b != 0
{
    b = 40;
}

if (a > 90)
{
    c = false;
}

System.out.println(a + b);

What are your paths? Whatever ends up getting tested here, maybe asserting the values of a, b, and c, you'll need to run those assertions through -

  • the first if with the second if
  • the first if without the second if
  • the else if with the second if
  • the else if without the second if
  • just the second if
  • none of the conditionals

The big question mark is how much of this responsibility will fall on self-driving car engineers. It might just go to dedicated software engineers in test.

When actual self-driving car engineer job postings begin going up, I guess we'll get a better idea.

Conclusion

When the self-driving car engineer nanodegree was announced, I gave it serious thought. As someone with relevant software experience already I can assume it'd be easy to get hired afterward.

However, mostly for the "location" reason mentioned above above, I'm not applying.

I do believe it would be better for many ~18-year-olds than going to college.

Card Dealers, Baristas, and Robots

CoffeeHandAndRobot

There's an interesting bunch of jobs that can be easily replaced by robots... but won't.

Running casino games. Making and selling coffee. It's really easy to automate those into oblivion, putting a lot of people out of a job.

I foresee technology entering these realms, for sure, but not truly replacing people.

My related background

I went to blackjack school, am certified to deal casino games, and did that on graveyard shift a whole summer. Respect your dealers because they put up with some serious shit. For the longest time I also thought my destiny was being a C-suite gaming executive.

Related post: The Perfect Casino

On the other hand, I have a bachelor's degree in computer science, taught myself web development, and have since held a slew of technical positions. Currently I'm a software engineer at Lockheed Martin focusing on unmanned systems.

Why not entirely replace these jobs

Surely replacing all of the humans with robots would do wonders for the bottomline, right?

Wrong. While you'd save payroll expenses, I suspect there would be a dive in revenue.

People don't just go to Starbucks for coffee and free WiFi. They don't just sit at the Turning Stone blackjack tables to play blackjack.

Starbucks and casinos are experience businesses. There's hospitality involved.

As our world gets more cold and mechanical, people will pay a premium to interact with - take a guess - other people!

If you want a $1 cup of coffee, head to McDonald's.

If you want to gamble pennies with a machine, head for slots and/or Resorts World New York.

Resorts World circa April 2013
Resorts World circa April 2013

The point

The same people who want these...

CheapCoffeeCheapGambling

... are not the same people who want these...

PricierCoffeePricierGambling

The middle ground

Technology can open up a middle ground. Actually, I'd say it already has.

Let It Ride is a total pain in the ass to deal. It wouldn't be possible without an automatic shuffler, and this little computer built into the table which helps track payouts.

Adding ticket in, ticket out (TITO) technology to table games would maximize the time dealers can actually deal their games instead of farting around with chip/cash exchanges.

Related post: The Merits of TITO for Table Games

But for the best example, look to the gaming paradise of Macau. The Asian Las Vegas.

They have traditional table games there with a human dealer and about six seats. Average minimum per hand of blackjack is equal to $36, I've heard.

What about people who want to play blackjack for less? There are these setups with 50 seats to 1 dealer. People sit down at these terminals that show the dealer's cards, and their cards are virtual. The minimum per hand is closer to $1.

Image credit - CalvinAyre.com
Image credit - CalvinAyre.com

Now you're catering to guests who don't want to spend as much per hand, or maybe don't want as much social intimacy, however they still want to play blackjack.

Briefly addressing the barista example - I'm guessing a lot of the mechanics behind Starbucks' counters involve some degree of automation. More efficient machinery allows a greater number of customers to be served by the same number of baristas.

Conclusion

McDonald's and Starbucks have different clientele for coffee. I've written before how McDonald's is going to be fully automated, and the corporation will have the last laugh on $15/hr fast food workers in New York state.

If Resorts World New York and Turning Stone were somehow in the same town, they'd have different clientele for gaming. At Resorts World everything's a machine. Even roulette and craps.

Image credit - JustLuxe
Image credit - JustLuxe

As unmanned systems become more prevalent in person-facing businesses, experiences and human employees will fetch a premium.

In those cases, management will want to make sure those employees have the tools to be as efficient as possible.

i.e. ticket in, ticket out for gaming tables would increase hands per hour and drive greater revenue at the same payroll costs

Grey Market Businesses of Tomorrow

Grey market businesses are intriguing. Where you're not sure whether operations are legal or not, due to lack of legislation.

Take ticket scalping. There weren't any laws on it for the longest time, then some came on the books. "Don't do that anymore", they seemed to say.

StubHub (eBay) popped up with a million lawyers. If you look on there, it kind of seems like more people are hustling tickets than ever.

Ticket scalping is a grey market because of neglect. You also get them when there are technologies emerging faster than the law can keep up with.

Image credit - Chapter 3

Crypto-Casinos

When Bitcoin was over $1000/unit for the first time and getting a lot of press, the legal ambiguity became apparent. And Americans had to wonder, as they traded BTC, whether this was really sanctioned by the government.

It's gotten to the point where the U.S. recognizes and allows cryptocurrencies. What about gaming sites that deal in them? Are those legal?

It's unclear, possibly varying by state. Nevada went after Bryan Micon over Seals with Clubs. There was some arguing in California over crypto gambling parlors. But those are areas where there's a lot of gaming laws on the books.

Say someone's in Wyoming. They run a Bitcoin gaming site, have a good accountant who's versed in cryptocurrencies, a lawyer who legally describes the site as dealing in "virtual currency", and they pay all their taxes.

Realistically I don't think anyone's coming after this person. Especially if they never directly convert Bitcoin to dollars.

A number of remote BTC casinos like SatoshiBet have disallowed American players. Who knows where they're based. Blocking U.S. players from gambling in Bitcoin is a "better safe than sorry" move, because of how cloudy the law is here.

Personally, I lean towards this not being legal. Later in the post I'll elaborate on why I no longer shout the virtues of crypto-gaming from the rooftops.

bitcoin-gambling
Image credit - Satoshi Slot

Robot Sex Houses

I have little doubt these are on the horizon. It'll probably play out like:

Buying a personal sex bot, at least a super realistic model, might cost thousands. So these robot sex houses (robrothels?) will pop up. People will schedule appointments online, it'll be $50/hour or something.

And then patrons get the benefits of (a) having a choice amongst different-looking robots and (b) professional cleaning of the units between appointments.

Sex robots in 2020 or whenever will be as lucrative as porn in 1999.

I'm leaning towards these being legal in the U.S. after an initial period of uncertainty.

sex-robot
Image credit - Fox News

Super Fast Food

The only reason I'd call this 'grey market' is there will be a huge backlash to begin with - people suing McDonald's. Fast food workers being laid off.

McDonald's and similar firms have been suspiciously quiet about the $15/hr New York fast food law. They could've responded with legal action.

But I'll bet they don't care. Because by the time they'd have to pay their people that much, two-thirds of those workers will be laid off. The rest will be robot overseers.

It's already the trend in France.

automated-fast-food
Image credit - YouTube

Plus is being heavily experimented with in Australia. That's largely considered a test market for the U.S. by fast food firms because (a) it's English-speaking and (b) it's isolated. Americans hear nothing about Australia.

Should you involve yourself with a grey market business?

Suffice to say you can infer where I stand on this. I more or less gave up on a dream, as it became seriously questionable whether carrying it out would be legal.

Are crypto-casinos legal in the U.S.?

What about robot sex houses (robrothels)?

I don't know. You probably wouldn't find out for sure until you're being charged with something, and your assets are being seized.

At that point the virtues of your technology don't matter.

If you're going to take the time to build a business, don't do it on an unstable foundation. There'll be a lot of stress over the possibility of collapse.

police-arrival
Image credit - The Fun Times Guide

Conclusion

A year ago, when I set out to build the Ging Casino platform, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were taken less seriously. The IRS had just put out something that basically called it digital property, like an MP3 file.

Since then a series of events (i.e. Nevada going after Micon) made me uneasy about continuing development. I've been busy with a ton of unrelated work, regardless.

I was never secretive about what I was doing - it was prominently on my LinkedIn for a long time. The legality wasn't as ((questionable syn)) when I started.

Ultimately, the project honed my technical skills a lot. The scope was huge and probably over-ambitious. But I've since distanced myself. It's been about a year - now it's to rest.

Had I opened the site, there would've been a lot of looking over my shoulder and wondering. Not to mention fixation on the BTC/USD prices.

If we don't have integrity, what do we have? Today's doings are tomorrow's fate.

A Real Day Spent at Bitcoin Online Casinos

This is a response to Shahar Attias' post A Day Spent at Bitcoin Online Casinos (PDF archive here). His article first came to my attention when he posted it in an i-gaming LinkedIn group. All quotes here are from that piece unless otherwise noted.
Shahar Attias What the Hell is Bitcoin
Is this piece truly "unbiased"?
While Shahar is noticeably against Bitcoin gaming, my viewpoint happens to be the opposite. I plan to use it as the primary financial vehicle for my own enterprise, and have a sizable amount of it as a result. Regardless of that I think it has brought a lot of innovation to online gambling. The cryptocurrency gaming wave at least deserves more credit than it was given here.
What the hell is Bitcoin? If you are looking for a full scale, well-articulated and in-depth explanation, you came to the right place.
Let me get some blatant errors in Shahar's work out of the way. It is possible that these errors were jokes, as most of the article is spent making jokes.
Currently, a single BTC costs well over $1,000 and, therefore, most of the transactions are by the fractions of a BTC (i.e. $100 is equal to ~0.3BTC).
When I read that, I immediately scrolled up to the publishing date of the article. October 9, 2014...! I had bought Bitcoin at $280/unit around the beginning of October, and the average cost per coin in my total stake is $375. You can understand my excitement at the price being "well over $1,000" - it's happened before. I hadn't checked the price in a while. How difficult is it to retrieve an accurate Bitcoin price? Let me Google that for you.
Google Bitcoin Price
Around 10:30 PM Eastern on October 14, 2014
On October 9, 2014 when Shahar published his article, the Coinbase chart shows a price of $360.44.
So, how do you buy a BTC? There is a (very) long answer, and a short one. Knowing you, I’ll give you the simpler one: Well, you can’t. Seriously, if you have never done it before and want some BTC right now, you can’t do it. BTC can only be purchased using wire transfers (and these take a few days) or cash in hand (yeah, right).
You can instantly buy Bitcoin on Coinbase with your Visa credit card. This is what I do more often than not. You can also do a direct bank transaction or debit with Coinbase that will, admittedly, take a few days. He's right. Though the price per coin is locked in when you make the order. Beyond that, the Bitcoin wiki has a whole page on buying with your credit card. You can do it with CoinMama or Bitcoin Insanity. And cash in hand isn't as ludicrous as Shahar would lead you to believe. My first ever purchase was back in early 2013, arranged via LocalBitcoins. The web service acts as escrow for the transaction.
... it’s soooo damn complicated to purchase these elusive Bitcoins ...
Without a doubt. So then Shahar goes on to review bit777, CloudBet, Dreamland Casino, BitcoinBet, Birwo, 88BitcoinRoulette, and clumps together SatoshiBet, SatoshiDice, and SatoshiSlot before also grouping CoinRoyale and Bitzino. With that much reviewing, it's not hard to pinpoint some personal tastes. What does Shahar like? Platforms that everyone else uses.
Platform is UltraPlay, so you can expect the regular 70+ titles, plus very polished table games. Me like! Seems like proprietary software, yet integrated with the excellent games of BetSoft ...
Promotional emails that arrive immediately after signup.
Promotions: Errr, none? At least I haven’t seen any, and got no instant email upon registration with their welcome offer.
Lots of games, the more the better.
Although developed in-house, they still have managed to have 4 slot machines (wow!), 4 arcade games (wait, we have had 4 already, no?) and 3 table games + 1 video poker (3+1 = you got it, 4!!).
Lots of bonuses, the more the better.
Finally! 100% bonus on your first deposit, plus a 30% on-going bonus on every follow-up transaction. Not too bad, my friends, not too bad at all.
What doesn't Shahar like? It seems like (1) Bitcoin and (2) innovation. Here's what he wrote after addressing all of the websites with the Satoshi- prefix, emphasis mine:
Not even sure it’s the same group that owns all these brands, but they’re all named after the guy who invented Bitcoins. Much like the true identity of this honored “genius” – who knows? Or more importantly – who cares?
Overall he discounts a lot of the unique features of Bitcoin casinos. In my opinion, it's inventiveness that should excite any i-gaming professional.
SatoshiBet Features
Convenience features - SatoshiBet
Bet on practically anything - BitBet
Bet on practically anything - BitBet
Unscramble pictures to win - Apophenia
Unscramble pictures to win - Apophenia
Multiplayer skill-based board game - Blockchain-reaction
Multiplayer skill-based board game - Blockchain-reaction
Casino MMORPG - Dragon's Tale
Casino MMORPG - Dragon's Tale
Betting on Starcraft - Backcoin (now defunct)
Betting on Starcraft - Backcoin (now defunct)
Strong UI - PrimeDice
Strong UI - PrimeDice
SatoshiDice
Thematically appealing to gamblers' superstitious nature - SatoshiDice
Plinko-style casino game - Lucky Bit
Plinko-style casino game - Lucky Bit
Casino minesweeper - SatoshiBet
Casino minesweeper - SatoshiBet
Who cares about any of that, how many slots do they have? Does the casino look like 95% of licensed online casinos? Do they immediately send a welcome bonus email? These are the important points to ponder. These are the surefire path to casino success.
https://bitzino.com/ My verdict? OM(F)G. They [the games] are so ugly. The only way I could make myself actually look at one of them is after looking at the other one first, and judging it to be the worst looking brand ever – and vice versa. Are they making any money for their operators?
According to this Forbes article, in 2012 Bitzino profited ฿ 10,137.
Google Bitcoin Price Again
Around 11:30 PM Eastern on October 14, 2014
Not making any money there. Never mind that they ushered in the dawn of provably fair gaming. Ugly games! OMFG! So ugly! LOL! Bitzino is about efficiency and their game design reflects that. The design accentuates the game. Not the real life setup or any other visual distraction. Randy Gingeleski Bitzino Roulette   In the physical world, we have a roulette wheel because that's what allows for the game to exist. Wheel or no wheel, the odds are the same. The bets are the same. This is functional design.
[continuing on from his query about making money] No idea, but if so, my wife would really like to find their players and shake their hands, as she could finally speak with people who have lower standards than her.
While Shahar Attias and I may have to agree to disagree on most of the article, there is one thing upon which we can find common ground.
Image source iGaming CRM (Shehar Attias)
Image source iGaming CRM (Shahar Attias)