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I’m mixing my 20th-century sci-fi authors, but like Billy Pilgrim naked in a Tralfamadore zoo, we may be kept as pets by intelligent machines. That’s what Philip K. Dick Android, who can learn new words in real-time, promises his NOVA interlocutors.

Or perhaps they’ll eliminate us. Or maybe by the time they exist, we will be very different. We might become those conscious machines we so fear. We might be them. Nobody knows.

Long before Caitlyn Jenner, there was Christine Jorgensen, a Bronx military veteran who traveled to Denmark in the early 1950s to transition surgically into a woman. It was, as you might expect, a huge sensation at the time, but Jorgensen was always above the fray, whether guesting on ur-shock jock Joe Pyne’s gleefully tasteless talk show in 1966, or visiting with Tom Snyder in 1982, as she revived her cabaret act.

Life is full of inconvenient truths, and one of them is that Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, the wonderful storyteller who continues to teach children to read and think, was responsible for some shockingly racist drawings and ad campaigns early in his career. In 1958, he appeared on To Tell the Truth, at the time The Cat in the Hat, his most popular work, was becoming a huge bestseller.

Col. Harland Sanders was 62 when, as the story goes, he used his first Social Security check to found his bird-slaughter enterprise, Kentucky Fried Chicken. He was 74 in 1964 when he sold the business for $2 million. Sanders appeared directly after the sale on I’ve Got a Secret.

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Like many in postwar America, Ray Kroc found it rather easy to make money. It’s different today for the franchise, struggling in a much more competitive global economy. The typical McDonalds restaurant has half the staff it did 50 years ago, and there’s a chance that number could go much lower, owing to automation.

How much of the human element can be sacrificed from the Hospitality Industry (restaurants, hotels, etc.)? Probably a good deal, enough to hollow out staffs peopled by low-skill workers as well as novices and retirees. The push for a national $15 minimum wage (which workers dearly need) has some wondering if the process will be hastened.

From Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post:

Of course, it’s possible to imagine all kinds of dramatic productivity enhancements. Persona ­Pizzeria’s [Harold] Miller predicts that drone delivery systems will eventually get rid of the need to come into a restaurant at all, for example. [Middleby Corp COO Dave] Brewer has a bold prediction: He thinks that all the automation working its way into restaurants could eventually cut staffing levels in half. The remaining employees would just need to learn how to operate the machines and fix things when they break.

“You don’t want a $15-an-hour person doing something that the person who makes $7 an hour can do,” Brewer said. “It’s not downgrading the employees. It’s that the employees become managers of a bunch of different systems. They’ll become smarter and smarter.”

The value of a human touch

Not everybody, however, agrees that machines could make that much of a dent in labor costs. Implementing new systems is expensive, and mistakes can be devastating. And for some concepts, it’s possible that the presence of employees is actually a restaurant’s competitive advantage. Compared with grocery stores and gas stations, many people come to restaurants exactly because they want some human interaction.•


An industrial video from 50 years ago about AMF, which brought automation and computers to bowling, trying to make fast food even more inhuman.


In 1999, Michael Crichton played what he knew to be a fool’s game and predicted the future. He was not so successful about culture. Things he got wrong: Printed matter will be unchanged, movies will soon be dead, communications will be consolidated into fewer hands. Well, he did foresee YouTube.

Crichton, who was fascinated by science and often accused of being anti-science, commenting in a 1997 Playboy interview on technology creating moral quandaries we’re not prepared for:

I think we’re a long way from cloning people. But I am worried about scientific advances without consideration of their consequences. The history of medicine in my lifetime is one of technological advances that outstrip our ethical systems. We’ve never caught up. When I was in medical school—30-odd years ago—people were struggling to deal with mechanical-respiration systems. They were keeping alive people who a few years earlier would have died of natural causes. Suddenly people weren’t going to die of natural causes. They were either going to get on these machines and never get off or—or what? Were we going to turn the machines off? We had the machines well before we started the debate. Doctors were speaking quietly among themselves with a kind of resentment toward these machines. On the one hand, if somebody had a temporary disability, the machines could help get them over the hump. For accident victims—some of whom were very young—who could be saved if they pulled through the initial crisis, the technology saved lives. You could get them over the hump and then they would recover, and that was terrific.

But on the other hand, there was a category of people who were on their way out but could be kept alive. Before the machine, ‘pulling the plug’ actually meant opening the window too wide one night, and the patient would get pneumonia and die. That wasn’t going to happen now. We were being forced by technology to make decisions about the right to die—whether it’s a legal or religious issue—and many related matters. Some of them contradict longstanding ideas in an ethically protected world; we weren’t being forced to make hard decisions, because those decisions were being made for us—in this case, by the pneumococcus.

This is just one example of an ethical issue raised by technology. Cloning is another. If you’re knowledgeable about biotechnology, it’s possible to think of some terrifying scenarios. I don’t even like to discuss them. I know people doing biotechnology research who have decided not to pursue avenues of research because they think they’re too dangerous. But we go forward without sorting out the issues. I don’t believe that everything new is necessarily better. We go forward with the technology while the ethical issues are still up in the air, whether it’s the genetic variability of crop streams, which is a resource in times of plant plagues, to the assumption that we all have to be connected all the time. The technology is here so you must use it. Do you? Do you have to have your cell phone and your e-mail address and your Internet hookup? I was just on holiday in Scotland without e-mail. I had to notify people that I wouldn’t be checking my e-mail, because there’s an assumption that if I send you an e-mail, you’ll get it. Well, I won’t get it. I’m not plugged in, guys. Some people are horrified: “You’ve gone offline?” People feel so enslaved by technology that they will stop having sex to answer the telephone. What could be so important? Who’s calling, and who cares?•


To generate hoopla for the 1950 sci-fi film Destination Moon, the principals of the film, including writer Robert Heinlein, did on-set interviews with KTLA the year before. The author, who makes his entrance near the 12-minute mark, explains that a real space mission only needed money and will, not any new science, to be completed. About 20 years later, he was interviewed as part of Walter Cronkite’s CBS coverage of the actual moon landing.


New York City was always about money, but it wasn’t only about it. Now it is. 

The economist Tyler Cowen believes American cities will be only for the rich in the not-too-distant future, and that we’ll look back in wonder that poor people used to actually live in such glamorous places. I still don’t believe that’s true–or don’t want to believe it–but the NYC non-rich are being treated like suspects and moved out to the edges until they fall off. And it’s a long way down from there.

Real estate prices are booming, a global market snaps up addresses, Airbnb helps move rental stock off the market and subsidized rents are quickly disappearing. Sometimes I still like it here, walking in Soho or buying books at the Strand, but I do increasingly feel like an expat in the city where I’ve always lived.

From Michael Greenberg’s New York Review of Books piece about the documentary Homme Less:

The spike in prices has profoundly altered the psychology of these neighborhoods, threatening the security of thousands of long-term residents, many of them families with working parents. The transformation has been dizzyingly abrupt. The process of repopulating a neighborhood with a wealthier class of residents that took twenty years on the Lower East Side during the late 1990s and early 2000s can now occur in five years or less in some parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

In August 2013, for example, Burke Leighton Asset Management bought 805 St. Marks Avenue, a pre-war, six-story building with two hundred apartments in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, for $22 million. In May, a little more than a year and a half later, they sold it to a Swedish real estate company called Akelius for $44 million. Akelius’s CEO said that he decided to invest in Crown Heights when he saw an increasing number of young people with “single-speed bicycles” in the neighborhood. I’ve no knowledge of Akelius’s plans for the building, but the only sure way to derive a reasonable return from this level of investment would be to find a means to deregulate the rent-stabilized apartments, and this invariably involves dislodging the families who live in them.

Over the past fifteen years New York has lost more than 200,000 units of affordable housing—20 percent of the current stock. The rate of loss has accelerated in recent years, putting the future of the city’s remaining rent-regulated apartments in grave doubt. What becomes of a city that economically bars its working class from living in it? New York may be in the process of finding out. Once apartments become deregulated, they never come back.

Where do the dislodged go? And how many are there?•


I know it sounds unlikely, but I once asked Snoop Dogg what it was he liked about pimping, that disgraceful thing, when he was a child. He answered in the most consumerist terms: the clothes, the cars, the hair–the style that only money could buy. It was the closest thing to capitalism that young Calvin Broadus could imagine his.

I don’t know if the late and infamous pimp Iceberg Slim (born Robert Beck) was what Malcolm X would have been had he never been politicized, but he certainly was the template for Don King, Dr. Dre and other African-American males who wanted into the capitalist system in the worst way–and got there by those means. The way they looked at it, their hands weren’t any dirtier than anyone else’s, just darker. 

A new biography of Slim encourages us to consider him for his literary talent, not just his outsize persona. Dwight Garner of the New York Times, who writes beautifully on any topic, has a review. The opening:

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, if you wanted a book by Iceberg Slim, the best-selling black writer in America, you didn’t go to a bookstore. You went to a black-owned barbershop or liquor store or gas station. Maybe you found a copy on a corner table down the block, or being passed around in prison.

The first and finest of his books was a memoir, Pimp: The Story of My Life, published in 1967. This was street literature, marketed as pulp. The New York Times didn’t merely not review Pimp, Justin Gifford notes in Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim. Given the title, this newspaper wouldn’t even print an ad for it.

Pimp related stories from Iceberg Slim’s 25 years on the streets of Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and other cities. It was dark. The author learned to mistreat women with a chilly élan. It was dirty, so filled with raw language and vividly described sex acts that, nearly 50 years later, the book still makes your eyeballs leap out of your skull, as if you were at the bottom of a bungee jump.

Yet Iceberg Slim’s prose was, and is, as ecstatic and original as a Chuck Berry guitar solo. Mark Twain meets Malcolm X in his sentences. When he was caught with an underage girl by her father, for example, the author didn’t just run. “I vaulted over the back fence,” he wrote, “and torpedoed down the alley.”

Pimp is a different sort of American coming-of-age story, the tale of a determined young man who connived to take what society would not give. It’s a subversive classic.•


A masked Slim meets Joe Pyne in the 1960s.

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Two videos about the changing nature of work in America.

The first is a PBS Newshour report by Paul Solman about technological unemployment, featuring some very dire predictions by Humans Need Not Apply author Jerry Kaplan, who believes robot caddies and delivery bots will lead to displaced, starving workers who’ll die in the streets if serious measures aren’t taken. Well, that could happen, though there’s no reason it need to.

The second is a Financial Times piece by Anna Nicolaou about the coworking startup WeWork, which leases monthly space to telecommuters who long to tether–a “capitalist kibbutz” as its called by founder Adam Neumann. My reaction to the company is that it seems especially prone to a bad financial downturn, but I would bet Neumann would argue the reverse, that short-term leases would be more attractive at such a time. At any rate, it’s an interesting look into the dynamic of the modern office space.

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That excellent Wesley Morris writes for Grantland about the new Brando documentary, Listen to Me Marlon, which uses a digital version of the actor’s head–a decapitation of sorts, as the writer notes–which is an apt metaphor for an actor who spent his later years trying to tear his flesh from fame and the burden of his own talent–a self-induced sparagmos in Greek-tragedy terms, and one that seemed to rob him of his sanity.

Brando created his 3-D doppelganger because he dreamed of completely detaching himself from his work. He was often barely there in his later performances, even great ones–reading cue cards from Robert Duvall’s chest in The Godfather, clearly showing up solely for the paycheck in Superman. As Morris notes, the performer was making a mockery of the process and himself. Was that because his excellence hadn’t made him happy? Or was he a deconstructionist child, breaking to pieces a formerly favorite toy to understand what it had been? Maybe both.

Morris’ opening:

Maybe you’ve already heard, but in the future, actors will all just be holograms that directors will use as they see fit. That’s what Marlon Brando thought, anyway. In the 1980s, he went ahead and made a digital version of his face and head at a place called Cyberware. At the time, it was a state-of-the-art rendering. That 3-D heads haunts Listen to Me Marlon, a documentary by Stevan Riley that opens Wednesday in New York. The film is guided by Brando’s ruminative regret — about his fame, his talent, his worth as a father, about a life he felt he wasted.1 It combines news and on-set footage with material from Brando’s private archive, including the many hours of audio recordings Brando made before he died in 2004. The recordings were attempts at therapy. More than once the movie cuts to the spinning gears of cassette tapes with titles like “Self-Hypnosis #7” and so on.

Listen to Me’s wacky, spiritual power seems to emanate from that floating, rotating, mathematical arrangement of digital lasers that form Brando’s visage, which an effects team has re-created from the Cyberware scans. It’s a ghostly effect, intentionally incomplete — dated but hypnotically so.•

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Years before Gore Vidal squared off with a lit Norman Mailer on Dick Cavett’s talk show, he and William F. Buckley tore into each other on live TV on numerous occasions in the run-up to the 1968 Presidential election, a continuing spectacle so vicious (“the only pro or crypto-Nazi here is yourself”) that it ultimately carried over into a courtroom. It was a huge sensation, a dress rehearsal of sorts for the tempestuous Fischer-Spassky televised chess matches, with two men who saw themselves as kingmakers behaving like pawns. The confrontation wasn’t just a sideshow but, sadly, prelude: political opinion becoming little more than scathing spectacle of little value or substance. 

The endless channels enabled by new technologies and the Reagan erasure of Fairness Doctrine would have delivered us into loud, partisan bickering regardless, but Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s new documentary, Best of Enemies, sees the Buckley-Vidal drama as the tipping point of our new abnormal.

The opening of Michael M. Grynbaum’s well-written NYT article about the film:

Before partisan panels, split-screen shoutfests and brash personalities became ubiquitous on cable news, there were two men who despised each other sitting side by side on a drab soundstage, debating politics in prime time during the presidential nominating conventions of 1968. There were Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr.

Literary aristocrats and ideological foes, Vidal and Buckley attracted millions of viewers to what, at the time, was a highly irregular experiment: the spectacle of two brilliant minds slugging it out — once, almost literally — on live television. It was witty, erudite and ultimately vicious, an early intrusion of full-contact punditry into the staid pastures of the evening news.

What transpired would alter both men’s lives — and, as a new documentary argues, help change the course of how the American political media reports the news. Best of Enemies, which opens July 31, makes the case that their on-screen feuding opened the floodgates for today’s opinionated, conflict-driven coverage.•

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The Japanese robot hotel that I’ve blogged about before (here and here) was the focus of a CBS This Morning report by Seth Doane. It’s sort of a curious piece. It focuses mostly on the novelty and the hotel’s lack of a human touch, with the correspondent stating that no one should worry about losing their job to a robot in the near future because there still are software issues to be worked out. Except that even before a total robotization of basic hotels, many positions handled currently by humans will be lost. The same goes for airports, hospitals, warehouses and restaurants.

On the face of it, what a wonderful thing if AI could handle all the drudgery and bullshit jobs, even if it could take some quality jobs and do much better work than we do. Of course, the problem is, economies in America and many other states aren’t arranged for that radical reorganization. It’s a serious cultural problem and a political one.


If you see a guy on a bus in your neighborhood who looks like the great artist Ai Weiwei, it may be the real Ai Weiwei because thankfully he’s had his passport returned to him by the Chinese government after four years of stalling.

Below is a 2014 New York Times video, in which he delivers a techno-positivist take on art in an age of free-flowing information and super-connectedness. The transition is certainly a huge win in the big picture, though there’s something very different about community today being a virtual thing rather than a geographical one. And the logical outcome of the Internet of Things is that we’ll all ultimately be under surveillance like Ai Weiwei has been. I guess the most hopeful scenario is that if we’re all naked, nudity won’t matter anymore.


It’s difficult to believe that airports, in one way or another, won’t always be a boondoggle, but Scott McCartney of the WSJ envisions a high-tech tomorrow in which commercial fliers will be doted on and waved through by sensors and robots, welcomed and directed via their smart phones and watches. It is likely that airports, like hotels, will have less use for human workers, with holograms perhaps in the intervening period, before the process is barely noticeable

McCartney’s opening:

Like a good maître d’, the airport of the future will recognize you, greet you by name and know exactly where to put you.

Airports around the world are beginning to move in this direction. At London’s Gatwick Airport, beacons identify you by your smartphone and give GPS-like directions to your gate, pointing out food or shopping along the way. In Germany, robots at Düsseldorf’s airport park your car and return it curbside after you land, linking your itinerary to your license plate. Researchers are developing robots that will be able to check your bags and deliver them within minutes of landing.

Facial-recognition systems speed you through passport control in places including Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. Some airports use facial-recognition systems to track your movements around terminals. Gates in some airports are automated with doors that flash open like a subway turnstile when you scan your boarding pass or flash your smartwatch.

At the airport of the future, directional signs will be only for backup. Check-in kiosks will be tucked in a corner. Human agents may be even more unnecessary.•


Braniff’s airport of the future, 1975.


Profusion CEO Mike Weston has written a WSJ article which tries to think ahead of the problems that will arrive when cities have been smartened up. The main issue he examines is marketers purchasing information to target citizens with products. Weston suggests we can tackle the issue with stringent legislation and/or business ethics, but I wonder if those tactics will work. The legislative approach will, at best, be a leaky boat, as it’s likely that this type of information wants to be free–as in liberated. Laws will always likely trail the technology. Expecting businesses to be constrained by a code that runs counter to the bottom line seems unlikely. But it’s good people devoted to data science like Weston are thinking in advance of these developments, and his piece is well worth reading. An excerpt:

By analyzing this information using data-science techniques, a company could learn not only the day-to-day routine of an individual but also his preferences, behavior and emotional state. Private companies could know more about people than they know about themselves.

For marketers, this is a dream come true. Imagine the scenario: A beverage company knows a particular individual’s Friday or Saturday night routine. The company knows what he drinks, when he drinks, who he drinks with and where he goes. It also knows how the weather affects what beverage the individual chooses and how changes in work patterns influence how much alcohol he consumes. By combining this information with the individual’s social-media profile, the company could send marketing messages to the person when he is most susceptible to the suggestion to buy a drink.

Businesses could market divorce services to couples who, through data analysis, are shown to exhibit behavior that indicates that their relationship could be in trouble—things like unusual travel patterns, and changes in work-life balance, such as a rapid increase in the amount of time both individuals spend at work or in separate bars. Individuals who are shown to lead very unhealthy lifestyles could be deliberately targeted by brands selling fatty foods.

The scenarios are endless, ranging from the genuinely useful to the potentially terrifying. But what will moderate how a smart city works and how brands can use data?


A pre-Internet attempt at a smart city, The Woodlands, 1977.


The old dream of driverless cars is now close enough to realization for design students to be rethinking the very meaning of vehicles, the form and function. The BBC has a video report of proposed autonomous cars by Royal College of Art students.

In 1974, the mad geniuses at K-Tel tried to convince consumers they should take tennis lessons, via LP record, from three-time Wimbledon champ John Newcombe.

Like hookworm and rubella, the surreal, sophomoric comedy of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim can’t be completely understood until it has infected you, though by then you’ll be very distracted by how much you’re vomiting. So much vomit.

Two doughy dipshits from Pennsylvania who’ve slurped up every last bit of crap offered to Americans in lieu of something good, Tim & Eric wait for just the right moment and then regurgitate the nonsense, revealing the sordidness of the whole enterprise. And then they do it again and again and again and again and again. Because for the Adult Swim duo, the joke almost isn’t the point–the persistence of the joke is what matters. It’s like a contest among children to see which doofus can maintain a stupid expression the longest. In today’s comedy world, Tim & Eric consistently make the dumbest faces. God bless them.




In their own little cloistered TV world, this mindset allows them to wring endless material from antic scenes of shirtless guys with stunned expressions who may or may not be about to have heart attacks. Probably even better, though, are those occasions when their funhouse mirror of American idiocy comes up against the real thing, as when they answer questions from clueless TV interviewers with non sequiturs from the Howard Stern Show or express their enthusiasm for racist Birther buffoon Donald Trump while on a promotional tour. They don’t modify their act for the benefit of their hosts, making for some wonderfully disquieting scenes.

Their latest broadside is a book called Tim & Eric’s Zone Theory: 7 Easy Steps to Achieve a Perfect Life, a hardcover mockery of the entire grab bag of the modern American medicine show: quasi-religions, life coaches, self-help programs, diet tips, exercise shortcuts, relationship advice, etc. All the things we choose because we’re too dumb or too lazy to do the right thing, which would require an effort. In the pages of their handsome volume, they lay out a cult-like wellness regimen that will cause you multiple-organ failure if you adhere to its demands.

My favorite passage is the one that encourages readers to pull the many yards of “unnecessary tubes” out of their bodies to lose weight and gain quickness.

But perhaps you’ll be more interested in the “Diarrhea Dipstick.” Your soupy bowel movements are in for a good auditing!

I’m not receiving a dime if you buy this book. All proceeds will be used to help the boys purchase fake blood or doo-doo or something to smear on their faces. What a couple of dickbags.•


“I was instantly able to access my enthusiasm for nude horseplay.”

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Today is a special day when Americans eat too much, drink too much and blow stuff up. That’s right, it’s Saturday.

Oh, and it’s also July 4th, the anniversary of when we began waxing those British father-rapers who were taxing us and then using that money to supply us with basic services we desperately needed. I mean, we would have died. Yes, it’s the birthday of the U.S.A., the greatest nation in the history of the world. If you forget that America is the best country ever, don’t worry, we’ll remind you. That’s because we’re large and wealthy yet deeply insecure, much like Alec Baldwin. Luckily, other countries are far worse than we are, so they can’t say shit. Yes, Turkmenistan, I’m looking at you. Suck it! And if you do talk trash about us, we’ll know right away because we’re listening in on all your private conversations. We can’t help it: Spying on you, sexy world, sends blood rushing to our boners.

Anyhow, enjoy a safe and happy holiday!


“America the Beautiful,” by Meat Loaf and Mitt Romney.


In the 1970s, AMF, the sporting-goods manufacturer, sold the DataMagic Bowling Data Computer, a system that would tabulate rankings of bowling leagues with the push of a button. It seems a stunning waste of computing power and coincided with the company going into a decline, so I doubt it was a big seller. But as this commercial makes clear, it was a declaration of war on the pencil.

Despite what some narratives say, Bill Gates was completely right about the Internet and mobile. That doesn’t mean he’ll be correct about every seismic shift, but I think his intuition about autonomous cars is almost definitely accurate: Driverless functions will be useful if partially completed and a societal game-changer if completely perfected. Just helpful or a total avalanche. In an interview conducted by Financial Times Deputy Editor John Thornhill, Gates discussed these matters, among many others. An excerpt from Shane Ferro’s article at Business Insider (which relies on Izabella Kaminska tweets from the event):

With regards to robots, the economy, and logistics, the takeaway seems to be that Gates thinks we’re in the fastest period of innovation ever, and it’s still unclear how that will affect the economy.

But there’s still quite a way to go. Robots “will be benign for quite some time,” Gates said. The future of work is not in immediate danger — although the outlook is not good for those who have a high school degree or less. 

Gates was also asked about Uber. He seems to think the real disruption to the driving and logistics industry is not going to come until we have fully driverless cars. That’s the “rubicon,” he says.

Kaminska relays that currently, Gates thinks that Uber “is just a reorganization of labour into a more dynamic form.” However, and this is big, Uber does have the biggest research and development budget out there on the driverless vehicle front. And that’s to its advantage.•

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Softbank’s Pepper looks like a child killed by a lightning strike who returned as a ghost to make you pay for handing him a watering can during an electrical storm.

He’s described as an “emotional robot,” which makes me take an immediate disliking to him. Manufactured to express feelings based on stimuli in his surroundings, Pepper is supposed to be shaped by his environment, but I wonder if his behavior will shape those who own him. We may get an answer since the robot sold out in Japan in under a minute and will soon be available for sale internationally.

From Marilyn Malara at UPI:

The humanoid robot is described as one that can feel emotion in a way humans do naturally through a system similar to a human’s hormonal response to stimuli. The robot can generate its own emotions by gathering information from its cameras and various sensors. Softbank says that Pepper is a “he” and can read human facial expressions, words and surroundings to make decisions. He can sigh or even raise his voice; he can get scared from dimming lights and happy when praised.

Along with the product’s launch, 200 applications are available to download into the robot including one that can record everyday life in the form of a robotic scrapbook.

Last year, Nestle Japan used Pepper to sell Nescafe coffee machines in appliance stores all over the country. “Pepper will be able to explain Nescafe products and services and engage in conversation with consumers,” Nestle Japan CEO Kohzoh Takaoka said in October before its roll-out.•


“Can you lend me a $100?”


Prior to 1975, the summer was a dead season for movies, but Jaws changed all that. Released in the warm months to capitalize on its beach theme, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Peter Benchley’s bestseller remade the film business, and not only for the better, as the chase for the next blockbuster, the trusty tent pole, began in earnest. (It also had a bad effect on sharks, which have much more to fear from us than we do from them.)

Four days before the film’s momentous release, Benchley, who wrote the screenplay, and star Roy Scheider, guested on Good Night America hosted by Geraldo Rivera, who describes the picture as “the chilling story of a prehistoric eating machine.” At the very last moment, his production team talked Rivera out of wearing a only Speedo and a mustache during the interview, though he really, really wanted to.

Geraldo begins the program with allegations about the Rockefeller Commission further clouding the Kennedy Assassination. There are also filmed interviews in Louisiana with Mick and Bianca Jagger and an exposé on psychic and faith healers, including Rev. Bernard Zovluck of Times Square. The guest announcer is Don Imus, who once killed a shark he suspected of stealing his cocaine. Watch here.•

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I would guess that most people know Jay J. Armes as an action figure that has removable upper limbs which can be replaced with all sorts of tools and weapons. But he’s a real man, one who lost his arms in a childhood accident and went on to become a successful American detective with an amazing publicist. The private eye was the main guest on a 1975 installment of Geraldo Rivera’s talk show, Good Night America. Only the classy Geraldo would point out how ironic it was that a guy whose surname was “Armes” had his arms blown off. Jerry Fucking Rivers! 

Footage of a Central Park concert organized by John Lennon is among the other highlights. Watch it here.

The opening of Anthony K. Roberts’ 1975 People article about Armes, which described him as “recently divorced,” which apparently was not true:

Barnaby Jones is a little long in the tooth and Cannon has that belly to contend with. But when it comes to overcoming handicaps, they are pikers compared to a real-life private detective from El Paso who, despite the lack of both arms, commands million-dollar fees, owns and pilots two jet helicopters, is a black belt karate expert, tools around in a Rolls-Royce, and has built into his artificial right arm a revolver that fires a .22 magnum shell. His wildly improbable name: Jay J. Armes.

Not surprisingly, a pilot is being made for a possible CBS series based on the remarkable Mr. Armes (yes, his name is pronounced “arms”). The scriptwriter should have no trouble finding material. Maintaining offices around the world which employ 2,400 people, Armes has a list of clients that includes politicians, royalty and show business celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando and Yoko Ono. They come to Armes, 42, he unabashedly claims, because he is “the best.” And his handicap? “I never think about it,” he shrugs. “Limits are only put on people by themselves.”

Armes has been living by that philosophy since a friend brought him a package one summer when he was 12. Unknown to Armes, the box contained railroad dynamite charges that exploded when Armes broke the seal. The friend escaped injury. But when Jay picked himself up 20 feet away, there was only torn flesh and bits of bone hanging from the stumps of his arms.

Jay was told by doctors that he would have to remain in the hospital six months before he could begin to learn how to use his two hook-like artificial limbs. Instead of waiting, Armes insisted on the limbs immediately. He was released after 22 days.

Armes taught himself to write all over again—”I had no excuse to be sloppy”—and returned to public school in the fall. Although students and teachers went out of their way to help “with pity in their eyes,” Armes insisted on doing everything himself. At one point he dripped a pool of blood on the floor while trying to write on the blackboard with his new arms. In high school he competed in sports and won letters in track, football and baseball.•


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Before it became apparent that Geraldo Rivera really just wanted to give the whole world a free mustache ride, he was a respected, muckraking journalist who filmed a sensational and righteous report about abuses at Willowbrook. He instantly became a national name and soon had other opportunities, including a really good if sporadic 1973-75 late-night talk show, Good Night America.

In a summer 1974 episode, he spoke to someone I’m fascinated with in Clifford Irving, who’d written a 1969 book about art forger Elmyr De Hory before bringing out another volume in 1972, one in which he pretended that the reclusive Howard Hughes had collaborated with him on an autobiography. McGraw-Hill took the bait and gave him a boatload of cash for the “exclusive,” but the Hughes ruse was soon exposed. Irving was operating in an era when people still distinguished between fact and fiction, so his career went into a Dumpster for awhile.

Orson Welles, an infamous hoaxer himself, made a brilliant, serendipitous cine-essay, F Is for Fake, about the scandal as it unfolded, and Irving was grilled at the time by everyone from Mike Wallace to Abbie Hoffman. In a marriage-themed show, Geraldo speaks to Irving and his wife Edith about the toll on their relationship caused by the fraud’s fallout, which included prison sentences for them both. (They had just been released on parole when this program was filmed.)

The host also speaks to Sly and Kathy Stone about their wedding ceremony in front of more than 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden and shows footage of the event. The final segment is with comedian Robert Klein and his then-spouse, the opera singer Brenda Boozer. Loathsome Henny Youngman is the guest announcer, serving up Zsa Zsa Gabor jokes. Holy Mother of God! Watch it here.•

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Another Jesus H. Christ! edition of Geraldo Rivera’s 1970s talk show, Good Night America, is this one from ’75 which focused on the FBI’s aggressive attempts to capture at-large Symbionese Liberation Army hostage/soldier Patty Hearst, the newspaper heiress getting more ink than anyone in the country. What’s most interesting to me is that hippie-ish basketball player Bill Walton, then playing with the Portland Trail Blazers, was hassled by the Feds who believed he knew where “Tania” was hiding. He certainly would have if she had been lodged inside Jerry Garcia’s colon. The host taped an interview in San Francisco with the NBA star and speaks in studio to sportswriters Jack and Micki Scott and attorney William Kunstler.

Unrelated to the SLA madness, Rita Moreno visits the studio, there’s a report on male go-go dancers and the guest announcer is Don Imus, the rodeo clown who spent all morning looking for Hearst in a bowl of cocaine. Watch here.•

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