Automation, bad and good

A couple of items on automation from Slashdot (

This is pretty scary: On Sunday night (Sept. 9), someone searched a local newspaper for a story on United Airline’s bankruptcy in 2002. Google picked it up and somehow the date of the story was not included. People started reading the story, which made it rise in the ranks of “most popular news”. And then other news sources picked it up too, without checking the facts. And then automated trading programs started selling and selling… before trading in United was stopped by NASDAQ on Wednesday, the company’s stock had lost 76% of its value, over a billion dollars. As of today the stock has regained most of the losses, although there are probably investors out there who are crying. One news story: Tribune Co published link to old story that hit UAL.

The scary part about it is that so much of it was triggered by automatic actions — the original newspaper where the story became “popular,” the bot Google used to pull the story onto its pages, and the automatic programs that sold when the stock hit certain benchmarks. C’mon, people, pay attention!

On a lighter note: You’re in the midst of a career as a legendary writer. As such, people are writing to you constantly. What to do? Here’s Robert Heinlein’s approach: Heinlein’s Fan Mail Solution … A highly entertaining FAQ from the days before computers.


About songdogmi

I'm a longhaired almost-hippie stuck in the inner suburbs of a major rust-belt metropolis who's thoughtful, creative, and kind of geeky. In exchange for a paycheck I run around in a cubicle maze most days. When I escape, I play music, hang out in coffee houses, dink around on the computer, take naps, and think I should be off in the woods somewhere. Every once in a while I get in my car and drive far, far away, though I've always come back so far.
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3 Responses to Automation, bad and good

  1. ferndalealex says:

    Somewhere around here I have a letter signed by Robert (?) from the mid to late 80’s. It’s very similar to the last item on the list there. They may have had computers by that time, who knows.

    • songdogmi says:

      Very cool… I think the article said by the late 80s they had a computer, so the letters were easier to do in a customized way, like what you got. Any way you look at it, you’ve got an heirloom.

  2. hellmutt says:

    Both great links. Thanks.

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