Juan David Campolargo

FREEGEORGE: The Call For Automation

It’s 11:04 PM on a snowy winter night. It’s dark, lonely, and difficult to walk, so I take the bus.

I always try to greet the bus drivers with a smile and ask them, “How are you?” If they reply and seem like they want to keep going, we continue talking. These drivers have the most interesting stories, from pain and regrets to happiness and gratefulness. 

On this night, I talked to George. We start a conversation about crime around the city and the university area. But we get deeper. He tells me about his background, why he’s driving the bus, and what he wishes he had done differently with his life. 

I listen. He continues.

Sometimes, what all of us want is someone who listens to us, truly listens. 

He told me he went to a community college but partied too much. After the first year, he was no longer going to school. What came after was twenty years of hard work, regrets, and finding the energy to keep living every day. 

George is about to cry. I continue listening. 

“What’s been on your mind lately? Anything exciting to you?” I asked. 

I have not been able to stop thinking about his answer ever since. 

George says, “Well man, I drive the bus twelve hours a day, and after I get off, all I want to do is sleep to recover. My kids are six and eight, and they want me to play with them but I physically can’t. I try my best though.”

George isn’t alone. Millions of people in the U.S. and around the world have these types of jobs to survive and pay the bills. But it takes a huge toll on them, the inability to have a life because of how tiring these jobs are. In George’s case, he does what he does for his kids. 

The engineer part of me immediately thinks, “What the hell is going on? Why can’t we just automate these buses?” [1]

We know we can. We have the technology and we can make it happen. Look up “Autonomous Buses.” Why doesn’t it happen? We need to try harder. 

Regulation or other reasons can’t be the reason why George will be physically incapable of having a life outside of work. It can’t be it. 

Another reason might be that researchers or people working on autonomous buses don’t think it’s a problem or realize it is. For example, I’ve never seen a professor on a bus. 

Automation is a way for George to take control of his life. He told me he wants to finish his community college degree. He finished one year back in his twenties. Now, he’s in his fifties and would like to go back and finish that year. 

But we need a new word for when we need automation to liberate people like George. 

I want to call this new word, “freegeorge.” Freegeorge [2] is a call for increased automation for tiresome that take away all of the brain’s energy.

Freegeorge is the call for automation and a better future for George and millions of others. He needs us. They need our help. 

 

 

Notes

[1] Someone asked me this, “If buses were automated, what would happen to all the Georges? What work would they do? Isn't that what happened to a lot of jobs when computers came along?” That’s a bad question because we’re only thinking about the present. Is it possible that George could lose his job? In a way, that is the goal. We want George to stop driving the bus. 

What other job could he do? That is where education comes in, or maybe because of his experience, he could work with programmers and technicians to make the bus automation smoother. He could help train the neural net by driving a testing bus, or telling programmers what they wouldn’t know. 

But ultimately, when this happens, George will need two things. First, he will need time. To study, to figure out what he loves doing, and to help out his family. Secondly, during this time, he cannot stop feeding his kids or paying the bills. He will need money to survive, and that is where solutions like UBI (universal basic income) could work. Not just free money but directed money towards education and exploration. 

[2] Originally, I wanted to call freegeorge, “freeloc” inspired by C programming. I wanted to combine malloc(), which is how you allocate memory, and free(), which is how you deallocate it. 

But unless you’ve programmed in C, explaining where loc comes from distracts us from the story. Freegeorge seems to work out nicely. 

 

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