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As robots take more jobs from humans we can expect a massive unemployment problem. Let's start planning for that now. I'll limit this discussion to the United States just to keep things simple, but the concepts should be applicable everywhere.

I'm about to describe a huge government program. Please don't leave comments saying huge government programs are never a good idea unless you have a better idea that doesn't involve the government.

So let's say the plan I'm about to propose has about a 20% chance of working. That still beats the do-nothing option of massive unemployment leading to certain doom.

My plan is to turn the United States into more of a tourist attraction than it already is by building vast networks of interconnected canals across the nation. These canals would accommodate hotel and residential houseboats. And let's say the houseboats are all computerized so you just plug in your destination and go have a drink on the top deck while the boat does the rest, including making its own scheduled maintenance and refueling stops.

I'm stealing the Google self-driving car concept and applying it to a canal network with houseboats. The boats would be aware of other boats and obstacles and avoid them.

Now let's say that by law the only boats allowed on the canals are the self-driving and highly "green" types that don't pose much risk of polluting the canals. Then the canals become a solution to water shortages across the country as well, so long as they are fed by Canadian water sources. So this project is also a partial solution to climate change and the water shortages. And because these canal routes will crisscross the country, perhaps it makes sense to build out the next generation of our energy grid along the same rights-of-ways.

I imagine all of the house boats on the canal being built with a common docking standard and individual identity beacons. If you want to dock with a friend's boat for the day, just enter the identity numbers for your two boats, wait for the confirmation, and the boats do the rest. The two boats might be miles apart when you program them, and they adjust speeds accordingly to meet. You'd use the same method to dock with restaurant boats, gift shop boats, and other service crafts.

I can imagine that a portion of the house boats are rented to tourists and another portion are full-time homes for retirees and people who just prefer continual travel. Each boat will have full Internet access so folks can work and travel at the same time.

I would think that at some point the cost of a houseboat would be far below the cost of a home because there is no land involved and the houseboats would be energy-efficient. So this could also be an answer to affordable housing.

Obviously robots would be a big part of the labor force for a massive project of this size. But you'd also need huge numbers of humans for planning and implementing. And if the human workers for the canal project are the first occupants of the houseboats, their cost of living might be so low that they become competitive with robot labor. A big reason that human labor costs so much is that our lifestyles are relatively expensive. The boating lifestyle could be designed from the bottom up to be inexpensive (yet awesome). When humans can live inexpensively, they can charge less for their labor and compete with robots for a bit longer.

This one massive project would modernize the energy grid, solve the water crisis, expand tourism, create affordable housing, stimulate the economy, solve unemployment, reduce shipping costs, and make travel affordable.

And it would touch every part of the country. Every town along the canal system would want to create a commercial center and docking area for boaters.

What do you think?

[Update: It occurred to me that you could also design the canals with power generators at the bottom that are powered by the current. And you might as well lay fiber along the route while you're at it, with wifi towers all along the route. Oh, and let's add lots of edible fish to the canals so boaters can catch as they go.]

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Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com (Scheduling made simple)

Time.com says my latest book is not crazy.

 


 

 
When a new and great idea comes into the world it will often simultaneously pop up in lots of different places. I assume that's because something in the environment is triggering people to think of the same solutions.

I've blogged a few times about the need to use the Internet more directly to influence policy debates. And now we have a 28-year old candidate for Congress, David Cole, who is doing just that, by putting his platform on popular software development site GitHub for public editing and debate.

This is a bigger deal than you think because if "showing your work" online becomes the norm, how do lobbyists continue to ply their trade? It would be embarrassing for an elected official to vote in a way that is contrary to the "best" argument on his own website.

I was just watching Niall Ferguson's TV special, Civilization: The West and the Rest. (It's GREAT, by the way.) He explains the factors that caused the West to rise to dominance. Summary: The West had better political and economic systems.

But at the moment, we really don't have the best political and economic system. I think that honor goes to China, at least in terms of projecting their economic dominance. And if you don't buy the argument that China has a better system, at least you can agree that the American system of government is broken, mostly because of big money interests.

David Cole might have just fixed that problem....and changed the course of civilization. Sorry, China. Nice try.

I don't know if Cole will get elected. But his approach got enough attention to become inevitable without him, primarily because it all makes perfect sense. So I'll give him credit, should history every ask me.

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Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

 



 
The problem with civilization is that our stuff is so often in the wrong place.

For example, it bugs me that I pay to heat my house . . . and then I put my refrigerator inside the heated house. That just feels wrong. I want my fridge to have an insulated conduit to the outdoors that senses temperatures and opens when the outdoors is sufficiently cold to help out. And let's give that conduit a bug screen and an odor filter. This idea won't happen soon because it requires the homebuilder and the refrigerator-maker to coordinate. I'll put this idea on hold until I build my well-planned city of the future.

I recently blogged about the idea of consumers hosting computers in their homes and selling CPU time back to the grid. I got that idea about half right. A reader pointed me to a company that has a smarter take, so much so that I laughed out loud when I checked their website.

The company is Nerdalize, and their insight is that computers are also accidental heaters. With their business model you can heat your home for free in return for allowing a computer/heater in your home that is connected to the grid. This way data centers don't need to spend vast amounts of money discarding excess heat that other people would happily pay for. It's brilliant if it works. I'm going to add this idea to my city of the future too.

I also want a "travel room" in my city of the future. It's a room that has TV screens on all four walls, coordinated with a 360-degree camera on a drone located anywhere in the world. If I want to take a flying tour of the alps, for example, I just rent time on the drone. My travel room will feel as if I am flying, and I can navigate the drone to whatever tourist site I want. Just to keep things safe, let's say the drone is programmed to avoid dangerous situations, such as kamikaze attacks on the locals.

My next post will be about a plan to keep the economy humming along after robots take over all of the manual labor and put two-thirds of humans out of work.

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Scott Adams


Creator of Dilbert

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com (Scheduling made simple)

Author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

 
Today I share a small time-saving tip that I borrowed and upgraded.

When you empty the trash cans in your home, you usually replace the plastic garbage bag at the same time. But where do you keep the extra bags? Do you have to remember to bring them to the trash can, or do you have to make a special trip to the closet to grab one?

I noticed that professional cleaners cleverly leave a few extra bags on the bottom of the can, below the bag in service. The extras can't be seen until you need them, and they take up no space.

I borrowed that idea and improved on it. Instead of a few extra bags at the bottom of the can, I put an entire roll of bags down there. It takes up some space, but not nearly enough to be an issue. It adds some weight to the trash can, but not enough to matter.



This is a minor time-saver at best, but life is full of little steps, and many of them can be more efficient. I like to chip away at the needless complexity of life with the hope of taming some of it in the long run.

Do you have any small time-saving ideas to share? If I like your suggestions I'll probably use them on a future post either here or on the CalendarTree blog.

 


 

Recently I answered the question of whether my dog (Snickers) or my cat (Zoey) is smarter.

My dog loves treats and is largely bored by the stuff I put in her food bowl. She eats it if she’s hungry enough, but she loves special treats. Now here’s the interesting part: If I take a pellet of food directly from her dish and present it as a special treat, she snarfs it down as if it were the best food in the world. And I can do this with her face literally one foot from a full bowl of food. In front of her eyes I pick up a boring pellet from the bowl and it magically becomes a special treat because it is now in my hand – the place from which all delicious treats originate. I can repeat this trick dozens of times and not once does Snickers think to bypass the hand and eat the big bowl of food that is directly in front of her snout.

Okay, so that’s how smart the dog is.

My cat, Zoey, developed an odd habit some years ago, or so I thought. When I walk anywhere near her food bowl, which generally has food in it, she meows to get my attention and demands to be petted. But when I go to pet her, she starts guiding me toward the bowl until I’m petting her at the same time she’s eating. Yes, she “George Costanzas” me.

George Costanza was a character on the old Seinfeld show. In one well-known episode George tried to combine the thrill of sex with the pleasure of eating a sandwich, doing both at the same time. Zoey has literally trained me to pet her while she eats, thus getting a double-tap of pleasure when most animals would have settled for either one.

Advantage: cat


Scott Adams

 

P.S. My startup, CalendarTree.com, got an unexpected 5 out of 5 Gearhead rating from Network World’s Mark Gibbs. The odd thing is that I didn't know this article was happening until it showed up on my Google Alert over the weekend.

 


 
As some of you know, one of my tricks for keeping my energy high is always having at least one project going that could change the world in some positive way, even if the odds are ridiculously low. Along those lines, I've been thinking about funding a survey that could be summarized with these two questions:

  1. How much do you know about nutrition and diet?
  2. How overweight are you?

Let's assume experts could come up with a quiz on diet and nutrition that would accurately rank people from less-informed to well-informed. My hypothesis is that the people with the most knowledge about proper diet and nutrition also have the healthiest levels of body fat. In other words, knowledge is a substitute for willpower when it comes to deciding what to eat. Or taking it one step further, knowledge creates health.

If my hypothesis is correct, an educational campaign about proper eating would have a gigantic impact on health. I could even imagine your healthcare insurance provider offering discounts to patients that pass a diet and nutrition test in a doctor's office.

The popular view is that overweight people have low willpower, or low metabolism, or they don't exercise enough. But my observation over a lifetime of eating with various groups of friends is that fit people simply know more about proper eating and exercise than their weight-challenged friends.

For example, I think you'd find that overweight people think they need to increase their exercise routine substantially to lose weight. And that's a scary proposition if you're not feeling particularly fit. Thin people, on average, probably understand that exercise is good for your health but it doesn't have a big impact on weight. In fact, to lose weight some people might be better off temporarily cutting back on exercise just to reduce the drag on your limited supply of willpower.

As another example, I think you'd find that overweight people more often think "a calorie is a calorie" no matter how you get it, whereas fit people think simple carbs are almost poisons.

In my case, when my knowledge of proper eating reached a good-enough level I dropped ten pounds without using any extra willpower whatsoever. Now I eat as much as I want, of anything I want, all day long, and I don't gain a pound. The secret was learning how to manage my cravings. I can eat anything I want because I no longer want unhealthy foods. Knowledge replaced my need for willpower. For example, I now understand that eating simple carbs for lunch kills my energy for the rest of the day. It doesn't take any willpower to resist doing something I know will make me feel like hell in an hour. But before I knew simple carbs were the culprit, I assumed eating in general was the problem, and I couldn't avoid eating during the day. Knowledge solved a problem that willpower could not.

I think it's clear that governments would be worthless in educating the public about diet and nutrition because the unhealthy food industry lobbyists are too powerful. So I think this sort of effort would need to be privately funded. But before doing that, it would help to have a better idea if this is a good strategy.

My question of the day for my smart blog readers is this: Do you think that overweight people could get to a healthier weight simply by learning what their fitter friends already know?

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Scott Adams

Creator of Dilbert

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

 
Lately, the most stressful thing in my life is a thing called "quiet." This feels like a new problem, brought on, I believe, by my addiction to the Internet. When I'm under-stimulated, such as in a quiet environment with no access to electronics, I become instantly stressed. It feels like a painful sort of loneliness.

Luckily there isn't much quietness around. Life is mostly noisy. I'm in my office now, 5:39 a.m., and I can hear a low hum of freeway traffic in the distance, an occasional train, and some industrial moans from the rock quarry across the valley. It's just the right amount of noise to keep the quiet away without distracting me.

A study showed that people are more creative when there's human background noise, such as in a coffee shop. My experience agrees with the study. Back when I owned a restaurant, I brought my laptop to lunch one day to do some work in a booth while my order was being prepared. Ideas came to me so rapidly that I ended up writing an entire book while sitting in the restaurant during lunch rushes. The trick with background noise is that you don't want to hear individual conversations. You want a muffled hum of activity.

As I was writing this post, I stumbled upon the very product I was about to suggest: a background coffee shop sound loop. It's here at Coffitivity. http://coffitivity.com/ I'm playing it now. It's too early to say whether it helps my creativity, but I like the idea.

A lot of people play music while working or doing homework. The studies are mixed on that strategy. Apparently music doesn't hurt performance too much when you're doing math but it kills you when you're trying to do anything with language. I think people play music while working in part because they like music and in part because quiet is disturbing.

I know many of you will weigh in with a comment saying music helps your productivity. You're probably wrong about that, unless you're doing manual labor or math. If music made you more productive, companies would require employees to listen to music while working. I don't think the science supports music as a productivity booster in most situations. However, it might make you happy, and less stressed, and that can be reason enough.

I just turned off the Coffitivity.com background sound. I found it distracting. But that might be because I was too interested in whether it was working. I might give it another go later.

My question for the day: Does quietness stress you or relax you? And if it stresses you, were you always that way, or have you become addicted to continuous stimulation?


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Scott Adams

Creator of Dilbert

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

 
Fifa World Cup ™ starts in June. If you’d like to add your favorite team’s schedule to your personal calendar with a few clicks, CalendarTree.com has the links. (I'm a co-founder.) It’s free, and you don’t need to sign up for anything. Here's how it can help you...

Get Invited to a Friend's World Cup (soccer/football/futbal) Party

It’s not too early to start hinting to your friends that have big screen TVs that they need to start planning some viewing parties. The trick is to start the hinting process early while being subtle about it. Just forward the CalendarTree link to all of your friends with big television sets and add a helpful reminder that the event is this summer.

In about a month you’ll want to follow up with a text to each of your big-TV friends saying, “Did you get the World Cup schedule I sent?” If that doesn’t shake loose an invitation you need to take it to the next level and start wondering aloud how you will enjoy watching the matches on your relatively tiny television while eating sub-par snacks.
 
If your plan works, one of your friends will float the idea of “maybe” inviting some people over to watch a few games. That’s when you pounce. Start praising the visionary brilliance of the idea as if you had just witnessed a breakthrough in anti-gravity technology. Act excited and astonished at the same time; really sell it.
 
You can nudge your friend from a “maybe” to a concrete party plan by volunteering to bring something. Obviously you want to pick an easy category such as soda or chips. And you want to volunteer early, before all the simple choices are gone and you end up making ratatouille.
 
If none of your scheming produces an invitation to a friend’s house to watch the World Cup, you have to consider the hypothesis that there’s something seriously wrong with you. And if you have read this far in my blog, I can confirm that hypothesis. I’m sorry you had to find out this way.
 
I hope the World Cup game schedules are useful to you :-).  Go USA!
 
 
I never felt too violated by the news that my government can snoop on every digital communication and financial transaction I make. Maybe I should have been more bothered, but the snooping wasn't affecting my daily life, and it seemed like it might be useful for fighting terrorism, so I worried about other things instead.

This week, as I was pulling together all of my records to do taxes, I didn't get too upset that the process of taxpaying is unnecessarily frustrating and burdensome. As a citizen, I do what I need to do. I'm a team player.

I have also come to peace with the fact that my government now takes about half of my income. I figure most of it goes to good causes. I'm here to help.

I take pride in the fact that I don't let the little things get to me.

But the other day, as I was crawling my way through mountains of statements and receipts, trying to organize my records for my accountant, with several more days of this drudgery ahead, I had a disturbing thought. I must warn you in advance that this disturbing thought can only be expressed in all capital letters and it must include profanity. It goes like this.

Message to my government:

DO MY FUCKING TAXES FOR ME, YOU ASSHOLES!!! YOU ALREADY KNOW EVERY FUCKING THING I DID THIS YEAR!!!

Seriously.

 
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Sometimes I think the only dimension of performance that a manager should measure is how much each employee is learning. Most people are intrinsically motivated to do good work. The trick is in knowing how. So the more you know, the more likely you'll perform well. And people who are proactive learners probably have the most potential even if they aren't yet superstars.

How relevant to the job does the learning need to be? I would be generous about that. The nature of knowledge is that everything you learn stimulates and strengthens your mind. And what we experience as creativity is often little more than our brain's natural impulse to combine and compare knowledge from diverse fields. So the more you know, the more powerful your creative potential.

But beyond all of those benefits is my observation that employees who are still learning are almost always happier on the job. I haven't seen any studies on this point, but I'll bet you'd see low turnover among people who feel they are learning. Learning makes people feel connected and engaged. It feels like improvement and growth, and it's good for the ego.

As a manager, you'd still need to fire the total screw-ups and toxic employees. But among the good-enough performers, an appetite for learning probably separates the best from the average.

I've blogged before that I pick projects based on what I will learn. This year was especially educational for me. A few examples...

-          I wrote and acted in a promotional video for my book. I learned what works on camera and what doesn't. I learned how the audience reacts to different approaches. And I learned a lot about the actual technique of short video production. If you asked me to make another promotional video tomorrow, I'd be far better equipped.

-          I created a Slideshare presentation with Rexi Media and learned a great deal about the science of making things memorable and interesting. Every bit of that has crossover usefulness.

-          I went back on the speaking circuit, but this time with a useful message (success) as opposed to my old just-for-laughs speech. Delivering a motivational message is an entirely different skill. (See a video of it here.) My old speech was essentially stand-up comedy with comics.

-          I went on a book publicity tour and learned what types of publicity work best in 2014. For example, these days a book signing has little impact on book sales whereas doing a Reddit AMA is a big deal.

-          I'm starting a Dilbert.com redesign project and learning about the best ideas in website design for 2014.

-          My partners and I launched CalendarTree.com this year. I was hands-on for every phase, including concept, design, user interface, testing, redesign, setting up the corporation, funding, online marketing, A-B testing, and tons more. And I picked up a lot of technology knowledge by osmosis. (And because I know you are wondering, yes, the experience is a source of Dilbert fodder.)

-          I finished writing my latest book (How to Fail...). The "success" genre was new to me as a writer. And I had to learn a lot to tie it all together with research and references. I worked with a medical doctor who specializes in science research to get the science parts right.

-          I tried out a new comic strip on this blog (Robots Read News) and learned a lot by experiment. For example, I learned that readers didn't care that the art in each panel was identical.

-          I'm teaching myself to play drums. (Technically, a stranger on Youtube is teaching me). I have no end goal. I just enjoy hitting things with sticks, and I have discovered that it lights up a part of my brain that I don't normally stimulate. Five minutes of drumming feels like two cups of coffee.

-          I experimented with becoming a well-dressed person, just to see what that was all about. Historically, my normal look would have been described as sort of an athlete-turned-homeless vibe. But thanks to a clever Macy's salesperson I upped my game. Result: Yes, people treat me differently (and better) when I'm stylishly dressed.

-          This week I've been researching hardware to split a component video signal and convert one output into a wireless HDMI extender to another room. It doesn't matter why. All that matters is that I learned a lot in the process.

-          Blogging is an ongoing learning process. I learn (usually the hard way) which writing approaches work and which ones get me in trouble. And after almost every blog post readers send me links to related and fascinating topics. The entire process is hugely educational.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. For me, learning is living. It's how I feel connected to the world, and I think it's my best strategy for being a productive citizen. Best of all, as a cartoonist, each of these experiences fuels the creative fires.

I'm curious to see what you learned this year. Please list a few things if you have a minute.

 
 
 
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