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I'm reminded of an old Doonesbury comic.  Mega-rich rock star Jimmy Thudpucker decides to take up stamp collecting.  He calls the local coin and stamp shop and says something like, "Hi, it's me again.  Would you send over a full set for Bolivia?  Yeah, thanks!"  His wife approaches and asks how its going.  "That was fun.  I'll do Brazil tomorrow!"

If the app gets people introduced to birding, great, but I have a concern.  To me, birding is about more than adding names to a life list.  If people become dependent on visual images as identification tools, they'll be missing out on many of the other aspects of bird identification, and missing much of what I think makes birding an enjoyable lifelong hobby.  They may not pay attention to a bird's environment, behaviors, seasonal movements, field marks, or the other factors that would help them identify a bird when they don't have a camera or an app.  They may not even learn to look for these factors.  That's harmless, I guess,  but they'll also likely not develop an appreciation for the birds themselves or an understanding of the role they play in the environment.

It's one thing to 'collect' stamps, it's another to understand the stamps you're collecting.

Edited by Charlie Spencer
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Well said, Charlie. You've made several points that I would have said myself. I find myself guilty to a degree about wanting to get a photo first for ID purposes, then watching its behavior, movements, etc. As far as the technology changing the way people bird, that's been happening already, especially for the past 40-50 years. Look what the earlier birders had to work with. Most of the time a bird had to be killed to get to see it up close! Now with affordable cameras with telephoto lens we can get an extremely close-up shot with great detail.

I don't really think the advanced technology in itself is going to change the fact that people who love birding will continue to do so in a fulfilling way. And, I also think it can bring more people into birding that wouldn't have been drawn into it before. Look at how many people now who get a photo of a bird with their cell phone will post it here for ID. If they hadn't had the technology to get the photo, I think most of them would have just said, "Hmmmmm, cute bird! Wonder what it was? Oh, well........." Several new members on here started just that way, by posting a photo for ID. When we can give them an ID, tell them something about the bird they saw, and maybe even recommend a good field guide for them, it may spark their interest enough to begin actually looking for birds. 

I can see where having a way to get a "quick" ID without interacting with people might keep a few out of the loop here, but I think overall it is not going to be detrimental to birding as we know it. And besides, look at how many young birders we have here!! And they started with much more advanced technology than we (us old-timers) did! 😁 

Edited by Bird Brain
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Charlie fears like yours are not unusual, and in fact are pretty typical of what we hear whenever a new technology is introduced. When automobiles started replacing horses, I am sure people said "how will we connect with the outdoors if everyone is stuck inside these steel boxes?" And in a way they were in correct, cars did disconnect us from nature. But they they also opened us up to traveling huge distances to visit nature is places we may never have seen. So there is always a tradeoff. Bird Brain I like your reaction, its wise and shows insights.

The funny thing is you can't stop technology. You can personally resist it, and many people do. But it marches ahead because humans love change, advancement, being different, pushing boundaries. As I said in my linked message, I'm not going to try and convince anyone that iBird Photo Sleuth is better or worse than experts at identifying birds. But I do think its very easy for advanced birders to get into a man vs machine thought pattern and that is really a waste of time.

What we are seeing with our customers of Sleuth, and pretty much what I expected, is that Photo Sleuth is introducing a large group of beginners to birding, people who may not have had the confidence to jump in or even known what birding was. It's not unlike what iBird Pro accomplished" have people who never opened a field guide falling in love with birds. You have kids who are withdrawn with autism falling in love with bird songs. 

These are only the early embryonic days of Machine Learning and AI, and given the extraordinary results we are seeing with Sleuth, it's easy to extrapolate that its just going to get better and better.

I would be much more concerned about how AI is creeping in other parts of our life than an app that helps beginners be better birders. To this end if you want to have your mind blown I suggest you watch the interview between Joe Rogan and Elon Musk on YouTube. The press made a big deal about Elon smoking pot, but that misses the entire value of the discussion. Elon calmly presents some serious questions about what happens when AI gets so smart it starts influencing our world in more major ways. If you are a fan of the Matrix you'll love this video.

Joe Rogan Experience #1169 - Elon Musk

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FYI, I'm a network administrator so I see technology altering the workplace daily. 

I don't have 'fears' as such (a word I was careful to not use).  I'm just used to pointing out the potential negatives of converting an analog process to digital.  The downsides are usually outweighed by the productivity gains, but I like people to know up front that downsides do indeed exist.

I have little doubt the technology will eventually advance to the point where an electronic tool is reliably more accurate than a human being.  I don't see any reason why that would stop anyone from birding unless they were looking for an excuse.  Cars haven't stopped people from walking or running for pleasure.  We do crossword puzzles manually although a computer could solve them in seconds.

Bird Brain said "When we can give them an ID, tell them something about the bird they saw, and maybe even recommend a good field guide for them, it may spark their interest enough to begin actually looking for birds."   I realized that regardless why people asks, as birders it's our responsibility to encourage their budding interest.  Providing a positive response is our first step to encouraging people.  From there we can hope they'll become interested enough to learn about birds in detail, beyond basic identification.

I'll just put my soapbox back in the truck now.

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Charlie please don't put your soapbox in the truck, leave it out and stand on it as often as you can.

Everything you say is thoughtful and accurate and if there is any confusion, its all on me. I hope we hear from some of the other birding experts (and beginners too) about this subject because I feel its extremely important. Did you guys watch the Elon Musk interview video? Its really cool, you can get an idea of how different and the same he is as Steve Jobs.

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I view it as another intriguing tool/toy in the birding goodie bag.  And obviously it will be utilized and appreciated by many.    There are so many people browsing and using cellphone apps already; if they can find a functional app that gets them interested in birds and ID’ing them that’s great.

It’s similar to debating whether electronic synthesizers are ruining music.  They’re not really ruining anything, they’re just adding a new dimension to the music scene.  If you are an aficionado of the classical guitar or the banjo, for example, you may enjoy the new sounds but also feel some disappointment if you sense loss of appreciation in your craft.   I think we can all relate to that.

I also understand what you’re alluding to in the future, if we let AI get so ‘smart’ that we let it take charge of all decision-making – philosophical and moral decisions too.   I know the race is on to try and endow AI with not just measured intelligence but with nuance, conscience and wisdom too.  

And I totally agree with Charlie stipulating that it’s not fears per se, it’s a realization that there will be downsides or tradeoffs to ‘progress’; there always will be.  And try to recognize and distinguish (or at least acknowledge) these nuances, so the baby doesn’t get thrown out with the bath water.

Interesting discussion!

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Bee_keeper, great example of a colorful way tech has disrupted an art form, here digital synths altering the analog world of instruments. Its a perf example because it expanded the boundaries of what we call music in such unexpected ways. It gave rise to incredible new groups, like Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Daft Punk.

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6 hours ago, Charlie Spencer said:

I'll just put my soapbox back in the truck now.

5 hours ago, Administrator said:

Charlie please don't put your soapbox in the truck, leave it out and stand on it as often as you can.

I have this poster in my schoolroom:

 Image result for stand up for what you believe is right even if you are standing alone poster

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11 hours ago, MerMaeve said:

I have this poster in my schoolroom:

 Image result for stand up for what you believe is right even if you are standing alone poster

While I applaud the idea in general, I think there's no 'right' or 'wrong' on this particular topic.  Tools are tools.  Sometimes right and wrong are determined by how we use them.  Sometimes neither apply and we're just discussing personal preferences.  @Administrator answered several questions for me in another discussion regarding birding apps before I concluded that they don't (currently) fit the way I bird.

('I bird'? :classic_blink: 'iBird'! :classic_biggrin: Get it?  I made a funny!  HA! :classic_laugh: I just kill me!)

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I think it can be a great tool because if I spend less time figuring out what I am looking at (or hearing) then I can spend more time enjoying watching it. It should also make bird counts more accurate and that can be helpful in terms of understanding bird populations, migration patterns, and so on. I have a motion-activated camera that I use to photograph wildlife including birds. It would be great if it was tied to software that told me how many birds of which species were seen at every given day/time because knowing that is something that interests me. AI could help with that.

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1 hour ago, dimitrig said:

It would be great if it was tied to software that told me how many birds of which species were seen at every given day/time because knowing that is something that interests me.

I think eBird can give you that.  Click the 'Science' tab and look for 'Download eBird Data Products'

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On 9/25/2018 at 1:51 PM, dimitrig said:

I think it can be a great tool because if I spend less time figuring out what I am looking at (or hearing) then I can spend more time enjoying watching it.

This is part of why an app doesn't fit the way I personally bird.  I don't spend much time trying to ID birds in the field.  I make notes of what I observed and try to get photos, then ID it when I get home.

Another part is that I just suck at using a phone camera.  I have yet to take a decent picture with one, and at ranges beyond about 10 feet most of what I get is unidentifiable anyway.  (For an IT professional, my skills with consumer tools are surprisingly low (along with my interest in most of them).)  Since I can't take a decent photo with the camera, I'm not sure I'd be well serviced by an app .  I'm sure there are techniques to improve the quality but if I'm going to work on improving my photographic skills, I'd prefer to spend that time and effort on my 'real' camera.  I guess I could upload the photos from the camera to the phone and then run those through the app, but it's easier to post them here instead :classic_biggrin:

Edited by Charlie Spencer

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3 hours ago, Charlie Spencer said:

This is part of why an app doesn't fit the way I personally bird.  I don't spend much time trying to ID birds in the field.  I make notes of what I observed and try to get photos, then ID it when I get home.

Another part is that I just suck at using a phone camera.  I have yet to take a decent picture with one, and at ranges beyond about 10 feet most of what I get is unidentifiable anyway.  (For an IT professional, my skills with consumer tools are surprisingly low (along with my interest in most of them).)  Since I can't take a decent photo with the camera, I'm not sure I'd be well serviced by an app .  I'm sure there are techniques to improve the quality but if I'm going to work on improving my photographic skills, I'd prefer to spend that time and effort on my 'real' camera.  I guess I could upload the photos from the camera to the phone and then run those through the app, but it's easier to post them here instead :classic_biggrin:

I think your problem with using an iPhone camera may be one that is shared by many others. I personally prefer a larger body camera with anti shake and a large lens. The problem is the rule we have heard many times: "the best camera is the one you have with you."  Since I almost always have my iPhone in my pocket, it follows there is always high resolution camera almost instantly available. The cameras found in smartphones has been improved at such a stunning pace that the market share for single use DSLR cameras has dramatically shrunk. At the pace smartphone cameras are improving I believe it's safe to project they will soon be irresistible to use in bird photography. I'm waiting mainly for improvements in lenses, particularly a way to add a telephoto lens without greatly greatly increasing the bulk of the phone. I point this out because when I zoom in on a bird at some distance the shaking of my hands create a real issue in the final result.

This is such an interesting topic, I'm wondering Charlie, if you think it be useful to make it a separate post? Such as "What's wrong with smartphone cameras for bird photography?"

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I wanted to weigh-in on this technology topic. First some background:  I go on group birdwalks about 2x/year and belong to the local Audubon.  I usually bird alone or in groups of 2 (hubby and I).  I list my sightings on eBird and belong to Cornell. For 12 years, we have owned and operated a wildlife surveillance company and the local bird store owners know me by name.  I have a good camera  with good lenses and a good set of binoculars but I  wouldn't call me a hardcore birder.

While I believe that ID apps have a time and a place, there is really no substitute for paging through a good field guide.  You may find some people that get started birding by using an app and a smartphone, but if they are serious, they will almost always abandon the app and buy a book.  I had iBird and I found it mainly useless for ID. If you know the name, you are good, but it needed to be separated by type and family. I still have it, but never use it.    I tried Merlin in the early stages and found it to be very unreliable.  I haven't tried Sleuth yet so I may find that useful.   

 That being said everyone has a spark bird that got them interested in birds. If the app help them get that spark - great.

 

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1 hour ago, Administrator said:

... The problem is the rule we have heard many times: "the best camera is the one you have with you."  Since I almost always have my iPhone in my pocket, it follows there is always high resolution camera almost instantly available. ...

This is such an interesting topic, I'm wondering Charlie, if you think it be useful to make it a separate post? Such as "What's wrong with smartphone cameras for bird photography?"

I almost never have phone with me if I'm not travelling or actively birding.  Indeed, I didn't have a phone before I received this company-issued one, and wouldn't if I had to pay the bill myself.  I always have a camera when I'm actively birding (it's always in the car anyway); I use the phone exclusively for eBird.  Honestly, I often forget it has a camera (along with a lot of other features I don't remember exist).  I keep thinking of it as a device for voice communications; I haven't made the mental adjustment to thinking of it as anything else.  I can discuss its properties professionally, but in daily use my gut keeps telling me it's a PHONE.

I don't know that there's anything wrong with smart phone cameras for bird photography.  I see these ads demonstrating all the great photos people take with these devices, although I don't pay attention to whether they're taking shots of gnatcatchers at 500 meters.  Maybe a topic like, "How to effectively use a smart phone camera for bird photography?"  I agree with you on the shake and stability issues, and the apparent inability to zoom effectively.

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1 hour ago, Spyonabird said:

I wanted to weigh-in on this technology topic. First some background:  I go on group birdwalks about 2x/year and belong to the local Audubon.  I usually bird alone or in groups of 2 (hubby and I).  I list my sightings on eBird and belong to Cornell. For 12 years, we have owned and operated a wildlife surveillance company and the local bird store owners know me by name.  I have a good camera  with good lenses and a good set of binoculars but I  wouldn't call me a hardcore birder.

While I believe that ID apps have a time and a place, there is really no substitute for paging through a good field guide.  You may find some people that get started birding by using an app and a smartphone, but if they are serious, they will almost always abandon the app and buy a book.  I had iBird and I found it mainly useless for ID. If you know the name, you are good, but it needed to be separated by type and family. I still have it, but never use it.    I tried Merlin in the early stages and found it to be very unreliable.  I haven't tried Sleuth yet so I may find that useful.   

 That being said everyone has a spark bird that got them interested in birds. If the app help them get that spark - great.

 

Sponabird -- I respect your opinions and equally value them because everyone offers a valid personal viewpoint. Let me also say I don't want this to devolve into a religious debate.

I don't doubt you find iBird and other apps useless. But it's important to point out that your experiences are in the minority in this regard. Over 1/2 million birders have installed iBird and our data shows the vast majority find it extremely useful. I can verify this fact based on usage data--particularly that customers of the app use it far more hours per week than the average app, and that they use continually use it months after they purchased it. I believe the is true for the Sibley app. Merlin has a very positive following, and while it may be lacking in species details, it does an excellent job in narrowing the list of birds to just the ones you have seen.

Paper based field guides are valuable and I always encourage people to own a few. But because they are based on dead tree technology and can't exceed a certain amount of pages, they are extremely limited in terms of depth. I love being able to flip tough a field guide. But when it comes to learning about a species, one small paragraph about a bird is just too little information. Range maps the size of a postage stamp are not very useful. Not being able to hear the bird songs or calls, zoom in on an illustration, turn field mark layers on and off are all missing from paper based filed guides and found in iBird and other apps. Being able to use a powerful search engine to narrow down my choices is an amazing feature no book can offer. And of course being able to have an app show me just the birds located within a specific radius of my GPS location using Birds Around Me, puts apps far ahead of page turning. 

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Having a field guide and an application are not mutually exclusive.  An app is great for targeted learning about a specific species, the kind of knowledge @Administrator describes in his previous post.

But just thumbing through a field guide is a great way to get more general information.  There are lots of different types of ducks; there aren't many species of dippers.  Wow, look at the different sizes of wading birds - Lesser Bitterns to Great Blue Herons.  Who knew that chickadees and titmice were related, or cuckoos and roadrunners?  Say, why are the birds in this book arranged this way?  I didn't know vireos or pipits or sage grouse even existed; being aware of them may make me more efficient when I use an app.

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On 9/27/2018 at 2:07 PM, Administrator said:

I don't doubt you find iBird and other apps useless. But it's important to point out that your experiences are in the minority in this regard.

I find that I am usually in the minority...

 

On 9/27/2018 at 2:43 PM, Charlie Spencer said:

An app is great for targeted learning about a specific species,

But just thumbing through a field guide is a great way to get more general information.  There are lots of different types of ducks; there aren't many species of dippers.  Wow, look at the different sizes of wading birds - Lesser Bitterns to Great Blue Herons.  Who knew that chickadees and titmice were related, or cuckoos and roadrunners?  Say, why are the birds in this book arranged this way?  I didn't know vireos or pipits or sage grouse even existed; being aware of them may make me more efficient when I use an app.

I agree wholeheartedly.  Everything has a time and a place.  I  realize that not everyone will become a hardcore birder.  Some people just want to know the species that are around them and others will drive 2 days to see a rarity.  I think most people start out by casual birding and for this, the apps are very useful.  The select few that want to move past that will look for other options.

Maybe I am old-fashioned but that doesn't mean that I avoid technology.  My day job is filled to the brim with science and tech.  That might be why I don't use the apps, I birdwatch to escape...

 

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On 9/27/2018 at 11:43 AM, Charlie Spencer said:

Having a field guide and an application are not mutually exclusive.  An app is great for targeted learning about a specific species, the kind of knowledge @Administrator describes in his previous post.

But just thumbing through a field guide is a great way to get more general information.  There are lots of different types of ducks; there aren't many species of dippers.  Wow, look at the different sizes of wading birds - Lesser Bitterns to Great Blue Herons.  Who knew that chickadees and titmice were related, or cuckoos and roadrunners?  Say, why are the birds in this book arranged this way?  I didn't know vireos or pipits or sage grouse even existed; being aware of them may make me more efficient when I use an app.

There are so many things that an app with a good search engine can do a page turning book can't: list the species which weigh less than 0.1 oz, match just those which only honk or hoot, or find me just those species which are only found in urban habitats, are mainly brown and are located within a 10 mile radius of where I live. With 36 characteristics and a patented Smart Attribute and Value Elimination search engine, its pretty hard to for a book to beat this kind of technology. Not to mention the entire forests that are decimated to print on paper.

What apps don't do well is provide multi-page spreads of illustrations such as views of a family of ducks, or views of a collection of hawks from below.

<soapbox on>Of course I see this as a perfect application for augmented reality...where the app can project the same spread on a wall using Apple's new built in AR features.<off>

Stay tuned 😎

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2 hours ago, Spyonabird said:

That might be why I don't use the apps, I birdwatch to escape...

This!  I was brought up spending most of each summer camping and fishing.  One of the reasons I joined the National Guard was the opportunities to be outside in places I wouldn't otherwise be able to see.  For 35 years I've worked in various computer rooms.  Birding give me chances and excuses to get away from the mouse and keyboard and get back in touch with nature for hours at a time.

I'm not opposed to apps; I think eBird is fantastic.  But so far I prefer my birding more offline and analog than online and digital.  To me, bird ID apps have one thing in common with many other popular apps that don't appeal to me personally: they satisfy (create?) the desire to get immediate information even when the response rate is irrelevant.  It's a trend I've noticed over the last decade or so.

I use birding to develop my patience.  If I see a bird and can't ID it for a couple of days, I'll still have seen it and it will still be the same bird.  I'm dismayed when someone post a secondary photo he's taken with his phone of an original photo displayed on the back of his camera.  People can't wait until they can upload the actual photo; they have to know NOW.  If you can't wait a few hours to get an ID, will you be capable of waiting ten or fifteen minutes for the next bird to come along?

Just one idjit's opinion.

Edited by Charlie Spencer
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Charlie you remind me of many hero’s in novels I've enjoyed. I grew up in a San Francisco, right next to Lake Merced, which was teeming with bird life, and a mile from the Zoo, which was rich with animals from Africa. I collected birds nests, painted birds and dreamt about flying. All this was supplemented with buying army surplus electronics and disassembling equipment to keep from going nuts in 1950s American middle class  

As I got old enough to have a paper route I could afford to buy and build plastic models, which led to Heathkits and eventually I taught myself electronics. So I’ve enjoyed a love of nature coupled with an analog world of electronic's beauty.

It was only much later in life that I met Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and dived into digital electronics, and computer programming, which led me to become a computer book writer and eventually a publisher of hundreds of books that taught people this new skill called programming (Waite Group Press). But I never lost my love for birding. 

It was only after I’d sold WGP to Simon and Schuster and retired that I found field guides were useless for identifying birds right in front of me. I guess I wanted to know right then everything there was to know about the birding marvel I’d seen. Waiting till I got home? Not an option. So from this impatience, came the invention of the first personal digital assistant based field guide: Winged Explorer. I’d finally found a way to merge my 3 loves: birds, technology and inventing. 

Winged Explorer was a flop that eventually led to iBird for the iPhone, which became a huge success, opening the door to literally millions of people discovering the wonder of birds. That was just 10 years ago. Now the beauty of birds, their songs, are instantly available in your pocket at any moment.

It’s ironic that in many ways it was exactly my impatience coupled with curiosity and a love of both nature and art that led to this remarkable device we are debating. 

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A couple of things. 

You have to change with tech.  If  you don't you may leaving a lot of things off that will enhance what you are doing.  No, I don't carry a field guide with me or an app.  I wait until I get back and fire up the computer to see if I can figure out what I saw.  As evidenced by a couple of posts on here today, I am not always successful.  I do not have a list a I check off birds, well, maybe raptors, I just look for the picture.  I travel all over the country for my job, so that is how I document my travels.  My wife gets to travel by my pictures.

I heard the same things when the world moved from film to digital.  It was going to kill photography.  I don't think it did.  Maybe we don't spend the time setting up the shot like we used to, but we still move and recompose until we get a shot we like.  The only thing we really have changed is that we do not have to pay for film or developing.  Now, we can run off a couple of hundred shots and go through and get the few that turn out just right.  Maybe it has made us a bit lazy.

I think the main thing is that people don't have the patience anymore.  They have got to use tech to get it NOW.   Birding is a lot like wildlife or train photography, you have to be patient to get what you want.  I know I have sat for hours in my backyard taking pictures of the redtail hawk  that nests every winter/spring in my backyard.  You sitting for an hour waiting for the Bald eagle to take off from the tree to get that shot.

DSC_1754s1.jpg

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4 hours ago, kevarc said:

You have to change with tech. 

Really lovely Bald Eagle shot, and I could not agree more with your ideas about tech. Patience certainly seems to be one of the things we have lost. I guess in a big way its due to tech but looking closer I think the internet, smartphone and social media has made us all way more demanding that we get the response we want when we want it. When I was a kid I changed radio stations with a dial and found that fascinating. Especially when I discovered short wave and put a long antenna on my roof which let me listen all over the world. I really enjoyed 'tuning' in the world. Today no one does that anymore. Now its push the button on a remote, and if what you want doesn't instantly play back, you're outta there, right?

I heard a economist talking about AI Prediction and he mentioned how when we were kids all we wanted was a car. Automobiles represented freedom and independence. Today kids don't care much about cars. He thinks thats because the smartphone has empowered kids with independence...they can get together with friends in an instant, discover parties by the dozens, hide all kinds of stuff from their parents. In other words they learn to be independent way before they can legally drive, so driving has lost its allure. That makes a lot of sense to me.

And it's kind of sad.

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