In 2012, a Swedish drama called “Äkta människor” (Real Humans) became a hit science fiction show about very human-like robots and the issues that come with that level of technology.  Now, “Humans” — based on the Swedish show — is set to be shown on BBC channel 4 and later this year on the AMC channel.

I have not seen “Real Humans,” but the video below was shown a few years ago.  Household and family robots are in demand, so it’s only a matter of time.  Whether they will be made to look like or act like humans or not is another matter.

Frankly, in my writing I have not been too trustful of robots that look like humans.  If you are interested in the subject — like I am — you might enjoy “Humans” when it comes to U.S. television later this year.  You might also enjoy reading my short story, “Like Mother, Like Son” about human-like robots, in my science fiction anthology “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs.”

Robots that create jobs?

In 2014, I blogged a bit about how robots and AI — long thought of as job-destroyers without numbers to back up that thinking — might actually be starting to eliminate human jobs.  There were many research and opinion articles written on the subject.  Just recently in MIT Technology Review I read about how Quill, a robot writer, is now being used for financial news reports generated from big data.  Some have complained that unauthorized use of drones are creating dangers for commercial pilots, and potentially reduce the number of jobs — such as aerial photography.  But also in the past year or two, there may be a hint at a continued trend in the ability for technology to create as many or more jobs than it destroys.

Drones have been big news, and CES 2015 unleashed plenty of them.  Sure they are and have been mainly a military instrument, but drones are well on their way to becoming a commercial and consumer item as well — depending on how quickly and what guidelines the FAA sets.  Someone is going to have to be able to help fly drones, navigate patent laws, and fix them.  Companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook have expressed interest in drone pilots, as well as drone patent lawyers.  Many drone manufacturers need experts in the technology.

The U.S. Air Force started giving raises to drone pilots, and they are looking to fill a “significant shortfall in drone pilots.” The outlook for drone pilots — and the potential for high salaries — has prompted schools like Embry-Riddle to provide undergrad and graduate degrees in Unmanned and Autonomous Systems Engineering (drone technology).  Even high schools are offering courses.

How about drones and farming jobs?  The video below explains how Idaho may see an increase in drone pilot jobs related to farming.

This is all pretty exciting for those seeking high paying new jobs.  I do have to put my science fiction writer hat on, though.  While drones may create jobs for drone pilots, where is all of this activity headed?  My guess is that it sort of depends on how quickly AI gets really smart and really trustworthy.  Until then, most drones will require human expertise and subjectivity to help pilot them.

Asimov’s “Foundation” series on HBO?

TheWrap reported in November 2014 that Jonathan Nolan, writer of “Interstellar” and the short story that “Memento” was based on, is now working — or may be working, depending on whom you believe — on a “Foundation” series for HBO based on the works of Isaac Asimov.  Considering the intelligence he brings to his writing — “Interstellar”, while not easy to buy into all of the science presented, was at least thought-provoking and entertaining — perhaps there is hope for a movie or tv series version of “Foundation” yet.

The “Foundation” series premise is that psychohistory – a term coined by Asimov — can be derived from history, sociology, and mathematics to predict the future.  In a way, it’s a form of time travel, because if you already know what’s going to happen in the long run — at least at the big picture level, rather than specifics — then you have to some extent been to the future.  Or have you?  You’ll have to read or watch the series to find out.

“Twelve Monkeys” 2.0

I enjoyed the 1995 movie “Twelve Monkeys” with Bruce Willis and Madeleine Stowe.  Actually, with each watching, it’s grown a bit more on me, because as a movie it was a bit confusing the first time I saw it.  Now, the SyFy channel has a new series starting January 16 called “12 Monkeys” (preview video below) — I imagine this spelling is to set it apart from the original storyline.  They claim it will not be the exact same story as the movie, but certainly a few main themes will be replicated.

As a movie, I think the actors — including Brad Pitt – carried the plot in spite of the strangeness of the time travel and some left out answers — especially the ending.  But as a tv series, there is much more opportunity to provide a satisfying time travel loop and answers to what happens in the long run.  I will give the new show a try and hope that it will maintain an interesting — thought provoking? — timeline.

Time travel, possible or not, is never easily plotted to give an entertaining experience.  The best time travel stories stretch ones imagination while bringing on the fun, all the while pushing the viewer or reader to follow the logic — or illogic — of the plot.  I think that “Continuum” on SyFy has done a pretty good job of maintaining a balance between making it entertaining, while making one think about what works and what doesn’t work in the story.  After all, no one really knows what would happen should a time traveler — or group of time travelers — really exist.

I’m very happy to report that “Continuum” will be back in 2015 for a 6 episode final run, hopefully completing what it began a few season ago.  If you are like me, and love the idea of time travel — possible or not – then you might also enjoy my top selling anthology of short stories “Science Fiction: Time Travel.”  If you try it, I hope you will have fun reading these stories as much as I had fun writing them.

Time Travel E-book Cover

A face is not just a face

I was excited to see a number of articles last year on the subject of pattern recognition, particularly as it relates to human faces.  Face pattern recognition algorithms may — in time — predict with high accuracy the identity of a person, the age of a person, or even tell whether two persons are related to each other.  Though security applications are potential uses, I’m particularly interested in these capabilities for genealogists.  Maybe a bright computer science researcher will also figure out how to use genealogical expert techniques — such as clothing, photo stock, and other clues — to  identify the time period a photo was taken.

A human face is not just a face, but rather a path to identification.  Without the capability to decode a face along the usual path in the brain, face blindness (prosopagnosia) can occur.  In November 2014, The Scientist had an article entitled “A Face to Remember” which relates recent research on prosopagnosia.

A few years ago I wrote a dark science fiction mystery, “Face Facts“, which explored one man’s attempt to cure his prosopagnosia in the future.  This short story is in e-book format for many e-readers.


Avatar ride

Although it wasn’t among the best science fiction movies I’ve ever seen, I enjoyed the movie “Avatar” and the effects are amazing.  In 2017 we may yet see the best outcome of the movie in the form of a theme park land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  The settings and the action in the movie would seem to be perfect for a theme park ride.

I love science fiction and sometimes science fantasy, which is more of the category of “Avatar.”  In 2017 we’ll see if Pandora really comes to life!

Scifaiku: The Big Picture

This is a reprint from my scifaiku, “The Big Picture.”  In 2006 it appeared in Scifaikuest Special Edition.  It represents my attempt at dark humor.  Yes, dark humor may have a double meaning in this context.  I wrote it as a warning that — with many astronomers and other researchers looking further and further to the ends of the universe — we don’t miss the trees for the forest (I hope I got the reverse idiom right in this case).  In essence it is my thank you to those who have spent and are spending their valuable time and effort to find NEOs.

The Big Picture by Richard S. Levine

left eye, telescope, searching focusing

dark, Orion’s sword, shines

nebula, extracted, retrieved

night, endless stars, viewed

right eye, structure, searching focusing,

both eyes, binoculars, searching focusing

Orion, left eye stars, right eye meaning

searching Orion, eyes open, Orion’s soul

binoculars, truth, coming asteroid

Ancestry reduncancy

Have you ever seen one of those charts that shows how you should have more ancestors in the year 1300 than were alive in the year 1300?  Take for example 714 years divided by 23 years per generation.  That’s over 30 generations or 2^30, which is about a billion people back in 1300.  But Wikipedia shows estimates of only a few hundred million people were alive in 1300.  How is that possible?

Wikipedia discusses the topic of “Pedigree collapse,” which explains why “everyone on Earth is [probably] at most 50th cousin to everyone else.”  You might also like this short explanation of pedigree collapse at the Straight Dope.

Professor Bruce Railsback at the University of Georgia (UGA) has an interesting essay on this subject called “Redundancy in Ancestry.”

Ralph Baer, the grandfather of video games

Ralph Baer passed away recently at age 92.  Although he was responsible for the first home video game system — Magnavox Odyssey — which created an industry, he had thought about making games for tv since the 1950’s.   Wikipedia states “In 1966, while an employee at Sanders, Baer started to explore the possibility of playing games on television screens. He first got the idea while working at Loral in 1951…”  That makes him not only the father of video games, but also sort of the grandfather of video games.

I’m so glad that Baer started the video games industry in the early 1970’s.   There was no career for making video games when I was in college, but I had always loved playing board and card games.   Atari came out with their 2600 in 1977, and I started programming at Mattel Electronics in 1979.  What job would have been more fun than that?  Thanks, Ralph!

SYFY debuts Ascension on Dec. 15

I’ve enjoyed previous Canadian-filmed science fiction television, such as “Continuum.”  So I look forward to another Canadian/American television series entitled “Ascension,” about an alternate present where in 1963 the U.S. government launched a covert space mission to send hundreds of men, women, and children on a voyage to a new planet.

I haven’t written an alternate history story about the past yet, but I sometimes enjoy them — especially when they involve time travel.  On the other hand, I have written a story about an alternate history where the future is changed.  It’s called “Timer,” and you can find it in my “Science Fiction: Time Travel” anthology.

Time Travel E-book Cover


Speed reading at The Reading Game

As I said in a previous blog, I worked for a time in the 1970’s at The Reading Game, learning centers owned by American Learning Corp. that eventually was purchased by Encyclopedia Britannica.  I started in Fullerton, CA as an associate, but then opened and started the Oceanside, CA branch.  I also taught speed reading through the Oceanside and Mission Viejo offices.

So I found it interesting recently when I discovered a Los Angeles Times article about the life of the famous speed reading educator and business woman Evelyn Wood.  Her company was purchased in the 1980’s by American Learning Corp and became the standard speed reading method at The Reading Game centers — after I had become a video game developer.


Investing Jetson’s Style

Science fiction movies like “Minority Report” portray a future where virtual reality is a natural way to access data. In reality, many companies, researchers, and governments have already experimented with this idea for enhancing military, educational, and healthcare technologies.

The line between games and “serious games” is becoming less clear. Now Fidelity is trying out Oculus Rift’s goggles for a flyover of one’s investments.

With people already performing daily tasks on their tablets and phones with simple touches, and video game technology being integrated into our work life, how long before office jobs are equivalent to working like George Jetson?

The Reading Game

Richard Levine, director at "The Reading Game" Oceanside
Richard Levine, director at “The Reading Game” Oceanside

Out of college, I started my career as a school teacher.  With many long-time teachers staying in the profession back then, it was difficult to find a job in the California school system.  After a stint as a math teacher at a junior high school, I landed a position as assistant director of the Fullerton branch of “The Reading Game”, a franchise of learning centers owned by “American Learning Corp” — which later was purchased by Britannica.  I even started and directed the Oceanside office of “The Reading Game”.

It was during this time that I saw how students learn with varying styles and at different rates.  But all the students I worked with seemed to learn better when they were motivated and having a good time.

Later, as a software engineer and game designer, I applied these lessons when developing “Microsurgeon” and “Truckin'” for Mattel Intellivision.  I wanted game players to have varying levels of difficulty and a variety of choices.  Like putting a little fun into education in my “The Reading Game” days, I put a little education into fun.

Will “12 Monkeys” be a good tv series?

[Also see my new entry on “12 Monkeys” created Jan. 9, 2015]

“Twelve Monkeys” was an interesting time travel movie that starred Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt, and others.  One element that I think made it stand out was that time travel was depicted as making a person a bit — or a lot — nutty.  The “Journeyman” television series also showed us a time traveler who experienced headaches and other disorientation — not to mention his jumps were unplanned.

The new “12 Monkeys” series coming to SYFY television on January 16, 2015 could be good, but in watching the trailer (below) I wonder if some of the originality and edginess of the movie-by-a-similar-name will be lost on this new production.  It’s hard to predict, since the SYFY channel had great success in reimagining the original “Battlestar Galactica” series.

In my own writing, I’ve had at least a couple of time travelers who were driven to the edge.  “Timer” in my top selling anthology “Science Fiction: Time Travel” is about a scientist who struggles with the consequences of his time machine.  “The Time of Your Life” features a convict who suffers from Chronoagoraphobia.  This previously published story will appear in my next time travel anthology.

Time Travel E-book Cover

Brilliant mathematician meets Colbert

It’s not everyday we get to see a brilliant mathematician on a television show, let alone a comedy television show.  UCLA mathematics professor and Fields medal winner Terrence Tao was on “The Colbert Report” recently.  I would love to have heard more about the subject of twin, cousin, and sexy primes.  You can find more on the internet about bounded gaps between primes or computer algorithms for generating twin, cousin, and sexy primes.