All posts by Richard Levine

Richard S. Levine has been a math teacher, a software engineer, and a video games designer. Now he’s busy writing speculative fiction.He has had stories published in Emerald Tales, OG’s Speculative Fiction, Raygun Revival, The Fifth Di, The Lorelei Signal, and other online and print magazines. “A Comic on Phobos” received a nomination for Samsdotpublishing’s James award. To learn more about Mr. Levine’s writings and his award winning classic video game, “Microsurgeon”, please visit rickslevine.com.

Guide to Intellivision

I can tell you that countless hours of programming and lots of passion went into developing many of the Intellivision video games.  The long nights of devotion to designing and developing “Microsurgeon” will forever be ingrained in my memory.  I’m not sure I’ve posted this before, but here’s another link to a “Microsurgeon” review — “Games That Made Me: Microsurgeon”.

Graeme Mason contacted me recently and pointed out his new guide to Intellivision published by GamesTM Magazine.

Chief Robotics Officer (CRO)

Computerworld senior writer Sharon Gaudin recently suggested that companies are going to need a Chief Robotics Officer (CRO), responsible for the company’s robotics strategy.

While I like the idea in the near term — after all, many large companies have had a CIO and/or CTO for decades — what about a few decades from now?  A CRO position seems right up the alley of an AI or a robot with AI.  As a sci-fi writer, I always like to imagine the future, and right about now I’m imagining a headline reading, “…robot Bob Bolt promoted to CRO at [choose your big company name of the future]…”  So if you’re thinking about applying to become the first CRO, just be sure to keep your eye on your career as time goes by.

If you’re thinking about managing robotics strategies as a career, you might also enjoy my sci-fi stories about robots and cyborgs.

 

 

Robots aren’t just winning at Go and Chess

In the New York Times recently writer Claire Cain Miller presents a thought-provoking summary of “Evidence That Robots Are Winning the Race for American Jobs“.

This isn’t science fiction.  It’s happening already.  It isn’t enough to bring back some jobs that won’t stand up for very long against automation.  More must be done to prepare — and retrain when needed — American workers for the future.  More must be done to prepare America’s economy to support it’s people in the future.

Meanwhile, how will robots fit in?  Isaac Asimov, one of my favorite science fiction writers, had a lot to say about that.  If you want to read some other short stories about robots, you might also enjoy mine.

PC version of Family Tree Solitaire

For those game players who would like to use a Windows PC to try my card game “Family Tree Solitaire” you can now download it from Amazon.com if you prefer not to or can’t load the Windows 10 version from the Windows Store.

Since I developed it with Unity3D, it will hopefully install — I only tested on Windows 10 desktop — and run successfully on computers running Windows XP or later.  It’s free, but I can’t guarantee it will install successfully on every Windows PC.

Enjoy!

FAMILY TREE SOLITAIRE FOR PC (Windows XP or later)

 

I’ve been to China

I enjoy many forms of creative expression, including writing, blogging, and game design.  No matter which I’m working on at the time, or thinking about, there’s few better options for enhancing my creativity than to travel somewhere new.  So recently, we headed to China!

My wife was already in Shanghai on business, so I met her in this sprawling and attractive international city of 25 million people.  Upon landing at PVG airport, I couldn’t resist taking the Maglev train at 180 mph for about $6.  If you go, the Maglev direction signs after passing through immigration are clearly marked.  The Maglev gets you within 5 metro stops of Pudong, which was where I was headed.  It’s an easy walk from the Maglev overhead exit across the way to the metro station at Longyang Rd.  The kiosks at the metro station let you choose English, which makes it easy to select the station you are headed to — I was going to Lujiazui, which cost less than $1.  The IFC mall and local hotels — Ritz Carlton and Shangri-La, for example — are very nice.

Other sites we saw in Shanghai: The informative Shanghai History Museum at the base of the Oriental Pearl Tower (an easy walk from Lujiazui station), the historical Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, very fun Shanghai Disney (the Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean rides are terrific, and the park wasn’t crowded on a 45F degree mid-February day), and the Shanghai Museum (cultural artifacts) and People’s Park.  All are easily reachable by metro at a very reasonable cost.  Just be prepared to stand quite a bit if you go during busy periods, which is most of the time.

Guilin, China — about 100-150 miles north of Hong Kong — is the site of the Li River Cruise and famous eroded mountains which line the river.  The view changes which each twist and turn in the river, with each new sight as exciting as the previous one.  The back of the 20 RMB bill depicts a scene from the river.   We loved staying at the Shangri-La Hotel in Guilin.

Chengdu, China, located east of the mountainous regions of Tibet, is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, now with 14-15 million people.  It is a combination of agriculture, manufacturing, and a large hi-tech area — our Hilton Chengdu hotel was great and located in the hi-tech area.  We were there to see the Leshan Giant Buddha — about an hour by fast train away — and the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base north of central Chengdu.  Through Viator, we arranged our Leshan tour with Lily Chen of WestChinaGo, and she provided us with a memorable day.  The next morning, first thing, we took the metro to Panda Ave. to catch the shuttle bus which goes (about 10-15 minutes) to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.  We even were able to take our luggage along, dropping it at the 2nd floor information desk at the Research Base before seeing all the Pandas.  Afterwards, we caught a cab to the airport for our next days’ adventure in Xi’an.

Xi’an, China is about an hour south of the Terracotta Warriors museum.  The Hilton Xi’an has an amazing lobby and awesome service.  In Xi’an, it is worth taking time to see the ancient City Wall.  It was too cold for us to rent a bike, but if you can it looks like fun to bicycle on top of the wall.  Lily at GuideWe was our excellent Terracotta Warriors tour guide.  She even took time to show us the City Wall on the way back to town at the end of our tour.

We finished our vacation with a trip to Beijing.  The first day we visited Great Wall at Mutianyu.  It was 25 degrees Fahrenheit and it snowed!  We rode the chair lift up and got a work out climbing stairs to the next outpost or two.  Got some great shots of the wall in the snow and then return on the chair lift.  We wanted to take the luge down, but they close it when it snows.  All in all, a great time.  Our last day, we took a cab to the east wall of the Forbidden City, and then walked around to the south entrance.  It was easy to purchase tickets there and then enter the fortress wall.  It’s quite a bit of walking (especially in cold weather), but it’s a beautiful piece of history you just can’t miss.  The walk back from the north exit to our hotel was only about 20 minutes, as we stayed at the nearby Renaissance Wangfujing Hotel.  A very nice hotel and quite convenient if you plan to visit the Forbidden City.

My original “Star Trek” series top 20 list

I know there are many original “Star Trek” series top episodes lists, but I thought I would add my opinion to the mix.  Over the decades I’m sure I’ve seen every episode numerous times, and I recently watched them again one more time.

As a science fiction writer, I wanted to give my point of view from that perspective.  I think my top 16 episodes explain themselves to those who have watched them.  I’ve included a small description for some of the 20 to point out why I chose them.

If you’re an original series “Star Trek” fan, I hope you enjoy pondering my choices.  Hopefully I’ll have a similar list of my top 20 episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in the next year.

  1. The City on the Edge of Forever
  2. Pilot: The Cage / The Menagerie (Part 1 and Part 2)
  3. Arena
  4. Balance of Terror (for how it showcases Kirk)
  5. Amok Time (for showcasing Vulcan)
  6. The Trouble with Tribbles (Comedy plus Sci-Fi is hard to do)
  7. The Doomsday Machine
  8. Journey to Babel (for introducing Spock’s parents)
  9. Court Martial (for pointing out that computers can be hacked)
  10. The Galileo Seven (for how it showcases Spock)
  11. The Devil in the Dark (for introducing an amazing alien)
  12. Space Seed (for introducing Khan)
  13. The Enterprise Incident (for introducing the cloaking device)
  14. A Taste of Armageddon (for showing what can happen if computers make all our decisions)
  15. Errand of Mercy (the Organians teach humans and Klingons a thing or two)
  16. Tomorrow is Yesterday (for leading the way to many more “Star Trek” time travel episodes)
  17. Metamorphosis (for introducing Cochran, the creator of the warp drive)
  18. By Any Other Name (might be #20? For introducing the idea of generational space voyage)
  19. The Empath (for exploring a unique idea in television science fiction)
  20. Spectre of the Gun (Entertaining, if not believable)

AI and bluffing

I’ve recently been following the progress of computer AI in playing poker.  One area of interest is that the AI responds to bluffing.  Bluffing is a major aspect of poker that makes it interesting from an AI and gaming perspective.

Around 1977-1978, I programmed a chess playing opponent in 4k of memory on my first computer, a Processor Technology Sol-20 based on an Intel 8080 cpu.

I think the 8080 ran at 1 MHz to 2 MHz, so about 1 million to 2 million instructions per second.  Today’s Intel Core i5 processors run closer to 3 GHz — about 3 billion instructions per second — and that doesn’t even take into account multiple cores for parallel processing.  That’s 1.5 thousand to 3 thousand times faster than my 8080-based computer.  So you can see that at the speed of the 8080 an AI couldn’t depend entirely on cpu-devouring depth searches and tree pruning algorithms to determine its next move.   That’s why I added a bluffing component.

I don’t remember if my computer had 8k or 16k or memory, but just for reference today’s phones with 16GB of memory have 16 million times more memory — since 16GB = 16,000,000k.  Okay, so with just 4k of memory allocated to my chess game to handle the display, game logic, input, output, and AI, I was very limited to what I could do with bluffing.  Actually, the bluffing component was coded so simply that it was almost a random move injector.  But I believe it was that aspect of Fischer — the temporary name I gave to my chess program — that allowed it to sometimes compete with other chess programs at the time.  From time to time it would make a bold move — a leap beyond it’s ability to just search for the best next move —  effectively bluffing that it had a plan that the other program could not discover in a depth search of the possibilities.

So bluffing can be useful even in non-poker games, although that only works until the game has been “solved” by computers.  There are games like Checkers that have been solved by computers, meaning that the entire game is known from the start.  Even some games of Poker, e.g. Head’s Up Limit Hold’em, are largely solved.

In poker, bluffing is not a solution for an AI, but rather a necessary tool.  It’s built into the game of poker.  So far, looking at comments on Reddit, it appears that the best poker AI can play with the best poker players.  Good luck bluffing your way through the tournament.  Also, this might be the beginning of the end for internet poker.

If you have further interest in this subject, you might also like this recent research paper.

AI rights for robots?

At what point do political scientists and others need to consider the future of robot or AI voting rights?  In the New Scientist, Zoltan Istvan takes a look at the matter.

I personally have no guess as to when AI and robots will be conscious or intelligent enough to be considered citizens having the right to vote.  Perhaps it will happen, but intelligence by 2030 that is as smart as humans does not imply they are equals of humans.

Perhaps 2030 will be the right time to start to consider what voting rights should apply to robots and AI.  If so, it should then also be the time to consider what requirements a non-human lifeform must meet in order to have the right to vote.

After all, a calculator can already do math faster and better than most people.  But we don’t let calculators vote.

If you like to ponder about AI and robots, you might also like my stories on the subject in my anthologies.

Determine folder of Outlook message in search results

First, Happy New Year 2017!

I was pleased in 2016 to get many kind messages from fans and visitors to my blog who were interested in Outlook and Windows tips.  So, here is my first Outlook tip of 2017.  It applies to Outlook 2016 and possibly versions over the last few years, but I don’t know if it will work for even earlier versions.

When you search “All Mailboxes” in Outlook 2016, you get back a list of messages.  Unfortunately, it is not obvious how to tell what folder each message is stored in.  Sometimes this is useful to do, since you may want to store a new message in that subfolder as well.  Here is my tip for a fairly quick method for doing this.

Double click on the message of interest in the search results.  Then select File from the menu at the top of the newly opened message window.  You’ll see a “Move to Folder” button, and next to it is the name of the folder it is currently in.

There are other ways to do it, and perhaps some add-on tools actually take you to the folder directly.  For now, this is the method I  use.  Since I don’t need to do it too often, I just navigate to the subfolder myself after I’ve found where the message is.

Playing surgeon

Microsurgeon” (Imagic 1982 and 1983) is the first, or one of the first, video games related to healthcare.  I was never a doctor, but I had a lot of fun making this game and playing surgeon.

My latest interview, with Graeme Mason of Wizwords, is now published (“Making of Microsurgeon”) in the Jan. 2017 issue #163 of Retro Gamer Magazine.  This link is for ImagineShop.co.uk, but I assume issue 163 will be on Amazon and other online stores in 2017.

 

 

Do coding skills = foreign language skills?

On December 5, 2016, FloridaPolitics.com cited that “Florida lawmakers could once again consider whether computer coding classes should be counted as a foreign language credit.  Senate Bill 104 also requires the state college and university system to recognize the credits as foreign language credits.”

While I’m all for students learning about computer systems, architectures, networks, and coding techniques, I do not think that “coding skills” = “foreign language skill”.  As a creative person, I have found that learning a variety of skills has been very helpful in my career.  While I can learn and use new computer languages quickly, learning a new foreign language has never come easy to me.

I wonder if the senator from Florida has read the Slate Magazine article earlier this year entitled “Students Should Learn Programming. But It Shouldn’t Count as a Foreign Language.

Writing 10,000 lines of computer code is not the same as writing a short story.  While both skills are an art, the abilities behind the art are quite different.

Coding requires more than just a familiarity with logic, commands, and semantics.  One has to have an understanding of the system architecture, the project requirements, and often the network and team structure.  At some point, it is quite likely a coder will also need to have an understanding of other technologies and mathematics.  Perhaps that’s why some (or many?) students of coding schools are failing.

Reading or writing in English, let alone writing or speaking in a foreign language, is much more than just understanding the dictionary definition of words and language grammar.    One needs to understand the culture and history behind the language to “get it”.  Just look at how long it has taken for archaeologists to read some of the glyphs on Mayan temples in Mexico.  If it were just a matter of translation using a dictionary and grammar, computers would have performed perfect translation years ago, and AI would have understood the meaning of what anyone says or writes.

I’m all for students learning to code.  I’m also all for students learning a foreign language.  I believe students should learn both skills.  But Florida legislators, please don’t kid yourselves that coding skill = foreign language skill.

The social impacts of robots

When I attended UC Irvine and studied computer science, one of the most influential courses I took was “Social Impacts of Computers”.

To this day, I always think about how new technology will impact society.  Not just the good — such as the ability to make phone calls to family from anywhere, but also the bad — such as the ability to create anonymous criminal or terrorist networks with throw-a-way phones.

So I’m happy to see that the IEEE is now encouraging engineers to think ethically when building new intelligent (AI) hardware and software.   Below is a video of a conference panel this year that discussed the ethics of robot car artificial intelligence.

Genealogy with three or more parents

Today I read an article from MIT Technology Review about “The British government has given the green light for a technique that will let parents-to-be sidestep mitochondrial disease.”  The process involves creating babies with three biological parents.  This topic coincides with my interests in both science fiction and genealogy.

Though it is important to note that “the donor’s DNA will only be present in the form of mitochondria, which don’t play a role in traits like a person’s looks or personality”, there is still a biological relationship between the three persons and the baby.  So some, possibly not all, children born from this technique may one day consider all three parents as part of their family tree.

This is interesting from a genealogy standpoint.  A current analogy is that of adoptees considering making a family tree chart that includes both their adopted parents and their birth parents.  There are ways to do it on paper and with some software programs, but not so easy on most online genealogical family tree websites.

Science fiction no longer applies to this technique, particularly because it’s already been carried out in Mexico.  But science fiction definitely applies to the many genealogy chart and record keeping (e.g. database)  issues that genealogical websites must prepare for in the future.

Today, genealogical sites will have to consider three or more parents.  How do you add two mothers or two fathers or three parents?  In the case of adoption, how do you add four parents, both birth and adopted parents?  But tomorrow — meaning the future — how will genealogy charts and services handle sci-fi concerns like robot siblings (were they born at the place of manufacture or the place they were raised?) or clones?  How about far fetched science like parallel world families (what if science finds a way to communicate between parallel worlds?) or paradoxical time travel cases where you end up fathering yourself?

If you find time travel and robots interesting, or even genetics, you might also like my latest e-book releases.

 

Sci-fi and Golden Globes 2017

I love to write science fiction, in part because I love to read and watch science fiction.  So I’m always excited to see sci-fi related television shows or movies and cast members nominated for major television or movie awards.  Today, the 2017 Golden Globes nominees were announced.  Below are some of the sci-fi and fantasy nominations that I noticed this morning, though I apologize if I missed a few.  Congratulations to all the people involved in these sci-fi and fantasy productions!

Arrival was nominated for Best Original Score – Motion Picture, with Amy Adams (Arrival) nominated for Best Performance By an Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama.

Westworld got a nomination for Best Television Series, Drama.  Also, Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld, Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series, Drama)  and Thandie Newton (Westworld, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Actress in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television) received nominations.

Some might consider Mr. Robot as sci-fi, but I think it’s more of a thriller/drama.  Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) was nominated for Best Performance By an Actor in a Television Series, Drama.  Christian Slater (Mr. Robot) was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television

Closer to fantasy, Stranger Things was nominated for Best Television Series, Drama.  Winona Ryder also received a nomination for Stranger Things, Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series, Drama.

There were some fantasy television show nominations as well.  Game of Thrones got a nom for Best Television Series, Drama.  Also, Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) received nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television.   Deadpool was nominated for Best Motion Picture, Musical, or Comedy.  Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical, or Comedy.  Caitriona Balfe (Outlander) was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series, Drama.

Network devices not showing in File Explorer

Normally, when you have Network Discovery turned on and then click on the Network folder in File Explorer in Windows 10, you will see devices and computers on your network.  If at some point you no longer see devices and computers on your network in this folder, here’s something you can try.

Example: You are no longer seeing your external networked hard drive in your Network folder.  It will probably show up if you reboot your PC, but here’s something quicker you can try.  Pull up Task Manager — ask Cortana for Task Manager or right click on a non-icon part of the taskbar and select Task Manager.

Select the Processes tab and scroll down to find Windows Explorer under Apps or Windows Processes.  Right click on it and select Restart.  The screen may go black for a moment while the Explorer is restarted and your task icons are restored at the bottom of the screen.  Once done, check to see that you can now see networked computers and devices in the Network folder in File Explorer.

If you’d prefer a video, the one below explains how to restart Explorer.exe, which is Windows Explorer — and File Explorer is affected as well.

Face augmented reality

With augmented reality — think Pokémon Go or Microsoft HoloLens — possibly taking off in 2017-2018, I thought I’d spend a moment pondering the ramifications.

First, there is no guarantee this will be big in 2017-2018.  Though Pokémon Go already took off, it did not involve new hardware.  So I’m really talking about new devices, such as HoloLens and Magic Leap.  Well, Magic Leap maybe not so much, according to some recent reports.

Second, I’m referring to consumers.  If you look at occupations and business, augmented reality is already infiltrating that world.  For example, Dutch police are trying out augmented reality in investigations.

Finally, suppose that augmented reality does become big with consumers over the next couple of years.  Games will no doubt be a large part of that business.  I remember when “Night Trap” (early 90’s, Digital Pictures for Sega CD) was the target of press and concerned adults who didn’t think it was proper to have games that featured young women in scanty clothing.  Now that’s tame compared to the graphic violence in some 3D games.

But what about suggestions of sexual promiscuity or violence in an augmented reality, which consists of both a virtual world (graphics) and the real world (in a building or out on the street)?  We get a little bit of an idea of what to expect in terms of research, backlash, and opinions from a recent article on Aeon.co entitled “Murder in virtual reality should be illegal.”  Although it is about virtual reality, it is food for thought, whether you are planning on making augmented reality games with violence, playing them, or letting your child play games like that.  It is certainly the stuff of science fiction.

In my science fiction writing I’ve touched on related subjects in my stories “Face Facts” and “RemoteDoc”.  “Face Facts” explores a possible side effect of a futuristic facial recognition restoration surgery, while “RemoteDoc” looks at a possible future of robotic surgery.  You’ll find “RemoteDoc” in my latest anthology “Science Fiction: Time Travel and Robots 2“.