Category Archives: Thinking

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.

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.

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.

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“.

Microsoft Edge tab previews

I’ve been using Microsoft Edge quite a bit since extensions were added this year.  Mostly I find it fast and simple, a nice browser.  But I still miss IE’s ability to easily reorganize (and save) my Favorites.  I’m the kind of user that tends to ignore minor inconveniences, but recently I realized just how much tab previews (dropdowns) were getting in my way.

So I looked up how to remove tab previews from Microsoft Edge.  While there is no simple user interface check box for doing this, it turns out there is a Registry key that can be created for turning off tab previews.

Please exercise great caution whenever editing the Registry in any version of Windows.  Instructions for turning off tab previews in Microsoft Edge can be found on a number of websites.  Just look up “disable Microsoft Edge tab previews”.   Here is just one.  You will also find a few YouTube videos on the subject.

I added the suggested registry key with value 0, and now I no longer get tab previews.  I wasn’t using them anyway, and now they no longer drop down and get in my way.

Tab Duplicate clip art

Microsurgeon interview in Retrogamer issue 163 — January 2017

Microsurgeon” (Imagic 1982 and 1983) is the first, or one of the first, video games related to healthcare.  It’s been mentioned in numerous magazines, featured on album and magazine covers, written about in books, nominated for awards, recognized at the Consumer Electronics Show, and gotten several good reviews over the decades.

I loved designing and programming “Microsurgeon”, and I always enjoy answering questions about it.  Look for my latest interview — with Graeme Mason of Wizwords — in the Jan. 2017 issue #163 of Retrogamer.

microsurgeon

Robots like to play games too

For years, we’ve read about chess, checkers, and more recently GO and Jeopardy, played by computers with artificial intelligence.  The new trend seems to be robots that play games, whether it is a way for robots to learn or just computer scientists amusing themselves.

There are robots controlled by humans, of course, and drones are a good example of that.  Now there’s drone golf, where a golfer uses a drone to play golf.

Also, artificial intelligence researchers are using games like Minecraft as a testing ground, as well as StarCraft and other games.

Finally, as more evidence, I give you the robot that set the new Rubik’s Cube record.

Ambient Computing

Desktop computing gave way to laptops — though some analysts have recently wondered if desktops are making a comeback with attractive options like Microsoft’s new Surface Studio and competing products from Dell and others.  Laptops gave way to 2-in-1s and some tablets — though tablet sales are down or flat.

Now there’s a trend called ambient computing that will bring us devices that don’t look like devices or just “blend in”.  Some say Amazon’s Echo line is part of this trend.  Google’s assistant, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and other digital helpers also contribute to ambient computing.

As a science fiction writer, I always try to place new technologies or technological trends into future perspective.  How will the new devices fit in?  What differences will they make?  For example, will ambient computing make computing better and/or easier for those who can’t handle a physical input device — such as a mouse or keyboard — or see a monitor screen?

In my short story, “Assisted Living”, I wrote about a young woman with disabilities who has this kind of all-around-her technology access.  You can find it in my anthology “Science Fiction: Future Youth”.

FutureYouthCover_ForAmazonKindle

 

Accidentally dismissed Microsoft Edge tab

Sometimes I’m in a hurry, and if I click once too many times on the browser tab to close it, I’ll close the one next to it as well by accident.  Although there may be various ways of recovering the lost tab in your browser, most browsers support Control (Ctrl) + Shift + T — or on a Mac, Command + Shift + T.

So when I recently accidentally closed my Microsoft Edge tab, I just pressed Ctrl + Shift + T and it reopened immediately!

ctrlshiftt

Outlook 2016 disconnected and related issues

Over the last several days I have noticed issues with sending, and sometimes receiving, emails from Outlook 2016.  Often, Outlook 2016 would report that it was disconnected — the Microsoft Exchange message at the bottom of Outlook that indicates connected or disconnected or Working Offline.  This morning, things got worse.  I had sent a couple of messages that went through, but in my Sent email folder it showed that the messages were copied to a couple of other people and attached a image001.png file I did not attach.  I had no idea why that happened, so I started to search help and online.

There were some references online to attached image001.xxx files, mostly regarding the use of signatures, html, or stationery in emails.  I did not use a signature or stationery, so I focused on html and turned on plain text.  This made no difference for me, so then I just focused on the disconnection issue.

I finally came upon a solution that worked, mentioned in the Microsoft Community on Microsoft.com.  Back in August 2016, this user had a similar issue to mine where Outlook 2016 was often disconnecting them.  The solution that worked for them — “removing and then adding the email account back into Outlook…” — also worked for me.  At least so far!  Also, when I looked at the messages that previously seemed to have an attached image001.png file and a couple of people I did not send to, the messages were now correct (no wrongly attached files and no people copied).

Just because this worked for me, I cannot guarantee it will work for you.  I am only posting this in case it helps someone who has the same issue as me.

Removing my Exchange email account and adding it back in from Outlook 2016 was easy.  I went to File-Account Settings in Outlook 2016, then selected the email account I wanted to remove.  Then I clicked on Remove (make sure you have the right email account selected, if you have more than 1).  Then I clicked on New, to add my email account back in (you’ll need your password and email address).  This is for an Exchange email account, so I have no idea what to do if you have disconnect issues with a Pop3 or other-than-Exchange email account.

Note that removing your email account from Outlook also deletes your associated email .ost file (offline folder file for synchronizing with the Exchange server) and recreates it.  If you have a lot of email on the server, it will take some time for Outlook to recreate this .ost file.  I have most email in local folders, so it only took a few minutes and my .ost file was completely restored.

Robot arrest

No, I don’t mean a robot arresting someone.  Back in 2010 there was a report of a UAV being credited with making an arrest.

A robot was almost arrested!  According to MIT Technology Review, “At a political rally in Moscow, police are reported to have attempted to handcuff and detain an activist called Promobot.”

Promobot is a robot, and although the incident might have been somewhat of a publicity stunt, it is only a matter of time before intelligent robots get arrested or do the arresting.  Will robots have similar rights to humans, or will there be an entire shelf or more of law books dedicated to robot rights?

Time will tell.  In the meantime — as a time travel writer, I can’t help but like the word ‘time’ — you might enjoy reading my “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs” and “Science Fiction: Time Travel and Robots 2” anthologies.

TimeTravelandRobotsTooCover_ForAmazonKindle