Category Archives: Thinking

Space colonization begins

Asgardia refers to itself as a nation.  Not just any nation, but actually the first nation to establish itself in space!  Their first tiny satellite launched into space recently, establishing a presence ‘out there’, but it is too small to be occupied by a human.

Since the definition of nation usually includes that the people inhabit a country or territory, the satellite is unlikely to suffice as either a country or territory.  So, at least for now, Asgardia is only a nation-want-to-be.

Nevertheless, Asgardia represents the beginning of space colonization.  In their concept of humans occupying space, the people of Asgardia might not refer to this as colonization, since some may mistake that term for meaning competition.  But with costs to build and launch femto-satellites in the few thousands of dollars, this is likely to be just the beginning of hundreds if not thousands of other groups launching into space.

SYFY’s “The Expanse” is just one sci-fi depiction of what might happen when governments, mega-companies, and others go out into space and compete with money and power.  Asgardia has a more peaceful vision for that future.  I have yet to write a space opera or even a short story directly involving competition in space, but my stories involving space mining — “You Can Choose Your Parents” and “Remorse over Enceladus” and “A Comic on Phobos” — are somewhat related to the topic.

I’ll have to give some thought as to where I think this — nations in space, etc — is all headed.  I didn’t achieve my goal of writing new stories this year, but I did make games and write and blog.  I have many story ideas outlined in my files, so I’m ready to go.  New stories are high on my list of things to do for 2018.  I’m excited.  Stay tuned!

 

What can high tech industry learn from homesteaders?

I think up science fiction ideas all the time and write about some of them.  Today, I decided to consider the impact of artificial intelligence on jobs.

Some of my ancestors came to America in the 1800’s to homestead (farm) in North Dakota and Minnesota.  Back then, farming was one important way that immigrants could make — or eke out — a living.  There were other jobs, but because of the opportunity it provided for earning and owning land, the Homestead Act of 1862 “has been called one of the most important pieces of Legislation in the history of the United States.”

Today, high technology is synonymous with not only making a living, but also often with making a very good living.  Unfortunately, that opportunity may not extend to all parts of America.  Take a look at the map in a recent article in MIT Technology Review entitled “In These Small Cities, AI Advances Could Be Costly.”  The Rapid City, SD area is expected to experience more serious job impacts from artificial intelligence advances than most or all major cities in the U.S.  It doesn’t seem right that the region that is home to Mount Rushmore, an icon of American leadership and ideals, may not benefit well from advances in high technology.

Perhaps homesteading offers a bit of direction to a solution.  South Dakota’s office of economic development already has a REDI Fund Loan designed to promote job growth — particularly high tech — in the state.  Over the past decade, articles have been written about small town outsourcing — competing with overseas outsourcing in some cases.  Huge cloud centers (of servers) opened in small town areas are apparently not the answer, because they might only create 50 jobs — and how many of those can be replaced with AI in the future?

But why can’t technology companies, and even the federal government, get more involved in bringing job growth to places like Rapid City, South Dakota that can withstand the onslaught of AI innovation?  A sort of modern day hometeching version — maybe even an Act of Congress — of homesteading.

Just looking at the map in MIT Technology Review, it is obvious that there could be job haves and have-nots in the future if nothing is done.  That doesn’t bode well for the future of small town America politics versus big city America politics, and that can’t be good for anyone.

United States Of America Map Outline Gray clip art

 

Justice math

FiveThirtyEight, the site that uses statistical analysis to publish reports on a variety of subjects including politics, runs a mathematics puzzle column each week called “The Riddler“.  I enjoy trying to solve these problems, as well as working through puzzling equations — often brilliantly solved by very bright teenagers around the world — on Brilliant.org.

Math continues to be a lifetime joy for me, but it’s also incredibly useful.  The future heavily depends on a variety of computations, including self-driving cars, satellites and solar sails, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and personal robotics.

And, yes, even Supreme Court decisions which make future law related to all kinds of systems that are based in statistics and math.  But do Supreme Court justices understand the math?  Do they need or want to?  FiveThirtyEight posted a thought-provoking article on the subject recently.

Today, high-powered computer systems are being used to solve or explore a variety of mathematical problems.  The video below takes a look at what’s being done with computers and math in relation to gerrymandering.

Bygone games

We’ve all heard about jobs lost to robots, but what about games?

A motion video game like “Kids on Site” (Sega CD and PC 1995) — which I worked on — may not be of interest to children in the near future.  Heck, they may not even understand why anyone would have ever been interested in driving a construction vehicle.  Built Robotics is inventing a self-driving track loader.  It may not be long before other automated construction vehicles are created.

Then there’s my old game “Truckin'” (Imagic 1983), where one or two players drive a truck around the country to compete for time and picking up loads.  Between the work being done on automating truck driving and the work on truck logistics (FleetBoard), how long will it be before there aren’t any kids who hunger for driving a big rig on the open road?  Will they even know that people used to drive them?  It’s a strange thought that someday a young researcher will be looking through genealogy records and wonder what it means that their ancestor was a ‘truck driver’.

I could always make a game about fixing robot trucks and robot loaders.  Well, actually, I did just release a game called “Pack A Truck” where the human player loads up a truck using robot remote controls.  Jobs move on, and so do games.

“Captain Z-Ro”

You might be wondering what “Captain Z-Ro” is, so I’ll get that out of the way right now.  It’s probably the first time travel television series.  Yes, even before Mr. Peabody and Sherman traveled in their way-back machine to interact with history on the Bullwinkle animated show.

Time travel is my favorite genre for both readings and writing (see my time travel e-books) and I’ve also enjoyed many time travel television shows — from the early days of “Time Tunnel” and “Quantum Leap”, to several episodes of various “Star Trek” series and “Seven Days”, to more recent shows like “Fringe”, “Continuum”, “12 Monkeys”, and “Timeless”.  That’s not meant to be comprehensive, these are just a few I can think of right now.

I think what appeals to me is the variety of time travel mechanisms, and the way characters handle the paradoxes and situations that develop.

I have often written about classic gaming in my blog, so it was time to talk a little about classic time travel.  “The Time Machine” is about as classic as it gets, but for television let’s hear it for “Captain Z-Ro”.  It’s a bit predictable, and definitely corny compared to today’s sci-fi time travel efforts, but it led the way.

Robot reflections

Will robots learn to be compassionate and creative, or will they learn to kill?  Perhaps both, but I greatly prefer to be chased by an empathic robot.

Elon Musk — CEO of SpaceX and Tesla — has called for a ban on use of killer robots.  More specifically, autonomous robots that can kill without a human in the decision-making process.  But what happens if some countries decide to develop autonomous killer robots, while other countries decide not to?  Negotiating a ban on killer robots worldwide sounds like a good idea, but killer drones can probably be made fairly small.  How does the United Nations or other enforcing group insure that nobody is actually making such machines undercover?  If a nanobot were to be weaponized, it could be almost undetectable!

As a video games designer, I would vastly prefer that robots were used to bring joy into people’s lives.  Some robots are currently learning to play and become experts at several board, card, and video games.  Other robots can play a bit of table tennis, soccer, and other sports.  Let’s have a worldwide robot Olympics where robot teams compete in video games, baseball, tennis, and other sports.  Maybe even against humans.  A much nicer way to decide which country has the better programmers and robot scientists and algorithms.

And why can’t robots be compassionate too?  Okay, that’s a difficult thing to put into AI right now.  But it seems like a good goal.  The robots below probably don’t have any empathy yet, but they sure know how to make me smile.  If you enjoy robot stories, you may be interested in my e-book anthologies “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs” and “Science Fiction: Time Travel and Robots 2”.

My latest video game, “Pack A Truck”

Those of you who are familiar with my classic game “Truckin'”, know that I have an interest in logistics — management and coordination of a complex operation, such as the transport of goods.  My new video game “Pack a Truck” takes a closer look at the specific activity of preparing to move.

It’s more of an arcade game than a simulation, but it does give players food for thought in geometric terms.  Think of each game as a puzzle of sorts, with many combinations of the packing items possible.

So far, I’ve published “Pack a Truck” as an app on the Google Play Store.  If you have an Android phone or tablet, you should be able to install it from there.  I will be working on Windows and WebGL releases soon and possibly other device support.

Classic video games and silent films

What do class video games and silent films have in common?  They started an industry.  As a video games developer going back to the 1970’s, I have long been fascinated with this comparison.  My interest was rekindled upon seeing this online entry about “A Bookshelf of Silent Film Memoirs & Biographies“.

I wondered if anyone had blogged about a similar collection for video game memoirs & biographies.  Sure enough, just do a search on Google or Bing for “video game developer memoirs” and you’ll find several video game memoirs.  Of course, there are many such stories in gamer magazines online and in print as well.

It’s now over 40 years since video games came into our homes, and just like silent films were eclipsed by talkies, classic video games have been relegated to history by many successful modern games and apps.  But there will always be movie lovers who enjoy researching and watching (or re-watching) silent films.  So, it shouldn’t be surprising to find that many video game players today enjoy researching and playing classic video games.

Perhaps video game developers from the past don’t always have the dramatic and romantic stories of silent film stars of old.  But just as the history of silent films has been honored in such movies as “The Artist”, video game developers and history are being remembered in films such as the upcoming “Ready Player One”.

Short form art

I refer here to short form as meaning artistic creations that are short by nature, such as short films, short stories, comics, many classic and more recent indie games [created in months, not years], and other short creations.

I’ve always thought that the beginning of the video games industry was not unlike the start of making silent films.  Little and limited technology, but lots of imagination and hard work.  Not everyone in the early games industry made it into the modern games field, just as many silent film stars did not make the transition into talkies.

Today, I dabble in short story writing and making small indie style video games.  These are my short forms of choice.  I’ve considered writing a novel, and maybe I still will, but I love short form.  It suits me, and I have always enjoyed and appreciated the work of others in the short form.

It is with sadness that I report the recent passing away of Keith Robinson who with his company kept Mattel Intellivision games in the minds and hearts of classic game players everywhere.  Keith’s many talents will be missed.  He wasn’t just a developer and entrepreneur of games.  He was also adept at creating comic strips, another wonderful short form.

 

 

1911 robot car

From the imagination and trick-filmmaking ability of Walter R. Booth — also a magician — comes this highly imaginative 1911 short film called “Automatic Motorist”.  

It’s amazing that back in 1911 movie makers were already predicting robot cars – or in this case, a robot chauffeur driving a car.  This 6 minute silent film has some nice little special effects for 1911, and although it literally and humorously goes “out there” in terms of what is possible, it gets the point across that automatic cars are potentially a dangerous thing.  I love the scene where the robot drives the car in a circle for a while.  A funny, but somewhat accurate prediction from 100 years ago.  It is feasible that without the proper failure mechanisms in place a robot car could get stuck in such a loop due to some software glitch.

Reminiscent of “Futureworld”

Scientists are just at the beginning of reading images from minds — in this case, from monkey’s minds.

In the movie “Futureworld” — sequel to the movie “Westworld”  — you might remember the Yul Brenner dream sequence, read from the mind of one of the main characters.  I don’t know how long it will be before researchers can achieve something like that, but it’s simultaneously exciting and frightening.

It was interesting to see HBO’s new “Westworld” series reimagine the original movie.  In particular, long dream — mixed with non-dream — sequences are being read from the minds of robots in order to test their memories and repair or modify them as needed.  Also exciting and equally frightening, especially since those in power think they know what’s best for the minds of their robot property and for the guests of Westworld.

Fighting Gorn in his 80’s

A few years ago, in an ad for a new “Star Trek” game, William Shatner was seen in his living room fighting the Gorn — according to Adweek.com.

I’m not touting the video game, but rather the fun little jab and nice memory of the scene between Captain Kirk (played by Shatner) and the alien Gorn in the wonderful old “Star Trek” episode, “Arena”.  It’s neat that an actor in his 80’s is fondly remembered for a television character and episode made 50 years ago.

Makes me wonder what I might be doing in my 80’s.  Classic (retro) gaming is still doing well around the world, remembering old video games from the 80’s.  Seems like a couple of times a year I’m still contacted for an interview or I read a tidbit online about my old games.

Microsurgeon” will be 50 years old in 2032.  Who knows, we might be going to Mars that year, so the world’s attention would certainly be on that.  But will classic gaming interests have moved on to games of 2002 or 2012?  Will anyone still play video games developed in the 1980’s?  I don’t know, but when I blog often I like to ponder such things…

It’s the 2030’s, and I see myself on a holodeck in my house battling life-size bacteria, viruses, lung cancer, and numerous other ailments to save my patient in “Microsurgeon: 2032″…

Bark or Woof?

New Scientists discusses robot dog sounds this week.  They say that sound, especially tuned to the size of the object, is an important element of companion robot pets.

Even if you decide you prefer a robot pet over a real one — or want both — and this algorithm will automatically handle sizing the voice to the robot — you still have to choose whether you prefer bark or woof or whatever other sound you like.

Robot Dog clip art

UI can cost your company money

According to The Washington Post, The Federal Trade Commission announced recently that parents whose children made Amazon purchases on mobile apps without their permission can begin getting their money back — possibly amounting to more than $70 million.

Something to think about when designing a user interface that involves purchases.  As shown in the video below, eBay got negative press over the same issue — children accidentally purchasing items with smartphones — a few years ago.

1989 Defender of the Crown CD-ROM

Back when I was working at Cinemaware in the late 1980’s, I was given the task of adding CD quality audio to “Defender of the Crown” for the PC (Mirrorsoft publisher).  It was already a successful game, but video games didn’t have high quality audio back then, so it was a neat thing to do.  Dave Riordan took care of creating the CD quality music and voices, while I added hooks to the code to play the music and narration off a CD-ROM.  Note that the version I created (shown at a conference) was not a mixed mode CD-ROM, as the code did not reside on the CD-ROM — I don’t know if Mirrorsoft later placed the code on the CD-ROM when it was published.

I had no idea until recently that there was a 1989 “New Scientist” magazine article about Mirrorsoft’s “Defender of the Crown” for CD-ROM.  I don’t know if the reviewer was talking about the specific Hitachi CD-ROM version with CD quality audio  I helped create, but it might have been.  The review is not especially flattering, but that may be because the reviewer calls himself “a games hater”

Wikipedia states, “The earliest examples of Mixed Mode CD audio in video games include the TurboGrafx-CD RPG franchises Tengai Makyo, composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto from 1989 and the Ys series, composed by Yuzo Koshiro and Mieko Ishikawa and arranged by Ryo Yonemitsu in 1989.”  But I worked on “Defender of the Crown” with CD quality audio in 1988, so it’s possible that Mirrorsoft’s version was the first video game to include CD quality audio.

Compact Disc 3 clip art

Captain?

We already have Siri, Cortana, and Alexa — as well as Google Assistant, which doesn’t seem to be a name at all.  But Yahoo has now introduced an assistant named Captain.

Captain?  That’s the best they could come up with?  I mean, do I really want to ask, “Captain, please set a reminder for my daughter’s birthday on Monday.”  Captain?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have anybody named Captain, nor do I have anybody of the rank Captain, in my house or my office.

Also, while there have been some terrific captains in history and in fiction, there have also been some awful ones.  Captain Ahab, Captain Queeg, and Captain Bligh are just a few I can think of.

The name Captain just doesn’t work for me.

Fully Rigged Ship clip art

Why does “Star Trek: Discovery” look like “Star Wars”?

The “Star Trek” movies in recent years have had spectacular effects, and some have been enjoyable films.  But they mostly benefit from characters that already exist, just reimagined a bit, and they are very limited by the two hour film format.

I want the new “Star Trek: Discovery” television series to have solid stories, characterizations, acting, and writing with interesting science fiction themes.   I feel that is what made the best episodes of the old “Star Trek” shows.

When I looked at the latest photo of the upcoming “Star Trek: Discovery” series, I immediately thought that it looked like some cross between the latest “Star Trek” movies and “Star Wars” movies.  Personally, I don’t want this new series to be like either one of those.

Maybe it is just a stylized image that the producers wanted to use to excite potential viewers.  For me, it just looks like another pretty book cover created to try and make me like what’s inside.  I hope I’m wrong.  I really hope so.  Because anything with the “Star Trek” name has a lot to live up to.  The show’s trailer doesn’t reveal much either, just more gloss — and, of course, Klingons.