Category Archives: Thinking

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.

Keyboard lock up after sleep on Windows 10?

I’m not sure if this is due to the latest version of Windows 10 or not, but it started happening after the last update I got.  When my computer goes to sleep, sometimes when I wake it up I can’t enter anything from the keyboard.

I discovered that if I close my laptop and then re-open it, the keyboard starts working again.  Maybe this is just a coincidence, and it started happening because my laptop keyboard driver doesn’t recognize that my laptop has come out of sleep.  Or maybe it is something in the way the new Windows 10 version works.

If you lose the ability to enter from the keyboard, you can also temporarily gain control back by using the touch screen or by bringing up the virtual keyboard (the little keyboard symbol on the bottom right of the screen) with your mouse or pointing device.  In any case, rebooting (click on the start icon — bottom left of screen — and then the power icon just above it) should always restore the keyboard to normal operation.  If not, you may have additional issues to deal with.
Keyboard clip art

First human head transplant?

The Scientist reports that “Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero announced that the world’s first human head transplant…will take place in China sometime within the next 10 months…”  Apparently many experts are skeptical of Dr. Canavero’s proposed procedure .

Is this science fiction or reality?  It’s been a long time since “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley was published (1818).  I’m no expert of neurosurgery, so I can’t comment on the nature of the upcoming head transplant based on science.  But it does raise an issue which all of us can ponder.  Do we have a soul?

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Dr. Canavero is successful in transplanting a human severed head to another body.  Further, let’s say that the patient survives and is able to communicate what it feels like to be in a new body — same head, different body.  Is there any way to determine if this person’s soul transferred along with their head?

Even if the patient thought that they were the same person as before, how can we be sure that their soul came along for the ride?  Or if it did, was it 100% transferred or was part of it left in the operating room?  Or even if they had a soul to begin with.

I don’t know the appropriate tests or questions for the patient.  But if by chance this transplant is a success, experts in theology and psychology and associated fields should be considering what those tests and questions should be.  If not, we may not fully understand the extent of success or failure of a head transplant.  Sure, we can check the patient’s vitals and mental health, but who can check their soul?

My story “Face Facts” examines the mind of a person who has an operation to cure their inability to recognize faces.

 

 

 

 

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.