Category Archives: Writing

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

 

A Penny for your Thoughts

MIT Technology Review writes recently about how “scientists can read a bird’s brain and predict its next song“.  Extrapolating, the scientists hope to be able to use this knowledge to further inventions that might help humans with disabilities communicate.

But it might also lead to the ability to text straight from our thoughts.  This is just a part of what I wrote about in my sci-fi short story “A Penny for your Thoughts” in my e-book anthology “Science Fiction: Time Travel and Robots 2“, where a future technology also allows participants to communicate their feelings over a network connection.  I just thought — pun intended — that if you are interested in this research, you might enjoy reading my story.

Back from Hawaii

Creativity requires energy and diversity, two things you get from taking a break and seeing new places.  This year we chose Hawaii at the end of summer.  We loved it!

Whether you’re exploring new tastes,

or hiking to red sand and black sand beaches,

or catching a glimpse of a perfect tropical waterfall,

or standing behind one,

or viewing hot lava,

or finding a secluded shore,

or even playing your favorite sport with an incredible view of Molokai island in the background (I made birdie on hole #4 by the way! — just follow the red line),

It all makes for a memorable vacation and energizes one’s creative spirit.

 

 

“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”.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.