Category Archives: Writing

Are bots too fast?

Robots can deliver pizza , drive cars, clean floors, get a drink from the fridge, and do all kinds of other stuff for us.  Robots are typically slower than bots.  Bots — the software kind — can quickly and efficiently make purchases for us online, schedule appointments, make travel arrangements, and setup family reunions.  But are some bots too fast?

MIT Technology Review’s “The Download” column seems to think so in their December 2017 article about how “Bots are ruining Christmas…”  I tend to agree.  While everyone likes to enjoy an advantage, at what point is that advantage crossing the line into unfair or even illegal (assuming laws are passed on the issue)?

Those old enough will remember the days before computers and bots when people used auto-dialers to call into radio shows in order to be the first person to respond to a quiz question and win a prize.

We’ve seen software for years now in sports and other event ticket sales.  Bots buy up all the pre-sale tickets from entertainment venues when it is expected that demand will be high — such as for a pop band or playoff game or even a Spring Training game with the Yankees in Florida.  The scalper(s) running the bot then resells the tickets for far more money on the internet.

Now we’re seeing this kind of action for toy purchases around the holidays.  Buyers are forced to look for these popular toys for sale on EBay and other sites.

It’s a shame, because it gives people a negative opinion of bots.  But bots, at least non-AI ones, are just doing the bidding of their owners.  In order to level the playing field and give buyers a chance to compete for toy purchases online, laws should be strengthened or passed to limit the abilities of scalpers and their bots — especially “fast” bots.

When is the future?

Nature (International Journal of Science) recently published an article entitled “Science fiction when the future is now“.  A thought-provoking title and a nice article that made me wonder, when is the future?

I imagine that in every industrious period, especially later in the period, the people of the time might begin to feel that everything has been built or invented — or soon will be.  While it’s true that today we are more technologically advanced than ever before — unless you believe there is a sunken Atlantis which had an even more advanced society — there are many ways that society might change.

Time travel stories sometimes place the future in the past, such as “Back to the Future”.  Ultimately, though, the future does not remain in the past.  Time’s arrow puts the future of 2018 at 2018+x, where x could be 1 femtosecond or 1 billion years.

So, while now is the future for some prior year 2018-x, it’s hard to see how the future is now.  If it were, then the future might be the future of the future.  If x is arbitrarily huge, approaching infinity, then the future of the future is an infinity past an infinity.  That doesn’t seem likely.

My conclusion is that the future is not now.  Whether you agree or disagree, if you enjoy thinking about subjects like this, you might also enjoy reading my time travel stories.  Happy New Year!

A few new sci-fi shows in 2018

Of course, it’s my hope that you enjoy reading sci-fi and will try a few of my stories in print.  If you also enjoy sci-fi on television, you might like C/net’s recent article on the subject entitled “2018’s hottest new sci-fi and geeky TV shows”.  

Altered Carbon“, based on the novel, may be one of the most anticipated new sci-fi series.  Assuming it follows a similar storyline, the series will take place 500 years in the future when people can be stored digitally and placed into new bodies — sleeves.  Look for it on Netflix.

To show you the range of sci-fi to expect in 2018, “Lost in Space” is being rebooted on Netflix.  Silly?  Quite possibly, but they claim to have a more modern take on the story.  What does that mean?  We’ll have to wait and see.

While you’re waiting for the new sci-fi shows, try to imagine some of my stories made for television.  Perhaps the tiny robot team from “A Floccinaucinihilipilificatious Life” solve crimes in “CSI:Robots”.   With “Monk” as an example — not to mention the current success of “The Good Doctor” — it could be time for a new television scientist and/or detective with OCD  based on my story “Coded Obsession“.

Enjoy the new 2018 sci-fi shows!

 

Creatives and the future of work

McKinsey Global Institute has an interesting report (Nov 2017) on the future of work.  They claim that many workers are going to be challenged in the next 13 years by the transition to automated labor in certain fields.  There may be enough jobs available in other non-automated categories to make up some or all of the difference, but how do displaced workers get into those jobs?  Or will they even want to?

Take a look at their interactive graphic which shows the impact of automation on work.  There are some fascinating estimates that science fiction writers and futurists might consider when writing their next story or novel.

For example, why will China see an 85% increase in Creative jobs, while Japan will see a 4% decrease in that kind of work?  Are they estimating that Japan will have less interest in entertainment or the arts or more interest in having robot performers and creatives?  Or perhaps this number is due to an expected decrease in Japan’s population.

Speaking of decrease, you can also see a 20-30% and more reduction in openings for many physical and office jobs in the U.S., Germany, and Japan.  But healthcare worker openings will increase tremendously in many countries.  Do all displaced office or physical labor workers want to be in the healthcare field, though?  Will we find in the next 13 years that robots take more of those healthcare jobs than McKinsey Global predicts?

What if displaced office or physical labor workers decide that creative jobs are more interesting and/or more satisfying?  While we might see growth in creative jobs, and have creatives to fill them, we might also see a decline in pay — and aren’t many artists known for starving already?

I have a couple of stories related to this topic, but I will give some thought to how I can incorporate this important futurist topic into some of my new ones.  If you’d like to read my related stories having to do with careers, you can find “It’s in the Stars” in my e-book “Science Fiction: Genetics” and “Time Enough for Sarah” in “Science Fiction: Time Travel”.

 

 

 

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.