Archive for the ‘Science fiction’ Category
On page 126 of Daniel Suarez’s Kill Decision (excellent sf techno-thriller set in near future):
There were Westerners who looked with concern at the suffering of burgeoning Third World populations, but Odin knew that Mother Nature wasn’t the nurturing type. In fact, she might view the stable populations of the West as a failure—a rebellion against primordial order. Nature wanted only one thing: for creatures to produce viable offspring. After that, you were genetically dead. Nature had no more use for you. Your extended lifespan, your biography, your Hummel figurine collection, were all just taking up space. By some cosmic joke, nearly the entire scope of human experience was at odds with the biological world.
The problem here is that Odin (and Suarez) have too limited a perspective on Mother Nature, which not only provides the laws and settings for the emergence of lifeforms and their subsequent evolution, but has also produced another emergence from that: memes, the units on which human culture is based and whose interactions drive memetic/cultural evolution. Memes evolve at a rate millions of times faster than do lifeforms, and nowadays the dominant force in human life is not biological evolution but memetic evolution. Indeed, the novel itself is about the evolution of memes and how humans created an environment that supports and nourishes memes and facilitates their evolution.
He should read The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore. And he’s not the only one.
I just made a big pot of chili, cooling now for dinner. I more or less followed the recipe in this earlier post, the way I more or less follow all recipes. (Differences: I skipped the Ro-Tel tomatoes, but used a 28-oz can of San Marzano tomatoes, along with 8-10 mild green Hatch chilis chopped.; 2 green bell peppers, 2 onions; red-wine vinegar; chocolate instead of cocoa powder.) But I did include (for example) the liquid smoke, blackstrap molasses, Illy coffee (2 Tbsp of the grounds), and a square of 100% cacao baking chocolate, along with a good glug of authentic Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce (none of that US crap—important differences: malt vinegar and no high-fructose corn syrup). I buy the meat from Safeway’s “Manager’s bin”, where items land on the very last day they can be sold: great bargains (50% off the Safeway Club price).
I’m continuing to read The Martian, and I may reread Robinson Crusoe when I’m done. RC is such a satisfactory novel, and is based upon an actual person: Alexander Selkirk. And who knows? That may get back once more to start again on the seafaring friendship of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin with Master and Commander, a charming novel.
I am bemused at Hollywood’s weird decisions, the current example being the choice of Tom Cruise (5’8″) to play Jack Reacher (6’5″). Why not choose Vince Vaughn (6’5″), given that Tim Robbins (6’5″) is now somewhat long in the tooth? The illusion can be stretched only so far, after all. (Granted: they did not choose Peter Dinklage (4’5″)—a shame: he seems to me to be a better actor than Tom Cruise and has the added benefit of not being a Scientologist. (I can remember when L. Ron Hubbard started that dodge, telling someone—Damon Knight?—that the Big Bucks were in religion, not science fiction.))
I’m just now reading The Martian (and haven’t seen the movie). It has almost exactly the same appeal as Robinson Crusoe, though without (so far) the Martian coming across a footprint in the sand. Still, the same sensation of joy when his loneliness is broken.
Very interesting read.
From the 1995 interview: “We are less and less willing to pay for things that make civilization possible.”
A lost interview (1995) with award-winning Sy Fy writer Octavia Butler and filmmaker Julie Dash at her home in Los Angeles for Marc Boothe, Digital Diaspora, and “40 Acres & A Microchip” the first black cyberspace conference in the UK for digerati of African descent.
“to re-examine our relationship to our cultures and the way we represent them through the use of digital technology.”
At the link is the video of the interview.
William Hertling has written a (so far) interesting series on the Singularity, when AI evolution overtakes and exceeds human evolution.
In the first volume ($3 on Kindle, and this strikes me as a Kindle-oriented series), Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears, a company Avogadro (Avogard’s number is a large number; so is the number google: hint, hint) accidentally creates a strong AI. First, it is fairly clear that this is an evolution of a meme, and even more clear when the AI taps into everyone’s information… hello? do you carry a smartphone and constantly enter personal information in addition to the information provided by the phone (e.g., your exact GPS location, the record of calls you’ve made to whom for how long, the things you’ve searched, etc.). In effect, the AI has complete information and control…
And compare that with current smartphone usage, in which the meme affects us and we affect the meme. (I do strongly recommend reading Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine—it somehow is starting to seem urgent.)
In the second volume, A.I. Apocalypse, the idea of memes and their evolution, independent (in a sense) of their human hosts, is presented more clearly: memes have been able to break away from human hosting and they really take off, meme evolution being many orders of magnitude faster than genetic evolution.
It’s intriguing and interesting, particular to those who have read Blackmore’s book and thought about it.
Buried deep in the pages of the March 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine sits a short story by Murray Leinster that, 70 years on, has proven a remarkably sharp prediction of both 21st century consumer technology and culture.
One of two pieces contributed by Leinster, a pen name used by author William Fitzgerald Jenkins, A Logic Named Joe [PDF] tells the story of a humble repairman who finds himself scrambling to stop a machine that has become a bit too good at helping people.
Though Leinster never achieved the notoriety of other science fiction visionaries such as Asimov or Philip K Dick, A Logic Named Joe has been recognized by, among others, the Computer History Museum as “one of the most prescient views of the capabilities of computers in a network.”
In the story, Leinster envisions a future in which every home is equipped with a “logic” device that serves as both a reference source and entertainment box. Each logic connects to a “tank” where huge stores of data are kept. In Leinster’s own words:
You got a logic in your house. It looks like a vision receiver used to, only it’s got keys instead of dials, and you punch the keys for what you wanna get. It’s hooked in to the tank, which has the Carson Circuit all fixed up with relays. Say you punch ‘Station SNAFU’ on your logic. Relays in the tank take over an’ whatever vision-program SNAFU is telecastin’ comes on your screen … But besides that, if you punch for the weather forecast or who won today’s race at Hialeah or who was the mistress of the White House durin’ Garfield’s administration or what is PDQ and R sellin’ for today, that comes on the screen too.
The story goes on to tell how “Joe,” a rogue logic with a slight manufacturing defect, becomes self-aware and resolves to provide his owners and all other “logic” users with whatever information they require. Leinster says of Joe:
Joe ain’t vicious, you understand. He ain’t like one of those ambitious robots you read about that make up their minds the human race is inefficient and has got to be wiped out an’ replaced by thinkin’ machines. Joe’s just got ambition. If you were a machine you’d wanna work right, wouldn’t you? That’s Joe. He wants to work right. And he’s a logic, an’ logics can do a lotta things that ain’t been found out yet.
This, in turn, leads to logics around the city providing tips on everything from poisoning spouses to covering up drinking binges and robbing banks. Only when Joe is taken offline is that information hidden away from humanity and order restored.
It’s important to note the state of science and technology at this point. The United States had only recently come out of World War II, having dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Soviet Union would not test its atomic bomb to kick off the Cold War for another three years, and computers only existed as massive projects like the Colossus, Harvard Mark I and ENIAC. The transistor computer would not be built until 1953, and ARPANET would not go online for another 23 years.
Technology in the home, meanwhile, was only beginning to emerge with electric appliances and television was still in its infancy (the BBC had only begun broadcasting TV 10 years prior.) Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was lauded for seeing a market for home computers in the late 1970s. Murray Leinster predicted it nearly a decade before Jobs was even born.
Science fiction, too, was in a transitional period, with many publications not yet running the darker, dystopian themes that would mark later periods in the genre. Gene Bundy, special collections librarian for the Williamson Science Fiction Library at Eastern New Mexico University, said that this was no accident.
“In general, the post-war years science fiction was controlled by [Astounding Science Fiction editor] John W. Campbell who thought science would solve it all,” Bundy told The Register.
“He steered the direction stories took, only bought stories that went where he wanted them to go, hired writers to write the stories he wanted.”
Where A Logic Named Joe really inspires, though, is not with its vision of the placement of technology, but in the ways in which it could be used both for the benefit and detriment of society. Leinster is able to present conflict by making technology a solution that works just a bit too well. . .