Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Science fiction’ Category

Minor household news

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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.))


Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2016 at 5:30 pm

Book notes: Andy Weir’s The Martian

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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.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2016 at 11:44 am

Posted in Books, Science fiction

The lost interview with Octavia Butler

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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.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2016 at 10:27 am

Interesting sci-fi series on memes, in effect, by William Hertling

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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. Apocalypsethe 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.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2016 at 4:43 pm

Murray Leinster’s prescient 1946 science-fiction story that described the Internet

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You can read the story and see what you think. In The Register, Shaun Nichols gives his take:

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. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2016 at 8:45 am

Swarms of tiny drones

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This story in Motherboard reminds me strongly of Daniel Suarez’s interesting science-fiction novel Kill Decision. (Suarez is the author of the superb science-fiction duology Daemon and Freedom™.) David Axe reports about swarms of these little drone: cheap and effective:

tiny drone

He writes:

In the middle of June 2015, a US Air Force F-16 fighter took off from an air base in Alaska and flew over a military training range at 430 miles per hour. On command, something burst from the fighter’s flare dispenser—a drone roughly the size of a soda can and weighing just one pound.

The tiny, orange- and black-colored robot fluttered toward the ground trailing a parachute. After a few seconds, the ‘chute separated from the drone, the robot’s wings—which had folded into the body for compactness—extended outward. An inch-wide propeller began spinning, propelling the diminutive machine forward.

The drone is called “Perdix.” It’s the latest product of the Strategic Capabilities Office, a secretive Pentagon organization, formed in 2012, whose job is to find new ways to deploy existing weapons.

One of the office’s ideas is to transform F-16s and other fast jets into high-speed launchers for swarms of small drones that could confuse enemy defenses or perform surveillance.

“Just imagine an airplane going in against an [integrated air defense] system and dropping 30 of these out that form into a network and do crazy things,” Bob Work, the deputy defense secretary, told trade publication Breaking Defense. “We’ve tested this. We’ve tested it and it works.”

The Perdix drones are 3D-printed out of Kevlar and carbon-fiber. Powered by lithium-ion batteries—the same kind you’d find in a cell phone—the Perdixes launch from a standard flare dispenser, like on the F-16, F/A-18 and other warplanes. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2016 at 12:05 pm

The Jesuit Priest Who Believed in God and the Singularity

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A good quick look at Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s interesting take on evolution by Micah Redding:

In 1915, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was serving on the front lines of World War I. Somewhere in the blood, sweat, and death of never-ending trench warfare, Teilhard glimpsed something that would haunt him: the vast inter-connectedness of living things.

That realization changed his life.

Teilhard went on to become a paleontologist, geologist, lecturer, essayist, world traveler, war hero, and part of the team that discovered Peking Man—a collection of ancestral human bones making up one of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century. You can imagine him as a sort of bookish Indiana Jones, traipsing around the world, uncovering the mysteries of human existence as he went.

But what was most remarkable about Teilhard was that he was a Jesuit priest. And rather than seeing evolution as undermining his Christian faith, he came to believe that evolution was nothing less than the absolute core of Christianity.

The Catholic church wasn’t so sure. Neither was the scientific establishment. Teilhard was connecting things that were traditionally kept apart—and upsetting the uneasy stand-off between science and religion.

No one knew it then, but in crossing those lines, Teilhard was breaking ground on the ideas that would evolve into modern transhumanism.

The Exponential Curve

Most controversially, Teilhard saw a direction to evolution. This was a heated debate both then and now, but the more Teilhard studied, the more he became convinced of an undeniable trend towards increasing complexity, interconnection, and intelligence.

This trend had led from single-celled creatures to multi-celled organisms, from multi-celled organisms to creatures with hearts, lungs, and brains, and from creatures with brains to beings who could read, write, and communicate across thousands of miles. This was Teilhard’s “curve of evolution,” and it resembled nothing so much as the exponential curve of Moore’s Law, leading up and to the right at an ever increasing angle.

This process had led inexorably toward human beings. But Teilhard’s point was that humanity was simply one step on a never-ending staircase of increasing complexity. Humanity wasn’t at the end of the process. Not at all.

The Network

In fact, Teilhard believed another new level of complexity and intelligence was already emerging. Teilhard called this new level the “noosphere”—the increasingly networked world of the mind.

As Teilhard saw it, this had begun with the advent of human brains, but couldn’t stay isolated in human brains forever. In our books, our art, our technology, our roads — the noosphere was already reaching out to establish greater connection, greater depth, greater integration. That process would become:

“…[a] network of links…a nervous system…a closely interdependent network…over the whole earth…” (The Phenomenon of Man)

If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Teilhard has been credited with anticipating the internet before it was even a glimmer in DARPA’s eye.

But Teilhard’s vision didn’t stop with the emergence of a noosphere and a global nervous system. His “curve of evolution” kept going, tracing out ever-increasing complexity, intelligence, and connection.

The Emergence of Superintelligence

This pointed to one thing: an emerging superorganism.

Teilhard called this “The Omega Point.” These days, we call it “the Singularity.” The idea is the same: at some point, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2016 at 11:33 am


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