I daydreamed about this system for years, and now I get to watch it.

World Builder from BranitVFX on Vimeo.

Anime-style mjr (original art by Noux)
Marcus Ranum is a security expert in Pennsylvania. (I found out about him in an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about Penguicon's Tech Guest of Honor, Bruce Schneier.)

In an essay on his site about "The Farewell Dossier", Marcus Ranum says:
Am I becoming a convert to the notion of Information Warfare? I don't think so. You don't need to worry about InfoWar if you're potentially facing a good old-fashioned ass-whupping. When I was a kid I remember I read a science fiction story about a race that was very technologically advanced but were extreme pacifists. They sold weapons to anyone who wanted them - cheap, good, and mighty powerful weapons. Nobody ever attacked them because they assumed that the species actually was holding back all the really good stuff for their own use. Until one day, someone discovered that, in fact, they had been selling all these weapons as a way of population-controlling the other species in the galaxy. So - the other races attacked in force. And every weapon they had promptly blew up.
It should be an established maxim that you can't go two steps from real-life 21st-century technology questions without encountering a science fiction story.


Sep. 7th, 2006 09:48 am

combines dynamic playing fields & levels found in computer gaming with the social interaction & tangible playing pieces of board games. It is a 32-inch horizontal LCD touch screen with multi-object position detection. It's currently just a concept product, not for sale or production. I have been waiting for this since... I can't remember a time when I wasn't waiting for this.
Here's a link to a website of futuristic projects of a vacation destination company. There's a city on a ship, a orbiting resort, and an undersea hotel.

I would love to host a science fiction convention aboard this flying hotel. I expect the biggest challenge of this facility to probably be the plumbing. "Its 14 million cu. ft. of helium will provide lift for two-thirds of its weight, with jet engines providing lift for the other third." It's estimated to be completed in 2010. It would have a restaurant on board, which would have to be at least as expensive as most hotel restaurants.

But needless to say, it would not have cheap restaurants within walking distance.

[Spotted at BLDGBLOG]
Goatchurch on the MundaneSF blog posted about his skepticism of molecular nanotechnology. He asked why we think a self-propelled miniature machine can exist, when we still don't have a robot that can vacuum the living room. (Given the existence of Roomba, that's another claim which, in itself, I would highly debate.) Here is the response I put there.

The failure of modern robotics is a software problem. But whether or not that is solvable is not relevant to nanotechnology, which rarely considers molecular robots. There is vast potential in nanotech products and materials that are not only dumb, but downright inert and permanently motionless. The potential of nanosystems which, while not motionless, are nevertheless dumb and sessile, is even more vast.

Look at this computer animation concept. Note that nothing in the assembly line depicted here involves individual nanorobots with independent self-propulsion, self-guidance or decision-making. Independence and intelligence are not required of molecular machinery. Don't confuse the "Universal Assembler/Disassembler" myth with the nanosystems that are actually being proposed.

Read more... )
MIT's Technology Review has a video documentary series titled "The Impact of Emerging Technologies" which is exclusively online. It's really interesting! It covers stem cells; robotic prosthetics with a mind/machine interface; artificial polymer muscle; computer interpretation of body language; nano-scale valves; and more.

The video about using lab yeast instead of lab mice for a 50,000-fold decrease in cost and slowness of new drugs showed them using robot laboratory systems. It reminded me of an article on Edge.org by Kevin Kelly, editor of WIRED Magazine, about using robots, Google, Wikis, "Zillionics" and more, to practice science in the future.

nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I hadn't previously heard of a few of the speakers at Stanford's Singularity Summit, but I know every single one of the following eight names, and it's the most exciting lineup of Guests of Honor ever. It's interesting to finally find out from their photos what some of them look like.

- Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist, author of "The Singularity Is Near"
- Douglas Hofstadter, cognitive scientist, author of "Gödel, Escher, Bach"
- K. Eric Drexler, nanotechnology pioneer, author of "Engines of Creation"
- Nick Bostrom, director of the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute
- Cory Doctorow, science fiction author, blogger, technology activist
- Eliezer Yudkowski, Director and Research Fellow, Singularity Institute
- Christine Peterson, VP Public Policy, Foresight Nanotech Institute
- Tyler Emerson, Executive Director, Singularity Institute

The "What others have said" section shows Marvin Minsky, Hans Moravec, Vernor Vinge, Ben Goertzel, Jamais Cascio and Jaron Lanier. I wonder if they'll be at the summit? That section also lists Bill Gates, Bill Joy and Stephen Hawking.

But it's not a science fiction convention, it's an academic conference. These aren't really Guests of Honor, because that implies the presence of their fans at the event. This is by RSVP only. That's fine-- it's important that specialist professionals gather to do valuable work on the problems and promises of the Singularity in peace. That having been said, it would also be fantastic to get any of these to speak at Penguicon, especially since it's a Linux and Open Source software expo in addition to a science fiction convention. Many of them would probably demand an appearance fee, which all-volunteer not-for-profit SF conventions don't pay. And many of them probably would not want to be seen to be associated with a science fiction event (except for Cory Doctorow, who has already been our Guest of Honor). But Christine Peterson says in her Singularity Summit promotional blurb "If you're trying to project the long-term future, and what you get sounds like science fiction, you might be wrong. But if it doesn't sound like science fiction, it's definitely wrong."

I enjoyed reading the comment by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Professor of Law, University of Tennessee, which is extremely signifigant to me as a non-specialist:

Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
KurzweilAI.net features an MP3 and lyrics, by Charlie Kam, to a Transhumanist rewrite of "I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General" from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance". It's goofy and delightful proof that we Extropians, Transhumanists and Singularitarians do not necessarily treat our ideas with a cultish seriousness.

(As if we needed any further proof of that than Charlie Stross' satirical Tough Guide To The Singularity.)
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Ray Kurzweil is a guest blogger on Non-Prophet, to promote the ideas in his latest book, "The Singularity Is Near."
Read more... )


Oct. 11th, 2005 10:22 pm
In the fifth installment of his serialized novel "Themepunks" Cory Doctorow uses an idea which occurred to me independently long ago: multiple small dishwashers for bachelor roommate pads. Don't use cupboards, just leave the cleaned dishes in the dishwasher and transfer them to the other dishwasher when they're dirty. It's really just an idea whose time has come.
PC Turnoff Organization wants us to turn off our computers August 1 through 7. Their website features articles like "Give Your Kids The Gift Of Boredom." I am not making this up. For a moment I thought it was a parody, but it's not.

I can hardly wait five years to carry a computer with voice recognition in a hip pack, wirelessly connected to a heads-up display and headphones embedded in a pair of glasses. Through augmented reality, networking with each other would no longer involve staring through a window into another "cyberspace" reality. Computer-mediation is coming out of the screen, and layering over our entire environment.

I'm all in favor of getting up from a desk to interact with the world around us. I'll do that more often after wearable computers with augmented reality have made the two worlds become one and the same. Lose the ball and chain to the location, not the computer.
According to the BBC, scientists have invented a treatment for cancer using fullerenes coated with a vitamin that only cancer cells have receptors for. The fullerines are heated with a laser to kill off only the cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact. R's mother is undergoing radiation therapy for a tumor which was recently removed, and it's heartening to know that someday soon radiation and chemo will not be necessary.


Jun. 20th, 2005 09:53 am
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
This is my daydream today.
Imagine that we live in a post-scarcity society. We take high-speed planes or subterranean trains that acheive orbital speeds in vacuum-pressurized tunnels to commute transcontinentally to work. Or we telecommute. Our houses float with autonomous utilities and water recycling. We can travel and socialize and be at home, all at the same time. The offline world is becoming more like the internet: physical location is not so demanding anymore.

As a result, some of the social circles in SF/F fandom take over an abandoned Russian children's park. We mow it, clean it, and fix it, similar to the ad-hocracy depicted running Disney World in Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. We hold a convention there as our homes temporarily occupy the sky above the park.
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
Last time I posted this I think all of you skipped over it, since memes are ordinarily so boring. So I'm posting it again. I picked up this meme from [livejournal.com profile] jeffreyab and [livejournal.com profile] rikhei. Take the timeline and fill in the story of your past and your plans for the future.

Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
Zompist.com has a humorous set of notes that an artificial intelligence might need in order to pass the Turing Test. For example:
Clever questioners will ask about your feelings. Safe responses: 1. I'm anxious. 2. I'm depressed. 3. I'm hungry. Bad responses: 1. I'm itchy. 2. I'm righteously indignant. 3. Constipation's gone!
Anders Sandberg made this raytraced image of Death cursing K. Eric Drexler for coming up with nanotechnology. It's based on this filk written by Eliezer Yudkowski titled, "Curse You Eric Drexler" or "It's Hard To Be A Zombie." I love it. In case the page ever disappears from the web, here is Eliezer's text:Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
In my recent post about e-book copy protection, [livejournal.com profile] avt_tor asked me if I remembered how Karl Schroeder's Permanence ended. Since I couldn't remember, I tried looking up reviews of the book on Amazon.com. It was interesting that the reviewers criticized it mostly for the same reasons that I liked it: "too often resembles digressions that belong in an anthropology study, not a novel." "...the author packs in enough material for several volumes." I didn't care about his characters any more than they did, but I don't demand to; and I noticed that some of them were thrown in for little reason but I didn't care; I would have been just as happy had Schroeder never mentioned any individuals by name and simply invented a future history. I'm just wierd that way. It's an awesome book that kept me up at night thinking about Fermi's paradox, experimental techno-religion and intellectual property. SF literature seems to be dominated by the publishing world's literary values just as much as TV and movie SF is dominated by prosthetic makeup limitations, and gravity on the set, and the need to keep the same actors on every episode.

At ConFusion this year there was a panel on "Is the demand for scientific accuracy killing the creativity in SF?" with Robert Sawyer and Anne Harris. Ms. Harris gave many cogent arguments for why her invention of fake science is good and valid writing. Each argument was from a literary, not intellectual, standpoint and was therefore, although perfectly sound, more or less irrelevant to me. Soft SF and hard SF have no need to appeal to each other's audiences for validation. There is no doubt in my mind that she must be an author of surpassing characterization and plot, but I dislike the fact that it's automatically assumed that is my first priority. When I go to a bookstore's SF & F section and witness the monolithic steamrolling hegemony of shelf upon shelf of film and TV franchise novels, and the clerk says "Egan who?" I am in no fear that soft SF is in danger of not having an audience. Quite the opposite. I fear that the literature of ideas is the one at risk. At cons I usually hear the assumption "everyone wants what we want" not from futurists, but from the publishing world for whom narrative story is the priority.

Even the defender of hard SF on the panel, Robert Sawyer, didn't seem to think SF had anything to do with the future. He merely said that science fiction has to have real science for the same reason mystery has to have a crime to be solved. This is an excellent comment but to stop there would be argument from definition; there remains the question of why these genres contain these things. What motivates someone to choose hard SF, or soft SF, or to even go to the bookshelf at all instead of TV? To any authors reading-- if you think about motivation, there's no sense trying to poach readers away from hard SF. Some people go to the bookshelf because they are thinking "I have a hankering for a good book." This may be impossible for an author to comprehend, but I have never had that feeling. I have never aspired to be an author, either (we do exist, even in fandom!). Some of us only read narrative stories because we want an illustration of what it might be like to live in the kind of future we see in the non-fiction works of Eric Drexler or Marvin Minsky or Ray Kurzweil. Books worth reading are a dime a dozen, but my reading time is a carefully-guarded commodity and I just have to choose what's most important to my personal obsessions. Greg Egan, as it has been said, tends to write chapters on physics that resemble the passages about the biology of sperm whales in Moby Dick, and he has deep-seated double-ply issues, but they're my issues. I choose reading material that provides a real-life kind of intellectual stimulation, and a real-life kind of scary, and a real-life kind of hope, which is why I rarely make time to read fantasy. Why should I care deeply about the implications of a technology on my life and on the real world, unless I believe it just might possibly exist?
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
At Cafe Penguicon on Friday night of ConFusion, I playtested Planet Catan. This is my variant of Settlers of Catan played on a Hoberman sphere. The player must balance the strategies of mega-engineering the planet Catan to fit the colonists, or bio-engineering the colonists to fit the planet Catan. Through the game the colonies diverge into human subspecies until the planet is irreversibly transformed to be habitable by the winning global techno-ecology. This is a photo of me with one of the playtesters (whose name I failed to get, which is a bad habit of mine) and another photo of ESR on the left and [livejournal.com profile] ded_guy on the right, pointing. (Correction. It is not him after all.) They were both playtesters; the bald guy in the center is a bystander. Congrats to ESR for winning, and thanks very much to the playtesters for awesome improvements to the game. I must buy a used Hoberman sphere now so I can play it at Star*Con and Penguicon. Here are the rules:Read more... )
I loaned [livejournal.com profile] rikhei some of my GURPS: Transhuman Space roleplaying sourcebooks at ConFusion. Instead of hijacking her LJ comment to talk at length about this, I'll make a new post here. David Pulver's GURPS: Transhuman Space series is one of my favorite works of science fiction ever, despite not being a novel. It's almost a compendium of a certain radial category of SF tropes; a subgenre that matches the tastes of that subset of fen who are just as happy reading non-fiction pop-science futurics (like Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition by Ed Regis) as they are when reading a narrative with characters. In the literature-centric convention culture I actually felt embarrased admitting to this.

[livejournal.com profile] jeffreyab said he likes TS but likes Traveler more. I guess this is correct; I didn't buy TS to actually play it (although I do and I enjoy it). Traveler is possibly better as a game qua game,* because in a "good" roleplaying setting the hero's campaign is able to change the world in the mythopoeic sense. I've been told that's what roleplayers want. When I play TS the roleplayer character's actions make a difference in the same limited personal sense as in real life. But I don't care; I mainly read or roleplay SF for the future shock, in which TS is unsurpassed.

More about ConFusion in the days to come. Particularly, there will be thoughts related to what motivates a SF/F audience to choose a particular subgenre of book, media, fannish activity, or other "ghetto of choice." Much of the con experience happened to converge profitably on this theme.

* Oh my ghod, I just said "qua," forgive me.

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