Filed under: Artificial Intelligence, Brave New World, Connections, DARPA, Expert systems, Google, Government, Guns, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, tech, Violence | Tags: 30mm cannon, artificial intelligence, blogging, DARPA, drone, Dune, Frank Herbert, Google, Hunter-seeker, jim downey, Ma Deuce, Mil-Tech, Predator, predictions, science, Science Fiction, technology, The Atlantic
Yeah, it’s cool and all, but I can’t be the only one who looked at the news about Google X’s Drone Program …
A zipping comes across the sky.
A man named Neil Parfitt is standing in a field on a cattle ranch outside Warwick, Australia. A white vehicle appears above the trees, a tiny plane a bit bigger than a seagull. It glides towards Parfitt, pitches upwards to a vertical position, and hovers near him, a couple hundred feet in the air. From its belly, a package comes tumbling downward, connected by a thin line to the vehicle itself. Right before the delivery hits the ground, it slows, hitting the earth with a tap.
… and thinks “generation 1.0 Hunter-seeker“, right? I mean, this basically jumps from needing a large military drone to having a backpack assassination tool. Why worry about collateral damage with a missile when you can just drop a cigarette-pack lump of high explosive in someone’s lap, using a cell phone and facial-recognition software to make sure of your specific target?
Yeah, OK, perhaps I’m just too cynical. But human nature being what it is, you’ve gotta think that there was a reason why DARPA has been behind the development of these technologies …
Filed under: Amazon, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Brave New World, Connections, Expert systems, Feedback, Google, NPR, Predictions, Science Fiction, tech, Wales | Tags: AI, Amazon, augmented reality, blogging, Communion of Dreams, Expert, feedback, jim downey, NPR, predictions, reviews, Science Fiction, Seth, St. Cybi's Well, St. Seiriol’s Well, technology, Wales, Well Hopper, writing
There are over 70 reviews of Communion of Dreams on Amazon, and if you poke around online you’ll find a bunch more. In addition, I’ve heard from countless friends and fans about the book in private messages and chats. And one of the most common things people will note is just how much they like the character of Seth, the Expert/AI executive assistant for the main character, Jon. The book opens with Seth contacting Jon about something which has come up, and you can get a sense of how useful such a virtual assistant could be:
“Sorry to bother you, Jon, but you’ll need to come back immediately. Business. I’ve made the arrangements. Transport waiting for you in town, take you to Denver. Then commercial flight home.” Audio only. That meant a lot. Tighter beam, easier to encode and keep private. Security protocol.
He wondered if something had gone wrong with the Hawking, the experimental long-range ship undergoing trials, based out at Titan. That was about the only thing he could think of that would require his cutting short his first vacation in four years. No use in asking. “All right. Give me a few minutes to pack my things, and I’ll get started.”
“And contact my family, let them know I’m on my way back. “
“Will do. Anything else?”
“Not at present. See you when I get there.”
Of course, CoD is set in 2052, and there have been huge advances in technology which allow for a very natural interaction between a human and a computer.
What’s been fun for me in writing St Cybi’s Well, set in our own time (well, actually, in October 2012), is that I get to plant the seeds for the technology which then shows up in Communion of Dreams. And one of those seeds is an Android app which is a ‘virtual assistant’ named Andi. It’s er, not quite up to Seth’s standards:
Darnell sat there, scanned the blog post. As he read, the assistant repeated “The page you requested is displayed on your screen. Do you need something else?”
“Um, yeah. How about a map to St. Seiriol’s Well?”
“A map is now displayed on your screen. You are presently at the location of St. Seiriol’s Well. Do you need something else?”
“I’m not at the Well. I’m in the parking lot. Where is the Well itself?”
“I’m sorry, available maps indicate you are presently at the Well. Do you need something else?”
“Go back to the Well Hopper site.”
“Very good. The page you requested is displayed on your screen. Do you need something else?”
A bit annoying, eh? Well, the people who have been reading the early chapters of the book have certainly thought so. Which was exactly what I was going for. Because technology doesn’t arrive fully developed. It shows up in an early, buggy form, and then gets improved over time. Think back to when we all had dial-up modems: they were annoying, klunky, and expensive … but they also were very, very cool because they allowed us to “get online”.
Anyway, I had to chuckle over a story on NPR yesterday afternoon which reminded me of this. Here’s the intro:
We’re already giving voice instructions to virtual personal assistants, like Apple’s Siri. But artificial intelligence is getting even smarter. The next wave of behavior-changing computing is a technology called anticipatory computing — systems that learn to predict what you need, even before you ask.
Google Now, which is available on tablets and mobile devices, is an early form of this. You can ask it a question like, “Where is the White House?” and get a spoken-word answer. Then, Google Now recognizes any follow-up questions, like “How far is it from here?” as a human would — the system realizes you’re still asking about the White House, even without you mentioning the search term again. It’s an example of how anticipatory computing is moving the way we interact with devices from tapping or typing to predictive voice control.
It wasn’t a prediction on my part to see this development, rather just paying attention to the current technology and tweaking it a bit to fit into the alternate timeline of CoD/SCW. But still, kinda fun to see things going just the way I envision.
Filed under: Augmented Reality, Brave New World, Connections, Google, Humor, Science Fiction, StreetView, tech, Travel, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: augmented reality, blogging, Easter egg, Google, Google Earth, Google Streetview, humor, jim downey, Llangybi, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, travel, Wales, writing, You Are There
A very short distance down the road was another simple black and white sign which said “Llangybi”. There was a stone house not far past it, but no sign of a real town. Darnell kept going. He passed a few more homes and farms. Then he came to a split in the road and stopped, pulling off to the side in front of yet another stone house. There were some workmen on scaffolding at the near end of the house, doing something to the chimney.
Workmen? What workmen?
Why, these workmen. (It’s a Google Streetview location. You have to let it load, then activate it.)
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been doing a lot of double-checking of locations and descriptions using a variety of map tools. Google has made this very easy, between their satellite, Earth, and Streetview map apps. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that to amuse myself I have been including things actually caught in the Streetview images now and again, so that if anyone actually looks up a particular location I cite on Streetview, they will see what is described in the text. This has mostly applied to storefronts and the like, but also includes the occasional bit like the passage above — where a little later I have Darnell (the main character) actually stop and chat with these workmen, asking them for directions.
It’s a little thing which almost no one will ever discover, just my version of an Easter egg. And whenever Google updates the images used on these locations, they’ll no longer apply. But what the hell.
*For those who don’t know of/remember the series.
Filed under: Amazon, Brave New World, Connections, Feedback, General Musings, Google, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, Predictions, Promotion, Publishing, Science, Science Fiction, Society, tech, Travel, Wales | Tags: 1991, Amazon, blogging, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, electronics, feedback, free, Google Earth, humor, Jamie Norris, jim downey, Kindle, predictions, promotion, science, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, Steve Cichon, technology, travel, Typhoon, video, Wales
It’s a view of Wales most of us will never see.
This video was filmed from the cockpit of a Typhoon fighter jet which flies over North Wales before heading to the Lake District.
The man behind the controls is Flight Lieutenant Jamie Norris, the RAF’s Typhoon display pilot and a member of RAF Coningsby, based in Lincolnshire, who calmly talks viewers through his manoeuvres at altitudes of between 250ft and 40,000ft.
There’s an embedded video which is a real delight, too, for anyone who isn’t afraid of heights/motion.
I haven’t flown at low altitude over Wales, so I can’t really speak as to how this compares to the slower velocity of a small plane or helicopter. However, I was struck by just how similar the video is to viewing the same terrain via Google Earth, which I have done a *lot* of in the last couple of months as I write St. Cybi’s Well. The ability to zoom in, rotate orientation, and even change the angle to the horizon allows you very much get the sense of flying through the landscape — it’s a very cool technology.
And speaking of very cool technology, just thought I’d share this little item, which gives a nice bit of perspective: Everything from 1991 Radio Shack ad I now do with my phone. It’s a pretty impressive list, and shows how a whole pile of electronics valued at about $5,000 in today’s money has been replaced by a smartphone that fits in your pocket and costs about $500.
And speaking of 500 … that’s about the total number of world-wide downloads of Communion of Dreams so far in the current promotion. Which in itself is a pretty cool bit of technology. If you haven’t yet gotten your copy of the Kindle edition of the book (which you can read on, yes, smartphones as well as any number of other devices), pop over and get it today!
Filed under: Amazon, Art, Astronomy, Cassini, Connections, Feedback, Google, Habanero, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, NASA, Pandemic, Plague, Promotion, Publishing, Saturn, Science Fiction, Space, Titan | Tags: Amazon, art, blogging, book design, Cassini, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, Facebook, feedback, Habaneros, humor, jim downey, Kindle, NASA, pandemic, photography, post-apocalyptic, promotion, reviews, Saturn, Science Fiction, Scorpion Blood, space, Titan
Another item that would likely help get this book moving is a different cover. I understand the imagery now that I’ve read the book, but definitely think it will keep hard-core sci-fi fans from buying a copy (and people do judge books by their covers).
Like I said, every so often a comment to this effect will pop up in a review. And I don’t spend much time thinking about it (and I’m not going to change the cover image at this point), but now and then I wonder just what kind of a cover would appeal to ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’ and still make any kind of sense in relation to the story. Maybe some nice images of Saturn or Titan from the Cassini mission? A depiction of some of the spacecraft (which aren’t described in much detail in the book), or perhaps the Titan Prime space station? Go with a charming post-apocalyptic montage of ruined cities and microphotographs of viruses? To me, none of these would fairly represent the story, and to a certain extent would unnecessarily limit the appeal to only ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’.
But I’m curious what others think. So feel free to post a comment here or over on FB. Over even on Amazon, as a comment on an extant review or in new review of your own. In a week or so I’ll go through all the various comments I can find, and pick someone to get a jar of my latest hot sauce (or something else if they don’t want that).
PS: there’s another new short review up on Amazon you might want to take a look at as well.
Filed under: Art, Google | Tags: art, blogging, Burr Oak, Communion of Dreams, health, jim downey, photography, WIlliamson Oak
McBAINE — Five years ago, when the father-son duo of Bill and Kyle Spradley teamed up to give the state champion bur oak at McBaine some much-needed attention, they were joined by a handful of people.
Yesterday, more than 40 people gave the majestic tree a hefty dose of TLC. The gathering included representatives of 10 organizations and businesses from across the state — most of them arborists or rural electric linemen experienced in tree-trimming and pruning.
That goes to show how much people care about this tree,” said Kyle Spradley, a senior information specialist at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Spradley also has his own photography business, and many of his photos feature the McBaine bur oak.
I’ve written about the tree previously, for the very good reason that it is the image used on the cover of Communion of Dreams (and so, at the top of this blog). And I’m glad to see this sort of effort to help care for the tree, and preserve it for future generations. Seriously, if you haven’t ever seen it in person, and you find yourself in the area, it is worth a visit.
Filed under: Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Ballistics, Blade Runner, Brave New World, Connections, Expert systems, General Musings, Google, Government, Guns, Predictions, Preparedness, Privacy, Science, Science Fiction, tech, Violence | Tags: artificial intelligence, augmented reality, Communion of Dreams, drones, Expert, Google, government, guns, Guns.com, jim downey, MADSS, NSA, predictions, privacy, science, Science Fiction, Seth, technology, TrackingPoint, Watson
… and sometimes it is just chilling.
First, meet Seth’s grandpa:
Watson is a cognitive capability that resides in the computing cloud — just like Google and Facebook and Twitter. This new capability is designed to help people penetrate complexity so they can make better decisions and live and work more successfully. Eventually, a host of cognitive services will be delivered to people at any time and anywhere through a wide variety of handy devices. Laptops. Tablets. Smart phones. You name it.
In other words, you won’t need to be a TV producer or a giant corporation to take advantage of Watson’s capabilities. Everybody will have Watson — or a relative of the Watson technologies — at his or her fingertips.
Indeed, Watson represents the first wave in a new era of technology: the era of cognitive computing. This new generation of technology has the potential to transform business and society just as radically as today’s programmable computers did so over the past 60+ years. Cognitive systems will be capable of making sense of vast quantities of unstructured information, by learning, reasoning and interacting with people in ways that are more natural for us.
Next, consider the implications of this idea:
Now think of another way of doing this. Think of a website that is a repository of all these IDs, and is government-owned or certified. Why can’t I just visit a police station once, pay a fee (so the government doesn’t lose money on this), show all my documentation, have the government scan and upload everything so that all policemen and pertinent authorities can have access. Then my car insurance company, my health insurance company, the car registration agency can all notify this government repository if I stop paying, or if my insurance policy is not valid anymore.
Imagine a world in which the police has tablets or smartphones that show nice big pictures of you, in which whatever they currently do secretly with NSA-type agencies they do openly instead. If they find you without an ID they ask, “who are you?”, and once you give your name, they can see your photo and a ton of information about you. It would be so hard for anyone to impersonate you. I find it paradoxical that while some government agencies spy on you and know all about you, others pretend to know nothing until you show them a piece of plastic that if you lose, somebody else can impersonate you with. We need to evolve from this. We need to evolve into a system in which we have no wallets and a safer world!
Yeah, safer …
TrackingPoint, the biggest name in “smart” scope technology today, is rolling out their next big project. Not too surprising, it is a military endeavor. Called the “Future of War,” TrackingPoint is gearing up for a new market.
The company has been getting a lot of attention with their high-end big-bore hunting rifles that are designed to track targets up to 1,000 yards away. The “smart” aspect of the scope technology is a host of rangefinders and sensors that, combined with optical image recognition software, calculate the ballistics of the shot and compensate for it automatically.
TrackingPoint’s hasn’t exactly concealed their intentions to develop arms for the military market. That was always a possibility and something they all but confirmed when they began talking about their second-generation precision guided rifle systems that, chambered for .50 BMG, are expected to be effective well over 3,000 yards. The cartridge, .50 BMG, is a devastating long-range anti-personnel and anti-material round.
From TrackingPoint’s website:
Target handoff can be achieved by leader touching a smart rifle icon and map location at which point the designated user will see an arrow in his scope directing him to look at handoff location. Whether from shooter to shooter, leader to shooter, drone to leader to shooter, shooter to leader to drone, handoff is a simple touch interface via a mobile device and mobile apps augmented by the appropriate a la carte communications gear.
Emphasis added, because:
The MADSS is one mean robot. Developed by defense industry leader Northrop Grumman and currently being showcased at the Fort Benning, Ga. “Robotics Rodeo,” the MADSS is a 1 1/2-ton unmanned ground vehicle designed to provide soldiers with covering fire while cutting down targets.
Make no mistake, it’s an automatic shooting machine, But it requires people to operate it and set targets. The MADSS — Mobile Armed Dismount Support System — tracks and fires on targets only once it gets the green light. It won’t shoot unless a soldier is directing it.
It’s half killer robot, half killer giant remote-control car.
But you know, not all cars need someone in control of them these days:
In Silberg’s estimation, the reason is that Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz drivers are “already accustomed to high-tech bells and whistles, so adding a ‘self-driving package’ is just another option.” Throw in the possibility of a special lane on highways for autonomous vehicles and the ability to turn the system on and off at will, and premium buyers were sold on the option full-stop.
Considering that Audi, BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz all plan to have some kind of semi-autonomous, traffic jam assistance feature either on the market or coming in the next few years, and it’s obvious that luxury brands are well aware of what their buyers want.
Draw your own conclusions.