Communion Of Dreams


“We’d never even *dream* of doing such a thing. Really!”

Well, anyone paying attention should have known this was coming:

Pentagon scientists show off life-size robot

Washington (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel got a first-hand look at a life-size robot that resembles Hollywood’s “Terminator,” the latest experiment by the Pentagon’s hi-tech researchers.

But unlike the cinematic version, the hulking Atlas robot is designed not as a warrior but as a humanitarian machine that would rescue victims in the rubble of a natural disaster, officials said on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-2-inch (187 centimeters) Atlas is one of the entrants in a contest designed to produce a man-like life-saver machine, the brainchild of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

 

Right. Because the Pentagon would never *dream* of putting weapons on any new piece of technology

Well, they’ve got 15 years to get to the level of the T-800 model.

Sheesh.

 

Jim Downey



Chill, dude.

Suspended animation of one sort or another has been a staple of Science Fiction just about forever.  Of course, as such it has often been dismissed as being little more than fantasy — just a magic trick that a lazy author will resort to in order to get around some technological barrier or another. Because, you know, it’s just completely unrealistic

NEITHER dead or alive, knife-wound or gunshot victims will be cooled down and placed in suspended animation later this month, as a groundbreaking emergency technique is tested out for the first time.

Surgeons are now on call at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to perform the operation, which will buy doctors time to fix injuries that would otherwise be lethal.

“We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction,” says Samuel Tisherman, a surgeon at the hospital, who is leading the trial. “So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.”

Yeah, you certainly wouldn’t want it to sound like Science Fiction. ‘Cause that stuff’s just nuts.

*sigh*

I’ve written previously about ‘mundane science fiction‘, the idea being that we have to stick with what we know to be technologically realistic. The thing is, what we consider to be technologically “realistic” keeps changing, often in surprising ways. I remember the energy crisis of the mid-’70′s, and when US energy independence was considered to be little more than a fantasy talking-point of presidents. Well, the US currently produces more oil than we consume. Sure, it has come with real costs/problems, but it is nonetheless true. (And actually, I think that sort of trade-off makes for a more interesting Science Fiction story overall, exploring both the benefits and problems of new technologies.)

Clarke had it right: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  That doesn’t give a Science Fiction writer complete latitude to just make shit up. But it also cautions against dismissing any technology as “unrealistic” out-of-hand.

Just ask the first person who will be saved due to “emergency preservation and resuscitation.” Chances are, sometime later this year you’ll be able to do so on his/her cell phone.

Jim Downey



Eat the rich. Literally.

Now comes the perfect commoditization of celebrity:

“BiteLabs grows meat from celebrity tissue samples and uses it to make artisanal salami.” So proclaims the copy on BiteLabs.org, right under an all-caps call to action: EAT CELEBRITY MEAT. The site proposes taking actual tissue samples of celebrities—specifically, James Franco, Kanye West, Jennifer Lawrence, and Ellen DeGeneres—and growing their cloned meat for use in a marketable salami blend.

* * *

“The product is indeed salami,” Kevin says. “Each salami will have roughly 30% celebrity meat and 40% lab-grown animal meats (we’re currently looking into ostrich and venison but it pork and beef are more popular in our early research). The rest will consist of fats and spices. This break-down comes from consultation with expert food designers and chefs.”

 

Admittedly, I have an … odd … sense of humor, but for the life of me I can’t figure out whether this is funnier if it is satire or if it is real.

Welcome to the future, though it’s a bit different than what we expected.

 

Jim Downey



What kind of future were you expecting?

One with an ‘expert’ like Seth from Communion of Dreams?

Or maybe, a little closer to our own time, say one which includes something like HAL from 2001?

Ha! Sucker. You should know that reality would prove to be more … banal. And corporate. Like this:

The phone call came from a charming woman with a bright, engaging voice to the cell phone of a TIME Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer. She wanted to offer a deal on health insurance, but something was fishy.

When Scherer asked point blank if she was a real person, or a computer-operated robot voice, she replied enthusiastically that she was real, with a charming laugh. But then she failed several other tests. When asked “What vegetable is found in tomato soup?” she said she did not understand the question. When asked multiple times what day of the week it was yesterday, she complained repeatedly of a bad connection.

Over the course of the next hour, several TIME reporters called her back, working to uncover the mystery of her bona fides. Her name, she said, was Samantha West, and she was definitely a robot, given the pitch perfect repetition of her answers. Her goal was to ask a series of questions about health coverage—”Are you on Medicare?” etc.—and then transfer the potential customer to a real person, who could close the sale.

Hmm, I think I can still work “Samantha” into St. Cybi’s Well

 

Jim Downey



“A Look Behind the Future.”

Via Open Culture, this brilliant, and fairly hilarious, promotional documentary about the ‘forthcoming’ movie 2001: A Space Odyssey:

 

As the Open Culture post says:

The Apollo 11 moon landing would, of course, come just three years later. A Look Behind the Future reflects the enterprising if square technological optimism of that era, a tone that perhaps hasn’t aged quite as well as the haunting, bottomlessly ambiguous film it pitches.

 

Jim Downey



Welcome to the paleo-future.

I grew up reading stuff like this:

R is for rocket.jpg

And even had a really cool metal rocket based on the images from Destination Moon which one of my relatives made and gave me. For the longest time those sleek rockets landing and taking off again (what NASA calls ‘Direct Ascent‘) defined what space travel meant, and I loved watching early launches which hinted at Things To Come.

Then space technology advanced, and I got a little older. Rockets were no longer cool. With all the wisdom and knowledge of a 14 year old, I dismissed the idea that anyone would want to use them for anything other than lobbing other things into orbit, and even at that they would be soon surpassed by more efficient and reusable shuttles and aerospace vehicles.

I’m glad not everyone was so easily distracted:

Welcome back to the future of my youth.

 

Jim Downey



Proof of concept.

Interesting:

Imagine three astronauts, 125 million miles from the Earth, talking to Mission Control with a four-minute time lag. They have seen nothing out their windows but stars in the blackness of space for the last 150 days. With a carefully timed burn, they slow into orbit around Venus, and as they loop around the planet, they get their first look at its thick cloud layer just 7,000 miles below.

It might sound like the plot of a science fiction movie, but in the late 1960s, NASA investigated missions that would send humans to Venus and Mars using Apollo-era technology. These missions would fly in the 1970s and 1980s to capitalize on what many expected would be a surge of interest in manned spaceflight after the Apollo lunar landings. They would be daring missions, but they would also be feasible with what was on hand.

 

Somewhat surprisingly, I don’t remember this at all. Though of course these were just “proof of concept” studies which were put together for NASA.  Still, they were fairly well thought-out, as the article on ars technica demonstrates. As is often the case, technological limitations are less of an absolute factor in accomplishing something than economic/political limitations are. To borrow from a favorite old movie: “You wouldn’t believe what we did. It’s possible. It’s just hard work.”

What isn’t hard work? Getting entered into the drawing for a leather-bound copy of Communion of Dreams. Full details here. Yesterday’s Kindle promotion pushed us over 500 copies of the electronic version given away this month, and that puts the total number of copies out there somewhere in the neighborhood of 26,000. There are already 65 reviews posted to Amazon. Yet so far only 9 people have entered the drawing. You have until midnight this coming Saturday.

 

Jim Downey

Via BoingBoing.



Because …

… I’m a big 2001: A Space Odyssey fan, as well as a paleo-future geek, I offer this wonderful insight into my past/future:

“2001: A Space Odyssey” Howard Johnsons Children’s Menu (1968)

Yeah, that’s what it was like back in ’68. Definitely.

 

Jim Downey

Via MeFi.

 

 



Who are the Martians, now?

A news item you may have seen:

Fighter jets to be fitted with laser weapons for 2014

Very soon the U.S. Military will be fitting some of their fighter jets with real laser weapons. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) says that the new laser system will be fitted onto jet aircraft in 2014 as a defensive weapon capable of knocking out missiles and other projectiles while in flight.

If you’ve been waiting for the future to finally get here, just go ahead and mark your calendar for 2014.  It was recently announced that the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) would be retrofitting some U.S. military jets with actual 150KW lasers that will be able to knock missiles out of the sky.

The new laser weapons are part of DARPA’s High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System and are purportedly being fitted as a defensive measure specifically for knocking projectiles out of the sky such as surface-to-air missiles or any type of larger projectile.  The exact specifics of the system’s capability are still classified.

This may … ring a bell:

Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men. It was as if some invisible jet impinged upon them and flashed into white flame. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire.

Then, by the light of their own destruction, I saw them staggering and falling, and their supporters turning to run.

I stood staring, not as yet realizing that this was death leaping from man to man in that little distant crowd. All I felt was that it was something very strange. An almost noiseless and blinding flash of light, and a man fell head-long and lay still; and as the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pine-trees burst into fire, and every dry furze-bush became with one dull thud a mass of flames. And far away towards Knaphill I saw the flashes of trees and hedges and wooden buildings suddenly set alight.

It was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable sword of heat.

Small wonder that I’ve had this song kicking around in my head, from what is probably a largely-forgotten concept album 35 years old.

 

Jim Downey



Sometimes I think that Philip K. Dick was an optimist.

I’ve mentioned Philip K. Dick, his genius and his influence on my writing, previously. And I’ve specifically written about his short story The Minority Report in the context of the UK’s plunge into becoming a surveillance society.

Well, even Philip K. Dick had his limitations. He was a man of his time, and couldn’t foresee just how powerful and widespread computing power and expert systems would become. Powerful enough that now it is routine for such systems to mimic one of the human brain’s best tricks: facial recognition.  To wit:

The UK’s online crime reporting
& intelligence community

Stop crime before it happens

And when they say “community” they mean it — this includes a social media-like network of interlinked businesses, government agencies, and individuals. They even have an app for your smart phone! If you don’t believe me, just check out the promotional video which seems like it is straight out of your favorite dystopian movie:

Remember, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear. Unless, you know, you worry about abuses committed by others using such a powerful surveillance tool.

Nah, *that’d* never happen, would it?

Jim Downey

 




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 168 other followers