Communion Of Dreams


Easy to predict.

In Communion of Dreams, I have “experts” who are A.I. assistants. As I describe them in that book when I introduce one as the character ‘Seth’:

His expert was one of the best, one of only a few hundred based on the new semifluid CPU technology that surpassed the best thin-film computers made by the Israelis. But it was a quirky technology, just a few years old, subject to problems that conventional computers didn’t have, and still not entirely understood. Even less settled was whether experts based on this technology could finally be considered to be true AI. The superconducting gel that was the basis of the semifluid CPU was more alive than not, and the computer was largely self-determining once the projected energy matrix surrounding the gel was initiated by another computer. Building on the initial subsistence program, the computer would learn how to refine and control the matrix to improve its own ‘thinking’. The thin-film computers had long since passed the Turing test, and these semifluid systems seemed to be almost human. But did that constitute sentience? Jon considered it to be a moot point, of interest only to philosophers and ethicists.

In the world of 2052, when Communion is set, these “experts” are ubiquitous and extremely helpful. Seth is an “S-series”, the latest tech, and all S-series models have names which start with S. I figured that naming convention would be a nice way to track the development of such expert-systems technology, and in the course of the book you see earlier models which have appropriate names.

So when the time came to write St Cybi’s Well, I figured that I would introduce the first such model, named Andi. Here’s the first bit of dialog with Andi:

“Hi, I’m Andi, your assistant application. How can I help you?”

“Andi, check local restaurant reviews for Conwy and find the best ranked Fish & Chips place.”

“You’re not in Conwy. You’re in Holywell. Would you rather that I check restaurants where you are?”

“No, I’m not hungry yet. But I will be when I get to Conwy.”

“Very good. Shall I read off the names?”

“Not now. It can wait until I am closer.”

“Very good. Shall I track your movement and alert you?”

“No.”

“Very good. May I help you with something else?”

“Not right now.” Darnell shut off the app, then the phone, and dropped it back into his pocket. The walk back to his car was uneventful.

Now, I wrote this bit almost eight years ago, long before “Siri” or “Alexa” were announced. But it was predictable that such technology would soon be introduced, and I was amused as all get-out when Amazon decided to name their first assistant as “Alexa”.

Anyway, I also figured that since the technology would be new, and unsophisticated, that Andi would be slightly annoying to use. Because it would default to repetitions of scripts, be easy to confuse, et cetera, similar to encountering a ‘bot on a phone call. And you can judge for yourself, but I think I succeeded in the book — the readers of early chapters thought so, and commented on it.

So this article in the morning Washington Post made me chuckle:

Alexa, just shut up: We’ve been isolated for months, and now we hate our home assistants

“I’m not a bad person,” Angela Hatem said. “I’m so nice to people.” But Alexa, the voice of Amazon’s home devices, isn’t a person, despite how hard “she” tries to emulate one. And coronavirus/self-quarantine/2020 has Hatem feeling a bit stressed out.

“I say things to Alexa that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy, if I had one. And I don’t know why. She makes me crazy. … I curse at her. I call her names. I’m very, very mean to her,” said Hatem, who lives in Indianapolis with her 1-year-old son. “There’s really few things I can vent at or vent to, and I’m making Alexa my virtual punching bag.”

 

Heh. Nailed another prediction.

* * *

It’s the first of the month. That means that both novels and our care-giving memoir are available for free download, as they are the first of each month. If you haven’t already, please help yourself and tell your friends.

Jim Downey

 

 



With apologies to Ursula K. Le Guin

So, since I haven’t been blogging here much in the last couple of years, I haven’t said anything about just how surreal it was working to finish my novel about a global pandemic … while an actual global pandemic was unfolding around us.

Yeah. Seriously. Real Lathe of Heaven stuff, making me wonder about just how much my envisioning a given reality was bleeding into this reality.

To a certain extent this had been an ongoing problem with writing St Cybi’s Well, as I had mentioned previously. I had to keep going back and making the ‘dystopia’ of SCW worse as our own world took a turn for the worse with the election of Trump, elements of Christian fascism seemed to be in ascendancy, et cetera.

But this year, after I had gotten a solid re-start on finishing St Cybi’s Well, watching the Covid-19 virus start to spread, was just … bizarre. And as you’ll see when you read the book, how the virus spread and the efforts that various governments tried to curtail it was pretty much exactly as what happened in real life. Fortunately, of course, C-19 hasn’t proven to be nearly as deadly as the Fire-Flu.

Well, at least not yet.

< shiver >

Jim Downey



“… telling you a tale that just *might* be real.”

So, almost two months ago I ‘officially’ launched the publication of St Cybi’s Well.

No, I didn’t forget to mention it here. Since I have allowed this blog to go quiet, I didn’t see it as an important venue to announce it, and figured that it would make a little more sense to just let the book exist in the wild for a little while, then write about the reactions to it.

Currently, there are 14 reviews on Amazon, with an overall rating of 4.9 stars. Some are from friends. Some are from acquaintances. Some are from complete strangers. Among the reviews I have my favorites, and not necessarily ones which say good things. At this point, after struggling with the book for so long, I have very mixed feelings about it.

But my strongest emotion about the book, and something that keeps coming up in the reviews of it, is just how surreal it is to have finished the book during the middle of a real pandemic, and having our reality seeming to follow the path I had laid out in the book. Here are some excerpts as examples of what I mean.

The first review, by someone who backed my Kickstarter and had an advance copy of St Cybi’s:

With some recent political developments and COVID-19, I found this unsettlingly realistic.

And from other readers:

That he wrote this well before our current pandemic was even a thing is a testament to his spooky prescience

And:

The images are vivid and remain. No one took epidemic plagues too seriously anymore, Polio was long ago. But since Covid and Ebola, there is a realization that the 4 Horsemen of the Apocolypse are alive and kicking.

And:

What I found most compelling is the almost prescient storyline of the Fire Flu and its attendant effects on society. I can’t imagine a more difficult proposition than trying to finish your novel about an apocalyptic disease while having to do so with one currently taking over the news. There are some eerie moments in the book where it feels as though it’s a ‘ripped from the headlines’ story.

And:

Set in 2012, the overlap with current events in 2020 is uncanny.

And:

the story is kind of terrifying considering its striking similarity to current events

Of course, I’m not prescient. I had no real idea that the coronavirus pandemic was coming, though I had long known that we were about due for another pandemic and were likely unprepared for it. And what I put into the book about how the FireFlu virus spread, and how people reacted to it, was just based on history. What we’re seeing now … all the good and bad of it … was entirely predictable, because it is the sort of reaction that human societies have always had to pandemics.

Which, of course, doesn’t give me any comfort. As is said in one of the reviews:

I ended up feeling that the story is part of what science fiction does best – telling you a tale that just *might* be real.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Download my book, or order a paper copy. If money is a little tight, wait until the first of the month, and download it for free. And please, if you do read it, leave a review.

Thanks.

Jim Downey



Free books!

Just a quick note: both Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year are available for free download today! Go get ’em! Tell your friends! Tell your family! Tell your pets!

Except fish. Fish don’t like books. At least as far as I know.

 

Jim Downey



Living in the future.

Via Lawyers, Guns & Money, this passage from an article about current naval warship technology:

The biggest reason to build big ships may be the promise of electricity generation. The most interesting innovations in naval technology involve sensors, unmanned technology, lasers, and railguns, most of which are power intensive. Larger ships can generate more power, increasing not only their lethality (rail guns, sensors) but also their survivability (anti-missile lasers, defensive sensor technologies, close-defense systems).

Unmanned technology. Lasers. Railguns.

Tell me that ain’t living in a science fiction future.

And speaking of the future, tomorrow is the first of the month. And that means the Kindle edition of both Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year will be available for free download. Help yourself!

 

Jim Downey



Just one problem …

She stood there before the large table at one end of the closed hanger. The whole space was brilliantly illuminated by the lights high overhead, but additional work lights illuminated the piece of debris on the table from several additional angles, so that there were almost no shadows cast. The white paint had been abraded. There were smudges of something like algae here and there.  Barnacles were clustered along joints, where they could get purchase either on the flaperon itself, or on other barnacles which had attached before them. There were even bits of seaweed, still drying.

“It looks fine to me. I mean, just what I would expect after more than a year in the ocean.”

“Yeah.”

“So, it’s from Flight MH370. What’s the problem? Why’d you call me in?”

The man handed her a clipboard containing a paper report. She took it, glanced at it. “I don’t read French. What’s it say?”

“Well, among other things, the barnacles are dead.”

“I guessed that from the smell.”

“Yeah, but what’s interesting is that the lab determined that the barnacles were more dead than they should be. I mean, they had been dead longer than expected.”

“Oh? Why? What killed them?”

He reached out, as if he were going to touch one with his gloved hand, then thought better of it. He continued to look at the encrustations. “Starved to death. Seems they couldn’t digest the plankton there off of Réunion.”

“Why not? That’s where the barnacles are from, aren’t they?”

“Yep. That’s exactly the type found there.” He turned to look at her again. “Just one problem: these barnacles can only digest left-handed proteins.”

She sighed, looked down at the clipboard out of habit, even though she knew she couldn’t read what was there. Then she looked back to the man. “Mirror lifeforms. Dammit.”

“Yeah.”

“And they promised — PROMISED — that this wouldn’t happen again! OK, I’ll alert the Council.”

“Thanks.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tomorrow is the first of the month, and both Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year will be available for free download all day tomorrow.

 

Jim Downey



Net worth.

“Here ya go!” said the salesman with almost sincere enthusiasm as he handed the key fob across the desk to me. “Your Googel AutoDrive Sedan is ready and waiting!”

“Thanks,” I said, with little desire to mask my exhaustion. I hated buying cars. I took the fob, stood up to go.

“Oh, one last thing …”

I cringed. Looked at him. He still had a gleam in his eye. Which I knew meant he hadn’t finished toying with me yet. “Yes?”

“In going through your profile, I noted that your credit score was … a tad low.” His smile widened just a bit.

“So? I financed it through MegaLoan. You got your money.”

“Well, yes,” he said. “But I wasn’t talking about the financing … ”

I waited to see where this was going. I was sure it wasn’t going to be someplace I liked.

He didn’t disappoint me. His smile broadened even more. “As you know, the AutoDrive system is programmed to consider every possible factor in road safety and benefit to society — in full accordance with all relevant laws.”

“Yes?”

“Well … how shall I put this … your low credit score means that in some situations, AutoDrive may elect to …” he paused to savor the effect “… maximize the benefits to society in the event of an accident.”

“Sorry?”

“Well, if the situation warrants, someone who has a better credit score … who provides a greater benefit to society, as shown by their assets and wealth creation … may be deemed less expendable than you are.”

“WHAT?!?!?!”

I had hoped my outrage would startle him. Instead, he licked his lips. “Now, now, not to worry. There’s an easy way to mitigate the chances of that happening.”

I sighed. “How much?”

“Well, we have a Net Worth insurance policy we offer which will indemnify society against loss of more valuable citizens, available on a sliding scale …”

 

 

Jim Downey



Well, however you get there, I suppose …

Via Topless Robot, this article/video from the New York Times:

Sex Dolls That Talk Back

Matt McMullen has proved that some people are willing to spend thousands on sex dolls.

* * *
Mr. McMullen’s new project, which he is calling Realbotix, is an attempt to animate the doll. He has assembled a small team that includes engineers who have worked for Hanson Robotics, a robotics lab that produces shockingly lifelike humanoid robots.

Mr. McMullen is first focusing on developing convincing artificial intelligence, and a robotic head that can blink and open and close its mouth. He’s also working to integrate other emerging technologies, like a mobile app that acts like a virtual assistant and companion, and virtual reality headsets that can be used separately or in tandem with the physical doll.

 

It’s accepted wisdom that many new technologies come into their own and are quickly disseminated through the public when a way can be found to use them for sex and/or the depictions of same. Printing. VHS tapes. DVDs. The internet. Smartphone Apps like Tinder or Grindr.

So why not artificial intelligence?

Which isn’t the way I saw the technology for an expert system/assistant like Seth developing, but hey, I suppose whatever works …

 

Jim Downey



Freedom First.

Playing a bit off of the title of my previous blog post …

Starting tomorrow, and until further notice, the First of the month for each month will mean that you can download Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year for free. Each month. Every month.

Why? Because offering free downloads is one of the basic promotional tools on the Kindle platform. It’s a way to generate sales and interest in a book. And also because it’s important to get the books to readers who may not be able to afford even the modest price of an e-book. For someone struggling as a care-provider, sometimes even a $2.99 price tag can be hard to budget for. Likewise for people who find themselves on hard times, and need a little hope and escape … something which I like to think Communion of Dreams can provide.

So we’ll give this a try. If you know anyone who might enjoy either or both books, let ’em know that they can download them for free tomorrow. And July 1st. And August 1st. And …

 

Jim Downey



“But books, I now understand, are entirely different.”

A very nice meditation on physical versus electronic books, and how each has a role in the world: In a Mother’s Library, Bound in Spirit and in Print

From the piece:

Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth over the merits of print versus digital books so many times, it’s as if I were in an abusive relationship with myself. But my mother’s passing and the sentimental value of her library have finally put an end to that debate in my head. It’s not that one is superior to the other. They each have their place in this modern world.

For example, I love listening to audiobooks when I drive. And taking a Kindle on a long trip is nothing short of magical. But that doesn’t mean I want my mother’s old Kindle to remember her by. And I certainly wouldn’t get much from her Audible collection.

Instead, I want her physical books. I want to be able to smell the paper, to see her handwriting inside, to know that she flipped those pages and that a piece of her lives on through them.

I understand the “back and forth”. On the one hand, I love the fact that something in excess of thirty thousand Kindle edition copies of Communion of Dreams have been downloaded. On the other, I’m a book conservator.

As a conservator, as well as a huge fan of the appropriate use of technology, I’ll say this: for convenience, electronic. For permanence, print. My smartphone has dozens of different books on it, and access to millions more. But there’s not a digital technology out there that has anywhere the stability of paper and ink.

Choose wisely.

 

Jim Downey