Communion Of Dreams


Coming soon, to a reality near you.

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.”

“Understood.”

“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.

 

Jim Downey



Another excerpt.

The writing continues to go well. Thought I’d share this bit from today:

She looked around the edge of the table, to where his shoulder bag sat on the floor. “Got your hand-held in there?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Get it out, search St. Winefride’s plus 1917.”

Darnell picked up his bag, opened the pocket where his hand-held was, took it out. He turned it on, and while it booted up looked at Megan, who was calmly finishing her dinner, watching him.  He tapped an icon on the phone.

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

“Andi, find me information on St. Winefride’s Well in Holywell which is either tagged 1917 or has that date in the entry.”

“Very good. The search results are displayed on your screen. Would you like me to read relevant passages?”

“No, thanks. That will be all.”

“Very good.”

Darnell looked at Megan. “The assistant isn’t very good at finding context in articles, usually just reads the sentence with the specific information requested. Is there a specific reference you had in mind?”

“Yeah. Is there a link to a blog called ‘Well Hopper’ there?”

“Yup.”

“Try that one. Should be towards the end.”

Darnell went to the blog post, scanned down through the entry. “Yeah, here it is: All early descriptions and illustrations of the well indicate that the volume of water flowing from the well was  much greater than that seen today, the spring forming a small river that ran from the well.   Disaster struck the well at 8am on 5th january 1917 when nearby mining works struck and diverted the underground stream that fed the well causing the well to run dry. Eventually another source was found to feed the well; however the force of this is much less and the well now forms a modest bathing area outside the shrine rather than the rapid stream that used to flow from the building in earlier days.

He looked up at her. “Huh. So, it’s not really the same well?”

“Does the source of the water matter more than where it emerges?” She sipped her wine, considered, then continued. “You went there, expecting one thing because of your previous experience at the place.”

“Yeah, but I did what you told me, and tried to see the place as the believers see it.”

“But Dar,” she said, “you didn’t try to believe. You just tried to see their perspective. There’s a difference.”

“Now, wait a minute …”

“Don’t get upset. I didn’t figure that this would be something you could do on your first try. You’d been there before, and were necessarily going to have some understandable barriers in place.” She smiled. “It was a good start. Leave it at that, and move on.”

 

Jim Downey

And yes, that is a real blog post. Remember, St. Cybi’s Well is set in 2012, in a timeline very close to our own. There will be a lot of material in the book drawn straight from our reality.