Thursday, November 07, 2013

The dawn of a "predictive" era?

MSFHelp crowd-fund the new Museum of Science Fiction -- to be established in Washington D.C. The MSF plans to have interactive exhibits that explore the history and ideas of science fiction, in books and film -- the intersection of science and the imagination. Right now they are raising money through Indiegogo for a Preview Location as a first step toward the museum. Take a look at their video -- and help fund this worthy project. 

Then some big news: The Chinese Science Fiction Congress in Chengdu will, in a couple of weeks, honor me with a Galaxy Award for "most popular foreign author" among SF readers in China. My thanks go out to all the voters, readers, authors and professionals in the burgeoning Chinese science fiction fandom who participated in this selection, "uplifting" me to this honor.  I am thrilled and deeply moved.

7536692935.01._SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_Indeed, nothing gives me greater optimism about the human future  than the rapid rise of science fiction in China! You will see why, next year, when Ken Liu's excellent English language translation appears for Liu Cixin's spectacular three-part novel, "The Three Body Problem," which was a tremendous leap forward for Chinese SF.  And more thrills are coming. The winner of the Best Novel category in this year's China's Xingyun (Nebula) Awards is a book that paints a pessimistic, dark view of a corrupt near-future China.  The Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan takes place in the 2020s, and depicts a dystopian future -- the kind of literary exploration that shows a nation self-confident enough to relish and benefit from dark criticism.

== A new era of "smart mobs"? ==

AGEAMATEURSReaders have seen a number of my tales feature a rising "Age of Amateurs" in which ad hoc associations of citizens have the right, ability and initiative to make as much difference in human affairs as corporations and government agencies.  Now ponder this. The First AAAI Conference on Human Computation and Crowdsourcing (HCOMP-2013) will be held November 6-9, 2013 in Palm Springs, California.  How I wish I could attend! (I'll instead be an a European Union conference on the future of the Information Age in Vilnius, Lithuania. ) The Palm Springs conclave will appraise "systems that rely on programmatic access to human intellect to perform some aspect of computation, or where human perception, knowledge, reasoning, or physical activity and coordination contributes to the operation of larger computational systems, applications, and services."

In other words, how networked problem solving systems can make use of human beings as intelligent nodes, sensors, actuators and solvers of sub-problems, empowering a dispersed system to crowd-source overall solutions…  pretty much as I depict happening in our near future, in EXISTENCE.

I hope someone will report in from the event in the desert and let us all know how it goes. Let's hope this trend will bode well for us all.

== A Helvetian War? ==

Hordes of bankrupt French invade Switzerland to get their hands on their “stolen” money — such is the imaginary scenario cooked up by the Swiss military in simulation exercises recently.

Sound familiar? In my novel EARTH (1989) people of the year 2038 look back upon the horrific "Helvetian War" of the 2020s, when 30 developing nations declared hostilities with Switzerland and other banking havens, in order to track down the trillions stolen by former kleptocratic lords.  What started as a legalistic "phony war" allowing the beligerants to seize property quickly turned violent and eventually neighbors in Europe joined in…. turning the Glarus Alps into radioactive slag.  An unusual scenario(!) that fans found both fascinating and unlikely.

Unlikely?  Hm. So much so the Swiss Army is taking it seriously, it seems.  Indeed, let me go farther. Something like it is starting to look (alas) unavoidable.

== Other pred--brin-ictions ==

Then there's this. One fan wrote in "Hey Dr. Brin, chalk up another one for your predictions registry! #2 of mentions that Sweden is "designing toilets that will extract the precious phosphorus from our [urine]."  All right.  That one was from Existence.  In that novel I portrayed denizens of our near future using the "Phosphorus-recovery Urinal" or P.U. Heck, I thought that up mostly for fun! Eep. Even slightly off color tech humor is coming true, now!

StarshipCenturyAnd speaking of bold predictions: Forbes presents Three Scenarios for funding Interstellar Travel, in a review of  Starship Century: Toward the Grandest Horizon, the fascinating anthology of essays and stories about interstellar flight, edited by the Benford Boys, with contributions by Stephen Hawking, Freeman Dyson, Peter Schwartz, and me… among others….

== Predictions from other sci fi ==

My friend Dr. Erik Virre is interviewed about the latest X Prize competition to build an honest-to-gosh Star Trek Medical Tricorder.  The devices are going to measure vital signs, assess medical conditions, and wrap all the systems into a useable mobile platform, and the winners announced in the summer of 2015.

== Troubles with Quibbles ==

IndianaJones-RaidersOfTheLostArkOn “The Raiders Minimization” episode of The Big Bang Theory, Amy Farrah Fowler watches Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time with Sheldon Cooper. Afterward, Amy explains, “If Indiana Jones weren’t in the movie, the Nazis would have still found the Ark, taken it to the island, opened it up, and all died, just like they did.”  Hence the show's smartass writers proclaim a "gotcha" on Steven Spielberg.

Actually, this is entirely wrong.  Because Indiana Jones had proved to be a doughty adversary he was brought to the island so the Nazis could gloat, as he was forced to witness their triumph.  This resulted in:

1) a qualified witness to the power and glory of the Lord, and

2) the provision of a new home for the Ark. The very last scene makes clear that  America is morally deserving to keep it... but not mature enough to be trusted to use it.  Hence it "vanishes" into the storehouse catacombs.  Jones was instrumental and key to achieving that end, his purpose. My only quibble is that he should have had a touch of gray in his hair after that close brush with The Light.  It was a cool effect in The Ten Commandments.  Hey Raiders was a great film! From back when George Lucas actually cared about story. (Anything touched by Spielberg is gonna be just fine, anyway.)

== Speaking of Quibbles… or Tribbles… ==

… sign up for Sasquan -- the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention -- in Spokane WA in August 2015, with Guests of Honor David Gerrold and Vonda M. McIntyre.

4130XXin3OL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There will be a bonus "Train-Con" for those using Amtrak to get to Spokane, from either Seattle or Chicago.

== And Sci Fi Miscellany ==

In this moving interview on NPR, Terry Pratchett, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease and can no longer read, describes how he used dictation software to revisit and revise a new edition of his very first novel, The Carpet People (published in 1971, when he was only 17!). The book is illustrated by the author.

Zombie-ApoclaypseJohn Ringo has off-color fun leading you through his "proof" that a zombie apocalypse is inevitable.

== And finally ==

Some excellent advice for J.J. Abrams before he locks in his plan for the renewed Star Wars universe.  And I agree with the points in this lovely little video!

Still, as you all probably know, my quibbles run a whole lot deeper, down at the level where the prequels actually betrayed the fundamental moral elements of the earlier trilogy!  Where they actually started conveying some truly vile messages. Or at least, that was my case as "prosecutor" in the fantastically fun (and wise!) volume STAR WARS ON TRIAL.

And yes.  I have long promised you that extensive essay on James Cameron's wonderful epic Avatar… and how it does not preach the things that Mr. Cameron thinks it preaches, alas.  The essay is finished.  
Looking for the right venue.



jim said...

Hi David,
Here is a link to Eric Drexler's new paper on the progress and pathways to Atomically Precise Manufacturing (what use to be known as nanotechnology)

It is a nice review of how far we have progressed and lays out a probable pathway to APM. It is also kind of interesting that he is aiming this at the Chinese.

Jonathan S. said...

It seems to me that if Indy hadn't been interfering, the French archaeologist would have been overridden by the Nazis on board the sub, and the Ark would have been taken directly to Berlin and opened in the presence of the Fuhrer.

It then becomes an open question whether WWII would have ended then and there, or dragged on longer as a more sane Fuhrer took over...

matthew said...

OK, Mr. Only-Comet-Expert-I-Know, what the hell is going on here? NASA's Hubble Sees Asteroid Spout Six Comet-like Tails
Seriously, this thing is a scifi short story come to life. Insight?

Does the description of "this is just how small asteroids die, we've just never seen it before" hold much weight with you? Anyone else have an opinion that doesn't start with the alien probe has decided to launch its' missiles? Cause that is what my money is on.

Patricia Mathews said...

Dr. Brin, the Helvetian War or its equivalent may well be inevitable. Back during the 1990s and part of the 00's, it seemed to be out of a clear blue sky. Or to use a metaphor I like to use, EARTH described the tinder for it admirably, but not the spark that turned it into a forest fire. After 2007, the spark became crystal clear - an economic crash. So, yes. ("We'll hang some banksters from a sour apple tree ... but our debts go marching on. Gory, gory..."

Anonymous said...

Something about this web page drinks my computer's blood - or rather it drains its energy by taking up almost 90% of a CPU. The lower part of the page on the right side, starting at "Subscribe to Contrary Brin", twitches up and down by about 3 pixels. There is some kind of instability going on there that taxes my cpu and makes my cooling fan run. Not a pleasant web experience - this is the worst page I have found. Anybody else seeing this? - I'm using Chrome v. 30, but this has been a problem for a long time. The problem does not happen with Safari 5.1 on Mac 10.6.8.

Tim H. said...

Anon., sounds like flash issues, I don't have chrome on this mac so can't say for sure, but sounds like you'll want to only look at this page in safari. BTW, safari 7.0 in MacOS 10.9 is much improved, and the price is very right, if your hardware's new enough.

Rob said...

I've always felt that the only reason the Nazis stopped to open the Ark was because there was a chance that Indy had found some way to swap it out with a decoy before loading it on the ship, knowing that they would be looking for him, and sending the true Ark via a different route.

That, and Belloq was looking for a way to seize the power for himself.

Rob said...

On the possibility of a Helvetian War...put me in the "unlikely" camp. Given that the lion's share of those trillions of dollars exist as electronic bits, not physical gold coins or other such instruments, militarily assaulting the Alps would be a particularly useless (in fact, counterproductive and stupid) way to go about recovering them. Most likely such a "war" would play out in cyberspace, with the various parties attempting to find a way to secretly transfer those bits into accounts they controlled (probably residing on servers in those same Helvetian institutions). Physically capturing or destroying those servers would at best merely wipe out those accounts, which is not the preferred outcome I'm sure; at worst it would prove wholly fruitless, as backups maintained at remote locations around the world would still retain the allocations of those funds to their original owners' accounts.

Rob said...

As far as where to publish the Avatar essay, I suppose it depends on whether or not you want to get paid for it. If not, then why not put it up on your own website?

sociotard said...

A Helvetian war that actually hit all the good banking havens would have to include the City Of London Corporation, which is protected and in the heart of one of the US's best allies. Never gonna happen.

Anonymous said...

I said this to my wife while watching Big Bang Theory, and I'll repeat it here: The Ark was supposed to be flown to Berlin, not taken by Sub. Indy blew up the plane, leading to the events on the island.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or does Indy ride a buttoned up U-boat all the way to some Greek island? Dosen't it ever submerge?

Robert said...

I actually had an odd thought when watching various clips concerning the giant monster movie "Pacific Rim" (which I do recommend for the sheer fun aspect, though it was a film I could watch with the inner scientist still running around active and kibitzing about the film and various elements... and yet loving every moment of it): the general feel of the movie would work very well for ANOTHER distant-future scifi setting, the Warhammer 40K universe.

Both PR and 40K suffer from a "used tech" feel and tend toward a gothic aspect to its architecture. And 40K also has the rather silly aspect of giant robots fighting armies and alien robots as well. ;) Though if I were the one to craft a 40K movie, I'd not tell a story about the genetically-engineered Space Marines or even the gigantic Titan war machines (though they might be in the background). Instead, I'd focus on the Imperial Guard. It's humanity in its hopeless yet eternal fight for survival that truly drives a fan's interest.

Seriously. Why would anyone care about someone who looks like a football player on steroids who's been brainwashed into a pure killing machine? Outside of a few hardcore fans, the real interest is in the "normal" people who fight because they have to and who prevail despite overwhelming odds.

But that's just me.

Rob H.

Duncan Cairncross said...

does Indy ride a buttoned up U-boat all the way to some Greek island? Dosen't it ever submerge?

That was the secret of the WW1 U-Boats, carried over into WW2
The Germans realized that a U-Boat was a surface warship that submerged to hide or attack and designed the hull accordingly

They had a surface speed about 17knots and a submerged speed of about 7knots and very limited range on the batteries

Sometime in WW2 they invented the snorkel so they could use the diesels when just submerged

So yes in time of peace for speed they would have remained on the surface
BUT they would have had a watch officer in the tower all the time

LarryHart said...

Hey, it's nice to see so many other people remember "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in great detail. I couldn't get enough of it when it came out in '81. I remember literally jumping out of my seat at many of the suspense/action scenes, a roller-coaster ride I doubt I've experienced since then at a movie.

And Nazi villains are always fun. Especially appropriate today, recalling the 75th anniversary of Krystalnacht, an act of (government) terrorism which also took place on 9/11, albeit "9/11" in the European convention of date/month.

To agree/clarify with previous comments about the fate of the Lost Ark: Yes, it was originally to be "flown to Berlin" on the plane that Indy caused to explode (Belloq heard the plane explosion and immediately deduced that Jones had escaped the snake pit). Then it was loaded on a "truck for Cairo" (Indy: "What truck?"), which Indy commandeered, and INDY'S allies actually took the ark on a boat until that boat was intercepted by the Nazi sub. Submarine transport was never part of the Nazi plan for the Ark.

Now that we know that, what do we know?

Alex Tolley said...

Anything touched by Spielberg is gonna be just fine, anyway

Hmm. Maybe as director, but not as just [executive] producer. He has been involved in some absolute turkeys (check out the imdb listings). Arguably he peaked in the the 1990's and it has been mostly downhill since.

LarryHart said...

Speaking of Nazi villains, Dr Brin, I would love to see an on-screen version of your "Thor Meets Captain America". Unfortuanately, in the wake of the big new Marvel films, you'd never get to use that title, and probably could no longer get away with a non-Marvel version of Thor. And independent of all things Marvel, I doubt mainstream Hollywood could do your story without a more cheaply-upbeat ending. Still and all, I'd like to see someone try to bring that story more into the mainstream consciousness.

I wonder again whether Robert Harris, author of the alternate-history novel "Fatherland" took any inspiration from your story. While his novel has no supernatural aspects, the backstory for his fictional world of 1964 reminds me of yours in many ways.

In fact, I feel a re-read coming on. :)

Alex Tolley said...

Three Scenarios for funding Interstellar Travel

They all seem like wishful thinking to me, completely ignoring the costs. I am also a little tired on unjustified economic growth projections. The planet will be 1000x richer in a few centuries than now? Not even a suggestion that there may be limits to growth? A world where GDP is 1000x larger means aggregate demand is 1000x larger which means that energy consumption will be much larger and personal consumption will be much larger. Or is it all going to be expensive personal spacecraft?

Jumper said...

The awful secretive treaty everyone should oppose, vociferously.

I hope our friends outside the U.S. will help raise hell about it too.

LarryHart said...


On the possibility of a Helvetian War...put me in the "unlikely" camp. Given that the lion's share of those trillions of dollars exist as electronic bits, not physical gold coins or other such instruments, militarily assaulting the Alps would be a particularly useless (in fact, counterproductive and stupid) way to go about recovering them.

Which begs an interesting thought experiment. When (say) rogue dictators make off with their nations' wealth and send it to Switzerland or whatever, and that "wealth" consists largely of electronic representations, what exactly is it that they have "made off with"?

Seems to me that, despite Randian rhetoric about objective value, what gets moved to an off-shore bank is an illusion that is only real to the extent that the various international banks agree to abide by the representation. The thief is "wealthy" and the native land is "impoverished" only becaue their respective computer systems are all in agreement that this is the case.

To me, this suggests a characteristically modern method or revolution. When the 99.9% see that they have no vested interest in adhering to the shared illusion and just stop doing so.

This also suggests similar methods of civil disobeience to treaties such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership that allow evil corporations to override local environmental and consumer protections. "Allow" how? Such agreements are totally dependent on the local courts and police going along with the game. What reason do those local entities have for doing so?

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Such agreements are totally dependent on the local courts and police going along with the game. What reason do those local entities have for doing so?"

The best reason in the world - once passed by their Parliaments these become the law of the land

I know the USA tends to ignore treaties it has signed but most other countries don't

The best way is to get Parliament not to sign

LarryHart said...

@Duncan Carincross,

You are talking about business as usual. I'm talking about revolutionary action, when it becomes clear that Parliament (or in my case, Congress) is not responsive to the will of the people and is instead selling us down the river.

I'm suggesting a rather bloodless way of not participating in my own ensalvement and murder, should it come to that.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I'm talking about revolutionary action,

Forgive me - I don't associate "the local courts and police" with revolutionary action

LarryHart said...

@Duncan Cairncross

Yeah, I see what you mean. :)

I guess that's why I'm using the "Occupy Wall Street" rhetoric about the 99.9% When the proportion of the population which feels itself left out of the political process reaches such near-unanimity, that proportion will INCLUDE most (if not all) of the local authorities. When a corporation sues a state or county over its local environmental or consumer protections and this lawsuit is the FIRST THE LOCALITY HAS HEARD about the fact that they were constrained by a treaty that was snuck into law without their input, which does not benefit them in the least in return for what it forces upon them, there just may be a tendency for the localty to say "Make me!"

I'm not sure what would happen after that. We're in interesting times.

LarryHart said...

A further question about treaties such as the TPP or its Atlantic equivalent. (And I'm really asking the question--I don't know the answer).

Why/how does a treaty signed between nations allow trans-national CORPORATIONS to sue over local ordinances? Does (say) Korea sue the state of Illinois or the nation of France on behalf of (ay) Samsung, or does Samsung get to sue cities, states and nations itself? Who is party to the treaty and who is party to the lawsuits?

Another question I don't know the answer to: Usually, I think of treaties as an exchange of value between nations. "We'll do this for you and you'll do that for us." Each side gives up a possible advantage in exchange for a different advantage offered by the other side.

On the other hand, from alll indications I hear, the TPP sounds like an agreement among nations to give up sovreignty in exchange for...what exactly? What's the upside to ANY of the signatories> Is this supposed to be a treaty or a surrender document?

TheMadLibrarian said...

Anyone gt more links to the so-called 'train-con', for people taking Amtrak to the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane? Amtrak (whose website is notoriously clunky) has nothing about it, so I was hoping for some extra information. As if I needed another reason to visit that corner of the country!

nskesse: planning committee for WorldCons

David Brin said...

I'll have more on Traincon probably in May….