Tag Archives: Science Fiction

PKD Predicted…Well, Everything.

new_letters_walker-bladerunn

Five months before he died, Philip K. Dick (PKD to obsessive fans such as I) wrote this.

The movie Blade Runner which was adapted from his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep has, as we know, become a classic of modern cinema.

But PKD died a month before the movie was released and never got to see it in full.  It’s important to remember that, apart from being one of the most influential movies of all time, Blade Runner was also a huge commercial flop.  It completely bombed out in the cinemas and it was only through the gradual accumulation of cult status that the movie was saved from the dustbin of history. Which makes PKD’s prediction all the more Nostradamus-like:

The impact of Blade Runner is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people – and I believe, on Science Fiction as a field.

I have for a long time been a compulsive viewer of this movie.

Some people turn to Lord of the Rings. Some to Star Wars. Some to Harry Potter. Some depraved individuals even turn to Willow.

But I have always been a Blade Runner man (and to an equal extent, Alien) and so it was of no small importance to me when I came across PKD’s letter of October 11 1981.

I have to admit, I have read pretty much everything that PKD wrote.  And I still enjoy re-reading his short stories and novels.  Given there is less time to read than there once was, I turn to his shorts more often; somehow in their brevity they seem to contain the zaniness of his philosophy more fully.

Anyhow, I won’t rant about the glory of PKD any longer.  This short clip of a Nexus-6 replicant can do the talking.

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Cyborg Bugs, or, Skynet Part 4

This came across my desk this morning (thanks to bureau of information gathering).

The creation of a cyborg insect army has just taken a step closer to reality. A research team at UC  Berkeley recently announced that it has successfully implanted electrodes into a beetle allowing scientists to control the insect’s movements in flight.

“We demonstrated the remote control of insects in free flight via an implantable radioequipped miniature neural stimulating system.”

The research, supported by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is part of a broader effort which has been looking specifically at different approaches to implanting micro-mechanical systems into insects in order to control their movements.

Eventually, the mind-controlled insects could be used to “serve as couriers to locations not easily accessible to humans or terrestrial robots,” they note.

Now, I’m not usually one to pander to conspiracy theories on this blog, but this does seems to have the very recognisable imprint of a certain insidious multinational conglomerate out to destroy humankind through robotic devices (otherwise known as Terminators).

Don’t you think?

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Lightning Fast Robotic Hand

Scared, anyone?

Resemble anything vaguely familiar from Science Fiction?

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Paul Krugman talks SF

hal1

Autocorrecting your spreadsheet is bad enough, imagine HAL9000 in charge of autocorrecting your spreadsheet?

Paul Krugman, whose column I read at the NY Times, was recently in conversation with SF author Charlie Stross in Montreal.

It’s a unique discussion, not least because it involves a dismal scientist trying to bridge the gap with a fictional scientist.

There’s a lot of interesting questions raised, like why the rate of technological change hasn’t been able to match the predictions of SF classics like Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and Greg Bear’s Blood Music.

Says Krugman:

What you came out believing if you went to the New York’s World Fair in 1964 was that we were going to have this enormously enhanced mastery of the physical universe. That we were going to have undersea cities and supersonic transports everywhere.

And there hasn’t been that kind of dramatic change.

My favorite test, which shows something about me, is the kitchen.  If you walked into a kitchen from the 1950’s it would look a little pokey, but you’d know what to do. It wouldn’t be that difficult. If someone from the 1950’s walked into a kitchen from 1909 they’d be pretty unhappy – they might just be able to manage. If someone from 1909 went to one from 1859, you would actually be hopeless.

The big change was really between 1840 and the 1920’s, in terms of what the physical nature of modern life is like. There’s been nothing like that since.

And Stross on Genomics:

They have sequenced quite a few mammalian and other genomes and it’s getting cheaper all the time.

Craig Venter came up with an interesting project a couple of years ago to sequence the Pacific Ocean.  If you have a bucket of seawater, it contains probably on the order of a billion organisms most of which are viruses, probably single virus particles in that bucket from a number of species. It turns out when they did shotgun sequencing on a bucket of seawater 98% of the genes they discovered were hitherto unknown.  About 90% of those unknown genes were from viruses and we have no idea what the host organisms of them were…basically, viral soup.

There’s a lot of stuff we don’t know about how the genome works. It’s not, as was widely thought in the 50’s and 60’s, a blueprint. It’s more like a very very messy snapshot of a running computer program.

I wonder if they got a few floating genes from Moby-Dick in that bucket?  That would explain why the sequencing went haywire.

And on my favourite hobbyhorse, AI, augmented intelligence, and general crackpot conspiracies:

PK: We’ve gone for augmented intelligence, not artificial intelligence.

PK: And it’s the weirdest thing – by finding the eigenvector with the largest eigenvalue you end up in effect doing a computer meld of many peoples’ intelligence without knowing it.

CS: Actually, Amazon is very big on human intelligence emulating AI.  They have a system called the Mechanical Turk where they pay people piecework to do basic tasks and farm them out using the network and if you want to throw money at a problem, you can find a hundred thousand pairs of eyes to work on it if you can divide it up suitably.

PK: Whatever the algorithm that Amazon uses to make recommendations…

CS: That scares me.

Scares me too.  If you want to read on, here’s the full transcript.

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Mieville in Melbourne

TheScar(1stEd)

I’m not as big on SF as I used to be.

I used to be, back when it was called science fiction, before the genre was rebranded speculative fiction.

Every now and then I like to pick up a novel and re-ignite those boyhood neural circuits that were first set on fire by Tolkien, Eddings, Feist, Brooks, then Asimov, Clarke, Gibson, Le Guin, and Dick.  The glory days pretty much ended with PKD (Phillip K Dick) because that’s when I got a bit older and turned my attentions elsewhere.

The last thing I read in SF that opened my eyes was Iain M. Banks and his sprawling space operas the best of which I thought was The Algebraist.

But there’s an even better writer I’ve recently discovered (I know, I know, I’m awfuly behind) and he happens to be making an appearance in Melbourne in the near future.

He is, of course, China Mieville, and he’s appearing at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival to talk about his awesome, alternate realities as portrayed in The Scar and Perdido Street Station and most recently The City & the City.

Appart from being a SF novelist, China is also an out and out Marxist, having written Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law. He also teaches at the London School of Economics (where he completed his Ph D) in international relations and Marxism.

If this combination of elements causes you extreme excitement (as it does for me) then check out his upcoming lecture:

5.30 Thursday 20th August @ Melbourne Uni Law School.  I’ll be there for sure.

Maybe when I get some time I’ll revisit my early SF writing too.

I once wrote a cyberpunk story about a gladiator owned by the Neo-Tokyo yakuza.  My crazy brain decided that the best twist would be if he had a bomb inside him (not one he knew about) so that the yakuza could use him as a betting pawn.

They blew him up in the middle of the biggest bout in history and made, quite literally, a killing.

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