Category: Alternate Futures

Alternate Futures

Humanity’s Endgame

On Crossing the Event Horizon

Having crossed the event horizon of the technological singularity we’re beginning to see many social and technological effects of this convergence – some predictable, some not. Increasingly, we see stories of robotics and artificial intelligence as the former becomes more generally practical and the latter increasingly exceeds humans in endeavours from war games to art and writing to biomedical research. If the Turing test hasn’t been passed yet, it’s only a very short amount of time until that fateful day. These examples are on the predictable, or, ‘I told you so’ front. Less predictable have been the social changes that have come with the 2nd and 3rd level combination of technology. Of course, I’m referring primarily to the Internet, social media, and pocket-sized computing devices of great power and utility.

The Technological Singularity – a period in human history when technological development is so rapid that the developments arising from it alter society in ways we cannot predict beforehand.

While few will dare suggest which technological advancements will remake our world next (cheap space-based internet, neural-link interfaces, driverless cars, AI, quantum computing, moon bases…), fewer still would argue against us being in the midst of species-changing events. This has also meant no shortage of doomsayers. These days, pick any topic from climate change to gender identity to the political far left or far right and you’ll find someone who will suggest it will bring about the end of the world. With this global pessimism, it’s not a large stretch to begin contemplating the actual paths of humanity’s endgame. After all, even the dinosaurs, who existed for several hundred million years, all but disappeared – and they didn’t have nukes or other world/species-altering tech.

Note: While it’s true some species that existed at the time of the dinosaurs – such as crocodiles, turtles, and sharks, still exist, and birds are now known to have evolved from certain species of dinosaurs, the vast majority of the dinosaur species are now extinct. In the case of birds, it can also reasonably be argued that their ancestors are extinct as the forces of evolution have turned birds into a genetically distinct species.

The 3 possible futures of humanity: Extinction

One certainty of the universe is death. Plants die, animals die, people die, civilizations die, species die, planets die, stars and solar systems die, galaxies die, and even universes might die (the jury is still out on that one). Everything dies (sorry for the downer). But on an up note, it’s all part of a cyclical process of renewal. Without the death of the parts, the whole cannot be renewed and the entire natural system would fail. So, the human species is doomed to die also. The only questions are ‘how?’ and ‘what legacy will we leave?’

In nature, there is only ever one endpoint for life and that is death. However, there are two fundamentally different legacies to that death and, as the only self-aware, technological species we know of, we are unique in being at the stage of development where we can choose our legacy.

Legacy 1: Progenitor

Humans have gone boldly and bodily into space and have stepped foot on another celestial body, albeit very briefly in regards to the long span of time (we’ve used automated vehicles for most of the other visitations). Finally, after forty-five years, it does seem that corporate (SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and others), political (the China / India space race is pushing the US), and social interests (Planetary Society, British Interplanetary Society) are again moving us toward a presence in space on extraterrestrial worlds. In my personal opinion, there are many reasons why this is crucially important and I’ll detail some in future posts. However, what’s important for the sake of this discussion is the long-term consequences.

By leaving our planetary nest and taking our first steps into the greater universe we take the first steps toward our own maturation as a species. Just as a child will leave the home, find a partner, and produce offspring, so too will the version of humanity that leaves Earth. While the humans of Earth are the parents, the various colonies will be as our offspring until they too mature, which will be increasingly easy after the first effort of the Terrans. So why does this lead to extinction?

Earth is a very hospitable environment. Space and other worlds are not. Even the few that might be will have different environmental conditions to Earth. Regardless of how similar they seem while viewing them from here at the very least, their biosphere will be strikingly different (if it isn’t, that will begin an entirely new existential crisis in humanity and especially the sciences). What this means is that a new strand of human evolution will begin from the first generation born on that colony. On every colony.

Given the distances of space and the time it takes to move between colonies, interstellar isolation would mean those new strands of evolution would diverge from the parental strand (humans) until they are no longer genetically close enough to breed productively. As humans, as we currently define them, become a smaller and smaller proportion of the galactic population, they may eventually give way entirely to the newer species or, at the very least, be effectively consigned to their Earthly domain.

Legacy 2: Dead End

Simply put, humanity, for any number of reasons, may either choose not to leave the planet or may wait too long to leave the planet and have the decision removed from us. If this happens, our species will either stagnate before ‘giving up’ and dying (something that appears to be a natural in-built mechanism of renewal and possibly overcrowding as suggested by the Mouse Utopia Experiment) or we will turn on ourselves, imploding in an orgy of horror and destruction. My bet is actually on the first one since there is already some evidence we are headed that way and that, even if it doesn’t lead to our physical extinction, remaining forever locked to the planet will lead to a kind of psychological extinction.

Legacy 3: Vastly Increased Human Diversity

The final possibility, lying between the other two extremes but still extreme in itself, is that humanity incorporates the divergent evolutionary strands from different colonies into itself to evolve, with uniform possibility, into something more than we are now.

This would seem to be the least likely possibility at the moment, given our current understanding of the universe. It would require the development of propulsion techniques that could shorten the immense travel time between stars from generations to days or weeks allowing humanity could travel between worlds and interbreed before interstellar isolationism resulted in new species.

Given that our galaxy is 100,000 light-years across our current most optimistic estimate of being able to travel at 10% the speed of light would still mean it would require one million years to cross our galaxy. Even travelling to the nearest star would require forty years or at least one generation (and the birth of humans on generation ships brings entirely new issues, discussed fictionally by Kim Stanely Robinson in his book Aurora).

So, with our current understanding of the universe, the chance that humanity could naturally evolve, incorporating all the disparate new evolutionary colonial strands within one genetically-consistent framework is incredibly unlikely (even if it would be great). Of course, increases in biomedical and genetic knowledge may allow technology to take over where natural evolution falls short, so this still may be a viable hope.

Conclusion

As with an individual’s life, so too the life of a species by which I mean, it’s not the duration of the life that matters as much as the quality and the legacy left behind. The odds are that humanity will go extinct eventually and probably much faster than the dinosaurs did (to be fair, the term ‘dinosaurs’ encompasses and wide range of species, and ‘human’ just one). What is most important will be the legacy we leave behind.

We are the first species we know of that actually has the possibility of consciously spreading our descendants to the far reaches of the galaxy. It would be an amazing legacy to leave the universe that spawned us. Or, we could let our fear and self-loathing confine us to the Earth where we will eventually die out, forgotten by all as another failed experiment. The choice is ours.

Alternate Futures

Review: Nexus by Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings

Nexus (The Androma Saga #2)

by Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
Release Date: May 7th 2019Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Synopsis:
#1 New York Times bestselling authors Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings deliver the dazzling finale to the acclaimed Androma Saga, where stunning betrayals and devastating secrets send an embattled galaxy spiraling into the ultimate nightmare.
Her ship is gone, her crew is captured and notorious mercenary Androma Racella is no longer the powerful Bloody Baroness, but a fugitive ruthlessly hunted across the Mirabel Galaxy. The bloodthirsty Queen Nor now rules most of the galaxy through a mind-control toxin and she’ll stop at nothing to destroy her most hated adversary.
Andi will risk anything, even her precious freedom, to find a cure. Stranded with her unlikely ally, Dex, on the unforgiving ice planet of Solera, their plan to infiltrate a black-market city proves dangerously irresistible.
Back in Arcardius, Nor’s actions have opened Mirabel to invasion. As Andi’s crew fights to regain their freedom, Andi and Dex discover a threat far greater than anything they’ve faced before.
Only by saving their mortal enemy can the crew of the Maraudermake one last desperate strike to save the galaxy—unaware that a shattering, centuries-old secret may demand the most wrenching sacrifice of all.

My Take on Nexus

To begin with, it’s important to note that I haven’t read the first book in this duology, Zenith. I received Nexus to review from the Fantastic Flying Book Club. Despite this, however, information from the first story was woven subtly but completely enough into Nexus that I felt I had a good understanding of what happened without feeling like I’d been force-fed an infodump.

Nexus follows several characters – sometimes feeling a bit like Guardians of the Galaxy meets Star Wars – although the Bloody Baroness, space pirate Androma Racella is the main character. Following events of the previous book, she’s been brought low and has lost almost everything, very nearly including her life. The majority of the small Mirabel galaxy is now under the compulsion of queen Nor, with the help of her brother Valen, who controls the will of the people completely. Worse, she intends to tear open a rift in the dark void that would allow an alien race into the galaxy. It falls to Androma and her aptly-named right-hand man, Dextro, with the timely help of the mysterious Arachnid, to save the galaxy.

Nexus is a well-written story that moves along at an engaging pace. It’s been some time since I’ve read a science fiction novel that kept me turning the pages like this one. The main characters are interesting and each one feels unique. Both heroes and villains are well developed and we come to understand them as three-dimensional beings. The galaxy, although small, has had sufficient thought put into the world-building such that each system feels unique. This is, however, very soft-science fiction, with a great deal of magic masquerading as species traits. That’s not bad, and it plays an integral part in the story. It’s just useful to know before reading as some SF fans can be very selective about their sub-genre.

If I had any criticism of the story, it would have to be the weaker combat scenes. The authors seemed to shun writing in any detail about the combat to the point that I sometimes had trouble visualizing what was actually happening. Instead, each time they seemed to spend most of the conflict concentrating on the thoughts and feelings of the main characters. For me, this slowed down what should have been fast, dramatic scenes. However, these parts were few and far between and the true power of Nexus was in the intrigue built around the main plot. Especially, regarding the villains.

Overall, Nexus was a very enjoyable read and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys space fantasy – especially if you like ancient mystic powers, space pirates, and galactic-level threats.

Sasha Alsberg is the #1 NYT Bestselling Co-Author of ZENITH: The Androma Saga.
When Sasha is not writing or obsessing over Scotland she is making YouTube videos on her channel Abookutopia. She lives in Massachusetts with her dogs, Fraser and Fiona
For her writing, she is represented by Joanna Volpe at New Leaf Literary.

Lindsay Cummings is the #1 NYT Bestselling co-author of ZENITH, along with her duology, THE MURDER COMPLEX from Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, and the MG trilogy THE BALANCE KEEPERS, from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. She is represented by Pete Knapp at Park Literary in NYC.
Lindsay deals with chronic fatigue, writes full time from her home in the deep woods in North Texas, and loves to chat with fellow book nerds. Lindsay created the #booknerdigans hashtag.
She’s still waiting on her letter from Hogwarts–it was probably just lost in the mail. You can follow Lindsay on twitter @authorlindsayc or on instagram @authorlindsaycummings

Alternate Futures

Review and Giveaway of Dimension Drift prequel Umbra

Umbra
Christina Bauer
(Dimension Drift Prequels, #2)
Published by: Monster House Books
Publication date: March 26th 2019
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult

A prequel novella to the new series from USA Today’s ‘must read YA paranormal romance’ author, Christina Bauer.

One day, eighteen-year-old Thorne will be the Emperor of the Omniverse, the single being who rules countless worlds. Trouble is, his father Cole–who’s also the current Emperor–is a sadistic freak.

In fact, Cole won’t even keep his promises to the very humans who got him his throne.

Thorne won’t stand for it. He decides to travel to the human world and make good on his father’s promises. What he doesn’t count on is falling in love….

My Take (Review)

Umbra is the second prequel in the Dimensional Drift series by Christina Bauer, although it’s the first book I’ve read in the series. This series is a YA science fiction romance series, with fairly heavy empahsis on the romance, if Umbra is representative.

Umbra features the story of Thorne, third in line to the crown of the omniverse and weakest Sentient user in his family. Thorne and family use their connection to technology called ‘sentients’ (there are multiple types) to drift between Earths of different universes in the multiverse and stop calamaties, often caused by their enemies. On one such Earth, while aiding the humans who gave his father the Crown Sentient, Thorne encounters Meimi, the main character of the Dimensional Drift series. Without spoiling it for those who haven’t read the series, their relationship grows in ways that are important to the fate of both worlds.

Umbra features some very interesting worldbuilding, of which I would have liked to have seen more. Thorne’s imperial world that rules the omniverse should have a great deal of imperial intrigue happening. And what about dealing with other races in an advanced universe? Or the king training his sons in the ways of the court to prepare them to take over from him? Unfortunately, we see very little of that here (although I can’t say for other books). What we do see, however, is still fun and interesting, as we watch Thorne manipulate his sentient in order to solve crises on multiple Earths – until he becomes romantically entangled with super-genius Meimi.

This is where I found the book to be at it’s weakest. However, bear in mind I’m not a fan of romance novels. And don’t get me wrong, there were times it was fine. However, I found Thorne almost too cringy to read during many of his dealings with Meimi. I felt this was played in such as way as to suggest it was meant to be romantic, but it just felt wrong as he continually objectified her in a possessive manner.

Nevertheless, the story was interesting, well-written, and moved at a good pace. It ends where it needs to in order to lead into the first book, however, as a stand-alone this feels like an unsatisfactory point to end the book as nothing has been resoved (it’s all left for the main series). I do recommend Umbra, but I would also recommend trying to get it as part of a boxset or discounted with the rest of the series (or in the Giveaway below!).

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo / Google Play

Author Bio:

Christina Bauer thinks that fantasy books are like bacon: they just make life better. All of which is why she writes romance novels that feature demons, dragons, wizards, witches, elves, elementals, and a bunch of random stuff that she brainstorms while riding the Boston T. Oh, and she includes lots of humor and kick-ass chicks, too.

Christina graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School with BA’s in English along with Television, Radio, and Film Production. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, son, and semi-insane golden retriever, Ruby.

Be the first to know about new releases from Christina by signing up for her newsletter: http://tinyurl.com/CBupdates

Blog / Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / LinkedIn

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Alternate Futures

After 70 Years, Where Are The Jet Packs? They’re…

Ever since The Jetsons, and probably much sooner, science fiction fans have been waiting for their own, personal jetpacks. The 60’s came and went and we landed on the moon, but no jetpacks. The 70s and we again explored the moon, but still no jetpacks. The 80s gave us the space shuttle and affordable personal computers, the 90s heralded the information age, when the average person gained access to the internet and dot-coms were built and destroyed. The noughties saw a paradigm shift in computer tech with touchscreens and advances in both communication and information storage along with an upheaval of society. `Yet, through all this, still no jetpacks. Now, here we are and it’s almost 2020, seventy years after the dream was born and where are our jetpacks?!!

Well, thanks to British inventor Richard Browning, they’re now available at a luxury store near you… assuming you live in central London. Browning has spent the last few years inventing and developing a gas-powered personal jetpack comprising five engines. The unit can generate 1050bhp of power, fly 90 kph, with a maximum altitude of 3600 meters. And this wonder of technology is now available for a paltry £330,000 at Selfridges London.

If you’re interested in the development of this suit, Browning has some very interesting videos on YouTube about the prototyping and testing (hint, he found that leg thrusters don’t help, unless, perhaps, you have your own personal AI to help you calculate the thrust vectors).

Browning has said he doesn’t see this technology being used for long trips, and currently, it can only carry enough fuel for something like 10 minutes. However, we all know that where there is a will, there is a way, and once the first person demonstrates something is possible, others will follow. I, for one, foresee various groups attempting to develop their own versions, including other independent inventors, military (especially US DoD), rescue forces, and perhaps even construction. Not to mention adrenaline junkies.

Furthermore, the first version of this to use electric drone technology will truly open the floodgates for development. Although that might be a little while away. Browning chose gas turbines for very important reasons. Nevertheless, we have been shown the way and I can’t wait to see what the future of personal jetpacks brings.

Alternate Futures

The Reality of Professional Video Gaming

As part of the MIT Technology Review series on future jobs, they have an article about professional video gaming which is well worth the read. As someone who enjoys gaming, here’s my take on the subject.

Western society has never truly concluded the debate over whether competitive Chess should be categorized as a sport. And what about things like Poker? I mean ‘professional game’ doesn’t have the same ring as ‘sport’. So, of course, twenty years after their inception, we are still debating the classification of professional video games and the term ‘e-sports’. In all honesty, I’m not sure that the classification matters, however. After all, whether it’s on a real or a virtual pitch, at a table or on a computer, they’re all games. The real issue is the value of the professional player and the skill and dedication they bring to the game. In this regard, footballer, or video gamer, they’re all the same.

However, as a parent, I’m also aware of some of the stigmas and concerns around the long hours of video gaming that are require to reach professional status. What I will attempt in this article is to discuss some of the various issues surrounding pro-level video gaming.

health

One of the first and strongest issue that comes up for every parent of a would-be gamer is that of health, both physical and mental.

Physical

Physically, the concern is that hours upon hours of video gaming destroys a person’s body and there is the stereotype of the fat gamer to bring to mind. However, while the fat gamer is a dying stereotype, with gamers being no fatter than the rest of the population, there is evidence that too much gaming can harm the body. This may not be due specifically to gaming itself, but to the long hours sitting in a chair. As the saying goes, ‘sitting is the new smoking’.

A search of scholarly articles on Google reveals that there are a large number of studies on pro-gamers that have been carried out and that the physical demands of pro-esports are significant, with one study suggesting pro-gamers’ bodies are physically several decades weaker than would be expected.

At this point it should be noted that even serious physical athletes can, and often do, destroy their bodies with their sport. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for a young hopeful to have a sudden accident that completely derails their professional dreams. Of course, if there is a chance to modify training or lifestyle to avoid that, as could be the case in professional e-sports, then it should be taken.

As I see it, the challenge is to accept pro-gaming to the degree that the teams and trainers will actively provide similar training support structures for their members (physical training, good habits, good nutritional training, in addition to game training). This is already happening to a degree with independent gamers and groups such as Vitality for Gamers, as well as gaming teams themselves, such as this health post on the Team Dignitas site.

Mental

The same studies as mentioned above, highlight that mental acuity and reflexes of pro-gamers can reach level equivalent to a jet fighter pilot. This is a massive benefit of gaming that should not be trivialized or overlooked. These are people highly trained in rapid problem solving and system analysis. Not only do they develop incredible reflexes, but to function at the top level of some of the fast-paced games, they need an incredibly detailed understanding of the game mechanics (system), something which many pro-gamers carry as a generalize ability to understand fundamental system structures, since they are able to move between different types of games and remain near the top in each. This is in incredible skill that should not be overlooked and should surely find use in other parts of industry, should the gamer move on.

Overall, however, I would suggest there is little to argue that the health affects seen with pro-gamers are anything different from what would be expected for people undertaking any activity at the highest levels. The task informs the outcome. With that in mind, we should, of course, train pro-gamers to take care of themselves with healthy physical and mental activities to offset the strain of their sport. However, I would like to note that rarely has it been suggested that pro-footballers be required to have supplemental cognitive training to offset the one-sided focus on physical activity. Perhaps that should also be looked into.

not a real sport

The surface argument here is only a matter of semantics and thus easily dismissed. Personally, I’m not concerned whether it’s classified as a sport, as long as the players are allowed the same protections due to athletes, and the games are allowed to develop the same followings, if the public interest is there.

The secondary argument here relates back to the health issue. The only thing I’ll add at this point is that one could consider e-sports as sports for the mind, while real world (rw)-sports are largely about physical prowess. And, of course, both share the need for strong determination, will-power, and competitive spirit.

not a real career path

This is ironic, often coming from International Football fans or fans of other rw-sports, and it demonstrates yet again how much we’ve lost touch with our past. One has only to go back about 60-70 years to a time when professional athletes could barely survive on their meager paychecks. Undoubtedly, such athletes faced very similar criticism at the time.

It was less than 40 years ago, with the wide-scale access to cable television, that athletes began commanding the superstar-level salaries as their audience numbers exploded. By contrast, we are still in the early days of professional e-sports. Until recently, many players ran solo, making money from tournament wins. Gaming teams have been around for 10-15 years but arguably, it’s been the new Overwatch League created by game company Blizzard, that has begun to set in place formalized league and team structures, as well as a sense of professionalism, that mimic those of professional rw-sports. It remains to be seen whether this will be a successful model for e-sports and the players.

As for whether a pro-gamer can earn a living, some of the top players have taken home over a million USD a year, with some regularly bringing in six-figure annual winnings. Now that professional leagues with sponsored teams are becoming a part of the framework, pro-gamers on such teams can earn a livable fixed salary. As the popularity of the players and the e-sport grows so too could we expect their salaries to grow.

As we struggle with health issues, and whether we want our kids devoting so much time to games, the one thing we have to agree upon is that professional video gamers can now making a decent living off their games. And that’s not even considering future developments and possibilities.

what happens when your pro-gaming career is over?

Another argument that was certainly faced by early professional rw-athletes and is faced by gamers at all levels, is ‘even if you are a successful pro, how can you make a living when your career is over?’

To begin with, this argument is no different that with a rw-sport, so it’s ironic that we treat the two differently. However, as a quick run-down, here are a list of current e-sports related jobs that aren’t directly gaming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caster / Commentator

These are the colour commentators that host the tournaments. They are every bit as skilled and knowledgeable about their games as the rw-sports commentators are. Furthermore, most e-sports commentators actually play, or have played at a high level, the game they commentate on, giving them far more credibility than their rw-sport counterparts.

When an esports commentator doesn’t know their sport well, fans and players will call them out on it, so these people need to be serious about their game.

Observer

The observer (an often there are several in big tournaments or fast-paced games) is a person who watched from in-game with a virtual camera. They provide a view of the interesting action to the audience.

Tech Support

All gaming tournaments have a significant amount of tech support both for setting up the computers, cameras and headsets at the beginning, to ensuring the highest player standards for set-up are met.

Future Jobs

While the above are the main e-sports related (non-gaming) jobs that currently exist (ignoring most of the behind-the-scenes people who have more generalized, non-gaming specific, jobs), I can foresee several possible future jobs that are gaming related. Whether any of these will actually come to exist remains to be seen.

Military / Business

With their advanced ability to understand system structures, it seems the skills of high-level gamers would be very useful in business or the military as analysts.

With increasing robotics development, gamers might also make very skilled pilots and remote controllers for robotic platoons.

Diagnostics and Data Analysis

A few years ago in the Cancer Research UK carried out a highly successful experiment using gaming to aid in data analysis (Play to Cure: Genes in Space). They found the data was too complex for computers to analyze accurately, but their game allowed them to get thousands of people to analyse the same data, then average the results for >90% accuracy. They used a fairly simplistic method with the game more as a reward than a method. Since then, they’ve built several more with crowdfunding help.

Advancing this technique, data analysis could be incorporated into games such that gamers around the world could work together on a distributed diagnostic network. With thousands doing analysis of the same data, through game, the averaged results would be very accurate. This could be something a company could set up for doing low-cost, high-accuracy diagnostics in medicine, research, or anywhere data is better analyzed by humans than computers.

In Conclusion

The issues surrounding e-sports and pro-gaming are nothing new, and were faced by rw-athletes during the early years of what are some of the most popular sports today. The current generation of parents has a stigma against e-sports for various reasons, some valid, some a hold-out to tradition and past views on what’s acceptable and reasonable. However, with its enormous popularity among the under 30’s, it’s difficult to see e-sports going away, especially now that it has gained some corporate legitimacy.

 

Alternate Futures

What is the technological singularity, and why should you…

Doesn’t it seem that the latest iphone is coming out sooner and sooner? That just a few years ago we had first mainstream digital assistant in Apple’s Siri (2010) and now the market is flooded not only with dedicated devices such as Amazon’s Echo Dot (2015) and Google Home mini (2016), but a range of similar creations from competitors. And that’s just a simple example of the advances of computational technology. What about other technologies?

In biochemistry, the techniques of site-directed mutagenesis, where a scientist can introduce a single mutation into almost any gene and study the resulting protein were invented in the 1970s. A decade later, a graduate student could get a Ph.D. for successfully creating a single point mutation and studying it’s effects. By the time I finished my degree in 2000, it was quite standard for a degree to require the creation of a half-dozen such mutations, the successful culturing and purification of each resultant protein, and the chemical and structural characterization of each to create a coherent story of their role in the given protein’s function. Now, almost twenty years later, most of that can be done by a single technician working with a room of computerized equipment in a fraction of the time. Before you consider what wonders the merger of biochemistry and computational technologies bring, consider how many other technologies are maturing at an equivalent rate, and what this might mean for our future.

In the 1990’s a few scientists and futurists (notably Carl Sagan and Ray Kurtzweil) mapped out the progress of human technological advancement from estimated times of the earliest inventions to the modern day. They discovered that technology is advancing at a double exponential rate. To put this in perspective, we often interpret change as being linear such that each advance seems to take the same amount of time as the previous one – even though we actually know this not to be true. Our population, for example, increases at a single exponential rate (in the U.S. this is 1.5% per year).

The truth, however, is that technological change happens even faster than we guess — at a double exponential rate. That is, technology increases even faster than the exponential growth rate of our population (the difference is difficult to visualize on graphs because both have very steep right-hand sides — the bottom scale of the two graphs, above and below, are significantly different).

For our purposes, this difference isn’t significant, other than realizing that each new advancement comes much sooner than we’d naturally expect. So, what does this mean for the future and just what does it have to do with the Technological Singularity?

A single technological advance can change our world, sometimes in small ways like a rapid drop in world record times for the 100m sprint, sometimes in large ways like enabling instant communication across countries and continents. Advancements in two synergistic technologies (like social media + mobile phones) can bring the world together, or tear it apart. Imagine what our world might be like when we have the simultaneous maturation of five to ten technologies within a few years of each other.

You can’t.

None of us can. That’s what the Technological Singularity is — a convergence in the development of all technologies such that they form kind of a black hole in the future timeline, which we can’t see past. A point of change so significant and with so many possibilities that we simply can’t understand what might lay on the other side of the veil. So, why should we worry about something so vague? Why is this important for you?

Well, you’ll probably be less stressed if you don’t, but if you find the unrest of the modern world at all disturbing, if you were one of those people who were surprised by the election of Donald Trump, if you have children, and if you have any concerns over the future direction of humanity, then you will want to be aware of the development of new technologies and the kind of changes they may enable. That’s what I’ll be discussing in this blog.

Does this mean:

  • General artificial intelligence?
  • Household or military robotics?
  • Transhumanism?
  • Designer babies?
  • A cure for cancer?
  • A cure for aging?
  • Advanced Biohacking?
  • Basement biotech?
  • Virtual or neural-immersive environments for social media?
  • Greater longevity?
  • Virtual vacations?
  • The end of human creativity?
  • Greater human creativity?
  • Extraterrestrial colonization?
  • Extrasolar exploration?
  • The end of war? The war to end everything?

Maybe all of them, maybe none of them. I don’t know any more than anyone else, but the one thing it will mean is change, and lots of it. Gone are the days when you could live most of your life and the only thing that changed was a new model car and a better television. We’re now in the era where everything is change, including the very nature of what it means to be human.

As a scientist I’ve always had an interest in technology, science, and the future. As a science fiction writer, I have the ability to create stories to explore the world of what might be. And as a father, I have a desire to explore what the next generation might be facing and help prepare them for it. In this blog I will bring together all these interests to explore the undiscovered country (by which I mean the future, not death, from Hamlet, nor peace, from Star Trek VI).

Alternate Futures

The Future of Gender

These day it seems everywhere we turn we are being told about gender identity. Whether it’s to highlight fringe behaviours or to suggest that kids be told they can pick their gender from the age they’re able to talk, hardly a week goes by without some news story or a talk show appearance that supports a ‘non-binary’ gender interpretation of humanity that flies in the face of the majority of biological, pychological, and sociological studies. It often feels like proponents of these beliefs are trying to rewrite reality, or that the patients run the asylum. But maybe, just maybe, It’s Not All Bad.

To be clear, using the definition of gender that we’ve used since we formulated language means that we still have two genders: male and female. These genders are the same biological pairing that all vertebrate share and form the productive mating couplet of the species. That is to say, there are precisely two different types of sex chromosomes (X and Y) and it’s largely the absence or presence of the Y chromosome that determines the gender (absent = female, present = male). Furthermore, there are many studies, both in the lab and in the social arena of the world, that continue to demonstrate the validity of a binary distinction in the biology, sociology, and psychology, of the two human genders (a good survey was carried out recently by an ex-google engineer James Damore and can be found on his site Fired for Truth).

Yet many, including cities (e.g. New York), states (e.g. California), and entire nations (e.g. Canada), insist otherwise. So where’s the confusion?

As far as I can tell, it’s an issue of contradicting definitions. The original definition of gender was entirely biological. Humans have two sex chromosomes and two different forms that make up the productive mating unit (incidentally, fungi have 36,000 different biological genders). Sometime in the last five to ten years the idea became popular that gender is not a biological descriptor, but a behavioural one. This meme became widespread and then enforced, first in the universities, then with Progressive politicians. It attempts to describe each slight variant in sexual preference or behaviour, each point on the colour wheel of human sexual interest, as its own gender, which is how we arrive at the current classifications of LGBTQQIP2SAA.

To those of us preferring the more traditional classification of gender as biological, and behaviour as, well, behavioural, this current fuss seems a lot of crazy for no reason. Is there really a need to sub-classify everyone’s sexual behaviour? Aren’t two classical genders good enough? And what about the trans-sexual movement that seems to be everywhere? Just what does it all mean?

The key to it all is technology — past, present, and future.

While some of the ‘non-heteronormative behaviours’ have always been present in humanity to a certain degree (and tolerated to a lesser degree), technology has greatly enable both them and their acceptance. To begin with, the advent of reliable contraception independent of male intervention has led to a dramatic change in a woman’s role in society as they’ve gained enormous reproductive control. This technology, the birth control pill, has forever altered the roles of women and, consequently, men. This change has taken several decades to begin to be fully realized (approximately two generations, i.e. very rapid in the lifespan of a species) and has led to something of a crisis in the male identity as much of their classical role as provider and protector is now deemed less important as women can take on many of those roles for themselves (due at least in part to other technologies such as personal protection, military technology). When this social dynamic combines with technologies such as social media, where any and all discourse and ideas become widely disseminated, it’s difficult to predict a prior what will happen. Now, in hindsight, what seems clear is that hatred, negativity, and frustration gain far more traction than their positive counterparts. The result has been a generation where many have dropped out of anything resembling a traditionally normal relationship.

But consider even further what happens when you’re frustrated with who you are and what you current options are? Enter modern pharmaceuticals and plastic surgery, which can make you — more or less — what you want to be. And in a world of the rising power of the femme, and the constant denigration of the masculine, is it any surprise that, while women abandon men, the naturally competitive males are deciding to change into women? Under these conditions, it should come as no surprise that male-to-female trans-sexuality is by far the most common version in the modern world. When combined with modern sensibilities, and guilt for the horrible history wrongs perpetrated against certain sexualities (homosexuals were killed by the British government up until the 1960s) can it be any wonder that we have the gender chaos of the modern western world?

Sometimes it seems like these groups are pushing us into the crazy, and sometimes I’m sure they are, but now comes the time to consider what the future will be like.

Within this century it is highly likely we will develop: advanced plastic surgery, weight control drugs, biological sex changes (harnessing biochemical techniques used by other organisms), artificial wombs, longevity treatments, to name a few. Just take a moment to consider what these will mean for the nature of our race. At such point, we will each have complete reproductive freedom. We will each be able to choose the form of our body and potentially even the actual biological gender (whether our body produces eggs or sperm will be irrelevant as we could create in a lab the versions we need). We’ll be able to eat as much as we want and still maintain our most beautiful body form. And we’ll be able to do it for more years. At this point, our birth gender will be all but completely irrelevant to both our life and our ambitions. At this point we truly could say that our gender would be a social construct (manifested through advanced biological control).

At this point, those who seem crazy now, will essentially be right (at least on this point).

Therefore, when I look at these Gender Identity Progressives and their policies, I still believe they are mistaken on a great many things, but perhaps they are actually preparing us for a future that will be here sooner than many of us are ready for. So, the next time you encounter what appear to be the crazy demands of the LGBTQQIP2SAA phenomenon consider that, perhaps, just perhaps, It’s Not All Bad.

Alternate Futures

Welcome

Hello and welcome. I’m Edwin H Rydberg, author of Echoes of the Past, first episode of the Altered Destiny series and, coming soon, a number of novels in the Gateway to Eternity saga. I also write children’s books and I have a non-fiction series in the works. In addition, I run writing and coding workshops at my local library and primary schools.

I primarily write science fiction and my writing explores the relationship between humanity and technology and how each influences the other. It’s often been said that science fiction is stories of now, extrapolated into the future, and I believe this is very true. My stories tend to explore ideas and aspects of human natural in futuristic settings because I love the wonders of technology and imagining what might be achieved with them. However, I’m also aware of the horrors that can be wrought by the misuse of technology, which is why I also include a healthy dose of warnings.

This blog will include samples of my writing, reviews of science fiction stories, comments on scientific and technological developments and my thoughts on how technology has and will influence society. All of these are my own opinions, which are ever evolving. For that reason, I hope this blog will become a discussion with you the readers, rather than a lecture or a wiki. If you’re interested in learning more about me and my writing, please check out the ABOUT page. And if you want to stay up to date on my writing, opinions, and the tech of our times, please join my e-mail list.

I hope you will  come with me in an exploration of the undiscovered country as we move Into The Future.

Edwin H Rydberg

 

Alternate Futures

The Light and the Flame

Another NaNoWriMo prep session. A little over an hour this time and 1056 words. Warning, it’s a bit political. (image from Shaun of the Dead)

The Light and the Flame

So far, the disease had cropped up in five different towns, today was the sixth. Like all the other cases, the victims here were mobile but unresponsive. I would have called them zombies, but that would have implied a certain degree of physical degeneration and a notable bloodlust. These people had neither. For all intents and purposes, they appeared completely normal.

Like the other five towns, this one was small, rural, conservative. There was a single main street, more churches than grocery stores and nothing notable had happened in the history of the community.

“That’s all of them, Emma,” Joss said. “Tinytown: total population six-hundred forty three, sixty-five percent zombie. Give or take.”

“Please don’t call them that. It’s hard enough dealing with the media hyperbole without sinking to their level.”

“Sorry. Sixty-five percent unresponsive.”

“Do we know anything else about this place? Is it on a uranium mine? A landfill? Toxic dump?”

“Nothing. A lower level of welfare than average, strong community spirit, heavy church goers.”

“That’s all?” I asked, inputting the information, sparse as it was, into my database. It seem to match the details of the other communities fairly well.

“Well, I found a lot of these,” Joss said with distaste, holding up a now infamous red MAGA cap. “So, maybe they got what they deserved.”

I glared at him. “That’s almost half the country you’re talking about. Even if that is related, I’m not giving up just because they voted different to us.”

He just shrugged.

“Joss, I may not like the guy they voted for, but they’re allowed their opinion.”

Joss was an ideologue — big government, no religion except ones from foreign countries, no hate speech, and diversity, were his rules to live by. I tended to agree, but not to the same degree. Which is to say, I wasn’t willing to punch Nazis just because they were Nazis. A person had to act violent before they deserved a violent response, in my book.

Anyway, as humorous as the idea might be, I doubted politics could turn someone into a zombie.

Small drops of sweat ran down my face inside the biocontainment suit as I struggled to make sense of this illness. The strange part was that usually these kind of things — not that there’d ever been a zombie outbreak, but things like bird flu or ebola — happened in poorer parts of the world where hygiene wasn’t as well developed as in the West. This was the first such outbreak I could think of in modern times that started in an affluent country.

“Here, just look at this garbage!” Joss said, returning to interrupt my train of thought. He flung pamphlets, fliers and books on the diner table.

I picked up a few and read the titles:

  • Say ‘no’ to illegal immigration
  • The truth about international terrorism
  • Walls work
  • Global economics simplified
  • Are Nazis really right wing?
  • Global warming alarmists: what they’re not telling you

“You might as well call this Hatespeechville,” he said. “I’m done. They can wander in their mindless paradise forever, for all I care. Better yet, why don’t we just torch the entire place and them with it?”

“Joss!”

“I mean it, Emma, these people make me sick. I can’t possibly save monsters like this.”

“Call it a day, Joss,” I said noticing that he sun was beginning to set anyway. “I’m sure we’ll feel better once we get out of these suits,” I added, once again struggling to shake a drop of sweat from my eyes.

As he stormed out of the diner, I stood beside the old, but well-padded bench amid what was once probably a classic malt shop and burger joint, and watched the sun fully set.

From the restaurant I could see the edge of town and beyond. It struck me this was a peaceful place. There was no constant bustle of shoppers, no constant honking of cars. There wasn’t even a very good wi-fi signal, so we’d had to rely on a satellite feed from the CDC truck. It was a place where a person could be free to sit and think, without the distractions of modern life, without the incessant attacks of ideologues from one side or another.

Darkness filled the small town, with only the tiny circles of street light as sanctuary. For a moment, I was worried. I’d never been in the dark in a town with wandering outbreak victims before. But as I watched, they seemed no more violent in the dark than in the light. In fact, they even seemed to give off a faint glow themselves. That would be something worth studying tomorrow.

With no evidence of any contagion, and a face dripping in sweat, I removed the helmet of my suit and sat down, trying to figure out what to do next. Idly I flipped open the first flier and began reading.

Contrary to my expectations, it was interesting and informative. There were some valuable points. Did we really want to become a refuge for criminals? If this pamphlet was to be believed, the vast majority of people crossing illegally into the country weren’t destitute refugees as I’d always been taught, but people looking to shortcut the legal immigration process for economic benefit.

Curious, I read another, only to learn that, globally, one belief system accounted for more than 30,000 terrorist attacks in the last year. Something that our own media downplayed because relatively few deaths in our country could be attributed to them.

Already the views I held so dear were developing cracks. Why had no one told me this stuff before?

I read a few more and each one drove into the wall like a sledgehammer until I could finally see a pattern in the half-truths and lies I’d been exposed to my entire life. The emotional haze obscuring my perception fell away and I could suddenly see a path forward. Not just for the country, but for the world. And it made sense. Not just in a vague, emotional way. But in a concrete, numerical, functional way.

The veneer of the world fell away and I stared, wide-eyed at the beauty of what could be.

I lost track of time and space then and was only brought back to reality when the flames of the burning town bit into my skin.

Alternate Futures

Fayre is Fair

Second offering for 2017 NaNoWriMo warm-up. This one feels more like a scene than a short story, but here it is anyway (word count: 1249, time 60 minutes)

Fayre is Fair

“If you leave now, you get nothing.”

It was a statement as much as a threat, the words of a demented psychopath bent on destruction of the city.

The Host she called herself. Middle-aged, lumpy, with potato chip crumbs clinging to a faded blouse that might once have been covered in beautiful flowers. In a former life she would have been unnoticeable among the crowds checking out the latest sales at Wal-Mart. But one extra large bag of radioactive, Poutine-flavoured chips later and she’s a global threat.

“So, what will it be, National Nanny? Do you go home with your winnings, having saved only the financial district, or do you continue to play for the whole city?”

“You sick fiend!” I answered. “How can you play games with people’s lives? And with all your power.”

“Oh shut it, Babysitter Girl. Life’s a game, we either decide to play along with rules we didn’t make, or we check out. There’s no in between. Except for me,” she added, smiling. “Fate has chosen to let me make my own rules. Now stop stalling and tell me what you’ve chosen. Time’s running out.”

She wasn’t lying. The giant hourglass she’d somehow managed to conjure, hung high over a large map of the city that was somehow miniature replica tied to the original. As she’d shown me at the start of the game. The hourglass had landed on the city park, destroying both the map version and real version completely.

“What do you want from me?” I yelled.

“Your answer, please. You’ve go five seconds remaining.

“I have no choice but to play on. I can’t let you kill all those innocents.”

“An excellent choice,” she booms, speaking as if to a large audience. As far as I can tell, however, it’s just the two of us in the converted warehouse.

“Pick your category: Things I ate when I was five; Boys I kissed and left; Tests I cheated on; or Places where I peed my pants.”

“The first one, I guess.” It seemed the safest, if she was somehow sending a video feed of this out live. Although it seemed she already knew everything about me.

“I’m sorry, you have to say the category name and a value.”

I exhaled strongly. This was starting to wear on my nerves. Nevermind the innocents, if I didn’t find a way out of this game soon I’d go crazy.

“Things I ate when I was five for 200, please Host.”

“Much better. In this category, you not only have to name the item, but you have to bring me an edible example.

Well, that would allow me to get out of the warehouse, but I doubt I’d have much time to do anything in the short time she’d give me.

“Your answer is: Behind the neighbour’s shed with Jimmy Green.”

The flashbacks hit me hard and for a moment I was unable to formulate an answer. Jimmy was my first crush and we had numerous times behind sheds and under bleachers as teenagers, before he’d been killed in a car accident. I glared at The Host, knowing she made me relive that horrible memory intentionally, even if the answer she ‘wanted’ was, “What are Jelly Beans?”

“Correct! You have 60 seconds to bring me some.” As she finished, the giant hourglass slowly inverted, starting the sands draining through.

I flew off through the entrance she’d so conveniently left on the far wall for just such occasions. She knew I’d be back, and she knew I wouldn’t attack her or the hourglass/map because I’d already tried that and somehow they were protected by powerful forcefields.

By the way, yes, I fly. Not fast, certainly not like the characters of comics. But fast enough to get to the fairgrounds and back with a bag of jelly beans. As I landed, I threw them at her.

She easily caught them, laughing. “Well done Nanny. Are you ready for your next question?”

“Does that one count?”

She just laughed again. “Well spotted. And no. Pick your category and point value.”

I’d been here far too long to enjoy playing homicidal games with psychopaths. Fortunately, my brief trip had allowed me to formulate a plan. All superpowered crazies are megalomaniacal. They can’t resist hiding something of their ‘true genius’ in their plan and it’s usually the flaw that brings them down. If I was right, I just had to find the question I needed.

“Places Where I peed my pants for 200, please Host.”

“Ooh, excellent. The trick with this category is that once you answer, you’ll have five seconds to clear the map of the building before the hourglass smashes into it, destroying the site.

“Now, the answer: On the mat during sleep time.”

She was truly sick, threatening kids like this. I psyched myself up and planned my path before I said, “Rosewood elementary school.”

“Correct! You have five seconds from… now.”

I raced through the streets of the map as quickly and carefully as I could, uncertain whether errant footfalls could also cause devastation. Meanwhile, I counted down in my head. 5… 4… 3…

I reached the school. The building was up to my knees. Fortunately, my strength was well above normal and I hoisted the map segment up, like a giant puzzle piece in the wrong place, turned, and jumped, narrowly avoiding the falling hourglass.

“Oh, well done,” The Host said, clapping with glee.

I was really getting sick of her.

“Once you return to your post, let me know your next selection.”

A few moments later, I was back and ready to end this. “Places Where I peed my Pants for 1000,” I said.

“We’re going for the big money,” The Host said, but I was only half listening. As far as I could tell, the forcefield generator could only be under the floor, perhaps feeding the energy up through conduits in the wall. It I was right about the next question, I’d have my chance to stop her. But it would require exact timing.

“Here’s your answer: Cotton Candy Carousel.”

“That’s the Fairground,” I answered, muscles tensed to spring.

“Correct, your five seconds are on the clock.”

I sprang into action, rushing to the nearby fairground — the one and same I’d just recently gotten jelly beans from. I feigned struggling with the map component, all the while counting in my head. I had to be precise. 3… 2… 1…

With superhuman strength, I flung the piece out of the way as the hourglass came speeding toward me. I may not be able to destroy it, but I had the feeling I could at least move it.

At the last moment, I side-stepped before giving it a powerful shoulder check. The thing was heavier than I thought, but I managed to move it enough so that it crashed down on the scale model of the warehouse we were in.

“Nooo, what have you done?” The Host cried out.

But it was too late. The hourglass plowed through the floor setting off explosions throughout the building as it destroyed what I assumed was the forcefield generator. The look in her eyes told me she knew what this meant, but I was there faster than she could react. A right to the jaw and she was down for the count.

The superforce would send a clean-up crew now that I could notify them and The Host was off to maximum security prison. No more games for her.


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