Category Archives: Science!
Follow the Leaders: one piece in a series by artist Isaac Cordal.
You may have seen the piece of art above already. It has been bouncing around the internet for some years now, often billed as “politicians debating sea level rise” or “…climate change.” Well, it kind of isn’t, and it kind of is, and following the link in the caption might shed some light on it.
It is a FANTASTIC representation, inadvertent or otherwise, specifically of the current US GOP/Trumpite approach to climate change and rising sea levels.
And that approach…
…yeah. That’s going to be SUPER EFFECTIVE.
But our Fearless Glorious Leader and his Band of
Thugs Merry Men (they’d surely call it sexist to acknowledge the women who choose to support him rather than lump them together under a masculine collective) aren’t restricting themselves to climate change. If you’ve been following current political events, he/they is/are not just ignoring climate change science, but rolling back environmental protections that have cleaned up industry-polluted land, water, and air over the last 40 years, acting to revive coal use and hobble the increasing use of solar and wind power generation, which I might add, is rising because it is now cost effective due to technological advances perpetrated by that terrible villain, science.
In other words, the 21st century is SCARY and THINGS ARE CHANGING and LET’S HIDE IN THE 20TH CENTURY. Unless you’re a public school student, in which case they’re shooting for the 19th century. No, really. The target there is getting rid of all those troublesome public schools and leaving education to corporations and churches, which I’m sure will work out great in an alternate timeline where suddenly technology stops working.
The only problem is that hiding in the past is a gigantic mistake, and it will always be. Yes, there’s such a thing as tradition. But traditions only make sense as long as they help people. If things change and they become harmful, or you realize they’ve been harmful all along and we don’t have a need to accept that harm — I’M LOOKING AT YOU COAL WITH YOUR BLACK LUNG AND OPEN PITS AND TOXIC RUNOFF AND OH WHAT A SHOCK BURNING THOUSANDS OF ANCIENT FORESTS IN CONCENTRATED FORM EVERY DAY MIGHT RELEASE GASES THAT CHANGE THE CLIMATE A TAD GEE WHIZ WHO WOULDA THUNK IT — then you say “yay, positive change!” and start using wind turbines to charge your iThingiee. And we all breathe a little easier, and people who live near the ocean like me start thinking that maybe, just maybe, our descendants won’t have to flee farther inland in the 22nd century.
…to which I replied…
It makes sense to me. If I was working for NASA and secretly invented FTL travel, I’d be sorely tempted to pack up and leave given the events of the last couple of years and the direction things seem to be headed in. Nothing personal.
So, I haven’t done one of these in a while. In the last months of the presidential campaign and the aftermath, well, the distraction of watching this all unfold was distracting. I had trouble writing anything but deep dystopia. I managed to create some wordage, but it was a bit of a slow stretch for three or four months.
But here I am, production ramping up again. Maybe next time something distracting befalls the world, I’ll be a little better at keeping the creative juices flowing. This little episode did a pretty good job reminding me that I’m still learning the ropes and will be until I die — which is what all the more successful people who do stuff do, I hear.
This one, of course, is inspired by the ideology-driven denial of either the human role in climate change, the actual fact the climate is changing, or both.
And of course the title is dedicated to the people around the world who take their faith as incompatible with climate change, or a round Earth, or a heliocentric solar system, or whatever other observed data they choose to disregard, thinking it opposed to their beliefs.
Of course, there are plenty of people who have some sort of faith — one of the established ones, Deism, Pandeism, animism, whatever else — who have no trouble at all accepting that what we observe about the universe is actually what we observe about the universe. And of course there are the various flavors of atheist (myself included) who just go with the data as best as we can interpret it, but can also appreciate how awesome, beautiful, and sometimes scary things like flowers, babies, galaxies, changing climates, and all kinds of other stuff are.
Paying attention to politics, I have heard (read) some of our lawmakers say things like the title of this story. Or that the oil or coal we’re mining cannot run out because a deity will restore it at our need.
Well, even if you do believe that Earth is a creation and a deity appointed humans the stewards of it, that seems pretty silly to me. Not to mention a bad way to raise a worldful of humans.
Would any of us raise a kid like that? “Hey, kiddo — this is your room. It’s yours. Go ahead and rip up the floorboards, pee in the corners, punch holes in the walls. I’ll pop by and fix everything up perfect for you again, leaving you to learn nothing but how to be a spoiled rotten brat with total contempt for the good things you have.”
That seems like an awful idea. So not only do I, as an atheist, not believe that a deity will come and save us from the consequences of our actions, I, as a father, think that would be a very poorly thought out path for a deity of any intelligence whatsoever.
So maybe more of us humans, regardless of belief system, should be worrying a bit more than we do about this planet of ours? Just a thought…
[This appeared on my Patreon page on the 22nd, a week before it appeared here. So, you know, becoming a patron is a great way to see a lot of posts early, plus you can receive free ebook copies and even signed paperbacks of stories and collections I publish!]
…or at least that may be an upside of an ever-more-connected world. The “Internet of Things” future will have to ponder if that and other pluses offset living in a world where any of your belongings might rob you.
In a WiFi saturated world, it may be more than your phone or local news weather report that warns you of imminent weather threats like hurricane, tornado, flood, blizzard, and so forth.
Your refrigerator and thermostat and eyeglasses and bathroom mirror and shoes and – who knows by 30 years from now – the earbuds that semi-permanently reside in your earlobe piercings will keep you updated.
Linked to the hyperlocal weather reports aggregated not just from satellites and airports and weather stations, but from sensors integral to the solar and wind power arrays that feed electricity into every building’s batteries, your belongings will keep you appraised of the weather and what it means to you.
“Close the windows,” your windows will say, possibly via your microwave, showerhead, or belt buckle. If your house is posh enough, they’ll say, “shall we close?” and they’ll do it themselves without orders if rain starts coming in to threaten the carpeting.
“Dude! We need to get out of Dodge right now!” your car (set to “casual” mode, obviously) will exclaim as deadly weather ramps up nearby. Your shoes will wail at you to head for the car, or for the curb where a self-driving Unter can collect you – if only you acknowledge you’ll be there to be picked up for evacuation.
But what if you don’t?
“Acknowledge,” the hall light prompts as you stagger by to find a place to collapse. “Acknowledge,” your thrift store sneaks beg, hearing you, from their home tucked in under the front of your second hand couch. “Acknowledge?” your front door asks querulously, but there’s no answer.
Your snores rise from the couch where you slump, utterly zonked. Maybe you’ve hit the sauce too hard, or been at the recreational drugs, or whatever you’ve been prescribed was just too much for you today. After all, you’ve been preparing for a storm and worrying all day.
And maybe your shirt notices that you’re not waking up and the state of emergency created by the weather allows the Unter car to send in a helper bot to bypass your door lock and carry you out to safety. The Unter takes you smoothly away from the danger despite widespread service outages – it’s not dependent on a centrally coordinated net by able to function as cleanly as a fish in a school…
…to take you to a designated shelter through a flood of traffic far more dense and swift than any human driver could navigate.
And you wake in a high school gymnasium shelter thirty miles away, confused.
But your wristband wearable can tell you what happened. And you’re alive.
My God, what a nanny state hell! you say to yourself as you finish reading the above, horrified that the humans of the future might be so helpless and coddled. Hopefully not because you’re a goddamn eugenicist, but surely some of you are. Regardless…
…let me tell you how helpless you really are, roughly from near past to distant. You may be able to contradict a couple statements below. Maybe. But how many? And as a way of life, not a hobby? Are you sure? Read on.
You save your children and yourself from death, pain, infliction of disability, and long-term malaise with medicines and vaccines, most of which were unknown a mere century ago. There’s a fair chance that you, reading this right now, would not be alive without them. I wouldn’t.
You don’t know how to ride, feed, or otherwise care for horses and their harness, because you ride around in automobiles.
You can’t organize a household based on the relatively difficult and time consuming weekly or monthly or seasonal (depending on your distance from civilization) grocery runs. Nor do you know how to keep the things people used to buy from spoilage. Could you buy one cheese wheel per season and keep it good so you could enjoy the last bite three months later? No. You buy a brick of cheese from the store and devour it two days later. Or if you forget it, you find it with a bit of mold and past the expiration date and chuck it straight in the trash.
You buy your food in supermarkets. You don’t know how to dry, salt, pickle, ferment, or can your own food to sustain you through the year. Nor do you know how to store those foods correctly.
You don’t know how to set a bone, stitch shut a wound, or birth a baby.
You can’t make your own clothes from bolts of cloth, needle, and thread.
You don’t know how to spin thread and yarn from cotton and wool or hemp or whatever fiber is local to you.
You don’t know how to winnow chaff, parch grain, grind it by hand, and bake it into bread in your own wood or dung fired hearth.
You don’t know how to bring ten children into the world and bury five of them before their fifth birthday without going mad.
You can’t accept life as a serf, slave, or even vassal – which, historically speaking, the vast majority of people were. You, like everyone else today, assume you’d be some sort of noble because you’re so damned smart. Well, smart wasn’t worth anything if you were born to raise beets. Except maybe getting your smart, restless ass killed.
You don’t know how to build a hut from scratch, or make and keep clean a packed earth floor.
You can’t form a phalanx or ply a sling.
You can’t ride a chariot nor craft a balanced wheel from pieces of wood.
You don’t know the best way to dig edible roots with a pointed stick.
You can’t till and plant a field with a wooden plow, or a hoe, or an adze.
You don’t even know how to save seed for next season’s planting, nor how to figure out how much seed you need to plant your acre.
You don’t know how to rotate crops. You don’t know how long to leave a field fallow. You may not even know what the hell “fallow” means or why it’s a concept.
You don’t know how to slay aurochs and bears with a spear.
You can’t cure hides with brains and piss, nor chew them soft, nor scrape them properly, nor stitch the finished product into decently-fitting boots and cloaks.
You don’t know how to layer for the weather without space-age insulation, processed wools, and garments involving stretchy artificial materials.
You don’t know how to carry embers all day so you can make a fire without having to fool with a bow and drill or flint and pyrite or something.
You can’t tell what kind of animal you’re stalking by looking at its poop.
You don’t know how to stalk an animal, so that last point wouldn’t do you much good if you did know.
You can’t catch a fish with just a length of gut, a bone, and a worm.
You don’t know how to make iron from scratch. Or bronze. Or how to pound native copper into a usable tool. Or knap a knife or spearpoint from stone. You don’t even know how to pick a good stone to knap, the right stone for a striker, and knock off flakes without cutting your fingers open or smashing them.
You don’t know how to cut down a tree with a rock.
Once you’ve cut it down, you don’t know how to make it into a canoe.
You don’t know how to live your entire life on foot, outdoors, in the weather, as a nomad, without even the knowledge of letters or numbers greater than you can count on your fingers.
Maybe you think you do, and it would be an adventure. Well, you don’t. And adventures are awful things that happen to other people that you enjoy listening to when you’re warm and safe.
The “the people have grown soft” of yesterday is today’s “we can get along just fine as we are, thanks.”
Unless we get all obsessive about how great the past was. In which case we may get what we wish for, warts and all.
This was posted to my Patreon a week before it appeared here. If you like what I do, help me do it more by contributing!
(This first appeared on my Patreon page a full week ago. Become a patron and see posts early!)
The internet of things and 3-D printing may soon combine to create a powerhouse of personal convenience. Kitchens that order groceries and cook them for their owners, printers that can print out many simple and some complex foods. It’s beginning now — pilot devices and services like instant-order buttons for staple items that work great until a kid gets hold of them or there’s a glitch and a pallet of laundry detergent or flour sitting in front of your door next time you come home.
3-D printers are already printing simple candies and pasta and breakfast cereal in complex shapes and colors.
Add in a household robot and you have a kitchen that orders starch cartridges and a robot that prints pasta when you run low and cooks it for you. Very convenient — or it may be in a few years.
There are, as I suggested above, some bugs in the process to work out.
Malware is a big one.
There has already been an internet of things ransomware incident, for example. Ransomware demands a cash payment or it will set your thermostat at 99 degrees F in 24 hours.
No reason it couldn’t do the same to your 3-D printer or kitchen or household robot.
But not all malware is ransomware. Some of it is malicious for ‘fun’. And occasionally it’s really vicious.
There is malware that wrecks your computer — which can set someone back some serious money, and cause less well-off households a serious crisis. If something like that hit our household PCs… well, I have no damn idea how my wife and I would do our online coursework from mobile phones, we couldn’t afford to replace the PCs for a good long while, I’d have a hell of a time publishing anything here or anywhere else much less submitting short stories anywhere. And perhaps we could accomplish some of those things at a local library. I’d love to plug passwords that control my Patreon and WordPress and Smashwords and Amazon and Google accounts into a public computer… you see my point.
Or, as the internet of things becomes more pervasive, malware may affect your home in different ways, as in this thirteen word story.
With great convenience comes great peril, Peter Parker might say. Or something like that.
It’s about writing hard science fiction when you’re not a scientist, which is a lot of what I do, so I speak from experience. If you write or read science fiction I think you’ll like it. 🙂
Here you go. You can thank me after you stop sighing, laughing, eyerolling, puking, or whatever your reaction of choice is. I think I managed all but the last in the space of 3 seconds, which probably isn’t a new world record but has to be close.
I may have sprained an eye, in fact.
I get it. New stuff can be scary. There has been a TON of new stuff in the last couple of centuries. Internets, pocket computers, flying machines, devil carriages that move without horses, lights that mysteriously light up without a hint of whale oil in sight.
If some folks want to hole up in the past, well, that’s sort of their choice. The Amish and a few similar groups manage to do it pretty gracefully and even give their kids at least some degree of choice as to whether they’d like to stay in ignore-the-changes-land or come out and share the benefits and, yes, detriments of modernity.
And then there are people like Mr/Ms “NASA is a Satanic snake tongue”.
It takes a special kind of asshole to employ a computer to create a blog that can be viewed, potentially, by anyone in the world via a global communications net made possible by transatlantic fiberoptic cables and a network of satellites to urge others to reject space exploration as offensive because it doesn’t fit in with their particular (and particularly narrow and ugly) view of a ‘how to live’ manual composed roughly between 6000 and 1500 years ago depending on which bits you read and what you believe about how they came to be. Oh, and assume there’s somehow a giant secret conspiracy to lie about it spanning 70+ years and involving, by now, at least hundreds of thousands of people, becasue we all know how great several hundred thousand people are at keeping a secret over many decades, right?
If you want to see the WTFery for yourself, I’d rather not generate hits for them but here’s a Google Cache link.
I posted this story about a year ago, before I started putting the stories on images.
I like the story being on the image much better. It looks better. Somehow it makes the story feel better. And you can easily save and share this image anywhere you want if you like. You couldn’t do that before.
If you do decide to save and share the image, I’d recommend clicking on it to expand it first. Hopefully WordPress will be nice and give you the full size which is somewhere around 2000 pixels wide.
As for the 13 word story itself, I leave you to ponder the potential of robots, androids, AI-what-have-yous as force multipliers for small numbers of humans, even a single human.
Or, if you’re into visions of Terminatoresque futures, for themselves.
Of course, there are a host of reasons why a scenario like this is highly improbable. The safeguards we devise will expand and improve along with the technology to create autonomous war machines. However, determined humans have a way of finding a way to bring their dreams to life.
Even if those dreams are nightmares.
First, two things: this post appeared on my Patreon page on the 21st, and if you’re counting words the-hyphenated-ones-count-as-one. You’ll have to decide if you think I cheated or not. I say not. If you’d like to comment, I’ll politely discuss it with you. 🙂
Now, about the story:
“Uploading,” the idea of rendering the human mind faithfully into a computer “brain” in order to cheat death and transfer one’s consciousness into an undying android body, has been a thing in science fiction for quite a while now. It also has various analogs, by the way, in fantasy: the lich, the golem, the vampire, the less-desirable and conscious ghouls and zombies, and so forth.
Fantasy and science fiction have a lot in common, but that’s a post for another day — though perhaps it’s a bit obvious to spend too much time on. Those genres are commonly lumped together in advertisement, bookstores, and conventions because many people understand the basic commonality.
Back to the Upload. It is often the immortality of science fiction, become even more common than the prolonging of biological lifespan a la Larry Niven’s “Boosterspice” or Frank Herbert’s “Melange,” or any number of other examples. Biological life may be stubborn and persistent, but in comparison to a machine the human body is more fragile and harder to repair. There may be exceptions to the case (an electronic brain meeting with a Carrington Event, for example), but that is our general perception.
The Upload is usually a positive in science fiction. The mind is preserved, the Reaper is cheated, and even if the Uploaded Being bittersweetly remembers the foibles of biological life the centuries of life and experience gained outweigh the negatives.
Of course, just as we say a dark cloud often has a silver lining, Cloud Nine may carry within it a negative.
We rarely think of Uploading early in life. While civilizations purely of artificial intelligences are sometimes imagined, I can’t recall seeing a science fictional vision of a society that uploads while young as a matter of course. We imagine futures in which a person lives a long biological life, and then, when the body begins to fail from sheer age or obstructed arteries or cancer or so forth, transfers to the hale mechanical shell much like a phoenix, leaving the wrinkled ash behind.
Now imagine a person who has arranged to upload at age seventy-five. There are many reasons to have such an arrangement. Should a capitalism substantially like our present arrangements persist, a whole life might be needed to save the money to make a down payment on a durable mechanical body and computer brain. A person might want to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh for as long as possible. A contractual arrangement might keep a person flesh until an agreed-upon age.
But a decade before the arranged upload, Alzheimers disease strikes. The arrangement is kept, but is there much of the mind to transfer? Do the losses of memory transfer, is what is lost still lost? Maybe. Probably, I’d guess. And if a seventy-four year old Alzheimers patient is a hazard to have running about unsupervised, and they certainly can be a danger to themselves or even others, a strong android body would even more certainly be.
Many other things could happen. A destructive stroke, a brain injury, a descent into murderous or otherwise dangerous criminality, the onset of severe mental illness, a corruption of data during transfer, a flaw of construction in the new computer brain or in its basic operating system. A virus designed to corrupt Uploads.
And then what do you do? If you know that the mind you’re uploading will be dangerous in its new body, or if you discover it is dangerous after the fact, the laws of the future still might compel the upload to be done or the uploaded being to be preserved.
If you can’t legally wipe the mind clean and pronounce the being dead and gone, the only viable option would seem to be to disable the body. Turn the body off, or even remove the brain and put it on the shelf, free to run its program but unable to interact with the world, perhaps even blind and deaf and unfeeling.
What would it be like, to be an uploaded consciousness locked in a silent, still body or a disembodied brain, warped by disease or illness or injury or mischief?
Would it be hell?
It might be hell, or nightmare, or centuries of the paralyzed moment when the consciousness is suspended between the terror of nightmare and waking, when the mind knows that the nightmare is not real but has not yet been able to open its human eyes and escape. It might even be centuries of hoping that the future will find a cure, without even the blessing of unconsciousness enjoyed by the disembodied heads of the cryonics movement.
As attractive as the idea of immortality as an Upload might be, like all great changes, the risks are awfully frightening and likely to be all too real to at least an unlucky few.