Blog Archives

Let’s Make A Mess…

… because that’s how rough drafts work!

I’m playing with a story that I started a year or two ago and then put aside because it was lacking something and I couldn’t figure out what.

Every couple of weeks or so I flip through my notebooks (I have a couple of dozen) and see what catches my eye.

This time, I saw what I could do with this story. I think it will pan out — it feels right.

If it does, I think “Stuck Jenny’s” will be a natural for my next collection, Doldrums. Feels like it will be 5-10 thousand words on self-driving RVs, generation gaps, and class divides.

I’m looking forward to writing it.

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Self-driving Exoskeletons…

…seem to be a thing fated to happen. We’re in the midst of getting self-driving cars. We’re about to get a practical exoskeleton. It’s a natural! Who doesn’t want to walk to the store half an hour away while taking a nap or screwing around on your smartphone?

The Possible Futures Of Self-Driving Cars

I’m not sure which way the spread of self-driving car technology is going to go, but I see three basic options.
 
Option one: The Epic Fail.
In this scenario self-driving cars grow in popularity and start becoming common. Some major cities start banning manual-drive cars from major pedestrian malls in their city centers. Everything’s going great!
And then, BAM! A widespread software glitch, virus, or cyberattack strikes a large number of cars. Maybe it’s a given make or model of car, or every car running a certain app or receiving a certain update or patch. Thousands of cars crash, either physically, in the software sense, or both. Thousands of people are hurt in the space of hours, or even minutes. Hundreds of people die. Emergency rooms and ambulance services are overwhelmed. Video of hospitals performing triage in parking lots and stacked body bags hits the news. Victims appear on talk shows and media broadcasts.
There’s a huge anti-self-driving public outcry. Politicians pass laws to restrict the hell out of self-driving car technology. Carmakers pull back on producing them. It takes a century or two for the public to even consider allowing self-driving cars again, and even longer for laws restricting them to be withdrawn — if they ever are.
 
Option Two: City Drivers.
Self-driving cars become a little like hunting: mostly a rural thing, and a point of pride for many rural folks to distinguish themselves from “soft” urban types. Small towns and unincorporated areas may allow self-driving vehicles, but social pressure causes many people living in these areas to avoid them. The demand this preserves for manual-drive cars keeps carmakers supplying them and prevents the areas that favor them from passing laws restricting them.
At the same time, larger towns and cities do restrict manual-drive cars, barring them from downtown areas at least. Larger cities ban manual driving within city limits.
This division creates additional barriers and friction between rural and urban areas — it becomes more difficult for someone living and driving in one to visit the other — and as urban areas continue to grow, rural unrest and dissatisfaction with government and city people grows. Potentially, this may fuel separatism and worse political division of Americans than currently exists, and fuel similar social conflict in other nations as well.
 
Option three: Self-Driving Cars Take Over
In this scenario, self-driving car technology continues to develop quickly and by the time people born in the 2010s grow up self-driving cars dominate the roads. A decade after that, so many areas, including whole counties and even states, outlaw manual driving that even if you could find a manual car to buy there’s be barely anywhere to drive it. Manual-drive cars are only popular in racing sports and on closed tracks and private property as a rich person’s hobby.
The 20 years of the switchover creates a situation in which there are few of the older cars that the poor rely on for transportation available to buy. Self-driving technology replaces the cars of the poor with pay-per-ride apps, which are no more expensive as long as the poor choose to use them seldom and for short distances at non-peak periods. The availability of pay-per-ride self-drivers disrupts public transportation systems with low ridership; many collapse or contract. Some poor and working-class people are forced out of rural areas due to the greater reliance on people owning their own transportation in those areas, leading to an increase in the rural-to-city population shift.
By the time older self-driving cars are available for the poor to buy at low cost, the new social norm is set and few people buy those cars, distrusting the cost of upkeep and relatively large outlay.
It’s a relative good for most, but not for the bottom ten percent of income earners.
 
So. There are the major options as I see them. Got another idea? Let me know in the comments. 🙂
(This post appeared a week earlier on my Patreon page — join me and see most of my work early, plus you can get ebooks, for free, before I release them even if I’m charging for them when they go public, and even signed copies of anything I publish hard copy of at higher patronage levels!)

“One More For The Road” — Learning to drive in a future where nobody knows how to drive

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Yes, this one is about acquiring an archaic skill that nobody needs — driving an uncomputerized car in a time when cars not only drive themselves, but have no user-accessible steering wheel, accelerator, brake, not even a switch for the headlights. Where your car not only drives you, but it also comes to your side when you call — literally.

Stories that simple are never that simple, and there’s a lot more than that to this novelette — which, by the way, is available as preorder until its 27th July 2016 release, and of course as an instant purchase after that at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Google Play Books.

It’s about learning to see past the context of your time and place in history, learning to see what in your society helps and what holds you back, about a woman going hand-to-hand with caveman tech just to see if she can.

I posted more about it in an earlier post.

I also wrote a short description that appears where it is sold: “Angela’s world is automated — the cars drive themselves. Houses and tablets and phones are always listening to tell you how to do things and warn you against things you’re not supposed to do. When she and her boyfriend inherit an old-style manual-drive car, it inspires her to try to master it — and to realize how little a person actually controls in a technological,automated world.”

And I think you should buy a copy because I enjoyed the hell out of finishing it and loved seeing how it ended — I think that enjoyment and love shines through in the finished product.

Thanks.

[Also, just so you know, over on Patreon my patrons got a free copy a few days ago (and you can still get one by becoming a patron and scrolling down to the post and downloading your preferred format) — not only did they not have to wait for the preorder to release, but they also didn’t have to pay. Good deal, no?]

The Cover Of “One More For The Road” — A New S.A. Barton Novelette Coming Soon!

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This novelette is a story I’ve been tinkering with for quite a while, and I’ll be ready to let it go out into the world pretty soon — a week or so for my Patreon peeps who get to see my stories first as a thankyou for contributing to my financial wellbeing as a creator, and thirty days after that for everyone else.

It ties together a lot of my imagination in regard to the near future of life in the United States and elsewhere in the developed and developing world. The biggie is the future of the self-driving car. The protagonist of OMFTR, Angela, has never learned to drive, although she owns a car. She has never needed to, nor is it a useful skill for the average person in her world. Cars drive themselves, and there’s no more an option to drive them by hand than there is an option to control an elevator’s movement by hand — which, if you didn’t know, used to be how they worked. An attendant used to be paid to stand in each elevator and control which floors it moved to with a lever control, and to open and close the doors with a second lever.

Later, these functions were automated because it was possible and economical to do so, and nobody even thinks about controlling the elevator by hand. Which is how people will think of automobiles in 50 or maybe 100 years.

Angela’s worldview, however, is challenged when she discovers she and her boyfriend Buddy have inherited a real, honest-to-goodness manual-drive car. One which has not a single computer in it, not anywhere.

When she decides to learn to operate it on her own, the process will challenge her personally — but more than that, it will lead her to question the world she lives in, how it came to be the way it is, her relationship with Buddy, and even the most bedrock of assumptions for us all, how she lives her very own life.

I love this yarn, and I believe you will too.

I’ll get it into your hands soon.

SciFi News Network 2062: Self-Driving Vehicle Kills Three

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Posted: Monday, August 7th, 2062

WESTON, Mass.

Three pedestrians were killed Sunday when a self-driving car’s operating system was compromised outside a weekend farmers’ market in Weston, a wealthy suburb of Boston. Two local teens in the car were also treated and released with non-life-threatening injuries. Witnesses said the vehicle did not slow as it mounted the sidewalk and struck the victims, stopping only when it struck a line of heavy hedge at the end of the block. The names of the deceased are held pending notification of next of kin, and a Boston Metro press officer declined to identify the teens.

The officer did confirm that the teens were “on the younger side of teenage” and are the subjects of an investigation. No charges have been filed at the time of this report.

The teens’ attorney released a short press statement suggesting the car driving the teens had been hacked by an unknown party.

“It’s entirely possible the vehicle was hacked,” Boston Metro Chief of Police Esmerelda McLeod said in a press conference this afternoon. “On the other hand, there have been incidents of individuals deliberately using “spoofing” programs to subvert self-driving software and enable manual driving from a pocket tablet or phone. We have a very capable data forensics team working on the car’s systems to discover the truth.”

The three deaths bring the count of vehicle-related deaths in Massachusetts to 25, slightly above the generally accepted 1/8 standard as compared to vehicular deaths in the bloody pre-mandatory-autodrive era.

—–

The self-driving car is coming. As quickly as the automobile replaced the horse in busy city centers where a spooked horse would present a public danger, the self-driving car will replace the manually driven car in those same places and for the same reason.

It has already been discussed for some time that a computer-operated vehicle is vulnerable to hacking, malware, viruses, what have you in the realm of scary things that make your computer go AIIIIIIIEEEE and stop working the way it’s supposed to. Even now, with vehicles not driven by software but many of their systems controlled by it, it has already been demonstrated that a WiFi equipped vehicle is vulnerable to hacking.

And of course, like any computerized device, vehicles are already vulnerable to the knowledgeable subverting their programs.

People worry over this sort of stuff. And it’s worthwhile to worry about. A vehicle out of control, self-driving or not, is dangerous. Deadly.

And yet, over a million people yearly die in automobile accidents. Thirty thousand-ish of those are in the United States. Most of those deaths are caused by driver error or driver misuse. I went over the subject not too long ago in a post about a worker having to take a sick day because his/her car had come down with a virus.

So before I retread that same ground too heavily, I’ll just say that I bet self-driving cars will still kill people. I bet the first few times it happens there will be a public outcry and great consternation. And I bet that in the end, self-driving cars will still kill WAY FEWER PEOPLE. And once the last people who remember how often people died in manually-driven-car accidents, I bet there will be a cohort of “manual driving truthers” who will protest that history is misrepresented and lobby for “safer” human-controlled driving.

 

Stick around for a century or so, you’ll see.

 

(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page three days before it appeared here. Even one slender buck pledged per month gets you my fiction & writing posts 3 days early and ebooks 30 days before they’re released and FREE regardless of what I charge elsewhere. Woo-hoo!)

13-Word Story: Sick Call, Late 21st Century

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[This post originally appeared on my Patreon page on 3/30. Become a patron, see posts early, get free stories! Also, PLEASE DO share the image! It’s very helpful!]

So, about the actual post: someone tampering with a self-driving car’s software/firmware is already a much-discussed concern. Most of the articles I’ve seen have explored the possibility of using the WiFi access point of the vehicle itself to access and “hack” the vehicle, and my understanding is that this has already been done in at least one controlled experiment. A hacker could lock or disable the brakes, affect the steering, cause the vehicle to see “ghost” vehicles or become blind to actual vehicles or pedestrians, ignore speed limits, ignore traffic signals (which, once self-driving vehicles become ubiquitous, will likely be ‘visible’ only to the vehicles themselves in areas closed to manually driven vehicles), or… well, you get the point. The possibilities are extensive.

And, of course, there are other possibilities that come to mind. They’ll have to be dealt with as well as possible, just like the hacking problem, as self-driving vehicles become more common.

Drivers might alter vehicles’ software themselves. This will likely be illegal, and will range from harmless to extremely dangerous. Cars that drive themselves will likely have no human-accessible controls like a steering wheel or brake/accelerator pedals; a likely illegal mod would be to provide controls via touchscreen or a videogame-like controller. Mods might allow vehicles to exceed speed limits, open doors while driving, alter pollution controls (looking at you, naughty Volkswagen), flash rude messages to other drivers on a variable-opacity touchscreen windshield, and who knows what. Once the actual vehicles are here, we’ll discover all sorts of things we haven’t thought of yet, just like just about every other piece of tech we’ve come up with.

We’ll want advertising blockers for our cars by and by, too. I can’t imagine advertisers won’t be happy to pay to have messages projected and voiced right inside your car as you drive. Imagine how quickly you’ll get tired of hearing “would you like to stop at McDonalds?” and “Come shop at Macy’s, 20% off all housewares today!” If the advertising deals with automakers get aggressive enough — and when have advertisers not gotten too aggressive for their own good given the chance — you may find yourself having to respond to a constant stream of default-yes prompts. “Stop at Taco Bell? Touch CANCEL to decline.”

Yes, we’ll need CarAdBlock.

And of course, there’s the hazard of malware as the story suggests. Imagine your family vehicle being ransomwared right before a crucial work meeting. Or before your holiday dinner gathering, and you’re bringing the main dish.

Very likely efforts to thwart malware and illegal mods to vehicle software will be more aggressive than those directed at the same with computers and smartphones. Penalties will be more draconian — and if they’re not, they soon will be after the first few malware, mod, or hacking vehicular injuries or deaths.

But that won’t stop some people from creating malware for cars and so forth. There’s always someone who wants to ruin the fun.

Some think these and other hazards will prevent the self-driving vehicle from becoming popular. I don’t think that’s going to be the case at all. We are already willing to accept a MILLION WORLDWIDE DEATHS PER YEAR for our current vehicles. If malware “only” costs a hundred thousand lives yearly, there will be a public outcry. It will slow adoption by the public. But business and government will continue to pursue the option of lesser cost in both cash and lives — and that will be the self-driving vehicle.

Self-Driving Cars And The Century Of Death @ OMNI Reboot

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Yesterday, OMNI Reboot published a short speculative nonfiction piece I wrote entitled… well, look up; the title I used here is the title I used there. You can read it in its entirety with them — they were kind enough not to ask for exclusivity, but given that they’ve gone to the trouble to publish it and find some killer art to go with it, I’d like to give them the click, which will open in a new window so you can finish reading what I’ve written here as well. You know, if you’d like to.

In it, I assume that the self-driving automobile will dominate the roads of the not-so-far future, because I think that’s exactly what will happen. The future will look back and blink in stunned amazement that we put up with the enormous death toll of manual driving — over a MILLION yearly worldwide — and wonder what the hell was wrong with us.

But that’s not all. The self-driving car is part of the roboticization of the manual workforce. As computers have become less costly (remember, too, to adjust for inflation)…

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64K of RAM standard? Who will ever need such power!

…they have become ubiquitous. So, too, with the robotic laborer. The bot will flip your McBurger, replace your bank teller, paint your house, repair the roads, build your house, fix your plumbing, and not only drive your car, but more vitally to the economy, will drive all of the countless trains and trucks full of groceries and furniture and knicknacks and office supplies from one end of the country to another. And not only will self-driving delivery vehicles bring those things and more to the stores, but they will load and unload the trucks, stock the shelves, ring them up at the register, charge your card, bag them, and take them out to the car for you.

Because, unless there’s some sort of mass disruption in the progress of this technology, the systems that guide self-driving cars and work-doing bots are getting better and cheaper constantly and quickly, and will continue to do so for the forseeable future. The ‘bodies’ they will inhabit to do so are little more than a detail of engineering. And there’s every chance, with the advance of design software, that a computer will design the bots that serve you as well, rather than humans doing it.