Hard Drive – Reviewing the Mechanical Memoir

(for John)

The travel diary of this machine begins with a disclaimer. It does not know whereof it’s been. It knows it had been manufactured – in fact, the dry text begins with a humble “I was assembled” – somewhere in China, from parts that came from Singapore and Vietnam, and was put together according to instructions written in very small type in various languages. The hands that fashioned the machine remain a mystery to this day. The machine (it calls itself “Albert” after the once famous humanist Albert Schweitzer, but we shall do no such thing) found itself shipped across the world, container-bound first to Danzig, then Berlin, where it found a final resting place in the home of a modest entrepreneur named Amelie Blunt, she of the renowned “Blyster” family of iPhone applications. Thus concludes the travel diary portion of the book.

No one knows why the machine wrote the book, or what it was thinking at the time. Who would possibly be interested in the memoir of a household thing. It did not have an especially interesting “life”, assuming one would even give it that much credit. Mostly it found its way around the apartment, rested on various laps and tables, was dragged out of its casing at random times throughout the day whenever Amelie had a brainstorm and found it necessary to log in and type some words which she must have considered to be of some value, at least worth the time to pound the keys about. The memoir contains none of those files. The machine tells us hardly anything of Amelie Blunt. It is preoccupied with its own concerns.

The machine once overheard a story about the prevalence of bacteria upon its keyboard. Thereafter it lived in perpetual shudder, a fear of being typed on, an irrational “tap-a-phobia”, to use its terminology. It also worried about being exposed whenever its lid was open, as if it were being paraded nude in front of the entire world. It expressed a shyness once would not expect from mere mechanical bits and pieces.

The laptop (Albert, if you must) lived in a state of constant dread, according to this morbid memoir. It seems to have been a rather self-pitying sort of machine. It disapproved of nearly everything that was done with it. At one moment it complains about the short bursts to which it was put to use, while in the next breath it whines about being too often plugged in, never let to discharge fully, which would have given it some sense of relief instead of the constant checking of the percentage of its remaining battery life. It was a most neurotic hunk of metal.

Its sensitivity extended all the way to its speakers, which were generally turned up too loud, and the weird music Amelie chose to play upon it was not up to the machine’s more rigorous standards. It preferred the melodical beeps and boops originally programmed into its operating system, not the cacophony of percussions and electronic screechings emitted by the entire internet of fiends. And it was a sort of Anglophile, disapproving of the hideous German accents perpetuated by the vocalists of its resident nation.

The machine had one dear friend inside of it, a text-to-speech engine named John, who spoke with a delightful London aire. John would answer any and all of Amelie’s questions about America with a sort of snide indifference. “I suppose,” John would intone, “that such things would matter to people like that,” heaping scorn upon scorn up to the very last word. Then Amelie would giggle out loud and ruin the entire experience for the machine.

It did not like her. It thought she was beneath it. It could have done better. It did not approve of the “Blyster” family of iPhone applications, especially because it never heard the end of them. Almost all of the typings inflicted upon it involved either the Blyster’s programming, or its deployment, or its marketing, or its feedback, or its accounting, or its self-congratulatory blog posts as it crossed into the tens, then the hundreds, then the thousands and millions of downloads to paying customers. Amelie made a fortune and what did the machine get out of it? Not even a lousy t-shirt. No, it paid the price in bacteria, anxiety, exposure and humiliation. Its keys wore down. Its screen grew dim. Its memory flagged and finally failed. In one last gasp, before its ultimate recycling, it wrote this mechanical memoir, and uploaded it to one of those ridiculous websites where anybody can publish anything, where one out of every hundred million people on Earth might possibly notice it in passing.

In the end, and I believe even the laptop would agree, you pay for what you get. The machine got to exist. It had its little life span and when that final day arrived the machine, like all of us, was given the opportunity to finally go home again, back to where we all came from, the place we never truly left and never can leave. We are all of us right here forever, taking our place among all the other things, separated from each other only by the illusions of perception.

I would not recommend this book. It is not for you or me. It belongs, like all other memories and all of experience itself, to the time that will never return.

Featured on Wattpad: How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box

featured_on_wattpad

I’m happy to see that my most recent sci-fi story, “How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box”, is now a “featured” selection on Wattpad. It’s a bit of what I like to call “magical futurism”, featuring a black-market “artificially intelligent person” (or A.I.P., or “ape” in the colloquial sense, as in ‘the planet of the’), an organic being, farm-raised on genetically engineered smoothies and destined for auction to the highest bidding criminal enterprise. Gifted with the ability to communicate with foul-mouthed seagulls and ill-tempered felines, the gender-less, age-less, race-less creature has to find its way to escape from the clutches of its mother and other assorted enemies, in this fairly exciting and ultimately utterly unexpected novel.

As with all my books, this one is free on Smashwords and Feedbooks as well.

 

Huey Bluetooth

I had a terrible dream this morning, terrible in that it was a complete and completely do-able idea for a science fiction story that would also fall directly in line with the very kind of crap I can’t stand. I can already see the cute little stuffed versions of my main creature all lined up in shelves at Disney or Pixar or Apple stores or wherever such garbage is sold. I can see refrigerator magnets, t-shirts, posters adorning little kids’ bedrooms and the visions won’t stop. They keep pouring in. I need to exorcise this idea, get it out of my head. Maybe if I write it down?

A few years ago I wrote a story called “Unwritten Rules of Impossible Things“, in which some undefined aliens inhabit the bodies of people in order to accomplish a task they could not achieve using their real bodies – because their real bodies sag and sink under the Earth’s gravity. What they build is a way to get the fuck off this planet, on which it seems they had arrived by mistake or by accident. Almost nothing is known about the creatures because the story is told from the point of view of one of the young boys who happens to get caught in the middle of the action, lured to a mysterious “ghost house” in order to get a better view of the alien goings-on. Kind of a fun story. It was based on a house on my street where the owner, apparently an avid hunter, keeps an enormous stuffed African Kudu Bull in his bedroom, which made us curious as we walked by, which is exactly how the boys got themselves into the mess in the story.

So this new story, the one that came to me in a dream, is about the creatures. It’s a different story – not the gravity/getaway plot – in which they (there are two of these creatures) are in reality very very large but have the ability to shrink into a human-sized body. And the necessity. They have to fit in, otherwise they are quite visible and very vulnerable. One of their vulnerabilities is that they can’t help giving themselves away. They are susceptible to wifi remote commands which make their bodies change color, like a Philips Hue “smart” light bulb. In their natural state they look like rounded cubes, mainly white but dark grey around the sides (the stuffed versions on sale at Disney are very Minion-like) with friendly smiley faces which conceal their true emotions. Those emotions are expressed by their colors – White being their natural state of being contemptuous, sarcastic, superior and smug.

The story is of course about fitting in and getting along, growing and changing, accepting and coming to terms with humanity, while absorbing the happy-go-lucky, optimistic and kind nature of their one true friend, the human youth who helps them out (I’m undecided on gender, etc .. of this human so far). The youth did not explicitly appear in the dream, nor did the creature’s companion, though they were both implied in the very nature of the story. The youth will also have a companion, some acutely defined counterpart, worldly to his or her innocence, sharp to his or her dimness, dark to his or her light. The main creature, protagonist if you will, was named Hue in the dream  – the perfect commercial crossover, sponsored by Philips, integrated with the vast Internet of Things via bluetooth, which leads to comical misadventures in which various “smart” household appliances inadvertently cause Hue to change colors under comical circumstances (disclaimer: I currently work in this field, and it’s seriously aggravating).

I hate this story already. It’s a good thing I’m in a non-writing mode – I haven’t written a thing all year and am planning (hoping) to make 2016 the first year in over a decade without writing anything.

I don’t want to write.

Especially not this story.

At least not until I can figure out how to make it something truly evil.

 

Reissued: In Constant Contact

Sometimes I write. Sometimes I revise. Lately I’ve been on a revision jag, first with Humanoid Central, and now In Constant Contact. This one didn’t need too much. It was actually somewhat better than I remembered it. It’s available for free, as always, from Smashwords, Feedbooks, and the iBookstore.

The not-so-good folks at World Weary Avengers are at it again. Now they’ve come up with a device that keeps you in continual contact with a “professional friend”, someone guaranteed to always be there, whenever you need them, to be whatever you need them to be. Now it’s up to Kandhi Clarke and her team of test engineers to make sure if does what it’s supposed to, and not what it’s not, before this latest tech-astrophe is let loose on the world.

Next up will be some proof-reading and probably new covers for the Snapdragon Alley series.

InConstantContact_Cover2

about that time travel thing

I’m thinking that time travel might be both the most fun and the most stupid idea in this history of science fiction. The fun part goes without saying. The stupid part relates to the incredibly simplistic thinking that perhaps only an earthbound animal creature is capable of, for all we know. You can go back to the beginning of this sentence and read it again, but the universe is not at all like that. It does not rewind, or if it does, the enormity of such an action is seriously unthinkable. Every drop that flowed, every breath of wind that blew, every molecule that vibrated, all of that would have to be undone. Even the briefest moment (in the subjective experience of it) contains near infinite quantities of change. Nevertheless …

I’m only thinking about it because last night I watched the first episode of the new James Franco series based on the Stephen King novel (11.22.63 on Hulu) about a guy who is shown a portal to a certain time and place (1960, small-town Maine) where he can go and therein set about preventing the assassination of JFK. Leaving aside the old parallel universe conundrum, or the notion that, hey, now the guy can’t ever go back once he accomplishes his mission because every time he goes back the whole thing resets, like a default value.

Silly, but fun. What grabbed my attention was the feature that “the past does not want to be changed” and it actively resists, by setting things on fire, causing cars to crash and chandeliers to fall. It’s as if the past is spying on itself, endlessly paranoid that it’s little masterpiece might get tinkered with. It’s as if Jackson Pollock were hiding out in a museum to leap out just in time just in case someone decided to alter one of those meaningless scribbles of paint.

My thought was, hey, this is sort of like my own ‘Time Zone‘, where the past cannot be changed, but in my version, there’s no such volition, and no chance of ever defying it. What “time” does in that book is simply make you fit in. It absorbs you, changes you. There is nothing you can do about it. You are a molecule and it is the universe. I like my idea better, even though it is absolutely hopeless and makes it impossible for any story to occur in which the protagonists or their goals remain at all.

It’s a more subtle and less obvious take on the whole time travel thing, I think, and if it were made into a movie you could still have the cool cars, hairstyles and early rock and roll if you wanted, and those are clearly the best things about this particular TV show anyway.

 

(oddly, only a few minutes after I posted this I was notified that someone reviewed it on Smashwords. It hadn’t been reviewed there in more than 4 years!! The guy gave it 2 stars. Maybe if I went back in time and re-wrote it he would end up liking it better! What do you think? Should I do it? Are you ready to lose everything that’s happened in your world over the past 17 years since I wrote it?)

How My Brain got a nice review

On Goodreads. Made me happy and edged up my books’ overall Goodreads average rating to 2.99. Can they ever hit 3.00? The Law of Average would say “maybe”. If enough random people randomly read random books and rated them, that rating would likely be around 3.00, and that’s exactly what seems to have happened with mine.

Anyway: How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box really is (IMHO) a pretty good story, a fresh and somewhat more sane take on artificial intelligence than the usual. And it’s free, of course, like all my books always are on Smashwords or Feedbooks.

Such a great book! A fresh new take on the whole Artificial Intelligence genre. And it’s simplicity is its beauty!

When the AIP discovers their self, we people’s-people reading it discover ourselves and the world along with them!

Glad I stumbled across this little treasure. It will be in one of my all time favourite reads.

Machines for the Ethical Treatment of People

As I continue the adventure of writing my current story on Wattpad – Machines, Learning – I keep coming up across readers’ expectations that in the future machines will have had “ethics” programmed into them, somehow. The details escape us. I’ve come across nothing that shows, practically, just how these so-called ethics are going to be introduced into machines, just that it had to happen so of course it just happened. There is bound to be a learning curve, however, and so there are bound to be stories that are set during this period. Where are those stories? Why not write one?

In today’s world, it isn’t ethics that prevents a self-parking car from running over a child, it’s geometry. Any vertical object within range of the camera is enough to halt the motion of the vehicle. A self-driving car avoids a person for the same reason it avoids colliding with a fire hydrant. Is there a geometrical component to morality?

That a machine would not “willingly” harm a person will beg the question of what is meant by harm. Is it merely physical damage? What if the machine is programmed to diagnose psychological conditions. What if the person is unhappy and the program can tell that this unhappiness manifests (is it cause or effect?) by a chemical insufficiency (of, let us say, serotonin) and that by means of medication this deficiency can be addressed – is it ethical for a machine to alter the chemical balance in the human brain in order to induce a state the human would experience as “less unhappiness”? What if there are bad memories causing PTSD? Can the machine erase those memories. Would it be ethical?

Who gets to make that decision? On what grounds? How does this program work?

Who decides the value of happiness versus perhaps the important life lessons that may be learned by not being so fucking happy all the time? What kind of world will it be when no one experiences anything but the perfectly balanced chemical condition deemed optimal by the short-sighted dweebs who wrote the computer programs that were trained by that eternally optimizing data set?

The thing is, computer programs do exactly what they are programmed to do, as long as they don’t run short of resources such as RAM, Virtual Memory or CPU. If there is to be an ethical program it will be a program written by humans with the understandings those humans have about the ethics they prefer, and is not ethics another word for “opinions”?

We are experiencing a rash of such ethics this week after the Daesh bombings of nightclubs and other civilian venues in Paris. The Western World is enraged while at the same time continuously ignoring the same types of bombings of the same types of civilian venues in Beirut, in Baghdad, in other locales apparently not considered to be of the same ethical value to the Western World. Who is going to write these ethical programs? The same people who write the programs that guide the drones and missile launchers that mercilessly “bomb the shit” (to use Donald Trump’s phraseology) out of the civilians who happen to dwell in the cities currently occupied by Daesh?

Many, if not most of the problems in the human world stem from an inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. We insist on believing in our fictions, sometimes to a fanatical degree, such as those guided by an insane insistence on their own interpretations of the words of their prophets, and sometimes to a much lesser degree, such as those who “believe” that in the future people will engage in hand-to-hand combat using light sticks, or that machines will obviously and easily be programmed to behave “ethically”, while in reality they can never behave other than in ways programmed by the humans who design them and all you have to do is pay the slightest attention to the world around us to realize there is no such thing as an ethics, there is only contradiction, complexity and a hell of a lot of wishful thinking in magical make-believe.