Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

29
May

Profession, by Asimov

by adminadam in fiction

Profession, by Isaac Asimov — © 1957

George Platen could not conceal the longing in his voice. It was too much to suppress. He said, “Tomorrow’s 1 May. Olympics!”

He rolled over on his stomach and peered over the foot of his bed at his roommate. Didn’t he feel it, too? Didn’t this make some impression on him?

George’s face was thin and had grown a trifle thinner in the nearly year and a half that he had been at the House. His figure was slight but the look in his blue eyes was as intense as it had ever been, and right now there was a trapped look in the way his fingers curled against the bedspread.

George’s roommate looked up briefly from his book and took the opportunity to adjust the light-level of the stretch of wall near his chair. His name was Hali Omani and he was a Nigerian by birth. His dark brown skin and massive features seemed made for calmness, and mention of the Olympics did not move him.

“I know, George.”

George owed much to Hali’s patience and kindness when it was needed, but even patience and kindness could be overdone.

Was this a time to sit there like a statue built of some dark, warm wood?

George wondered if he himself would grow like that after ten years here and rejected the thought violently. No!

He said defiantly, “I think you’ve forgotten what May means.”

The other said, ”I remember very well what it means. It means nothing! You’re the one who’s forgotten that. May means nothing to you, George Platen, and,’ he added softly, “It means nothing to me, Hali Omani.”

George said, “The ships are coming in for recruits. By June, thousands and thousands will leave with millions of men and women heading for any world you can name, and all that means nothing?”

“Less than nothing. What do you want me to do about it, anyway?” Omani ran his finger along a difficult passage in the book he was reading and his lips moved soundlessly.

George watched him. Damn it, he thought, yell scream; you can do that much. Kick at me, do anything.

It was only that he wanted not to be so alone in his anger. He wanted not to be the only one so filled with resentment, not to be the only one dying a slow death.

It was better those first weeks when the Universe was a small shell of vague light and sound pressing down upon him. It was better before Omani had wavered into view and dragged him back to a life that wasn’t worth living.

Omani! He was old! He was at least thirty. George thought: Will I be like that at thirty? Will I be like that in twelve years?

And because he was afraid he might be, he yelled at Omani, “Will you stop reading that fool book?”

Omani turned a page and read on a few words, then lifted his head with its skullcap of crisply curled hair and said, “What?”

“What good does it do you to read the book?” He stepped forward, snorted “More electronics,” and slapped it out of Omani’s hands.

Omani got up slowly and picked up the book. He smoothed a crumpled page without visible rancor. “Call it the satisfaction of curiosity,” he said. “I understand a little of it today, perhaps a little more tomorrow. That’s a victory in a way.”

“A victory. What kind of a victory? Is that what satisfies you in life? To get to know enough to be a quarter of a Registered Electronician by the time you’re sixty-five?”

“Perhaps by the time I’m thirty-five.”

“And then who’ll want you? Who’ll use you? Where will you go?”

“No one. No one. Nowhere. I’ll stay here and read other books.”

“And that satisfies you? Tell me! You’ve dragged me to class. You’ve got me to reading and memorizing, too. For what? There’s nothing in it that satisfies me.”

“What good will it do you to deny yourself satisfaction?”

“It means I’ll quit the whole farce. I’ll do as I planned to do in the beginning before you dovey-lovied me out of it. I’m going to force them to – to – ”

Omani put down his book. He let the other run down and then said, “To what, George?”

“To correct a miscarriage of justice. A frame-up. I’ll get that Antonelli and force him to admit he – he – ”

Omani shook his head. “Everyone who comes here insists it’s a mistake. I thought you’d passed that stage.”

“Don’t call it a stage,” said George violently. “In my case, it’s a fact. I’ve told you – ”

“You’ve told me, but in your heart you know no one made any mistake as far as you were concerned.”

“Because no one will admit it? You think any of them would admit a mistake unless they were forced to? – Well: I’ll force them.”

It was May that was doing this to George; it was Olympics month. He felt it bring the old wildness back and he couldn’t stop it. He didn’t want to stop it. He had been in danger of forgetting.

He said, “I was going to be a Computer Programmer and I can be one. I could be one today, regardless of what they say analysis shows.” He pounded his mattress. “They’re wrong. They must be.”

“The analysts are never wrong.”

“They must be. Do you doubt my intelligence?”

“Intelligence hasn’t one thing to do with it. Haven’t you been told that often enough? Can’t you understand that?”

George rolled away, lay on his back, and stared somberly at the ceiling.

“What did you want to be, Hali?”

“I had no fixed plans. Hydroponicist would have suited me, I suppose.”

“Did you think you could make it?”

“I wasn’t sure.”

George had never asked personal questions of Omani before. It struck him as queer, almost unnatural, that other people had had ambitions and ended here. Hydroponicist!

He said, “Did you think you ’d make this?”

“No, but here I am just the same.”

“And you’re satisfied. Really, really satisfied. You’re happy. You love it. You wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

Slowly, Omani got to his feet. Carefully, he began to unmake his bed. He said, “George, you’re a hard case. You’re knocking yourself out because you won’t accept the facts about yourself. George, you’re here in what you call the House, but I’ve never heard you give it its full title. Say it, George, say it. Then go to bed and sleep this off.”

George gritted his teeth and showed them. He choked out, “No!”

“Then I will,” said Omani, and he did. He shaped each syllable carefully.

George was bitterly ashamed at the sound of it. He turned his head away.


For most of the first eighteen years of his life, George Platen had headed firmly in one direction, that of Registered Computer Programmer. There were those in his crowd who spoke wisely of Spationautics, Refrigeration Technology, Transportation Control, and even Administration. But George held firm.

He argued relative merits as vigorously as any of them, and why not? Education Day loomed ahead of them and was the great fact of their existence. It approached steadily, as fixed and certain as the calendar – the first day of November of the year following one’s eighteenth birthday. After that day, there were other topics of conversation.

One could discuss with others some detail of the profession, or the virtues of one’s wife and children, or the fate of one’s space-polo team, or one’s experiences in the Olympics. Before Education Day, however, there was only one topic that unfailingly and unwearyingly held everyone’s interest, and that was Education Day.

“What are you going for? Think you’ll make it? Heck, that’s no good. Look at the records; quota’s been cut. Logistics now – ”

Or Hypermechanics now – Or Communications now – Or Gravitics now –

Especially Gravitics at the moment. Everyone had been talking about Gravitics in the few years just before George’s Education Day because of the development of the Gravitic power engine.

Any world within ten light-years of a dwarf star, everyone said, would give its eyeteeth for any kind of Registered Gravitics Engineer. Read the rest of this entry »

15
Mar

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

by adminadam in prose

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
by Harlan Ellison

Limp, the body of Gorrister hung from the pink palette; unsupported—hanging high above us in the computer chamber; and it did not shiver in the chill, oily breeze that blew eternally through the main cavern. The body hung head down, attached to the underside of the palette by the sole of its right foot. It had been drained of blood through a precise incision made from ear to ear under the lantern jaw. There was no blood on the reflective surface of the metal floor.

When Gorrister joined our group and looked up at himself, it was already too late for us to realize that, once again, AM had duped us, had had its fun; it had been a diversion on the part of the machine. Three of us had vomited, turning away from one another in a reflex as ancient as the nausea that had produced it.

Gorrister went white. It was almost as though he had seen a voodoo icon, and was afraid of the future. “Oh, God,” he mumbled, and walked away. The three of us followed him after a time, and found him sitting with his back to one of the smaller chittering banks, his head in his hands. Ellen knelt down beside him and stroked his hair. He didn’t move, but his voice came out of his covered face quite clearly.

“Why doesn’t it just do us in and get it over with? Christ, I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this.”

It was our one hundred and ninth year in the computer.

He was speaking for all of us.

Nimdok (which was the name the machine had forced him to use, because AM amused itself with strange sounds) was hallucinating that there were canned goods in the ice caverns. Gorrister and I were very dubious. “It’s another shuck,” I told them. “Like the goddam frozen elephant AM sold us. Benny almost went out of his mind over that one. We’ll hike all that way and it’ll be putrified or some damn thing. I say forget it. Stay here, it’ll have to come up with something pretty soon or we’ll die.”

Benny shrugged. Three days it had been since we’d last eaten. Worms. Thick, ropey.

Read the rest of this entry »

21
Mar

Future Shock (Minus One)

by adminadam in articles, education, home, humor

Too much info and too many wild concepts to consider.

Let’s put it this way — To be able to hold this all in one’s mind without panic, or blind faith, or manic passion, to be able recognize the likelihood and probability of these progressively stranger concepts without a significant rise in blood-pressure; that is what it would mean to not be in future-shock.

When I Was an Animal, by Nick Lepard

The Shock Levels

What of this can you contemplate without exhibiting future-shock? Example symptoms of future shock: total astonishment, fear, blind enthusiasm, and downright-disbelief. By knowing what doesn’t shock you, you will know the extent of your own future-shock. So go ahead, apply this question to the following high-tech concepts: Are you astonished, frightened, giddy? Or do you react calmly to the prospects?

SHOCK LEVEL 0

Would you believe that there are cars and airplanes? There’s also this maze of tubes through which people can throw information at each other. It’s called the internet. Oh, and pay phones are almost completely gone now; everyone carries a mini-phone around in their pocket.

Now if Shock Level 0 comes as a surprise to you, then how in the world are you reading this!? Do you know someone with access to a home-printer? Yes, don’t be scared; they exist too and are relatively cheap, except for the ink cartridges of course; they cost you an arm and a leg, wouldn’t you know it!

SHOCK LEVEL 1

This is where we see the emergence of virtual and online cultures and economies, just a lot more interaction online: Stuff like Second Life, Amazon, WOW, BitCoin, Skype, and Twitter. We can now easily live to be 100 if we are fortunate enough to live in the developed world and take expert care of ourselves.

Level 0 people are quite surprised at what you can do virtually nowadays: Like ride a bike, or own your own home!

SHOCK LEVEL 2

Three people now have lived to be 200 years old! They got lots of body repairs done, did constant detox, nano-operations, and stem-cell “plastic” surgeries to look young. It helps that everyone drinks genetically-modified beer with resveratrol in it now, too.

Accidents happen though; we can still die by way of Acme anvils. Speaking of which, they tend to fall out of the sky much more often than probability would dictate nowadays. Must be the neo-luddites throwing some anarchy into the equation. But I digress…

Oh, also in Level 2 — We explore other planets and send probes to those in other solar systems. There are many artificial and genetically modified organism, like the How-Now-Talking-Brown-Cow and Pink Marshmallow Elephants. Also, human subcultures are diverging; many people are talking about how they are basically different species now: cyborgs and traditional humans. The cultural rift continues to grow.

There isn’t really much inter-breeding going on either, if you know what I mean… virtually sure, but that’s not exactly re-productive… (cough).

SHOCK LEVEL 3

Here we’ve got mature nanotechnology, bots swimming in your veins monitoring your vitals, and some that connect your nerves with your own personal internet cloud. The cyborgs and AI’s are working hard on their own intelligence all the time, so extropy is shooting through the roof in our little solar system. We are also anvil-proof. How? Just click backup in your Macbook Pro’s Mind-Time-Machine. Congratulations, you’ve now got a spare copy of your consciousness just in case anything anvil-related were to happen. I can’t recommend the XP version, though — too buggy.

Also in Level 3: Humans and robots are leaving the galaxy, but there are still some 10 billion left on Earth. The boundaries of Earthlings (as they are all called) are expanding; we’ve surely contacted other intelligences by now, or so most everyone believes — Nöosphere Media Control has been trying to keep it under wraps, you see…

“Ok, so most modern sci-fi geeks would laugh you off stage if you seriously told them it was happening as we speak, but they would believe it could happen someday, right?”, asked the participant.

“Yes, Mage Judy. You are now Level 3.”

SHOCK LEVEL 4 — Try this one on for size…

You exist as multiple copies of yourself; you can’t die unless all self-iterations will it simultaneously. Each self-iteration can, though, change their personality completely — as easy as it was for those 2010-ers to switch to Ubuntu.

Much of the matter in our galaxy has been converted to Computronium, or, all purpose computing clay. One drop of this stuff computes as much as the 2010 human population could and it’s totally malleable. It can create, be molded into, and process anything, so solid reality has become quite fluid, with everything linked to The Ubiquitous Internet 12.0^Cubed.

We’ve gone through a singularity (or two, depending on who you ask) and ultra-intelligence is saturating the whole known universe. We’re also performing physics hacks on the universe’s substrate. If we succeed we’ll tamper and spawn a few thousand more universes slightly removed from ours and linked by wormholes; they’ll have the perfect parameters for new life to develop independently from the elements of their own gradually-cooling mini big-bangs. (See Biocosm)

“So life as we know it is basically kaput then, it’s unrecognizable from my world, that’s what you’re saying…” offered Level-3 Mage Judy.

“That’s exactly right.” said Level-4 Apotheosis Wizard Tim.

THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS ARTICLE:

Future Shock Levels, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Accelerando, a book by Charles Stross

WHAT THIS HELPS ME WITH:

“The classification is useful because it helps measure what your audience is ready for; for example, going two Shock Levels higher will cause people to be shocked, but being seriously frightened takes three Shock Levels. Obviously this is just a loose rule of thumb!  Also, I find that I often want to refer to groups by shock level; for example, “This argument works best between SL1 and SL2”.

This does not mean that people with different Shock Levels are necessarily divided into opposing social factions; it’s not an us-versus-them thing.” — Yudkowsky

10
Mar

Nerd Nihilism

by adminadam in home, humor

“You can’t just go around bashing the Singularity like that!”

“Well, why not? Isn’t it due the same scrutiny as any other statistical or theoretical extrapolation?”

“No. Just no.”

“Why is that?”

“Don’t you understand?! — the Singularity is a sacred tenant of Nerd-dom, beating out even force-fields and light-sabers in conceptual God-status!…”

“I am not aware of any such thing as conceptual God-status, nor does it lend anything at all to your case this equating it with your Zeus-level memetics or whatever you want to call it. Science doesn’t care if it’s cool or if your world view rests upon its shoulders; all that matters is the truth: Is it going to happen or isn’t it? And your quick-tempered reaction to my by-all-standards-justifiably-dubious approach to the issue is self-defeating to say the least… I mean, would you want people making parody god-concepts out of your precious Singularity, much like the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn parody the God of the Old Testament? Give it a rest, please! It’s just another blogger pointing out some obvious fallacies inherent in the meme.”

“I… Ghah! I hate you!!”

“To further my point, consider how unlikely it is that we could properly imagine something so supposedly un-imagineable in the first place! I mean, where do you even start if the extrapolation leads to a wall of un-extrapolatability? ‘It’s like saying God is so mysteriously, incredibly powerful that you’re not even gonna believe it!’ To which me or any other sane, skeptical scientist would respond: ‘Ok, I’ll take your word for it. I don’t believe in it one bit then!’ Don’t waste your energy deifying such a mundane, backwater concept, that’s all I’m saying.”

“It’s not mundane or backwater! It’s brand-spanking new! It’s — it’s.. It’s the most glorious — bad-assest, mega-bajillion-power-plus-infinity concept there is! I mean, the Singularity almost guarantees us Earthly eternal bliss. And you don’t even have to believe in it to get the access-cards to the Mega-Rapture of the Nerds. It’s just gonna happen, what with all the modulation and widgetizing and hackitizing, not to mention the research and development money that’s being poured into the field of recursively self-improving A.I., which is really just the beginn…”

“Stop. Just stop right there. I’ve heard it all before. I’ve seen the wikipedia article on the Technological Singularity. I’ve listened to Ray Kurzweil speak at TED. I’ve read Vernor Vinge’s works. There’s nothing you can say. You’re not gonna convert me. I’m beyond it. I’m post-cyberpunk to your momma’s moldy Nöospheres. I’m post-singularitarian while you’re still in singularitarian infancy. I’m nerd nihilism 2.0. But you, you’re still raving about AOL 2.0!! Go home already!! Just go home!”

The nihilist turns his back and walks away, leaving Mr. S-fan boquiabierta — stunned and without a comeback.

“God I hate these playa-hater’s…” mumbles Mr. S-fan to no-one in particular. Looking off into the distance he ends saying, “Maybe I should make it a religion…. Yea, I’ll call it Singularitarianism… Yeah, I like the sound of that. It just rolllllls off your tongue…” He tromps self-righteous back to the hood, his hood, the neighborhood net-cafe, to make his plans for the future and ensure that nerd-nihilism spreads to not-another-soul…

THE INSPIRATION FOR THE STORY:
Article: The Singularity has already happened.

THE NEXT THING TO READ:
The Rapture of the Nerds, NOT

MORE SINGULARITY LINKS:
The Three Major Singularity Schools
Kurzweil’s TED Speech
Vernor Vinge’s Famous Theoretical Paper

16
Jan

The Last Question

by adminadam in fiction, prose

The Last Question by Isaac Asimov — © 1956

The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way:

Alexander Adell and Bertram Lupov were two of the faithful attendants of Multivac. As well as any human beings could, they knew what lay behind the cold, clicking, flashing face — miles and miles of face — of that giant computer. They had at least a vague notion of the general plan of relays and circuits that had long since grown past the point where any single human could possibly have a firm grasp of the whole.

Multivac was self-adjusting and self-correcting. It had to be, for nothing human could adjust and correct it quickly enough or even adequately enough — so Adell and Lupov attended the monstrous giant only lightly and superficially, yet as well as any men could. They fed it data, adjusted questions to its needs and translated the answers that were issued. Certainly they, and all others like them, were fully entitled to share in the glory that was Multivac’s.

For decades, Multivac had helped design the ships and plot the trajectories that enabled man to reach the Moon, Mars, and Venus, but past that, Earth’s poor resources could not support the ships. Too much energy was needed for the long trips. Earth exploited its coal and uranium with increasing efficiency, but there was only so much of both.

But slowly Multivac learned enough to answer deeper questions more fundamentally, and on May 14, 2061, what had been theory, became fact.

The energy of the sun was stored, converted, and utilized directly on a planet-wide scale. All Earth turned off its burning coal, its fissioning uranium, and flipped the switch that connected all of it to a small station, one mile in diameter, circling the Earth at half the distance of the Moon. All Earth ran by invisible beams of sunpower.

Seven days had not sufficed to dim the glory of it and Adell and Lupov finally managed to escape from the public function, and to meet in quiet where no one would think of looking for them, in the deserted underground chambers, where portions of the mighty buried body of Multivac showed. Unattended, idling, sorting data with contented lazy clickings, Multivac, too, had earned its vacation and the boys appreciated that. They had no intention, originally, of disturbing it.

They had brought a bottle with them, and their only concern at the moment was to relax in the company of each other and the bottle.

“It’s amazing when you think of it,” said Adell. His broad face had lines of weariness in it, and he stirred his drink slowly with a glass rod, watching the cubes of ice slur clumsily about. “All the energy we can possibly ever use for free. Enough energy, if we wanted to draw on it, to melt all Earth into a big drop of impure liquid iron, and still never miss the energy so used. All the energy we could ever use, forever and forever and forever.”

Lupov cocked his head sideways. He had a trick of doing that when he wanted to be contrary, and he wanted to be contrary now, partly because he had had to carry the ice and glassware. “Not forever,” he said.

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