It Won’t be Like in Star Trek

George Divorsky has an article over at IO9 talking about how the Star Trek vision of the future has been overtaken by events and become another quaint SF anachronism.

Instead, the future will be far different — and much weirder — than Roddenberry and other ST writers could have ever imagined. The challenge now is to admit that humanity is headed into a very different kind of future. It’s time to set aside Star Trek‘s outdated vision of the future and focus on real possibilities.


He lists a number of salient points, not the least of which are that any space-faring humans will be dramatically different from us, if they are physical at all.  Spaceships as a concept are unlikely, and any interstellar travel is likely to be in digital form with capacity to build from scratch on arrival.

The article is well worth a read, and (as with many good SF discussions) the comments are as interesting as the original piece.  In recent years I have come to agree with the author’s conclusions, particularly as they relate to interstellar travel.  We won’t be going anywhere in colony ships with multi-generational crew.  Instead, we are likely to be sending digital replicas of ourselves.  Spaceships will look like small rocks with a light sail.

The harsh reality of distance and time barriers to long distance space travel is lessened somewhat by the idea, present in some excellent SF, that we might send multiple copies of ourselves to different places.  I might not see the whole universe, or even a tiny pathetic fraction of it, but perhaps my digital copies might see millions of stars.  I can live with that.

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Book Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse is a near future apocalyptic story written in the form of transcripts and summaries of a variety of key events in a “War with the Robots”.  The concept of an advanced AI choosing to rebel and turning our machines against us is not new (see The Terminator), but the story was exciting and enjoyable to read.

There are a great many similarities in structure and execution to another bestselling apocalyptic SF novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, which I reviewed here.  Both novels take the form of after-the-fact descriptions of events as related (mostly) by survivors.  Both follow a similar story arc, taking us through the initial chaos and panic through the humans regrouping, finding ways to survive, and ultimately triumphing over their adversaries.

Robopocalypse is a darkly depressing novel, portraying our current technological trend toward wholly integrated computing and ubiquitous technology as a massive risk.  Genuinely sentient AI seems possible (if unlikely)even now, and like any sentient being it would be almost impossible to completely predict its actions and choices.

The main character and primary narrator of the book, a Sgt. Cormac Macarthy, relates his own experiences as well as those of a few key other individuals.  His insights into events outside his own experiences are provided by a robot record of the war, which the AI had made a point of preserving.  Most of the stories are compelling, though the story does stretch credibility in some events, as might be expected in an apocalyptic SF novel.

Robopocalypse is currently a strong seller, which is not surprising given the current trend towards apocalypse in fiction and the public zeitgeist.  This book is definitely worth a read, and I encourage anyone with an interest in current SF to try it out.  That said, the novel does not break any new ground, and does not explore new ideas in the manner of the SF greats.

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Asteroid Apocalypse Prevention

Neil Degrasse Tyson at Wired writes about the risk of a major asteroid collision, and what we can do to prevent it.

Currently, it looks doable to develop an early-warning and defense system that could protect the human species from impactors larger than a kilometer wide. Smaller ones, which reflect much less light and are therefore much harder to detect at great distances, carry enough energy to incinerate entire nations, but they don’t put the human species at risk of extinction.

If humans one day become extinct from a catastrophic collision, we would be the laughing stock of aliens in the galaxy, for having a large brain and a space program, yet we met the same fate as that pea-brained, space program-less dinosaurs that came before us.

I am inclined to agree.  We certainly have the capacity to identify potential planet-killers and save ourselves, but we don’t exactly have a good track record of coordinated action. If we are lucky, we will have some kind of functioning asteroid mining industry in place, with indirect technological applications available to ensure that we are able to survive long enough to expand out of this fragile little basket of eggs.

via IO9

 

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Journey to the Seventh Planet

A beautiful movie poster for the classic SF film Journey to the Seventh Planet.  The imagery calls up all the classic tropes of SF – bug eyed aliens, square jawed spacemen battling them.

I am intrigued by the poster’s invitation to ‘Travel X times faster than my imagination.’  Solving for X might be a challenge.

found at SciFiction

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Open Source Automated Sentry Guns

Anyone who every played Half Life can agree that these autonomous sentry guns are both cool and very scary.  It is also cool and scary to know that Project Sentry Gun has plans, software and instructions on how to make your own device available for free.  Yes, all the turrets are for paintballs and airsoft guns, but it wouldn’t take much of a tinker to convert them to real, scary guns. It wouldn’t take much of a prison budget shortfall to configure these to create ‘no mans lands’ around prisons, rather than using human guards.

The wistful voice of the turret in the demo video does not help to reduce the creepiness at all.

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Coolest Robot Videos

ExtremeTech has gathered a collection of videos that showcase the many exciting developments in robots over the last couple of years.  I think this is one of those SF tropes that will change our lives in dramatic and unexpected ways over the next ten years.

That said, outside of anticipated (and terrifying) military applications, I think the advent of smart machines in our lives is now so commonplace that we won’t be as amazed as we expected.  A robot to do the dishes?  Of course, along with driving the car, mowing the lawn and a zillion other things that are merely logical extensions of the smart computing we are coming to terms with now.

Some of the videos have appeared here on the Rocket Ship, but many are new to me and hopefully to you as well.  Enjoy.

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Time travel?

Live Science has a short but interesting article about the plausibility of time travel, one of the classic SF concepts.  The article explores the two basic directions of time travel – forward and back.  There isn’t much to argue with in the writer’s conclusions.

As much as many of us might hate to admit it, the past, with all of its mistakes, could remain sealed off from our efforts to redo it.

I think the obvious logical paradox about travel to the past about eliminates it as a possibility (‘if travel to the past is possible, where are all the travellers from the future?’).  And yes, technically we are all travelling into the future all the time.

I do think that we are only likely to experience time travel through some form of suspended animation/cryofreezing technology.  People who undergo that sort of procedure might see the world well beyond their natural lifespans, and from their perspective it will amount to time travel.  But physics based travel into the future at a rate greater than the normal passage of time is not only unlikely, but hardly worth the effort.  We’ll arrive there eventually.

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Shuffle: A Time Slip Movie

Shuffle looks very interestingly weird, starring TJ Thynes and directed by Kurt Kuenne.

Shuffle is the tale of a man who begins experiencing his life out of order;  every day he wakes up at a different age, on a different day of his life, never knowing where or when he’s going to be once he falls asleep.  He’s terrified and wants it to stop – until he notices a pattern in his experience, and works to uncover why this is happening to him – and what or who is behind it.

via io9

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