When Science Meets Magic – A Technology Round-up

science meets magic - a technology round-up -www.alliepottswrites.comIt has taken a bit to adjust to my new working schedule, especially as it pertains to writing for myself. When you find yourself researching and writing articles every day, it can be difficult to will yourself into remaining in your desk chair for an extra hour or two outside of regular business hours. If only the darn book would write itself, I’ve often complained. The story is there – swimming in my head. It’s just getting the words out on paper (or computer screen) that’s the problem.

Why don’t you try Dragon dictation? Some of my author friends have suggested. Once you get used to it, it is amazing how fast you can finish a draft.

Unfortunately, this would require I actually speak my story out loud. This means formulating the words to go along with the images floating around in my head, which is actually the hardest part of the process for me. Not only that, but I know from past personal experience, it isn’t a good idea for me to get into a habit of speaking as if no one can hear me. I tend to forget to turn it back off when I am around others.

Well, as luck might have it, I may just have a workaround soon. Back in April, researchers at MIT announced that they had created a wearable device that can ‘hear’ the voices words you say in your head, which is also known as subvocalization. The device itself looks like a cross between Google Glass and the headset used by a presentational speaker and picks up the electrical signals you generate when you think about words.

Speaking of Google Glass – Intel is coming up with smart glasses that actually look like regular glasses (source: The Verge).

But even then I am still a mom. Even if I am working in a cone of silence, there is still a good chance that either of my loving children will demand that I stop everything at once so that I might hear how they destroyed a creeper in Minecraft yet again. Did you know that in Minecraft’s creative mode, you can’t die? It’s true. And guess what, it’s still true five minutes later too!

If only I had an invisibility cloak. Oh, wait, that’s almost here too (source http://www.engadget.com).

Of course, then I also still have squeeze my writing in around weekly chores like folding the laundry. Thankfully my kids are now old enough to help out in this task, though they aren’t entirely reliable and often their little bundles have to be refolded before they can be put away. But maybe this won’t be a problem much longer either with the invention of a laundry folding machine Rosie from the Jetson’s might approve of.

Admittedly there isn’t much magic in this machine, but I want one all the same. As far as I am concerned, it creates time, which is a trick indeed.

Although, while I am on the topic of machines taking over time-consuming jobs, I was somewhat troubled to learn that scientists are continuing to hone in on what it is to be creative. In 2016, a computer ‘created’ a Beatles-esq song. Another computer, named “Shelley” has taken a crack at creative writing and is already working on its next anthology (source: livescience). And this was all before Google’s Duplex Assistant came on the scene and started tricking everyone into thinking a computer program was human.

What this means is the clock is ticking for me to finish my current works in progress before I have a whole new level of competition. Therefore it is best if I stop complaining about having no energy to write after work and get my rear back in the seat because science fiction is going to be science fact before you know it.

Project Gene Assist


When life is stranger than fiction

When life is stranger than fiction www.alliepottswrites.comIt is a well-known truth among my friends and family that I am not a good driver.  It’s not for lack of awareness or trying. It’s just not a talent of mine. Recognizing people in a crowd when they are outside of context, such as not realizing the woman in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store is my son’s teacher until minutes of awkward one-sided conversation, isn’t one either. What can I say? We all have our faults. Now, I’m not the worst on the road, by any stretch of the imagination, but let’s just say I don’t have a career ahead of me teaching driver’s education.

For this reason, I used to think that self-driving cars couldn’t get here fast enough.

I’m not so sure now.

image courtesy of xkcd.com

The magazine, Wired, put out a story about a former employee of both Google and Uber who was at one point was involved with the efforts of both companies to put these driverless vehicles on the roadways. This same engineer may or may not have passed along trade secrets, but the part of the story that really caught my eye was not the corporate intrigue, but the fact that he has founded a religious organization with the stated goal to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.”

Then there was this quote by one of his former colleagues –

“He had this very weird motivation about robots taking over the world—like actually taking over, in a military sense,” said the same engineer. “It was like [he wanted] to be able to control the world, and robots were the way to do that. He talked about starting a new country on an island. Pretty wild and creepy stuff. And the biggest thing is that he’s always got a secret plan, and you’re not going to know about it.”

Those of you who aren’t troubled enough by the potential threat of the roboapocolypse can read the full article, entitled “God is a bot, and Anthony Levandowski is his messenger,” by Mark Harris here.

The author of the article asks “can we ever trust self-driving cars if it turns out we can’t trust the people who are making them?” It’s a fair question and one that I might dwell on longer than is probably healthy.

Thankfully, we might soon have other options. Elon Musk, formerly of the company that became Paypal and of Tesla, SpaceX, OpenAI, and more recently Neuralink (a company which intends to produce implantable brain to computer interfaces, which is fascinating/troubling in its own right), has come up with a way to travel anywhere in the world in under an hour. All you have to do is board a rocket with the code name BFR as in “Big F—ing Rocket”.  I know – it’s so simple, I can’t believe no one else has already thought of it. You can read more here, or simply watch the video below.

I watched the video with Kiddo and while I was bothered by details such as the sheer amount of energy that would be required to make this a viable option for the general public, both in fuel costs as well as heat released into the atmosphere, he took the entire idea in stride. Considering his is the generation that will most likely see a man or woman not only step on Mars but establish a base on it as well, I suppose his lack of reaction is somewhat understandable.

This same generation, like the millennials that came before, will have grown up in the age of instant gratification. Even an hour of travel is too long. There has got to be a better way! Guess what – the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to three scientists who have detected gravitational waves in space caused by the collision of two black holes, thereby proving Einstein’s theory of gravitational relativity, which means that it is actually possible to bend spacetime.

Does this mean I could one day be in two places at once? (The answer is yes if you are an electron as proved by previous Nobel Prize winners)

But even with all these advancements in travel, at the end of the day, I am a homebody. Most weekends I don’t leave my neighborhood (which is a good thing for all considering my aforementioned lack of driving skill). I don’t need to. It is one of those planned neighborhoods with its own parks and a cozy small town center styled commercial hub as well as thick wooded walking/biking trails that make you forget you are in the middle of a city situated hours away from the mountains.

If you encounter a mountain lion
Something tells me this might not be solid advice… (image courtesy of flickr.com)

It turns out, I am not the only one who forgot that key bit of information. I received an alert on my phone from a diligent neighbor which read, “Not to be an alarmist, but I just spotted a 40-pound cat-like creature at the corner. Animal control has been called.”

It turns out that creature may have been a bobcat, but it also could have been a mountain lion based on the witness’ description, which would be no small thing considering cougars have thought to have severely reduced populations, if not be extinct, on my side of the country since 1938.

This caught both my sons’ attention in a way that no rocket, wormhole, or crazed genius intent on ushering in the age of the machines could and I spent the rest of the evening assuring them that a large cat would most likely not attempt to scale our house or enter their bedroom windows. Who needs to worry about what unbelievable news the future may bring when the local reports of the day’s events can be so much stranger than fiction?