Archive for the ‘Robot hardware’ Category

Norwescon Schedule

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

I’m heading to lovely Seattle in a few hours for Norwescon; here’s my schedule of panels:

Friday, 1 p.m. Tomorrow’s World: What amazing advances in technology are about to change the way we live?

Friday, 4 p.m. Energy Weapons: A Reality Check.

Friday, 10:30 pm. Reading. (Incidentally, this’ll be the very first reading ever from the third book!)

Saturday 2 p.m.  The Clarion Writers’ Workshop:  What’s It All About?

Saturday 10:30 p.m. Can We Change the World Through Science Fiction?

Hope to see you there!

Thoughts on the Singularity

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Today I want to talk about mechs.

One of the really interesting things in science fiction is the interface between flesh and machine. And one of the most interesting things about that interface is how ambiguous it often is. Bladerunner, for example: we never know for sure whether a replicant’s core is robotic or not (or even what, precisely, the word “robot” is intended to mean). Battlestar Galactica played a similar are-they-or-aren’t-they game in its initial episodes.

And I suspect that one of the reasons for this is that, in creating such fictions, we’re skating over some pretty thin ice around our culture’s broader anxieties. We know this stuff is coming. We know there’s going to be a Web N.0 where it all gets right inside our heads. Or maybe those of our children. But we’ve got very little sense of the exact sequence events might follow. Or how the timelines might play out. It’s all just guesswork.

And, as Warren Ellis pointed out last week, it’s made even more problematic by the way in which all too many of the folks who are best equipped to speculate are content to get all misty-eyed and mystical about the Singularity (aka the “Rapture for Nerds”, though Ken McLeod has been at pains to point out that he didn’t coin the term). And before you start hurling epithets and tomatoes: sure, there’s some kind of Singularity on the horizon. I know that. Something’s brewing. That much seems clear. But it’s probably not going to be the peaches-and-cream mass-upload that so many seem to have in mind. It’ll be something far more ambiguous. It’ll hit us from the blindside like the web did. And like the web, even as it opens up new worlds, it won’t magic away anything in the real world. And we forget that at our peril.

But I was here to talk about mechs.

Look, here’s the thing: the problems I’ve been talking about admit of ambiguity. Mechs in THE MIRRORED HEAVENS don’t. More than one reader/reviewer (and god knows I love them all, so don’t take this as an ad hominem attack, ‘cos it ain’t) has used the word mech interchangeably with the word cyborg. To paraphrase Winston C., that is something up with which I cannot put. They’re different classes of concepts. While you’ll have to read the book itself to find out where I come down on the whole cyborg question, the mech issue is far more straightforward:

The word’s come down from the old man himself. Both kinds of runners hit this city tonight. The razors work the zone [i.e., the net] and the mechanics kick in the doors.

Make sense? Mechs doesn’t refer to cyborgs, nor is it a reference to anime mechas. Mechs are the men and women who call themselves mechanics: assassins. They’re black-ops operatives who specialize in physical combat while the razors with whom they’re partnered work the zone and enable their runs. And in fact, I’ve got some additional information as well, on the bottom-right of this page.

Cool? Cool. Or rather, I wish it was #$# cool. But it’s not. In fact, it’s hot as hell right now in the middle of our nation’s capital. You can tell this town was the result of a political compromise. Thanks a lot, Founding Fathers.


Robo-Warriors: Part One

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Been a lot of talk this week in the blogosphere regarding the New Face of Killer Robots, thanks to a well-time PR land-grab by a robotics dude at the University of Sheffield, who warns us that it’s only a matter of time before terrorists start deploying robots against us. This overstates the problem. We’re a long, LONG way from the days of a robot being cheaper than a human. Just because it’s a jihad doesn’t mean the laws of economics don’t still hold sway. “Let me see, I can either build a super-expensive mobile robot or I can recruit some teenage fanatic. Hmm. I JUST CAN’T DECIDE.”

Still, hyperbole aside, the underlying point being raised here is a good one, particularly with UAVs buzzing all over Afghanistan and similar ground-vehicles now under development. Part of the problem in calling for an agreement to “limit” such weapons or determine rules for them is that right now the U.S. is the only nation that is anywhere near close to tapping the full range of operational potential that such assets afford. Russia fielded some recon units in Chechnya, but they’re a long way from the general’s wet dream of being able to watch your enemies on a screen while you sit back, open up a sixpack, and hit the KILL button. As with space weapons, this is an area in which the U.S. maintains a decisive advantage, and they’re unlikely to be held back by calls for international agreements from those who can only wish they had this kind of hardware to fuck around with.

But the key variable in all this is the level of sophistication of the robot brain that’s targeting that terrorist strongpoint on the next street corner/deciding that maybe those kids hanging around on that corner are actually just innocent bystanders. Even soldiers have trouble with this (as so many headlines from Iraq underscore), and robots are a long way from getting to this kind of threshold. Fast-foward enough years/tech development, and the questions become very interesting though. To be continued . . .