Getting lost in science fiction

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a science-fiction fan. All through my childhood into adulthood, I’ve gravitated to science-fiction of all types ranging from old movies like Metropolis and The Day the Earth Stood Still to newer movies like Bladerunner, Terminator, and Looper. I’ve also read quite a few science-fiction books as well; the more notable ones being Slaughterhouse-Five, Mars, and The Invisible Thread. All three are fundamentally different stories but all fall into the science-fiction category. This one particular genre gives me the ability to imagine myself out of time with reality and satisfies a deep desire of experiencing a future that my life time won’t provide to me.

I dream of a time when we finally decide that poverty, hate, intolerance, and hunger are all problems we read about in history books. Our recollection of these times are used, not for causing war, but rather for teaching a new generation our mistakes so as not to repeat them again. A time when we cast away our labels and see ourselves as more a world species than a collection of countries on the surface of the world. We let our emotions drive our actions when in fact we should instead use our emotions as an indicator when greater control is required, when we need to listen harder, when we need to understand each other better.

Science-fiction for me is an escape that takes me into a world that is different from my own. Ok, not all science fiction is postive. Bladerunner for instance is a vision of a distopian future that is dirty and corrupt where technology has been perverted to serve our selfish tendencies. Terminator is similar in that our own superiority is challenged by the very technology we have taken for granted and self-awareness is no longer just a human trait. Shows such as Star Trek (Next Generation, Voyager) give me the opportunity to imagine an escape of present reality and into an imagined reality. A future where we are free to discover new things without the burdens of hate, hunger, and poverty. Sailing through space meeting new species of life definitly makes me feel humble thinking (hoping) that we’re not alone. Independence Day is a good example of how a conquoring species forces the human race to set aside differences and see everyone as a fellow human being, not by the color of their skin or the religion they follow.

There is a scary side to science-fiction as well. The side where we use technology to immerse ourselves into a world that isn’t real except in our heads. Virtual reality has the potential to blur the lines between our own lives and our virtual lives to the point where we’re not sure anymore which is real. The movie Total Recall (both versions) is a perverse example of how these lines can be blurred. I just recently watched a short film on virtual reality that has a very chilling ending that I encourage you to watch when you get a chance. It’s not long, but it certainly highlights with extremity the dangers of the warped use virutal reality can provide. The short film is called Uncanny Valley and is worth the watch. This short video elicits an emotional response and causes you to consider the ramifications to something that is basically a human experiment in anti-social behavior.

While a lot of science-fiction is really out there in terms of believability, at it’s core it’s based on fear. Fear of the unknown or fear from ourselves to not self-govern with the survival of the species front and center. My own theory is that our future will not be much different than today. Sure, there will be advances in the technology and medical sectors, however the fundamental characteristics of daily life will remain the same. We will still have the same problems and struggles we have now, the environment around us might be slightly changed. Think of the 1970’s compared to today. People still talk on phones, they’re just mobile. People still drive cars, they’re just modernized and safer. People still got to the hospital, more survive today. A lot of buildings from the 70’s are still around today. People still fly, planes are larger, safer, and more efficient. There are of course a lot of changes as well: computers, the Internet, private space exploration, modernized infrastrucutre (to a point).

I tend to focus on the improvements that science-fiction holds for us. Distopian futures aside, even in the worst examples of our futures in science-fiction, we’re still surviving relatively well. What truly is scary is our ability to not see potential impacts of certain technologies until it’s too late to fix anything. Virtual reality has the potential to remove our ability to socialize in less than 2 generations if it becomes pervasive. Artificial intelligence has the potential to “dumb” us down by taking standard tasks and responsiblity away from us and at some point after becoming self-aware, understand that we’re our own worst enemy and try to protect us like in I, Robot.

Not sure about you, but I hope that a lot of science-fiction remains just that, fiction.

Self-aware Internet……woah!

We had a debate at work today on whether we think the Internet would become self-aware at some point in the near future.  While it was mostly conjecture that resulted in us ribbing each other for stupid ideas, it did start me thinking down a path that I hadn’t thought about for several years.  A former professor of mine posed a single quote, author unknown, that we debated for over four hours.  I might have brought this up before in a previous post and I’m just too lazy to go looking for it, but here goes.

“The computer is the network.”

Obviously it can be interpreted as “The network is the computer” but for the sake of keeping things semi-short, I will stick with the original quote.  Putting some logic behind it, one is able to determine that it is true and false at the same time.  What I mean is its a modern “Chicken or Egg” discussion in that its easy to see if from both sides.  Would networks, as we know them as electrical signals that are on or off, have existed if there weren’t any computers?  Would computers, as we know them as smart thinking boxes, have existed if there were no networks?  You can answer yes to both questions, but you can also answer no depending on your point of view.  Does that make sense?

The theory behind artificial intelligence is that with enough data, or input, an electrical circuit can and will become aware of its environment.  Simple machines, the size of matchbox cars, have been built with simple circuits that didn’t have memory or storage capacity and have learned their environment well enough to not repeat past mistakes, such as run into an obstacle.  Provided everything remains constant, they don’t go back to the place they ran into a wall or a table leg.

Now, take into account that the Internet has reached a level where you hypothetically measure its contents in exabytes, as in 1 exabyte is the same as 1,024 terabytes, or for the non-technical people, 1,024 terabytes is the same as 1,048,576 gigabytes.  I used a calculator so I know my math is correct, lol.  Moving on, that information is served up and transported by the most advanced and cutting edge computers in the world.  It’s not a stretch to hypothesize someone out there creating a very simple “learning” malware application that anticipates the end-users removal techniques and effectively counteracts said techniques long enough to spread to several hundred computers.  There is documented proof on the speed that malware or a virus spreads around the internet.

Straight out of a science fiction book, that malware, learning all the way along, infects the largest and most powerful computers in the world.  Quicker than we can comprehend, it now has access to the entire digital footprint of the human race and learns at an exponential rate until we realize what is going on all too late.  What we had created as a simple network back in the 1970’s has now become an enemy that has control over utilities, electricity, warheads, planes, ships, and any computer in the world connected to it.  A technical life form by definition, but without any physical presence to attack.

How would you use a laptop that has now become aware of you, and will protect itself at all costs to keep you from unplugging it, removing its battery, etc.?  A scary thought that is, as previously mentioned, right out of a science fiction book.  There are theorists all over the internet talking about this sort of thing, which in my opinion is making things easier for the the Internet (would we call it Lord Internet when it makes us slaves?) to one up us.  Make us obsolete and alter the world to suit its needs….

I for one could, at a moments notice, disconnect and exist off the grid in some mountain cabin in the middle of Montana!