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io9 says We, Robots one of 13Robot Stories that Will Change Your View

Jan. 10th, 2010 | 11:13 am

Back in May the mega sf site, io9, declared my Singularity story, We, Robots, as one of the “13 books that will change the way you look at Robots.”

I’m in good company. Isaac Asimov (of course), Vernor Vinge (Mr. Singularity), Marge Piercy, William Gibson, and Charles Stross are all there as well. Pretty rarified.

I didn’t even know they’d done that. Nobody tells me anything.

Go read the article and then go buy a copy of We, Robots at Amazon. (No it’s not available as an ebook. Sorry, go talk to the publisher about that.)

Sue Lange
Check out Sue Lange’s bookshelf at if you really want an ebook.

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Review of Uncategorized

Dec. 2nd, 2009 | 03:28 pm

Wow, been a couple of months since I've been here. Sales of "Uncategorized" are brisk, keeping me busy. Finally got a review at West of Mars:

Here's the best part: "Best of all, there are twists at the end of some of these pieces that you don’t see coming. Or if you do, they still manage to shock. And make you think."

If you want to read a free story, Kindle Nation Daily posted one a few weeks at their blog. Here it is:

And if you want to buy the thing (it's only $1.99) get it for the Kindle from Amazon. For other formats such as pdf, mobi, html, epub, etc. go directly to the bookstore at the publisher's website,


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Release of Uncategorized

Oct. 7th, 2009 | 12:12 pm

 Get the details here.

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Talking Trash

Sep. 22nd, 2009 | 04:58 pm

Check out: The Secret Life of Garbage

I am not a fan of tagging. Whether it’s on animals in the wild or children just entering school, attaching electronic devices so we can keep track of their movements is creepy. I’m sure it’s all well intentioned and we have the trackee’s interests at heart, but have you seen the tags they stick on bears? And the wiring of a dolphin  just seems barbaric. It’s for a worthy cause (like with the Swainson’s hawk story in the bear link above), no doubt, but I’m not sure the bears and dolphins feel that way about it.

 This here garbage tracking thing is different. It’s valuable. Despite the fact that tagging trash could be seen as an invasion of one’s privacy, I’m all for it. Fact is, the amount of crap we’re disposing of these days is frightening. We’re drowning in refuse.

 We have so much garbage we are fast running out of places to dispose of it. Actually, though, it’s not that we as humans are running out of places for waste disposal. There’s plenty of pristine mountainsides and virgin deserts to be exploited, abused, and then paved over. Unfortunately as our population continues to increase, we’re going to need those places to live in someday. Besides that fact, though, there are all the animals that live now in those pristine areas. They kind of need the space and they were there first.

 The problem we have with escalating waste is two-fold. First, there are almost 7 billion of us. Although the rate of population growth has slowed, we are still increasing and the current plan is to have “9 billion of us by 2050”. Woohoo. I hate parties where nobody shows up. (Hopefully, the Singularity will have hit by then and half of us will be tucked into our virtual reality cracker boxes, but that’s beside the point.) Second, and more important, the industrialized countries have a very efficient packaging industry that results in tons of waste materials that are neither recyclable nor reusable. The upshot is that not only are there more of us, but our land fills are filling faster than they would have in the past when everything was wood, paper, or coffee grounds.

 Reducing the population will solve only half the problem. We also need to figure out what to do with our non-biodegradable trash. Assuming that methods for reuse/recycling of Styrofoams, plastics, and other space-age polymer composites will be found, we can assume these problems will be solved eventually. Which brings us back to the tagging of our trash. A tagging process to keep track of who’s dumping what and where will be required to ensure we’re all compliant with the latest best practices. Legal procedures will be coming down the pike as a result of those practices. Oh, there will be laws you can bet on that. Not only will they ensure proper disposal and appropriate respect for the garbage separation rules, but disobeying them will result in fines. The money will be  a source of income for our impoverished municipalities. Cities will soon be flush (so to speak).

 It’s all good. Carry on, students of refuse.


 P.S. This is my last posting here. I'm moving everything over to wordpress. I've been cross-posting for quite some time and it's getting to be a drag. For new posts after this week go there. Same cynical attitude; same half-baked ideas, new URL:

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Engineering Motivation into Artificial Intelligence

Sep. 17th, 2009 | 11:41 am

Technology Review published this a couple weeks ago:

 The author has a good point: just creating a more intelligent machine is not going to result in it creating an even more intelligent machine. I’ve always said that a funny thing could happen on the way to the Singularity.

More intelligence is not the answer. Computers are already faster at thinking than we are; but they’re not better at it. Of course “better” is relative. In this sense, better implies a wanting to create more intelligent machines, some sort of desire on the part of the AI. Apparently motivation is required to effect the Singularity.

The question is: how do you program wanting, motivation into AI? True motivation. Not just instructions to do something, but instructions to want to do something. We humans seem to have “want” hardwired somewhere in the process of procreation. Apparently our genes give us our motivation. Eating, having sex, being entertained, these are all things that we want to do because the end result is the success of the species. We don’t consciously think: I must eat so I’ll live to the age when I can pass on my genes to my children; I must watch Mad Men so I’ll be in a good mood when my spouse comes home and I’ll be motivated to pass on my genes to my children; or even, I must have sex so I can pass on my genes to my children. We simply have a desire to do these things because our genes code for proteins that build pleasure centers in our brains that are stimulated by satisfying something else in our brains that tell us that we want something. Or something.

We take that desire for granted but it’s tied into the very definition of life. Life is the ability to reproduce oneself (and probably the desire to do it should be included in that definition), thus we do so every chance we get. That’s why we say our desires are hardwired. Being alive makes us want to go forth and multiply even if our day to day decisions don’t seem to have anything to do with procreation.

So what happens when you program this motivation into a robot? If AI wants to procreate as badly as humans and other living things want to procreate, then is that AI alive?

I can’t imagine how to program an AI to actually want something not just because it’s been told to want something but because it truly, in the bowels of its firmware, wants that something. But let’s say it can be done. Can we say then, that this AI is alive in the same way humans are alive?

Is motivation that’s traceable to a subroutine the same as motivation that’s traceable to a gene?

Or conversely: are our wants, our motivations, the very things we cling to as humans, so easily replicated and accounted for that we’re no more than mere robots already? Maybe it’s not a question so much of would the AI be considered alive, but are we as animals actually not alive?

An important question, to be answered as soon as The Singularity hits, which as far as I’m concerned will put us somewhere out in the Twilight Zone.

--Scusteister Schwamp

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Afterword from We, Robots

Sep. 9th, 2009 | 08:16 am

 Yup, that's right, I'm cannibalizing my own work. Below is the afterword from my book, We, Robots, which is a work of fiction. It's a story about the Singularity told from the point of view of the artificial intelligence. I included an afterword to explain the references to the Singularity sprinkled throughout the book. I thought it'd make a great blog post.

We, Robots

…But what Is the Singularity?
The scientists, the engineers, the people that know,
the people that observe, intuit, and surmise, even those
that pay no attention whatsoever, have all noticed that
lately, the rate of technological change has increased at
a phenomenal rate. Notice the use of the word “rate”
twice in that last sentence. The rate has increased at a
high rate. That’s rate squared.
One or two of us have noticed its increase is so
great, in fact, that we are about to hit a point of no
return—the Singularity.
But what is that point of no return, that Singularity?
The Singularity is that exact instant when artificial
intelligence, AI, surpasses biological intelligence. When
computers become smarter than people. They already
are, you argue. True, sort of. They calculate faster, certainly,
but intuition—that trait of humanity alone—
seems to escape them. They can’t pass a Turing test.*

But one day our engineers will unravel the dark mystery
of intuition, and they will bestow it upon AI. They
will do this by mimicking the protocols, the processes,
the ways and means of the human brain. They will
discover how to define, describe, copy, digitize, the mind
of humanity. Our brains will become downloadable.

You see now what is meant by point of no return.
Once the human brain can be copied, it will be copied.
And uploaded. Onto what? Who knows. A new body
maybe, synthetic or mostly that way. Or maybe a data
bank in Cleveland. Or a wafer of space-age polymer
plastic, ready to be popped into an iPod device and
hologrammed into a virtual reality world where fake
smells and tastes are pumped in via tiny nanosphere
robots that will see to this post-human’s every need.
Regardless, the human mind, and perhaps the human
itself by whatever definition we use, will be able to live
forever. Point of no return.

So, we’ve got techno-geek groupies of Ray Kurzweil
who look forward to the Singularity with excitement.
They prepare themselves mentally and physically
for the great day of immortality. They happily plan to
become cyborgs, incorporating artificial organs and
molecular-sized robots into their tired and worn-out
bodies, creating a new them. They eschew learning by
experience. One day all knowledge will be uploaded.
These people prepare their current bodies as best they
can with today’s primitive technology, an artificial joint
here, a valve replacement there. They race against time,
extending their pathetic man-born-of-woman lives just long enough to meet
the Singularity. On that day, people in the know, people
who are on the leading edge of scientific endeavor (and
have enough credit) will be able to purchase a new
body, or replace parts easily available from the local
organist, and I’m not talking piano player here.

On the other hand, some human technocrats (the
naysayers among the futurists who follow the general
Bill Joy position to the extreme) are frightened by the
prospect of computers able to think and know better
than humans. They are scared of half-biological,
half-hardware beings that are super human. What will
such creatures do to the rest of us? The most of us.
The members of the middle class that find the idea of
weekly transfusions of smartblood to get to the second
coming a little off-putting. Not to mention the fact that
nobody’s health care plan covers experimental therapy
straight out of a science fiction story.

This group of fear-mongers insists that robots—
computers with legs—will have no use in the future
for the weaker race, Luddites who stupidly cling to the
old ways. Surely the future superior beings, robots with
their quicker reaction times, faster computation skills,
bigger, fatter memory and the power to access it at a
nanosecond’s notice (they don’t even need to scratch
their heads), will want to enslave the humans. Or worse,
euthanize us to put us out of our misery.

Then there are the few, the lonely, the crackpot
cranks who suspect that a funny thing could happen
on the way to the Singularity. Maybe the robots will
buck intuition. Maybe they’ll prefer to remain stonecold
sober. Maybe their software will become obsolete
the minute they get it out the door. Maybe the AVs and
Others will discover love and want to "remain."

And here’s another thing: who’s to say the Singularity
hasn’t already occurred? We’re all so patched into
our TV sets, mp3-player headphones, hi-speed Internet,
and Bluetooth devices, we have no idea what’s
going on out there in reality anyway. We already are our
technology. In the end what’s the difference?

Call it fate. Call it Manifest Destiny. Call it Murphy’s
Law. One thing is for sure: If there’s a way to screw up
the human race, you can count on us to do it.

*The Turing test was invented by Alan Turing in the
1950s and consists of a computer fooling a human into
thinking it—the computer, that is—is a human. That
it is alive, sentient, aware, awake. I myself often have
trouble convincing my partner that I’m human, awake,
and aware, so a computer that is able to do it is certainly
html for Dr. Turing’s paper, “Computing Machinery
and Intelligence.”

Additional Reading
For information on the actual theory of the Singularity,
start with Vernor Vinge’s piece on the subject
(Vernor Vinge on the Singularity: http://mindstalk.
net/vinge/vinge-sing.html). For the science behind the
theory read Ray Kurzweil’s, “The Singularity is Near,”
(Penguin, 2005). To find out what the very real transhumanists
org. To read Bill Joy’s controversial Wired article questioning
our unbridled development of technology, see
Wired, April 2000, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,”

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The Trouble With Kindles

Sep. 1st, 2009 | 12:08 pm

…is not because they multiply like mad and then muck up the elevator works and the di-lithium drive shaft.*

The trouble is you can "download books right from your Kindle, anytime, anywhere” via their Whispernet wireless function… 

er… Stop right there. 

I had this whole long blog about how you can’t turn the Kindle off and that means Amazon can find you anytime, anywhere and it can do with your Kindle and the books you purchased with it what they want and the only way to turn it off is to unplug it and let the battery go dead and a while ago Amazon took back a number of their titles because they didn’t have the rights to them and they didn’t ask anybody just took them and isn’t that scary that someone can control your Kindle and that you can’t even turn it off and at the same time I was discovering all of this I tried to turn the wireless network of my big ol’ regular computer off and the weird thing was that the Internet configuration page was stuck in a loop where it kept telling me somebody had changed my Internet configurations and I would hit okay and then the message would come back and I would hit okay and the message would come back and I would hit okay and there was no way to change the configuration myself and in fact I couldn’t even get off that page without rebooting my computer and as the control of everything computerish was slowly being taken out of my hands I remembered I had watched the John Hurt version of 1984 recently and wasn’t it ironic that one of the books Amazon had to take back was 1984 and doesn’t it make you wonder if Jeff Bezos is a real person instead of a robot, I mean, he doesn’t show up at any of the cocktail parties I get invited to. 

And then I looked at my Kindle again and I noticed there’s an option to turn Whispernet off. 

I have GOT to stop reading and writing about AI taking over the world.


*Weak reference to Star Trek’s Trouble with Tribbles episode

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The Fourth Wave: Transgenderism

Aug. 26th, 2009 | 02:54 pm

Check out Transalchemy’s video on the subject of Transgenderism:

The video starts with Shulamith Firestone’s 1970 quote: “The heart of women’s oppression is her childbearing and child-rearing roles…To assure the elimination of sexual classes requires the revolt of the underclass (women) and seizure of control of reproduction…so the end goal of the feminist revolution must be unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself; genital differences between human beings would no longer matter.”

Note the date. This is not new stuff. People have been gaga over the ability to create life sans womb for over 30 years. Maybe 100 even. Pregnancy is so painful and messy. Why can’t we just get over it? 

Whether it’s a high-tech package complete with artificial coitus, artificial uterus, and artificial birth, or a totally different method of creating a “human,” once we give pregnancy the boot, we will be truly changed. The question is what will we be changed into and is it a good thing? 

The answer is up to women. Certainly men can have an opinion but, really, what would that opinion be worth? Men will never have the opportunity to carry another living soul within themselves (unless you consider intestinal e-coli as having a soul). They will never give up anything. Women must decide what to do about this. They are the ones losing a life experience. 

The forethinkers in the video assert that women need to be freed from the shackles of carrying to the painful and messy term. Are they the true feminists then, the voice of women in general? 

Perhaps. But contrary to what a number of ignorant anti-feminists would have us believe, feminists have always supported motherhood. They support motherhood as well as mothers. What confuses people is that they also support non-motherhood. 

The reason for this apparent discord is because, at heart, what feminism actually supports is choice. Throughout history as the obstacles to choice have come into existence, been beaten down, and been born again in some other form, the feminist fight has also changed. Battles over the rights to education, enfranchisement, property ownership, fair recompense for services rendered, and a life free from violence, have at different times been the outward goals of feminism. Underlying it all always, though, is the fight for women to have choice. 

Now comes the Singularity allowing women to have children the new-fashioned way: without pain and mess. And men can get in on the action. It’s not going to matter who your daddy or your mommy is, or even if you have a mommy or a daddy. It has been true for some time that Daddy isn’t needed, that’s what sperm banks as for. As far as I know men have not complained about this. Which is why the male opinion on this particular development doesn’t count for much. If armies of protesting men begging us to “put the ‘pa’ back into ‘parent’” found themselves in the weekly roundup, it might be different. 

As it is, we look to feminism for answers on this issue. As long as a woman can procreate using whatever method she chooses--natural, or artificial--feminism won’t care one way or another. But money changes everything and at some point feminism will be forced off the fence. Perhaps it will be cheaper to create a test tube baby than to carry one to term. Do you think the insurance companies will continue to support natural pregnancy? First they’ll launch a massive pr campaign convincing us of the advantages of artificial childbearing. Once the majority of people opt for this option, the insurers will drop the option. What if some minority of people wants to bring life into the world in the old-fashioned way? Should society support this misguided group? You know how we are about that taxation stuff. It’s so painful and messy. 

The problem comes from the fact that no one, unless they’ve borne a child, can know what it’s like. It will be easy to frighten or cajole first-time parents-to-be into choosing children from a catalog. They have no clue as to what they are missing. But many, many women of today will not agree that losing the ability to grow one yourself is a good thing. They will assert that there is something about having a baby the old-fashioned way. Maybe the process gives you universal knowledge; it’s a path to enlightenment. Maybe you see a side of life that the rest of us don’t even know exists. Maybe chemicals released during the feverish nine months combine alchemically in your psyche and for the rest of your life you live on a natural high. 

From an intellectual standpoint, it makes sense to do away with painful, messy pregnancy first chance we get. Why go through the uncomfort? But I don’t think we should leave it up to the intellectuals on this one. The feminists need to huddle on it. Get back to us with a decision. Is this something that should go away? Will it truly grant equality to women or will it simply be something we no longer have a choice on? 

I have heard that going through a pregnancy is one of the most profoundly satisfying experiences one will ever have. Will virtual pregnancy be enough to satisfy in the same way? 

Of course pregnancy and gender identity is only one aspect of life that humanity gives up to reach life everlasting via The Singularity. We’ll also give up ethnic identity, age identity, and anything else that contributes to individuality. So what’s the diff?


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Portals, Invisibility Cloaks, and Shakespeare

Aug. 18th, 2009 | 11:19 am

 New Journal of Physics reports:

 In a nutshell:

 “Transformation optics has paved the way for the development of optical devices that can realize novel functionalities that were thought to be possible only in science fiction. One such conceptual device that has attracted great public interest is a gateway that can block electromagnetic waves but that allows the passage of other entities. This device can be viewed as an implementation of a 'hidden portal' mentioned in fiction. However, the feasibility of such devices is limited by the very complex material parameters and the narrow bandwidth.

 Wider implications. As there has been extensive work (both theoretical and experimental) on the design of double negative media (DNM) at various wavelengths, it would be reasonably feasible for the present gateway to be realized in the near future. Although it is still far away from hidden entrances like 'platform 93⁄4' in the Harry Potter novels, the interesting physics may fuel further research interest in transformation optics. The important message is that transformation optics can do more than making invisibility cloaks, it can actually generate all sorts of optical illusion effects.”


I wasn't sure of the hidden portal/invisibility cloak connection so I did some scouting around and found this:


and this: (watch the video for the bottom line here).

What I learned is we’re a long way off from an invisibility cloak, cloaking device, or a portal. I still don’t get the connection between porting and cloaking. I guess it's the portal that is cloaked. But let me tell you: that invisibility thing they’re showing in the video? It ain’t happenin’. It reminds me of those old farces from Shakespeare’s time. If you put on a fake beard and deepen your voice you will be mistaken for your brother; if you sit quietly under the table, nobody will see you. I don't think those devices even fooled the groundlings back then, but one must suspend one's disbelief when one is working with fiction. So for now, this cloaking/portaling reality is still just that. A farce. If you tell me you're invisible, okay, I'll believe you, but only for the sake of a good story, so please, make the punchline funny.

 Otherwise, keep trying,





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Spaceport to the Stars

Aug. 11th, 2009 | 09:09 am 

I’m sure I blogged about this once, this spaceport for the wealthy. I forget now how many hundreds of thousands of dollars a seat on the maiden voyage costs. Suffice it to say my 401k is not robust enough to handle it.


That’s okay. Let the wealthy be the guinea pigs. Let them test the integrity of the o-rings this time out. Me and my peeps (i.e. the middle class) will wait ‘til that regolith mining operation on the moon gets underway. Or the restaurant at the end of the Universe. They’ll be climbing all over themselves to get me and my peeps to work there then. They'll pay the fare at that point.


I do not fear for the safety of the wealthy aboard this maiden voyage (Ha, that’s funny, Virgin Galactic is the sponsor.). If I know the wealthy, each one aboard will have a personal o-ring specialist on the staff. Of course, being the wealthy, and by nature overly competitive, if their o-ring specialist finds anything out, they’ll keep it to themselves for proprietary reasons. So there is that.


Even if the middleclass achieves spaceflight in my lifetime, though, I may just skip it. I’ll open the souvenir concession instead. You know: My grandma went all the way to Mars and all I got was this stupid spacesuit.


The spaceport story doesn’t have anything to do with The Singularity, so here’s another item more on topic. This video from Transalchemy  highlights all the problems with Transhumanism and The Singularity. Well done.


One final totally unrelated item for anyone in the Reading, PA area: Tuesday August 11: Sue Lange’s Prose Jam show on BCTV (ch. 13 on Comcast) will feature fellow author TK Marion. Tune in at 8pm edt.

See you there!


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