Halfway There

Written By: William T. Quick - Dec• 30•15

The holidays put me slightly behind schedule, but I’ve just about reached the half-way point in the first draft of There Will Be Time.

I hate the middle parts of my books.  That’s where the slog comes in.

Beginnings are fun.  You start with the original frame, fleshed out with the first elements of the plot, and a couple of characters.  As you progress, more characters and more plot details reveal themselves to you.

If you are very lucky, the ends of these various plotlines will slowly surface as well.  Beginnings are a time of exploration and discovery.  But all good things come to an end, even beginnings, and reaching the end of the beginning presents you with a vista of hundreds of pages that must be filled with all the minutiae that will eventually lead you to the gleaming end points you see in that hazy distance.

And you have to keep all that expanse interesting, even exciting, though much of the suspense of the thing has now vanished for you.  It’s like filling in the picture with color once you’ve outlined the whole think in black ink.  Coloring within the lines, of course.  You can’t just dribble off wherever the sound of your own words might wish to take you.  That’s where the discipline comes in.

Endings, on the other hand, are easy, once you’ve finally approach them.  At that point, you’ve closed off most of the possibilities.  To you, the writer, they seem obvious, even set in stone.  Yet you must not let them appear to be so to the reader.  That’s where the difficulty of preparing for endings lies, but in the actual writing there is a sense of inevitability that has built over the course of the entire book, and so it sometimes seems more a matter of transcribing dictation from your muse than any actual creative endeavor.

I look forward to reaching that point, and completing what awaits me there.  In the meantime, middles.

God, I hate middles.

Science Marches On

Written By: William T. Quick - Dec• 22•15

Another repost from the mysterious elsewhere:

Climate Change Predictions

“But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And in 2000, France was getting 80 percent of its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Japan were getting more than 30 percent from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn’t know what an atom was. They didn’t know its structure. They also didn’t know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, Internet, interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, Prozac, leotards, lap dancing, e-mail, tape recorders, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, Teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS. None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn’t know what you are talking about.

Because my bread and butter for many, many years has been earned as a professional science fiction writer, I think about stuff like this all the time.  And I’m painfully aware that most folks don’t think about it at all.

The human mind is primarily ruled by inertia, and the assumption that how things are today is how they will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  You can point out stuff like the above all day long, or what Ray Kurzweil explains about how Moore’s Law affects the exponential (not linear) advance of science and technology, and it’s water off a duck’s back.  Why?  Because, from the point of view of most folks, their daily lives don’t seem to have changed all that much.  This is a factor of having forgotten about what their lives were like before Things Changed, and wild fantasies became the New Normal.

This is a function of the fact that people automatically get used to anything, and discount it.  Old people like me remember a world almost impossible for today’s Millennials to imagine, for instance:  A single black analog telephone crudely hooked up to a “party line” was our “internet.”  Television was a tiny, fuzzy screen maybe ten inches square, on which you viewed two or three “channels.”  Everybody got what little information about the world that made it through “gatekeepers” via dead tree substrates:  Books, magazines, newspapers.  Want to research something, look something up?  Make a special trip to the library, pal, and lug home thirty pounds of dusty paper – in a “book bag,” most likely.  The ubiquitous modern backpack hadn’t quite made an appearance yet.

Heart surgery?  Didn’t exist.

Hundreds of thousands of little kids were crippled or killed by polio.  Summertime was hit or miss whether you’d be able to go swimming at the local pool (home swimming pools?  You kidding?  That was for the very rich only).

My family was solidly middle class in those days – my dad an executive with the local power company – and we had a new car every other year.  Yet my mom did her own canning to save money, and the world of the post-WWII decade in which I was born and raised was a much bleaker, drabber, more pinched existence than what we would consider normal today, although at the time it seemed to consist of nothing but wonder upon wonder – huge, gleaming passenger airplanes (I used to go back and forth to boarding school on a train as late as 1963) – my “computer” was a slide rule, and a “cell phone” was something Dick Tracy, a cartoon character, wore on his wrist.

The key concept here is “exponential” increase.

Kurzweil is fond of citing his use of Moore’s Law to make one of his most famously accurate predictions about the Genome Project.

The general consensus among the scientific community studying the human genome was that it could take as long as 250 years to catalogue the entire human genome, even as the Human Genome Project was first getting off the ground:

Ray Kurzweil and Exponential Growth — Russell Steinberg

Seven and a half years into the Human Genome Project, scientists announced they had decoded only 1% of our genetic code. The project was budgeted for only 15 years. Skeptics said it wouldn’t work; it would take a century to complete.  Ray Kurzweil—inventor, philosopher, futurist—had a different reaction. He said the genome was practically solved. And indeed the mapping was completed in another seven years. The amount of data sequenced each year practically doubled.

Kurzweil was correct in his prediction because he understood (and understands) the power of exponential increase.  Here’s how it worked:

Step 1: 1×2=2% completed (doubled)

Step 2:  2×2=4%

Step 3:  2×4=8%

Step 4:  2×8=16%

Step 5:  2×16=32%

Step 6:  2×32=64%

Step 6:  2×64=128%

So, sometime between steps 6 and 7, the Human Genome Project reached 100% completion, the genome was completely decoded, and Kurzweil’s prediction was shown to be accurate.

This process is at work in almost every aspect of our world today.

Kurzweil makes the point that this exponential progress (of which Moore’s Law is only one aspect, not the prime cause), works best in the so-called “information sciences.”  At one point these were mostly the mathematical and hard technology areas – mainly computers.  But as the power and scope of computing has increased under the pressure of exponential growth, information science has sucked into its purview other areas of knowledge – medical science, for instance, has become essentially a branch of information science in general, and is now subject to the same sort of exponential increase in knowledge and power as computers and information processing themselves.

Others will follow.  We’re only now embarking on the expansion phase of “Big Data,” for instance, but this will shortly become the largest and most productive segment of knowledge growth.

Decades ago I wrote a SF story positing that one of the growth industries of the future would be library science, because we would need librarians to catalog and sort all the new knowledge we were acquiring.  At the time, the computer age was barely peeping above the horizon, and even I, with my focus on the future, did not take into account the Internet, digital books, digital forms of other things like music and art, or the idea that a lot of this stuff might end up organizing itself, more or less.  Suffice it to say, library science is not one of the burgeoning fields of employment these days.

It is this basic failure to understand the power of exponential growth that leads to foolishly ignorant statements like the following:

California’s Self-Driving Car Regulations

I think we are still a few decades away for self driving cars. Imagine the kind of computing power needed to accurately model instantaneous traffic flow problems on such freeways as the Dan Ryan in Chicago, or the Santa Anna Freeway in Los Angles/Orange County.

This is not just a classic example of a failure of imagination, is also demonstrates a basic failure of understanding.  Let me rephrase it to make the matter more clear:  “Imagine the kind of computing power a human brain would need to accurately model instantaneous traffic flow problems on such freeways as…etc.”

Yet the human brain manages it perfectly well, despite being vastly slower than even average computers today.  You’ve got to model several moving body problems, but that’s the sort of things computers are very good at doing.  Yes, self-driving cars are experiencing a few minor glitches, mostly caused by human error on the part of human-driven vehicles.  But overall, the safety rate of self-driving cars is already greater than that of human driven vehicles, and, given an annual doubling of capability over the next two years, will likely eliminate even those few glitches within a quite short period of time.

This sort of thing is going on right now in a huge number of fields, and will continue to do so – and the overall technological gestalt will continue to benefit from an every-increasing ability to create the “serendipity” that results from being able to view previously disparate and disconnected areas as part of a greater interconnected whole.  We are slowly, perhaps yet haltingly, finally beginning to be able to discern the Big Picture as a single view.

The weird state of global politics is one consequence of these changes, which are happening all over the modern world, and pressing hard on the great, shambling remnants of the non-modern world, including those pockets of it remaining in our own cultures and societies.

The bottom line?  We are building new gods.  But this time, they will be real.

And though we won’t worship them, we will come to love them and, eventually, to simply take them for granted.

This is all just a small part of the reason  that, when I think about some prediction or other made by a grumpy greybeard about what the world will be like twenty years from now, I automatically assume that the prediction will not only turn out to be incorrect, but laughably so.  And that probably includes my own, as well.  Although I no longer feel comfortable making specific predictions.  I tend now to stick with one major prediction – that progress will continue to be exponential, and that we really have no clue what, beyond a very specific and limited time frame numbered in months or a handful of years, that will mean for us and our world.  Certainly, any prediction based on the idea that the world two decades hence, for instance, will be anything that much resembles the world of today, or even a linear projection of it (if this goes on…)  will almost invariably be wrong.

And Arthur C. Clarke will continue to be right.

Red Meat HERESY: Star Wars Part Umpty-Ump

Written By: William T. Quick - Dec• 22•15

I dunno.

The chattering venues are filled with discussion about the release of Star Wars-12, or whichever one it is this time around, and I don’t read past the first sentence of the chat.  I just have no interest whatsoever in Star Wars part anything, now.  It was a visually stunning, revolutionary film when it first appeared, but it had a lame plot that only got lamer as more and more episodes dropped – dropped like vast, glittering cow-pies in fact.

It was the sine qua non of pop-cult at the beginning, but has drastically deteriorated from that dubious height over time, to the point where now it is little more than a showcase for whatever the current state of the CGI arts might be.  A gigantic shiny bauble, in other words.

I’m just not interested.  I have put aside childish things, I guess.


Christmas Doom

Written By: William T. Quick - Dec• 22•15

I posted this elsewhere, but I thought it fit well with this site’s general thematic approach, so I’m reposting it here:


All I want for Christmas is DOOM

The engine of economics is driven by scarcity.

A basic definition of “economics” is given by Thomas Sowell (PBUH, may he live a thousand years), which I paraphrase here: “Economics is a system of allocating scarce resources which have alternate uses.” The key word I want to focus on here is scarce. It is not abundance but scarcity that lies at the heart of economics. Scarcity of resources is what makes economics a fundamental property of nature. Scarcity is an inherent, inseparable, eternal property of reality. It is not a problem that can be solved — it is bound up in the laws of physics that govern the cosmos.

The necessities of life — water, food, clothing, shelter — are drawn from scarce resources which have alternate uses and thus require a method of allocation.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of reality.

What Monty is talking about here is the allocation of “stuff,” that is, material goods.  All material goods have one characteristic in common: at the fundamental level, they are constructed of quarks, atoms, and molecules, the building blocks of all matter (including ourselves, by the way).

There is no shortage of quarks, atoms, or molecules here on earth, in our solar system, our galaxy, or our universe.  Our wants and needs for stuff are the most minuscule fraction of a fraction of what is ultimately available, and always will be.

Our problem is that, currently, these nanoscale particles are not arranged in structures that provide us an inexhaustible cornucopia of stuff.  That is already beginning to change, and will, over the next few decades, change vastly more, and render all the tropes of classic economics irrelevant.

We are even now transitioning from thousands of years of economies of scarcity into existence, for the first time in our history, in an economy of abundance.

This is a nearly impossible mental adjustment for most people to make.  We are genetically hardwired to compete, and what we compete for is stuff, because we have always needed stuff to survive and thrive – food, water, shelter, Star Wars movies, bacon.

Faced with a reality that renders all this hard-wiring obsolete, irrelevant, or both, we flail in protest:

1.  We will all die without the need to compete.

2.  Who or what will make all of this stuff for us?  Why?

3.  It will be a thousand years before we can do things like this.

In fact, such objections will vanish along with economies of scarcity themselves, and, within not too long a time, will come to be seen as vestiges of our barbarian, uncivilized past, un-regretted way stations on the long path to our new everyday lives of abundance.

We won’t die because scarcity no longer requires us to get out of bed in the morning, put on a coat and tie, and go slay a mammoth at GigantiCorp.

Our machines and the technologies created by the Artificial Intelligences we will first create, and then see them recreate and improve, will move the nano-particles into more pleasing and useful shapes – anything we want or imagine that we want.

This will happen, not in a thousand years, but in a few decades.  In fact, it is already happening now.

We are standing hesitantly, fearfully, on the brink of a truly new existence.  But once we have fully entered into it, it will, just as everything has before, come to be seen as normal, everyday life.

And it will go on.

Well, There and I’m Back Again

Written By: William T. Quick - Dec• 22•15

My, it’s been a while.

Kinda dusty here.

Well, it won’t take long to fix that.

Anyways, new book.

Yes, a new book I’m working on right now.

It’s called There Will be Time.

It’s space opera.  Huge scale space opera, in fact.  I’m scheduled to deliver the first draft to Caitlin Blasdell, my wonderful, superheroic NYC lit agent, by the middle of January, 2016.  Amazingly enough, that actually looks fairly doable.

I’ll keep you all posted.  Check back often.

On the work sched for today:  “Vampires.”  And “Zombies.”  And Artificial Intelligence. All with nasty and, I hope, unexpected twists.

Back to it.

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