Story Written by Computer

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Will computers of the future write novels, TV scripts or blog posts like this?

Back in 1969, the idea of a computer generated TV show produced Turn-On, one of “the most infamous flops in TV history.”

The show only survived for a single episode, generating a stack of angry responses from viewers. The Dangerous Minds blog described the show:

The premise of Turn-On was that the show had been generated by a computer, at that time a heady concept indeed, as few people had ever had any real-life contact with such an object. Replacing the colorful and groovy sets of Laugh-In was a blank, featureless landscape taking place inside a large white orb

While it is very hard to find existing copies of the television show, Dangerous Minds provided a glimpse of the lost program:

The ostensible “host” was a young Tim Conway, who apparently spent the entire episode seeking to kill himself. Much of the audio track of the show was not a laugh track but was instead supplied by a Moog synthesizer, which was also quite a new sensory experience for audiences to deal with.

The AMC show Mad Men discussed Turn-On in “The Monolith” episode for a few seconds, also referencing 2001: A Space Odyssey and still timely fears about our digital future.

What do you think? Computer algorithms can already write articles. Will they ever write stories?

In the photograph above, photographer Steve Jurvetson captured the CDC 6600, a $10 million supercomputer that was “the fastest machine in the world from 1964-1969.”

Creating Rules for Artificial Intelligence

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What ethical guidelines should we establish as we enter the age of artificial intelligence?

Google reportedly paid more than $500 million to acquire DeepMind Technologies, a company working to develop artificial intelligence, starting with “simulations, e-commerce and games.”

According to The Information, the deal also included a provision to create a special ethics board:

The DeepMind-Google ethics board, which DeepMind pushed for, will devise rules for how Google can and can’t use the technology. The structure of the board is unclear.

Over at Reddit, hundreds of readers debated what kind of ethical framework we would need for artificial intelligence. Some readers wondered if AI should have emotions, as one writer summarized:

AI should be given the full range of human emotion because it will then behave in a way we can understand and ideally grow alongside. If we make it a crippled chimpanzee, at some point technoethicists will correct that and when they do we’ll have to explain to our AI equals (or superiors) why we neutered and enslaved them for decades or centuries and why they shouldn’t do the same to us. They’re not Roombas or a better mousetrap, they’re intelligence and intelligence deserves respect.

Another wondered about what kind of rules we will set for the humans who create artificial intelligence:

at some point in the future there will exist A.I with a complexity that matches or exceeds that of the human brain … they may enjoy taking orders, and should therefore not be treated the same as humans. But, do you believe that this complex entity is entitled to no freedoms whatsoever? I personally am of the persuasion that the now simple act of creation may have vast and challenging implications. For instance, wouldn’t you agree that it may be inhumane to destroy such an entity wantonly? These are the questions that will define the moral quandary of our children’s generation.

The reader Ozimandius made this point:

if you design an AI to want to treat us well, doing that WILL give it pleasure. Pleasure and pain are just evolutionarily adapted responses to our environment – a properly designed AI could think it was blissful to be given orders and accomplish them. It could feel ecstasy by figuring out how to maximize pleasure for humans.
The idea that it needs to be fully free to do what it wants seems to be projecting from some of our own personal values which need not be a part of an AI’s value system at all.

What do you think?

Image via Saad Faruque

How To Hack Your Brainwaves

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What if any creator could build a powerful and affordable brain-interface device at home?

A team of scientists have raised more than $215,000 on Kickstarter to build a simple Electroencephalography (EEG) device that anyone can use to help “unlock the mysteries of the human brain” by measuring electrical activity inside your head.

The device includes a collection of wearable electrodes, an amplifier that measures the electrical activity in your brain and a built in “signal processing computer” that records the data to feed to your computer.

The device also includes a 3D printable headset, allowing you to customize the layout of electrodes on the device. Here’s more:

OpenBCI is a low-cost, programmable, open-source EEG platform that gives anybody with a computer access to their brainwaves. Our vision is to realize the potential of the open-source movement to accelerate innovation in brain science through collaborative hardware and software development … We feel that the biggest challenges in understanding what makes us who we are cannot be solved by a company, an institution, or even an entire field of science. Rather, we believe these discoveries will be made through an open forum of shared knowledge and concerted effort by people from many different disciplines.

What would you do if you could connect any digital device to your brain?

Artists, writers, videogame makers and other amateur scientists could use the device to build futuristic experiences.

The makers explained:

Both neurofeedback and biofeedback are starting to be used more frequently by artists, musicians, dancers, and other creative individuals who want to find new ways of connecting people with the world around them, making more immersive experiences. There’s great potential for research in psychology and behavior studies with portable EEG devices that can record brain activity in real-world environments. As the tools for interfacing the brain become more widely available, we will see BCIs come out of medical facilities and labs and become a bigger part of our everyday lives. We envision BCIs revolutionizing everything from neural gaming and augmented reality to meditation and concentration aids.

Explore the Digital Comics Museum

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What will our comic book visions of the future look like in 50 years?

The Digital Comics Museum archives more than 15,000 public domain comic books, helping preserve books from the Golden Age Comics.

Open Culture has more about the collections:

Interested in understanding how homefront American culture reflected fighting in World War II and Korea, and the anxieties of the Cold War? The archive is full of titles like “Fighting Yank”  (or “Wartime”) that trade on true stories of past combat and present-day engagements. Many, like these“Atomic Attack” books from the early 1950s, have a distinctive Cold War flavor, with science-fictional imaginings of futuristic combat. (“See how the war of 1972 will be fought! The war that YOU, yourself, might have to take part in…”)

You should start with Out of This World Adventures, a combination of science fiction journal and comic book. We’d love to see more like this in the 21st Century.

You need to register with the site and download a comic book reader app before reading the comics.

Open Culture also recommends you check out the ‘Pre-Code’ Horror comics of the 50s archived on the site–a peek at some of the most vivid and controversial comics ever created.

Books of the Future

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What mind-bending books and comic books do you look forward to reading this year?

To find out about upcoming books, we caught up with Lindsey Allyson, a blogger from The Bevy Bibliothèque. She is also a writer, working on a number of projects. You can read her work in Inaccurate Realities No. 2.

“I have been hearing a lot of great things about Pierce Brown’s Red Rising,” she told us. “It takes place on Mars and I actually haven’t come across too many novels that take place in space that I immensely enjoyed. This one sounds like it’s going to be good.” Here’s a synopsis of Red Rising:

Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars. Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.

“I cannot wait to get my hands on Sarah J. Maas’ Heir of Fire, the third book in the Throne of Glass series,” she added. “Her series is a must-read for any fan of YA fantasy or just an all-compelling read in general.” Here is a synopsis of the book:

Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did.

Allyson also added some support for self-published authors, people sometimes overlooked by readers.

I definitely can say that I think that self-published authors as a whole deserve more attention this year. In the past, I feel like when someone saw a writer was “self-published,” it was automatically paired with ““not good enough to sell” or “no editor wanted to publish this.”

That’s definitely not always the case. Sometimes a story is totally awesome, but maybe the elements that make up the story or the plot are a hard sell because the market is super-saturated at the moment. I have a friend, for example, who wrote this awesome high fantasy novel about elemental magic users, but there are already SO many books on the MG/YA
book shelves that feature this. In the end, she decided to self-pub.

Does that mean her book isn’t good enough because that’s the publishing route she chose? No way. I think bloggers and readers are well on their way to realizing this now and it’s a great thing because some of my most memorable reads last year were self-pubbed titles that the general audience were not aware of.

While many of the people buying and reading books do frequent social media, it can still be a bit of a challenge to find out about self-pubbed titles because much of the promotion is through word of mouth. I think that’s why self-pubbed writers may be overlooked. After all, they are re in charge of their own promotions and the costs come out of their own
pockets, and that whole process can get pretty expensive.

“I’m also eagerly awaiting two books from two different series by one of my favourite authors, Silver Shadows and The Immortal Crown by by Richelle Mead,” Allyson concluded. “She’s the author who wrote Vampire Academy which was recently adapted into a film. I’m really into stories about strong, badass females.”

Here’s a synopsis of Silver Shadows:

Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets—and human lives.

And a synopsis of The Immortal Crown:

Religious investigator Justin March has Mae Koskinen, the beautiful supersoldier, assigned to protect him. Together they have been charged with investigating reports of the supernatural and the return of the gods, both inside the Republic of United North America and out. With this highly classified knowledge comes a shocking revelation: Not only are the gods vying for human control, but the elect—special humans marked by the divine—are turning against one another in bloody fashion.

(Image via NASA)

Building a Digital Time Machine

booksWhat if you could use tools like Google or Facebook to visit the past?

Frederic Kaplan, the digital humanities chair at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, is working on a massive 10-year data mining project, digitizing the historical archives of Venice–a European city with a paper trail that is 80 kilometers long.

In an inspiring TEDx talk, he proposed a digital time machine that would let readers explore this archive. He explained:

Is it possible to build something like Google Maps of the past? Can I add a slider on top of Google Maps and just change the year, seeing how it was 100 years before, 1,000 years before? Is that possible? Can I reconstruct social networks of the past? Can I make a Facebook of the Middle Ages?

Using these records, Kaplan hopes to create an archive you can search by keyword, but also by time period. Once completed, readers can actually go back in time and explore how the city looked (and worked) during different moments in history. These records capture an immense amount of detail, from city leaders to boat schedules to city construction projects.

Kaplan concluded:

This is what I call the information mushroom. Vertically, you have the time. and horizontally, the amount of digital information available. Obviously, in the last 10 years, we have much information. And obviously the more we go in the past, the less information we have. If we want to build something like Google Maps of the past, or Facebook of the past, we need to enlarge this space, we need to make that like a rectangle.

You can watch the whole video below. What city would you want to explore through a digital time machine?

(Photo via lungstruck)

Greg Russo Shares Screenwriting Advice

typewriterWhat are your favorite movies? Your list can teach you a lot about storytelling.

Screenwriter Greg Russo is visiting the True Pictures offices for a month-long writing lab in February. Russo is a veteran screenwriter, tapped by Universal to adapt It Takes a Thief and Relativity acquired his pitch about the comic book series, Continuum.

To introduce Russo to our community, we’ve collected three pieces of writing advice from the screenwriter, collected from an inspiring roundtable discussion and an in-depth interview at Scott Myers’ “Go Into the Story” site.

1. Analyze your ten favorite movies: “You can learn everything you need to by buying the screenplays to your ten favorite films and studying what made them so effective on paper to begin with.”

2. Start by working on your characters“I now start with the character and build the plot around that person, tying everything into his or her journey.”

3. Rewrite as you write: “write five pages one day, next day go back and rewrite what you wrote, add five more, next day you go back, rewrite ten, and continue until you’re done.”

(Typewriter image via xlibber)

Time Travelers on Twitter

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What if we could find time travelers through a clever series of Twitter posts?

Robert J. Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson at Michigan Technological University’s Department of Physics constructed a unique experiment searching social networks for time travelers, combing Google and Twitter for “prescient” content that only a time traveler could post.

In September 2013, they made a public post asking any time travelers to respond via a Twitter hashtag–posting either “#ICanChangeThePast2” or “#ICannotChangeThePast2” on the social network in August 2013. They hoped to generate responses one month before the original post, proving the existence of time travel. Here’s more about the Twitter hashtags:

A message incorporating the hashtagged term “#ICannotChangeThePast2” would indicate that time travel to the past is possible but that the time traveler believes that they do not have the ability to alter the authors’ past. A universe where the past cannot be changed is termed as having a “fixed history”, where history can be regarded as a single timeline. Such universes may uphold the Novikov Self-Consistency Conjecture … Conversely, a message incorporating the hashtagged term “#ICanChangeThePast2” would indicate that time travel to the past is possible and that the time traveler can demonstrate the ability to alter the authors’ past.

Facebook would not work for this experiment, since users have the ability to back-date posts. Sadly, no time travelers actively responded to the post and the scientists found no evidence of prescient content scattered around the Internet.

However, the story has generated a mountain of press coverage for the experiment, so there is still time for time travelers to respond to the hashtag request. As you can see by visiting both the “#ICanChangeThePast2” or “#ICannotChangeThePast2,” lots of Twitter writers have used the hashtag.

Can you spot any time travelers among these posts? I recommend starting with “ICannotChangeThePast2,” the place for time travelers to post if they are not able to change the past…

Unfortunately, as of this writing, no prescient tweets or emails were received. Given the additional exposure that the public listing of this manuscript gains, we will continue to search, on occasion, for active tweets and emails involving potential time travel.

You can download a free copy of “Searching the Internet for evidence of time travelers” at this link.

(Image via Finlay, an illustration for “The Stars, My Brothers.”)

These People Might Get a One-Way Ticket To Mars

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Would you leave your family and friends forever with a one-way ticket to Mars?

Just in time for the New Year, the Mars One project notified 1,058 aspiring astronauts that they had made the first cut from more than 200,000 applicants for a potential one-way trip to Mars in 2025. They would help set up Earth’s first colony on the red planet.

Alberta Ministry of Environment strategic planner Christy Foley received one of these highly coveted invitations, but her husband did not. She said that would not change her mind about the mission:

“This dream is so much bigger than one relationship. He recognizes that and he wants to help me reach the stars … He doesn’t want to anchor me to the Earth … When he said that, it made my heart flutter.”

New York City comedian Lauren Reeves made a funny Mars One application video, declaring “I wear my helmet everywhere I go” and poking fun at her lack of qualifications for the trip. She ended up getting picked for the second round and is willing to take the one-way trip for real. She explained in an interview:

“I wasn’t expecting that … I’m a natural athlete … And I think I have a pretty good personality. I’m someone who you’d want to live with and not want to kill.”

26-year-old Alex Marion built a YoutubeTwitter and Facebook page to promote his campaign to join the Mars trip. He posted this inspiring statement on his site:

Enough talk, enough debate, it’s time to do something. Until we then, until people realize their own potential as individuals and as a collective and create a purpose, rather than waiting and hoping, we will forever be doomed to self-destruction through apathy. The moon landing once gave us that glimmer of hope. It was in that moment that people all over the world saw what we could really do. Somehow we lost that, or it wasn’t a dramatic enough example. Either way, I believe that the Mars One mission can do what everything else couldn’t, and finally unite humanity with a higher purpose. Something more than survival or competition. I want to show every person a future not borne of violence, or politics, or economics, but one of peace, cooperation, and unity. To show everyone that we can… go to Mars!

20 year old Oxford student Ryan MacDonald also made the cut, beating hundreds of thousands of other applicants. He had this commentary in the Derby Telegraph:

“For the past few summers I have been getting in to the gym and building up for it. When I have spoken to the physician I will have more of an idea what I will need to do … I think for my family it is still not very real because there is still a long way to go but I am so excited to have got this far.”

30-year-old author Marina Miral received an email from Mars One as well, putting her in the running for the one-way trip to Mars. She told the Times Colonist:

“This might sound a little bit silly, but my dream for my entire life was to go to Starfleet Academy … But that is fictional, so it’s been pretty hard trying to find something that will substitute for that dream.”

(Image via Mars One site)

Free Classic Science Fiction Stories for Your Holiday Reading

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What stories are you most thankful that you discovered for your bookshelf last year? This week, readers around the world are sharing the books and writers that inspired them in 2013 at the #ReaderThanks Twitter hashtag.

Here at True Pictures, we spend a lot of time exploring classic science fiction stories. For your holiday reading pleasure, we’ve collected a few inspiring stories that we are thankful for this year. You can download a free digital book copy of the story or listen to a classic X Minus One radio drama edition of the story.

X Minus One was a radio show that ran from 1955 until 1958, sharing work by some of our greatest speculative fiction authors. Follow the links below to read or listen to three great stories…

The Old Time Radio Researchers Group has more about the show:

The stories for the show came from two of the most popular science fiction magazines at the time; Astounding and Galaxy. Adaptations of these stories were performed by Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts. They even wrote a few original stories of their own. The writers of the magazine stories were not well known then but now are the giants of today. These stories came from the minds of Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Poul Anderson to name a few.

“Bad Medicine” by Robert Sheckley: Fearing for his sanity, a man buys a robot psychiatrist to help him cope with life. (MP3 edition, free eBook edition)

“The Tunnel Under The World” by Frederik Pohl: A man wakes up screaming every single day, eventually uncovering a mind-bending secret about his life. (free MP3 editon, free eBook edition)

“Project Mastodon” by Clifford D. Simak: A band of time travellers set up camp in the stone age and seek diplomatic immunity from the United States.  (MP3 edition, free eBook edition)