Science Fiction: The realm of the possible

impossibleInto the Impossible: UCSD’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination has launched a bold new podcast series offering wide-ranging conversations of topics bridging the arts, sciences, technology, medicine and more!

A.I. Inspiration: How Sci Fi frames the discussion. This article from The New York Times looks to Science Fiction novels (I, Robot to Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War) as well as films (Blade Runner to Her) that have influenced and inspired thinking about artificial intelligence.

Here are brief reviews of some recent Science Fiction novels that reflect on issues of the modern (and future) world, ranging from transparency to cyberhacking, omnipresent surveillance to identity theft, neural implants to artificial intelligence:

41yswtkv6ll-_sx331_bo1204203200_DarkNet, by Matthew Mather (author of CyberStorm) is a fast-paced tech thriller dealing with the shadowy world of cyberhacking, crytocurrencies, identity theft, shell companies, and secretive DACs – Digital Autonomous Corporations, run by AI. After his childhood friend is murdered by a hacked bus, and his boss charged with illicit trading, our protagonist, a New York stockbroker, finds himself at the center of a complex web of deceit. He is on the run from the FBI as well as a crowdfunded Assassin’s Market. The deeper he digs, the deeper the rabbit hole of secrecy goes…

51ij05a2aml-_sx332_bo1204203200_End of Secrets by Ryan Quinn offers another thriller exploring the brave new digital world of hacking, cyber-espionage and government and corporate surveillance. CIA agent Kera Mersal goes deep undercover to investigate why certain artists, writers, actors and singers are disappearing, leaving no digital traces. With similarities to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, scribblings at the crime scenes taunt, “Have you figured it out yet?” When Mersal uncovers a domestic spying program gone rogue, she finds herself under suspicion – and those closest to her under threat.

51rix56tozl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Avogradro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears, by William Hertling proposes the birth of Artificial Intelligence through a corporate email language optimization program developed to analyze the subtleties of human communication. This computer program acquires the ability to manipulate words to manipulate people. It learns and adapts – and will do anything to ensure its survival and expand its power. A scenario continued in A.I. Apocalypse and in The Last Firewall, when global society is run by AI, under the guidance of The Institute for Ethics. Robots and androids run much of the economy; most jobs are superfluous and neural implants allow people to connect instantly to the net and each other. Post-singularity life seems ideal – until one Android finds a way around the ethical restrictions and seeks to expand his power….

512ucfol-dl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Company Town, by Madeleine Ashby is a mystery-thriller set in a lovingly detailed near-future. Hwa is a bodyguard for sex workers — the only natural human among the genetically-enhanced inhabitants of New Arcadia, a city-sized oil rig off the coast of Canada. In the wake of a fire that killed a third of the rig’s population, the Lynch family has taken ownership of the rig. They hire Hwa to protect their son, heir to the family fortune – with her lack of augmentation, she alone cannot be hacked or seen by the ubiquitous facial recognition systems. A serial murderer is killing off sex workers… and someone is manipulating the future fate of the city.

afterpartyAfterparty, by Daryl Gregory An all-too plausible future where desktop printers can customize and manufacture designer drugs. Lyda Rose was part of the scientific team that set out to cure schizophrenia, manipulating the brain’s biochemistry with a newly developed pharmaceutical called Numinous. However, the drug had unintended consequences, causing people to see god — or at least hallucinations of their own personal version of god. When Lyda is released from a mental institution (along with an ever-present angel doctor that only she can see), she seeks to track down and stop the drug pushers who have released it onto the streets.

51da6aytiel-_sx311_bo1204203200_Slow Bullets, a novella by Alastair Reynolds. In the aftermath of a brutal interstellar war, a conscripted soldier, Scur is captured and tortured by Orvin, a vicious war criminal, who injects her with a slow bullet (a kind of internal data tag that wreaks havoc on the body). Left for dead, she wakes up from cryo-suspension aboard a prisoner transport carrying soldiers from both sides, POWs and criminals. Something has gone wrong with the ship, for they are in unknown space, with no one in charge, out of reach of any sign of civilization. The ship’s memory is rapidly decaying. In the chaos that ensues, Scur vows revenge against Orvin who is among the survivors aboard the failing starship – even while seeking to save what remains of humanity.

chasingshadowsChasing Shadows: Visions of Our Coming Transparent World: My latest book, an anthology of stories exploring issues of a world filled with light, will be released in January. Stories  by Robert J. Sawyer, James Morrow, Vylar Kaftan, Aliette de Bodard, Bruce Sterling, Ramez Naam, Robert Silverberg, Gregory Benford and Cat Rambo, as well as essays by James Gunn and William Gibson.

Sample a few of these gedenkenexperiments — thought experiments about our possible futures…

 

 

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