The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'future'
Today in algorithmic content creation: Philip Parker, a professor of marketing in the US, has created an algorithm that automatically generates books on a variety of subjects, gathering information on the internet in the way a human author would. The article suggests that the result is of a somewhat higher quality than the usual spam ebooks harvested from Wikipedia articles:
To be clear, this isn’t just software alone but a computer system designated to write for a specific genre. The system’s database is filled with genre-relevant content and specific templates coded to reflect domain knowledge, that is, to be written according to an expert in that particular field/genre. To avoid copyright infringement, the system is designed to avoid plagiarism, but the patent aims to create original but not necessarily creative works. In other words, if any kind of content can be broken down into a formula, then the system could package related, but different content in that same formula repeatedly ad infinitum.The hundreds of thousands of books generated by this system range from the fairly generalist and relatively cheap (Webster’s English to Haitian Creole Crossword Puzzles: Level 1, which can be yours for $14.95; incidentally, “Webster's” is not a trademark) to the more specialised and pricy (The 2007-2012 World Outlook for Wood Toilet Seats for $795). As the system works on demand, it is even possible to fill the catalogue with books that could exist, and generate the books when someone buys one; it's Borges' Infinite Library as a money-making scheme.
In truth, many nonfiction books — like news articles — often fall into formulas that cover the who, what, where, when, and why of a topic, perhaps the history or projected future, and some insight. Regardless of how topical information is presented or what comes with it, the core data must be present, even for incredibly obscure topics. And Parker is not alone in automating content either. The Chicago-based Narrative Science has been producing sport news and financial articles for Forbes for a while.And following on his success with auto-distilled technical and factual tracts, Parker is next applying his system to the potentially even more lucrative field of romance novels (which have the advantage of both being defined by a formula, not requiring a huge amount of originality, and being the largest share of the consumer book market).
And if romance novels fall next, followed in short order by other functionally formulaic genres (techno-thrillers, for example, or police procedurals), we may soon find ourselves entertained by machines of loving grace. Though there's no reason why it should stop at books; given that the scripts of mass-market films (with the amounts of money invested in their production and the bottom-line-oriented conservatism of the corporations holding the purse strings) are already produced by a highly formulaised process (scriptwriters use special software to define the skeletons of their plots, making sure it fits in the formal constraints of the genre), going further and writing software that will make the plot to the next action blockbuster or quirky indie comedy would be relatively easy. Of course, today, it makes little sense to replace the scriptwriters with a piece of software whilst keeping all the actors, cameramen, lighters, gaffers and best boys on the payroll, though this may change as computer graphics technologies improve:
Using 3D animation and avatars, a variety of audio and video formats can be generated, and Parker indicates that these are being explored. Avatars that read compiled news stories might become preferred, especially if viewers were allowed to customize who reads the news to them and how in-depth those stories need to be.Then, eventually, the software will be miniaturised and commodified, becoming more widely available. Rather than belonging to content barons who fill the stores with algorithmically generated pulp fiction and technical literature, it'll live in your phone, tablet or e-reader, and will tell you stories, sing you songs and show you movies tailored to entertain you, based on your previous selections.
(via David Gerard)
In Charlie Stross's blog, a cheerful and fascinating discussion about speculated existential threats to civilisation, the human race, life on Earth, or the universe itself. These vary from plausible ones (ecological collapse, killer viruses, killer asteroids) to the far-fetched and surreal:
What would be the implications of trying to return from an iron age technology now given the amount of "low hanging fruit" in the way of natural resources we've mined in the last two hundred years or so? I'm particularly, but not solely, thinking that there aren't many places now where you just make a hole and oil bubbles out of the ground - you now need a sophisticated technologically adept mining operation just to get to the stuff. How are we doing for easily available iron ore that could be got at by an iron-age civilisation? Or is it so abundant that that will never be a problem.
[U]ploading is likely to start out being an experimental process which is destructive of the original brain and have a fairly high chance of failure. So who's going to be the first person uploaded? I'd say chances are good it'll be a condemned Chinese prisoner... so that process might result in a fairly hostile machine intelligence. If they escape? No rapture of the nerds for anyone.
[M]aybe a copper eating bacteria would be a better idea. They would first spread on the surface of cables across the world, not causing any massive consequences. Then they would start eating *into* the wires...
A simple party trick, maybe outgrown from all those neuropsych tests that disprove free will. Something easy to do and apparently harmless "Look when you do X you can't/have to do Y" but which unavoidably sinks in and leads to existential nihilism as the implications percolate.
A fad toy that expands in water goes down drains in such numbers that sewerage systems collapse on a scale never seen. The resulting public health debacle cascades due to massive shortfalls in public infrastructure spending during the 2010's and 2020's.
To paraphrase and build upon Arthur C Clarke's famous remark. "Any advanced technology [we no longer understand] is indistingushable from magic"... Going further, there may come a day when we forget we once built this stuff. Maybe theres a potential fictional work in this, a far far future fantasy story where the "magic" starts to break down across the kingdom andstop working, magic incantations no longer work predictably (voice commands throw errors or are ignored), creatures conjured up of dust disintegrate into powder (nanobots fail to hold form). Cauldrons no longer produce magic when ingredients added (Cornucopia nano-fabricators no longer accept feedstock matter). All because it's been a thousand years since anyone understood how these machines work. user-pic
A security researcher in Israel has predicted that the next generation of malware may, rather than stealing passwords or card numbers, steal users' behaviour patterns. The malware will infect the networks of devices people use, monitor their behaviour and send the models to bad guys who can use it to impersonate the victim for nefarious purposes. And if it happens to you, you have no recourse, short of forcing yourself to become a completely different person.
Of course, the question remains of whether the malware could build a sufficiently sophisticated model of an individual's behaviour patterns to sneak past (necessarily paranoid) software systems designed to check these things, or to convincingly persuade your Facebook friends that it's really you who urgently needs money to get out of a Nigerian gaol. Perhaps the Singularity will arrive, not when a spambot becomes smart enough to evade anti-spam software, but when a malware-generated behavioural model of a user becomes sufficiently complex to effectively model that user's consciousness.
A team in Germany has developed software which can edit objects out of live video in real time. Termed, catchily, "Diminished Reality", the software works a bit like Photoshop's content-aware fill, but is able to track, and eliminate, objects in moving video. The team from the Technische Universität Ilmenau are planning to release an Android port, so you too can be Stalin.
Perhaps even more interesting is software from the Max Planck Institute which can alter the body shapes of actors in video. The software contains data obtained from 3D scans of 120 naked people of different body types, apparently using a machine-learning algorithm, to form a 3D body model with a number of controllable attributes, such as height, muscularity and waist girth. The system can pick out human figures in video (in some conditions, anyway), map them to the model, adjust it, and then rerender the video with the adjusted model. The team have demonstrated this with a clip from the old TV series Baywatch, in which the male lead is given Conan The Barbarian-style musculature.
The article gives a number of potential applications for such technologies:
The technology has obvious applications in films like Raging Bull, for which Robert de Niro put on 27 kilograms in two months to portray his character. "The actor wouldn't need to go to all that trouble," says Theobalt. It could also be a cost-saver for advertising companies. Because standards of beauty vary across cultures, it is the norm to shoot several adverts for a single product. With the new software, firms could make one film and tweak the model's dimensions to suit different countries.The possibilities don't, of course, stop there. In the market-driven entertainment ecosystem, film and TV companies are competing for the attention (and money and/or eyeballs to sell to advertisers) of a public, a large segment of which is captivated by spectacle. With improved special-effects technology comes "awesomeness inflation", where yesterday's blockbusters look boring compared to the latest; so anything that can capture the eyeballs of the sensation-hungry, compulsively channel-surfing consumer (whom William Gibson memorably described as "something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth... no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote") could give a film studio or TV network the edge; that extra average five seconds before the viewer changes the channel which, aggregated over an audience of hundreds of millions, means a lot of ad revenue.
It's perhaps obvious that film studios will use the software as another computer effect, making their actors more cartoonishly exaggerated, more punchily extreme, with taller, more ruggedly muscular action heroes, more exaggerated comic short/fat/skinny guys, leading ladies/love interests whose waists could not physically support their breasts, and so on. Eventually the public will get used to this, and the old films with realistically physiqued (by Hollywood standards) actors will look as shabbily unattractive as those films from the 70s they're always remaking because the pace's too slow, the scenes look crappy (didn't the ancients even know about orange and teal colour grading?) and there aren't enough awesome explosions and sex scenes. If the software's cheap enough (as it will eventually be), though, they won't even need to remake things: imagine, for example, a channel that shows reruns of popular old series, "digitally remastered for extra awesomeness". And so, every year, the stars in yesteryear's classic serials become that bit more like animated action figures and/or anime schoolgirls, culminating in a 8-foot, musclebound Jack Bauer who can shoot laser beams from his eyes. (The remastering process would also quicken the pace, by speeding up scenes and cutting out pauses, which would both hold the audience's attention for longer and leave more time for ad breaks.) Meanwhile, Criterion sell box sets of the original, unretouched versions in tasteful packaging; these become a highbrow affectation, a signifier of refined taste, and end up featured on Stuff White People Like.
Of course, in this universe, there'd be an epidemic of body-image disorders, with large numbers of deaths from anorexia, steroid overdoses and black-market plastic surgery. At least until physique augmentation ends up as a universal feature of compact cameras and/or Facebook uploading software, and gradually the survivors come to accept that it's OK to look imperfect, as long as you don't do so on film or video.
Douglas Coupland has written a guide to the next 10 years, which starts off with in-your-face grimness ("1) It's going to get worse") and goes on from there, weaving, in typical Coupland fashion, between echoing the ambient zeitgeist (in this case, the sadofuturistic anomie of the world of the economic crisis, the Long Siege and the Tea Party), random factoids and speculative segues, almost like a depressive Jerry Seinfeld:
2) The future isn't going to feel futuristic
It's simply going to feel weird and out-of-control-ish, the way it does now, because too many things are changing too quickly. The reason the future feels odd is because of its unpredictability. If the future didn't feel weirdly unexpected, then something would be wrong.
5) You'll spend a lot of your time feeling like a dog leashed to a pole outside the grocery store – separation anxiety will become your permanent stateHasn't that been the human condition at least since the Industrial Revolution, if not the dawn of agriculture and the first large-scale societies?
6) The middle class is over. It's not coming backWell, there are still people (in the UK, at least) who identify as "working class", despite having university degrees, professional jobs and disposable income, because their grandparents worked in coal mines or car factories. The current notion of "middle class" is just as fixed in a point in time. Though wouldn't a "new monoclass" be by definition a middle class with no upper or lower classes? Or would the end of the middle class (at least in America, and possibly other Anglo-Saxon cultures), mean extreme polarisation of society into an affluent overclass and a wretched underclass?
Remember travel agents? Remember how they just kind of vanished one day? That's where all the other jobs that once made us middle-class are going – to that same, magical, class-killing, job-sucking wormhole into which travel-agency jobs vanished, never to return. However, this won't stop people from self-identifying as middle-class, and as the years pass we'll be entering a replay of the antebellum South, when people defined themselves by the social status of their ancestors three generations back. Enjoy the new monoclass!
11) Old people won't be quite so clueless
No more “the Google,” because they'll be just that little bit younger.
12) Expect lessMeanwhile, in the age of radically lowered expectations, the Generation X advice of "use jets while you still can" has become a far more modest "enjoy lettuce while you still can".
Not zero, just less.
23) Everyone will be feeling the same way as youCoupland also sees the death of the suburbs, the deserted, impoverished tracts of suburbia being taken over by gangs and cultists, and North America possibly fragmenting (with Quebec leaving Canada, California splitting into "fiscal" and "non-fiscal", and the "Hate States" forming a coalition); happy times.
25) Dreams will get better
26) Being alone will become easier
33) People who shun new technologies will be viewed as passive-aggressive control freaks trying to rope people into their world, much like vegetarian teenage girls in the early 1980s
42) You'll spend a lot of time shopping online from your jail cell
Over-criminalization of the populace, paired with the triumph of shopping as a dominant cultural activity, will create a world where the two poles of society are shopping and jail.
Meanwhile, Boing Boing has a riposte, "A Happy Mutant's Guide to the Near Future", in which the near future is all lolcats, sparkleponies and weird, but locally-sourced, ice cream.
Scientists in the Netherlands are working on growing artificial meat in the laboratory without the need of growing an entire animal to go with it.
Under the process, researchers first isolate muscle stem cells, which have the ability to grow and multiply into muscle cells. Then they stimulate the cells to develop, give them nutrients and exercise them with electric current to build bulk.
After perfecting that process, scientists will then need to figure out how to layer tissues to add more bulk, since meat grown in petri dishes lacks the blood vessels needed to deliver nutrients through thick muscle fibers.
And then there is the question of fat, to add flavor.Growing something vaguely like processed meat, consisting of a mass of undifferentiated muscle cells, is one thing; giving something with the structure of real muscle tissue is another. And while the process is both more efficient than keeping animals (in terms of energy input, farming livestock for meat is orders of magnitude more expensive per calorie than growing crops) and doesn't involve killing animals, the idea of eating meat not from a slaughtered animal still fills people with visceral disgust (in a way that killing animals for meat, for the most part, doesn't; presumably because our ancestors have been doing it, one way or another, for millions of years), and so cultured meat may be slow to find acceptance.
Charlie Stross attempts to extrapolate the future from current trends in computing and storage technologies, and concludes that, eventually, everything that anyone ever does will be documented, stored and accessible for all time:
10Tb is an interesting number. That's a megabit for every second in a year -- there are roughly 10 million seconds per year. That's enough to store a live DivX video stream -- compressed a lot relative to a DVD, but the same overall resolution -- of everything I look at for a year, including time I spend sleeping, or in the bathroom. Realistically, with multiplexing, it puts three or four video channels and a sound channel and other telemetry -- a heart monitor, say, a running GPS/Galileo location signal, everything I type and every mouse event I send -- onto that chip, while I'm awake. All the time. It's a life log; replay it and you've got a journal file for my life. Ten euros a year in 2027, or maybe a thousand euros a year in 2017.
Our concept of privacy relies on the fact that it's hard to discover information about other people. Today, you've all got private lives that are not open to me. Even those of you with blogs, or even lifelogs. But we're already seeing some interesting tendencies in the area of attitudes to privacy on the internet among young people, under about 25; if they've grown up with the internet they have no expectation of being able to conceal information about themselves. They seem to work on the assumption that anything that is known about them will turn up on the net sooner or later, at which point it is trivially searchable.
The political hazards of lifelogging are, or should be, semi-obvious. In the short term, we're going to have to learn to do without a lot of bad laws. If it's an offense to pick your nose in public, someone, sooner or later, will write a 'bot to hunt down nose-pickers and refer them to the police. Or people who put the wrong type of rubbish in the recycling bags. Or cross the road without using a pedestrian crossing, when there's no traffic about. If you dig hard enough, everyone is a criminal. In the UK, today, there are only about four million public CCTV surveillance cameras; I'm asking myself, what is life going to be like when there are, say, four hundred million of them? And everything they see is recorded and retained forever, and can be searched retroactively for wrong-doing.
This century we're going to learn a lesson about what it means to be unable to forget anything. And it's going to go on, and on. Barring a catastrophic universal collapse of human civilization -- which I should note was widely predicted from August 1945 onward, and hasn't happened yet -- we're going to be laying down memories in diamond that will outlast our bones, and our civilizations, and our languages. Sixty kilograms will handily sum up the total history of the human species, up to the year 2000. From then on ... we still don't need much storage, in bulk or mass terms. There's no reason not to massively replicate it and ensure that it survives into the deep future.
And with ubiquitous lifelogs, and the internet, and attempts at providing a unified interface to all interesting information -- wikipedia, let's say -- we're going to give future historians a chance to build an annotated, comprehensive history of the entire human race. Charting the relationships and interactions between everyone who's ever lived since the dawn of history -- or at least, the dawn of the new kind of history that is about to be born this century.And as a footnote, we will soon have driverless cars, after which human-driven cars will be banned (after all, driver error causes most accidents), and a whole host of social changes as the nature of personal transport is changed.
Nick Bostrom (director of the "Future of Humanity Institute", who also argues that it's likely that reality is a computer simulation) speculates about the possibilities of neural enhancements:
There was a talk at this conference on 'virtue engineering' by James Hughes of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies in Hartford, Connecticut. He spoke about the idea of using technology to enhance moral behaviour. A lot of people have trouble with impulse control, for example, and they might benefit from pharmaceutical help.
In the context of marriage, an interesting possibility is the use of pharmaceuticals to regulate the pair-bonding mechanism. There are a small number of hormones, such as vasopressin and oxytocin, that might help us form bonds with others. It could be possible to prevent the levels of these chemicals from trailing off, and to infuse romance into fading marriages -- like a technological form of counselling.
The PlayStation 3 may still be vaporware, but according to a source at Sony, the PlayStation 4 won't support physical discs at all, downloading all of its content through the massive broadband connections everyone will have in 2012 or whenever it comes out.
The PlayStation 5, however, will be available in ingestible form and will nano-reconfigure your nervous system.
John C. Dvorak takes a break from speculating about Apple and Microsoft to look at how strange our world would look to someone from the 1920s:
Let me begin with the one new commonplace practice that has less to do with technology than with legislation. And that's the crowd of people huddled in a group outside a building smoking cigarettes. This would have to be a weird sight for people from 1920. We don't think much about it, but it is indeed a weird sight.
Perhaps the weirdest societal change has to do with digital cameras and the practice of framing shots in the preview window by holding the camera out in front of yourself. Even ten years ago, nobody would have predicted that most people would now take pictures this way. Give people a pro digital SLR camera and they will still hold the thing in front of them at arm's length.(Are there digital SLRs that display a preview of the scene on the LCD screen in real time? My Canon EOS doesn't do that. I thought the whole point of an SLR is to require the photographer to look through the viewfinder, thus reinforcing their perception that they're a Real Photographer following a weighty and time-honoured tradition and standing on the shoulders of giants like Ansel Adams, rather than a mere amateur playing ignorantly around with a shiny, instantly-gratifying toy.)
Would anyone even 20 years ago have predicted that on every business card you will now find a standardized e-mail address? It's now deemed weird if you do not have an e-mail address on the card and have to write it on.All these things and others he mentions (mobile phones/BlackBerries, chatrooms, and so on) would seem utterly alien to someone from the 1920s (though I wonder whether any futurists or science-fiction writers from those times have predicted anything that comes close to the mark). When you think about it, some of them would seem quite odd to someone who had been asleep for a quarter of a century. One thinks of the 1980s, for example, as the recent past (after all, they had Madonna and Michael Jackson) rather than the Past proper, that foreign country (as L.P. Hartley put it) where they do things differently. Though someone who just woke up from having been in a coma since 1981 would find themselves in a different world: lacking a lot of little things they took for granted (like being able to smoke in offices, or on aeroplanes) and having a bunch of new, alien innovations (the internet and mobile phones, and the profound changes in social and cultural dynamics they have brought about, would be the big ones). To our 1981 exile, our mundane technology would seem slightly science-fictional: from our tiny, feature-packed DVD recorders and MP3 players (does anyone remember how huge early video recorders were?) to communications devices like something out of Star Trek, 2006 would look like scifi, only without the silver lamé jumpsuits and flying cars and other stylistic conventions that say "this is the (space-)future".
The iPods people listen to would seem familiar enough to our visitor, like a more advanced Walkman; what they'd make of the mainstream pop music of today, infused with influences from everything from hip-hop (a fringe scene in 1981, well below the radar) to dance-music genres driven by recent technology, is another matter. If the iPod in question was playing one of the various retro-styled acts popular today, from Gang Of Four/XTC-quoting new-wave-indie-art-rock bands to the last Madonna album, they may find it slightly familiar, though all the more unsettling in the subtle differences that betray it as of 2006, and made for a 2006 audience.
What if someone from 1991 arrived in 2006, with no awareness of the last 15 years? The shock would be somewhat lesser (though, in some ways, perhaps greater; the current age of homeland security and perpetual war against sinister shadows could be more of a rude awakening from the post-Berlin-Wall optimism of the 1990s than from the age of Mutual Assured Destruction). Email addresses on business cards would still seem a bit odd, though if our visitor was an academic or scientist, they would be familiar with them, and one could just about imagine the current state of the world leading to 2006, with its web-based commerce and pocket-sized, ubiquitous mobile phones. Though digital cameras could still seem strange.
In other words, the immediate past is a different neighbourhood; they do things slightly differently there. Go far enough and people start speaking a different language, though if you do so a day at a time, you won't notice the changes.
I wonder how strange 2016, or 2031, would seem to someone from now.
The Wall Street Journal on lowered expectations for the future, or how poorly the present compares against futurologists' and sci-fi writers' predictions from a few decades ago of where we'd be around 2005:
We read all these stories the moment they popped onto our screens, just as we'll read all the space-exploration stories to come -- we love this stuff. But that said, those stories didn't deliver the same thrill they would have 25 years ago. And we doubt very much that the next quarter-century will be much different. (We assumed we'd see men on Mars by now; at today's pace, we'd be pleasantly surprised if our grandkids do.)
Start with the space shuttle. Without taking anything away from the astronauts, the biggest accomplishments of the Discovery mission were that a) it came back; and b) an astronaut pulled bits of cloth out from between tiles. Moreover, NASA had already announced future flights will be grounded because the agency can't keep foam from falling off fuel tanks.Of course, while we didn't get Martian colonies, personal rocket cars, cocktail bars on the Moon, food pills or 80-lane hamster-tube highways snaking their way beneath the glass domes of shiny 21st-century cities, we did get a lot of things down here on Earth:
When we were kids, computers were hulking things off in universities that chattered and blinked mysteriously before spitting out reams of paper. Today, we feel guilty about putting exponentially more-powerful machines than those out on the curb. Back then if you wanted cash you structured your day around when you'd stand in line at the bank; today your choice might be between deli ATMs or settling a debt via PayPal. We have Web-enabled phones in our pockets, instant messaging at the office and can shop in our skivvies at 3 a.m. Wonders upon wonders -- it's only up in the heavens that we're a generation behind.
Which brings us back, unhappily, to the future all those sci-fi books of our youth described. Looking 25 more years down the road, we fear we'll find an amplified, more-depressing version of today: Maybe Real Time 2030 will fret about how our college kids do little more than steal full-res holographic porn when they're not getting their financial identities stolen by cyber-jihadists eager to build more backpack nukes.
The Onion's 2056 issue, with stories like "Government May Restrict Use Of Genetically Modified Farmers", "Final Installment of Frogger Trilogy Poised To Sweep Oscars", "Halliburton Wins Bid To Rebuild Midwest" and "Could Jimi Hendrix Mk. IV's Disappointing Synth-Funk Output Spell The End Of The Vat-Grown Celebrity?":
"Our first objective is to suppress the Wisconsinite and Illini insurgents," Halliburton spokesman James Rothman told reporters. "Attacks on the area's megasilos and supermills have cut the region's grain production in half. Once the insurgents have been contained and the farmland has been adequately irradiated, we will build our own MechaSuperfarms, which we will manage for as long as is necessary to maintain stability in the area."
One thing seems clear: If vat-grown celebrities continue to follow their own muses, it may spell the end of the entertainment industry's latest and most expensive case of sequel-itis.
"It looks like the ancient curse of entertainment--the infamous 'mind of their own' problem--might keep everyone from taking a chance on bringing back anyone else," Miner-323 said.Meanwhile, Charles Stross's future-history of the Singularity, Accelerando, has been released under a Creative Commons licence; you can read it as straight HTML on the site, download it to your PDA, or, of course, buy a dead-tree copy. It covers time from the very near future (or perhaps the present) to the age of solar-system-wide matrioshka brains with incomprehensibly complex cultural/economic systems and wormhole-spanning colonies of posthumans (not to mention uploaded lobsters and Machiavellian robot cats).
(via bOING bOING)
For the past few weeks, Warren Ellis' blog has been running predictions for 2004 from the various gonzo futurists, scifi writers, early adopters and scary goth camgirls he knows; Matt Jones' predictions are probably the most interesting of the series:
BrIC: 2004 is the year where the cultural and economic dominance by BrIC [Brazil, India, China] starts to emerge. More movies of the calibre of 'City of God' dominate the movie and soundtrack charts. Brazil's equivalent of the Neptunes dominate the global ringtone charts. Kids on the 8mile practice not rap, but capoeira battles.
CORMANRINGS: In 1977, Lucas unleashed Star Wars. There were a gazillion cheapo ripoffs on tv and screen including Roger Corman's awesomely bad-but-I-love-it "Battle beyond the stars": y'know the one with John-Boy Walton as the hero... The oscar-winning success of Peter Jackson's Tolkien trilogy coincides with the low-low price of pro-am digital video and film production to produce a bumper crop of copyright-skirting elvish nonsense of a similarly amusing/appalling ilk.
(Machinima meets Dungeons & Dragons, anyone?)
Update: There's more on BrIC in the news: a piece on the Brasilia Consensus replacing the Washington Consensus, and a piece on the G20 (which includes BrIC) and EU issuing a joint communique on global trade talks. (Though isn't the EU, economically speaking, an inherently neo-liberal construct?)
Steve Jackson Games (the Texan role-playing publisher best known for bringing out the Illuminati card game and having been raided by the Secret Service) are bringing out a new role-playing game exploring the effects of technology and social trends on culture and what it means to be human. Scenario books included in the Transhuman Space game will cover issues such as the emergence of a totalitarian intellectual-property dystopia, memetic engineering and colonisation of the solar system, as well as standbys such as what claim to personhood things like AIs have. There's more information here. (via worldchanging)
It's the 21st century, and so far, flying cars haven't shown up. However, a number of other futuristic modes of transport, from self-driving cars to personal jetpacks, are coming real soon now...
Amelioration is the linguistic phenomenon by which negative words or phrases lose their negative associations over time and become innocuous or even positive. Recent examples are "bad" (meaning 'good') and the likes of "shut up!"/"get outta here!" (generally translated as "you don't say?"). The phenomenon, however, is an old one: a classic example is "nice", which, until the 13th century, meant "stupid". (via MeFi)
If this is an ongoing process, one could extend it to the future; i.e., if you're writing a story set some decades from now, you could have some phrase currently found unambiguously offensive used in an innocuous way in the dialogue (i.e., in 2030, something like "go bugger yourself" will mean "really?". For extra points, make the phrase colourful and/or anatomically implausible.)
It must be the silly season again; BBC News has an article on what Christmas will be like in 2050. Robot helpers bringing out the synthetic turkey, wall-sized video screens hooking up instantly with family members far away and providing virtual scenery, and emotion-sensitive Barbie dolls as presents. In other words, the usual future scenario, much unchanged since the Jetsons first aired. But it's from a BT futurologist, so it must be credible.
Also from the Onion: Ghost of Christmas Future Taunts Children With Visions of PlayStation 5.
"I like to appear in the living room with a PS5 hooked up to 2016's most popular TV, the 4'x8' Hi-Def Sony Titania," the Ghost said. "Then, I'll say in my best spooky voice, 'Jimmy! Behold what your kids will be playing while you're slaving away at an office job to support them!'"
A linguistics professor believes that space colonists' language would mutate rapidly, possibly becoming unintelligible to their Earthbound kin within decades, due to the different environment.
"This single, relatively homogeneous dialect will be noticeable with the first generation of children born on the space vehicle and will surely result in a dialect that differs from all the parents' dialect, and from every other dialect of English spoken on Earth," Thomason said.