Science Fiction Brewed Fresh Daily

Something Wicked This Way Comes

A Cognitive Science researcher at Rensselaer is plumbing the roots of human evil by developing a computer program to simulate it. Selmer Bringsjord has created a checklist to determine whether someone is “demonic,” and is working with a team of grad students to create a computerized representation of a truly evil person.

To be truly evil, someone must have sought to do harm by planning to commit some morally wrong action with no prompting from others (whether this person successfully executes his or her plan is beside the point). The evil person must have tried to carry out this plan with the hope of “causing considerable harm to others,” Bringsjord says. Finally, “and most importantly,” he adds, if this evil person were willing to analyze his or her reasons for wanting to commit this morally wrong action, these reasons would either prove to be incoherent, or they would reveal that the evil person knew he or she was doing something wrong and regarded the harm caused as a good thing.

The result is “E,” which resides in his (they’ve developed a physical persona–a young white male) own virtual world and can be queried about his motives via avatar. Right now the interface is fairly basic, but they’re providing him with artificial intelligence so that researchers will eventually be able to interview him in a more humanlike fashion.

Not to worry, though: Bringsjord says, “I wouldn’t release E or anything like it, even in purely virtual environments, without engineered safeguards.” So we’re, like, totally safe from the threat of a purely evil artificial intelligence being accidentally unleashed on humanity.



Posted in Computers & Internet October 31st, 2008 by Chip

Is Science Fiction Responsible for the Lack of Public Interest in Space Exploration?

Buzz Aldrin says it is.

“Q: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin said fantastic space science fiction shows and movies are partly responsible for the lack of interest in real-life space exploration among young people. Do you agree with this assessment? Why?”

And look at all the SF authors who answered him :-)

Posted in Space October 30th, 2008 by Gandalara
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Wait…I’m Not Getting Paid for This?

Andrew Keen, self-proclaimed “leading contemporary critic of the Internet,” recently wrote an article claiming that current economic hardship heralds the death of “free content” on the ‘Net.

So how will today’s brutal economic climate change the Web 2.0 “free” economy? It will result in the rise of online media businesses that reward their contributors with cash; it will mean the success of Knol over Wikipedia, Mahalo over Google, over the, iTunes over MySpace, Hulu over YouTube Inc., over, TechCrunch over the blogosphere, CNN’s professional journalism over CNN’s iReporter citizen-journalism… The hungry and cold unemployed masses aren’t going to continue giving away their intellectual labor on the Internet in the speculative hope that they might get some “back end” revenue. “Free” doesn’t fill anyone’s belly; it doesn’t warm anyone up.

I initially heard about this from a news blurb on the radio, where the announcer was giving it a measure of respect. My immediate thought was, “Dude, I don’t even run ads.” I don’t blog or maintain the O*W*C site or contribute to open source software projects in the expectation of getting paid for it.

I’m pleased to see that BoingBoing feels the same, pointing out that Keen fails to take into account the strong draw of egoboo. They also link to a short article at Reason which is similarly snark-filled:

Andrew Keen predicts an end to backyard gardens, playground basketball, basement jam sessions, amateur painting, and open mic nights for the duration of the economic hard times, because “the idea of free labor will suddenly become profoundly unpalatable to someone faced with their house being repossessed or their kids going hungry.”

Oh, wait. Hold on. He only predicts an end to unpaid-but-pleasurable labor on the Internet

One of the commenters over there also points out that starting to charge for content right when people don’t have any money to pay for content is perhaps not a genius-level move.

I think that Keen simply can’t get his head around the economic model of the Internet (he likens Free Culture movements like Creative Commons to Communism), so any prediction he makes about it will be broken.

What do you think? Will the Internet eventually be entirely pay-based, with the current poor economy kick-starting that trend?

Posted in Computers & Internet October 30th, 2008 by Chip
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Quitting the Tardis

David Tennant is to quit as Doctor Who at the end of next year.

Tennant took up the role as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor in 2005, and will end his tenure after filming five final episodes, the last of which will be shown early in 2010.

Story at


Well, pooh.

Posted in Movies & TV October 29th, 2008 by Gandalara
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“Naked Eye” Solar System Discovered

Astronomers have discovered a solar system around a star that’s close enough to Earth to be seen with the naked eye. At least one and possibly three planets are orbiting Epsilon Eridani, the ninth-closest star to our own.

It’s much, much younger than our own system–only around 850 million years old–giving researchers a glimpse of what our system might have looked like at the same age. Since it’s speculated that life on Earth took root somewhere around the same time frame, this is particularly exciting.

In addition to the big gas giant they’re sure about, there are a couple of suspicious gaps in the asteroid swath surrounding the sun which indicate where other Jupiter-sized planets might be lurking. Even more interesting is that the area nearest the star is clear of debris, similar to our own system, so there might be smaller rocky (Earthlike!) planets in there that are too small for us to see yet.

I vote that we start broadcasting a constant stream of carefully-encrypted gibberish in that direction. Eventually sentient life will evolve there, reach out into the universe questing for signs of alien intelligence, and then we’ll totally mess with their heads.


Posted in News, Space October 29th, 2008 by Chip
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H+, New Transhumanist Magazine

Hplus CoverHumanity Plus (formerly the World Transhumanist Association) has launched a new Transhumanist magazine, edited by R.U. Sirius. The first issue is available as a free PDF, and includes interviews with Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow.

It’s a very slick-looking publication, and some of the technology it features is very cool. Sirius promises to continue editing the mag for at least 300 years, so it’s definitely got some staying power.


Posted in Computers & Internet, Science October 28th, 2008 by Chip
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Star Wars Dance-Off

I found this via Twenty Sided, which also asks:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “severe” and 10 being “horrifying and permanent”, how badly did this video damage your childhood memories?

“Seven thousand” isn’t on the scale. But it should be.

Posted in Movies & TV October 27th, 2008 by Chip
1 comment

A Different Kind of Campaign

This will be particularly amusing to those of us who have ever run a D&D campaign. I think that somehedgehog’s reimagining of the presidential hopefuls as RPG players has captured everybody’s personalities pretty neatly.

OBAMA: Well, maybe some people got tired of the grim and squinty “Matterhorn, son of Marathon” shtick you keep doing. Dude, could you be any less original?

MCCAIN: Oh my god, I did not leave my left nut in a tiger cage in the Tomb of Horrors to spend my Friday nights mopping up after the new kid.

OBAMA: “My friends, I am a totally unoriginal grizzled character class stereotype. I should lead the party because I have more testicular damage than that one.”

MCCAIN: Yeah, well, you pal around with dark elves.


MCCAIN: Whatever, so’s your mom.

OBAMA: So’s your FACE.

MCCAIN: So’s your Mom’s face!

HILARY: WTF you guys. Why am I playing the cleric?

MCCAIN: Hilary, we’ve been over this.

HILARY: No, dude. I am so sick of being the girlfriend healer. Seriously, I can’t even use a sword. Fuck this noise.


OBAMA: That’s nice.


Link (via BoingBoing)

Posted in Humor October 24th, 2008 by Chip
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Turing Test Near-Miss

I got all excited when I first saw this BBC article about a recent Turing Test involving five chatbots. One, Elbot, came close to passing. Then I read further and saw that the test requires that the ‘bot fool only 30% of the human audience. Elbot fooled 25% of the human testers. I think this says less about the quality of the ‘bot and more about the humans doing the testing.

You can chat with Elbot here, or read this Salon “interview” with it. I played around with the program for a while, and it really strikes me as ELIZA with a slightly better dictionary lookup. It tends to go off the rails after about three questions.

I dunno…I don’t think I’m going to be terribly excited about a Turing Test until the ‘bots are fooling 90% of the audience. Does 30% strike you as kind of a letdown, or am I expecting too much?

(via The Website at the End of the Universe)

Posted in Computers & Internet October 23rd, 2008 by Chip
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Geeky Wedding Rings

The ThinkGeek guys have done a roundup of geeky rings, entitled My Big NTFS Geek Wedding. I’m particularly taken with the armillary sphere.

A few that they don’t list are this Double Helix ring, this nut and bolt set, the Remember Ring (which I think I may have blogged about before, but looking it up would be too much like work), and this neat fingerprint ring. There’s also a nice laser-etched DNA ring here (about halfway down the page), and the same manufacturer offers rings inlaid with carbon fiber. And it almost goes without saying that there are loads of LOTR rings available, such as these and these.

Shadow and I have semi-geeky rings: They’re mokume-gane bands. Do you have a particularly SF-tastic wedding ring?

Posted in Science October 22nd, 2008 by Chip