The One Thing Hollywood Gets Wrong in Futuristic Science Fiction

Candice eetimesEvery technologist seems to love science fiction, or so it seems.  Yet many of us cringe when we watch science fiction movies and television shows that attempt to depict the future showing advanced technology.  I’m no exception, though in my case, it seems like EVERY futuristic vision uses the same hackneyed visual trope, their vision of what an advanced electronic display will look like, the “transparent display”.

Before I get too far on this rant, let me explain that transparent displays already exist.  They have existed for several decades.  So, no, they are NOT “futuristic”.  In fact, some of the very first flat panel displays were transparent.  For example, PLATO, an early educational system used a transparent monochrome plasma screen on top of a microfiche viewer screen back in the ’70s.  So, showing a transparent flatpanel display is not only NOT futuristic, it’s downright retro, a blast from the past.

Did you know that your LCD screen that you are probably reading this from is in fact, transparent?  The LCD is transparent but has a flat white backlight behind it.  When you see black text on a white screen, the black is on the LCD, the white is actually the backlight itself.  To turn it into a transparent screen, just disassemble the display, remove the backlight and – voila, a transparent display.  Not very futuristic now is it?

As a display technologist with a strong background in designing and optimizing displays for the human vision system I have another serious pet peeve to share.  Using transparent displays for everyday tasks is DUMB !  Just plain DUMB!

avatartransparentscreenWhy?  First, the user has to look at one information plane while ignoring the image past the display plane.  This causes two problems, first it reduces the contrast of the display making it hard to use; second, it creates a high cognitive load on your vision processing centers in your brain, leading to fatigue.  You think working on a computer screen now is tiring… just try to use a transparent display !

But it’s even dumber than that.  Consider the lack of privacy.  Everyone on the other side of you is seeing a mirrored image of everything you are working on.  Imagine the loss of security!  This is as dumb as having high level strategy meetings in a conference room with large glass windows to the outside… and instead of using a white board, one uses the markers on the windows! Hard to read… and your competitors are watching what you are working on.

Hollywood, stop.  Just STOP.  You are embarrassing yourself.

A Cracked Crystal Ball

Candice eetimesI recently published my first science Fiction novel, All The Stars Are Suns.  Some thought that this represents a change in career direction.  Actually, no.  My career has always involved carefully gazing into my mental crystal ball.  Bad Hollywood images aside, the best crystal balls used by true devotees were always cracked, having many internal fracture lines that reflected and refracted the light of flickering candle light in new and unanticipated patterns such that they induced new visions.  A perfect optically clear sphere would be useless as no images would form.  Thus, I’m always filling my mental crystal with data and trying to see the future through imperfect data because to be an entrepreneur, and inventor, a science fiction author is all the same art… to see a fantastic future that may or may not come true on its own, but by seeing it, then ACTING ON IT, that future may become self-foreseeing.

An executive of a large company may rely on many visionaries, both in their employ and not.  But an inventor and entrepreneur, as I have been, must rely on their own visions.  They must both guess right about what is likely to happen and to have faith that they can steer that future towards their own vision.  So, no, I have not shifted careers.  I am still the same visionary.  The only thing that has changed is the means by which I promote my visions.

So, what do I see as the background, the ever shifting light falling upon my many cracked crystal ball?

First and foremost, we will very shortly see a dramatic shift toward both all-electric (not hybrid) and autonomous (driverless) vehicles.  This isn’t the realm of speculation anymore, but of timing.  It will happen.  And when it does happen it will cause massive disruptions in economic systems that we take for granted today.  So lets explore just a few those changes.

Fewer cars

Yes, fewer cars.  Simply put, transportation will shift from owner driven cars to transportation as a service, taxi and “Uber” to the uber (couldn’t help myself).  Why own a car when you can metaphorically whistle up a car on demand?

This will cause shifts in real estate development.  In my own neighborhood, a developer has already tried to get approval for a condo with “too few” parking spaces, arguing that by the time the construction is complete, people will drive fewer cars.  His timing was off… but his prognostication is dead on.  We will need fewer parking spaces in the future.

Service stations… remember those?  Seriously, gas stations will no longer be a thing.  Local repair shops?  Car dealerships?  Gone.  Fleet Sales/Leasing and centralized repair centers will replace them.

Strip Malls… those terrible eyesores, gone.  And with them the megamall.  People will be buying much of what they want online… but ironically, the experience of shopping in person will see a retro trend to hanging out in revitalized downtowns (or even newly constructed simulations of them e.g. Santana Row in San Jose) that have streets converted to pedestrian court yards and walk ways.

Apartments with large interior malls / food courts will be developed that look more like today’s five-star hotels.  People will dine out more as they have more time that we now use for commutes.

Suburbanites will convert their garages to more living space, their driveways to gardens, even their paved courts and cul-de-sacs will be converted to parks.

Freeways in some cities will be torn out, to be replaced with parks and greenways, some with better mass transit.

Now, given this vision… what business opportunities should you pursue?

The War on Education: Taxing Tuition Waivers

Candice eetimesThere has long been a divide in our nation between those who respect higher education and those who are either suspicious or just plain hostile to it.  One could hear the disdain in the refrain of enlisted men in the WWII and even before from working class men calling educated men “college boy” in same vein as could be heard on grammar school yards with, “momma’s boy”.  This was a disdain and an attitude that education was effete and even ‘effeminate’, comparing educated men to women and homosexuals.

Lately, college and university educated people, especially those with post-graduate degrees (the new “college boys”) are being smeared with the epithet of being “elitist”, a reference to class antipathies and anxieties, as well as “liberal”, a reference to our national divisions into tribalist groups.  Let me be clear, I strongly believe that it is those who label OTHERS as “liberal” / “libtard” / “elites”, etc. who are the ones walling themselves into a “bubble”, not the other way around.  This issue is one-sided… and for the simple reason that many of those who are thus labeled started out life within that bubble, but escaped it through education and travel to learn of a larger world, an experience which naturally breaks down parochial beliefs and prejudices.

The most recent House version of the GOP sponsored tax revision included the latest salvo on the war against education and educated people.  A provision would impose a tax on tuition waivers, treating them as though they were earned income.  The problem?  These waivers are NOT income per se, they are discounts.

Imagine getting a discounted airline ticket and receiving a tax bill for the difference between “full price” and your discounted price.  Would that seem like that had been earned income?  Seriously?

The concept of earned income is that in theory one can do anything one wants with it; spend it on movie and a dinner, blow it on a weekend at a casino, or invest it mutual funds, or simply sock it away in a savings account.  But how can a discount on goods or services be treated as having been earned income when it can only be recognized by having “spent” on one and only one item.

Let’s do this even more absurdly.  Let’s say that someone is selling an item, a one of kind item, like a house.  The seller has an asking price.  You have an offering price below the asking price which is accepted.  Should you then expect a tax bill for the difference between the original ask and the eventual accepted offer?  Well… that is essentially what this latest tax bill in congress is demanding.  An education is a one of a kind item.  It can’t be resold to someone else like a commodity, it exists only in the experience and memory of the student.

But this attack on education should be no surprise to us.  This is after all only a continuation of the anger, resentment, and even hatred, felt by those who have no education for those who have.  This anger is misplaced in that those without an education are so because of their own peers convincing them that they don’t need it and should hate those who have earned it, a class based self-foreseeing-prophecy as well as an example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

To say that if implemented that this will hurt American education and all those industries (including government) that need educated employees and citizens should be obvious to all… but as we have seen in recent events, there are people who would rather tear everything down around them rather than see others outside of their tribe prosper.  We need to include protection for our educational institutions and their future students in our plans to rescue our republic from those who would see it descend into chaos.

Further Reading:

Essay on how to assure access to higher education for all

Al Franken Photo Isn’t Funny

Candice eetimesMany of us awoke to the internet abuzz with comments on the photo of Senator Al Franken joking around with a photographer simulating a date rape scene.  It’s not humor.

It’s not funny.

It’s a “boys will be boys” sociopolitical comment that Senator Franken is making without fully realizing that he is tacitly, perhaps even explicitly, approving and upholding the notion that when women are unable to defend themselves, it’s “OK” for them to become targets of sexual molestation.

It’s not funny.

In the past few years, we have become more sensitized to the wrongful sexual behavior of some of our most beloved celebrities and politicians.   Behavior that was previously excused, even jocularly winked at, as Franken is doing in this photograph, is finally being understood by the public for what it is, harassment and assault.

It’s not funny.

It’s not only not funny… it’s the very tip of the previously mocked as “over reacting” epidemic of sexual denigration of women.  But as we have been learning in these past couple years about how date rape, the taking advantage of women who are incapacitated by alcohol, drugs (often surreptitiously administered by the rapist, e.g. Bill Cosby), or simple exhausted sleep, we have also become sensitized to the pervading culture that makes light of such behavior.  We have learned about the gradations of sexual harassment in both public and private life.

It’s not funny.

Senator Franken has welcomed investigation into his behavior… and likely feels that he will be exonerated of any overt act of sexual molestation.  But that was NOT the transgression that we are concerned with Mr. Franken.  It was your smirk of approval of rape culture.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

I believe you Senator Franken.

An Experiment Gone Wrong…

Candice eetimes“Are you sure this will prove your theory of Quantum Temporal Improbability, Doctor Essex?  Are you sure it’s safe?  I mean, if you are correct, this will change the past, which will mean that it will change our present?”

“Of course it will work.  And yes, it’s safe.  The experiment will only slightly effect the probability of small things.  It won’t effect big things in the slightest.  Changes to history will always converge back to the higher probability events in time; so there is no danger.”

“How far back are you setting the change to be anyways?”

“Did you not read my whitepaper on that subject?  It has to be when the Earth is closest to the same position as it is now relative to the other major masses in our solar system and the center of the galaxy.  Thus, it has to be in increments of whole years so that the energy required to make change will be minimal.  Of course, that also means that one year in the past is the easiest to effect.”

“OK, what should be we look for?”

“Oh, I’m sure it will be quite subtle: a typo in some website that wasn’t there before… something like that.  So, I have setup a search of the web looking for changes compared to our locally stored web mirror.”

“OK… If that’s all it will be, you have permission to go ahead.”

“Thank you,” Dr. Essex said as he pressed the button on his computer that sent the signal to the CERN Large Hadron Collider to preform his side experiment.  “OK, that was it.  The search should find something….”

“What’s wrong Doctor?”

“This can’t be!  That’s not a small change !  My GOD.  Clinton’s no longer the president!”

“You can’t mean !!!  NO!  That’s not possible!…   NOT Trump !!!”