The Language of the Future

Candice eetimesYesterday, one of my readers expressed a concern that my novel, All The Stars Are Suns, was riddled with typos.  It turned out he was having trouble with some of my characters use of language.  He didn’t realize that I was trying to convey how in the future, languages would merge into creoles, admixtures of the languages of two or more cultures when they interact.  In my vision of the future, much of the advanced technological polities of the world would use what I dubbed “International Chinese English”, a creole of mostly English words, but with the simplified syntax of Mandarin along with some Mandarin words.  But in space, the cultures having developed primarily from Russian and American space programs, both governmental and corporate, would develop a creole of Russian and English.  This would leave English words as the dominant feature of both creoles as the common intersecting gloss.

All languages evolve, some faster than other during some historical periods, often from cultures interacting with each other, taking on loan words, sometimes blending vocabularies wholesale and simplifying the grammar.  Languages that evolve in isolation tend to accrete more complex grammars as a means of increasing error correction.  When one has to keep gender, case, number, etc. all the same in a sentence, then a slip in one word is caught as an error and is less likely to cause a miscommunication.  However, when two speakers of two or more different languages speak together, they will drop the complexity in favor of simplicity in order to facilitate faster learning of the new creole.

English is in some ways a mish-mash creole becoming a more complex language.  English is a creole of French (a vulgate Latin) and German with more than a bit of Norse (from the Danes / Viking occupation of the east of England).  Added to that are loan words directly from Latin and Greek, as well as others.  Though now that it is becoming (over the past three hundred years) taken up as a second language by more speakers, those speakers often drop the complex grammar in favor of a simple one.

In some ways, Mandarin can be seen as a special pidgin.  A ‘pidgin’ is a language created from the efforts of inter-language contact of traders and travellers who don’t have time to learn each other’s language but need to have a minimum vocabulary and grammar, just enough to get by on.  The vocabulary of Mandarin is greater than a true pidgin but it’s grammar is very pidgin like.  It has no verb conjugation, no gender, no articles, etc.  Yet it serves as the first language of the single largest group of speakers.  This likely developed out of the polyglot history of Imperial Chinese rule.

As Asia gains in economic influence, it needs a common language.  In a strange quirk of history, because modern technology and business in Europe and North America is based on English, that language has become the international business and technology standard.  But China is the single largest market and will soon be the largest developer of technology.  It seems inevitable that English and Mandarin will begin to merge for international business and technology exchange to become “International Chinese English”

In space, I do not see the Chinese working with the Americans and Russians, for the next century at least, since there will be military implications of the technology.  China will want to fully control its own space technology.  Thus, as people move off-planet to live more and more of their lives in space, two cultures will emerge.  Perhaps I’m just being chauvinistic, but I believe that the American/Russian partnership’s culture will eventually dominate space but will have strong economic ties to Asia such that eventually the Space Born, will speak a creole of English/Russian/Mandarin with their own unique spin to it.

So… happy reading !

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Pandora Is A GMO Ecosystem

Candice eetimesIn the wildly successful science fiction film Pandora advanced technology allows humans sitting inside a brain scanner to teleoperate genetically engineered alien-human hybrid avatars.  It was never clear how the avatars were connected to the scanners… radio?  Doesn’t matter, they had to have had fully functioning brains and nervous systems because in the end Jake Sully, a human being, has his full memories and consciousness transfered to his avatar such that his human body, and his human brain, is no longer needed.  I won’t go into discussions about how silly I found THAT.  But I do want to talk about the other unquestioned aspects of James Cameron’s vision of Pandora.  The Tree of Souls and sahalu, the ability of the Na’vi to directly interface with a number of domesticated species and to the Tree of Souls.  If this were a real alien world that we humans had discovered…

I would stay the HELL away from it!  Such an ability could NOT have evolved naturally.  No, the entire ecosystem, which has a connection to Eywa, the consciousness of the entire ecosystem, would have had to have been genetically engineered by a very advanced civilization.  My first question would be, are the Na’vi the descendents of that civilization?  Or merely one of their domesticated “pets”?  Either way… time to stay as far away from them as possible until one has established whether or not that civilization still exists at the level that was needed to create that ecosystem.  Because if it does, they would be far more advanced than the human civilization as it was portrayed in the film.

Which brings me back to my own writing.  If you have read my first novel, All The Stars Are Suns, you would know that my story is how humans as a species will do the very same thing, genetically engineer ecosystems that can turn barren worlds into living ones ideal for humans, including genetically engineered symbionts that will allow telepathic like connection to both electronic computers and to each other… and to genetically engineered symbionts in our domesticated species in genetically engineered ecosystems.

Frankly, I can’t see any other way that we will successfully colonize other worlds as we expand past the womb we call Mother Earth.  My future books will explore those new worlds our children will call home.

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.

Star Trek “Science”

Candice eetimesI love Star Trek.  As a kid, I used to sneak out of my bedroom and down the hall just far enough to glimpse, at an awkward angle, the TV in the living room as my parents watched the original broadcasts such that they wouldn’t be able to see me doing so.  The show aired past my parentally enforced bedtime; but that didn’t stop me.  It wasn’t the only Sci Fi show I watched, of course, but it was my fave.

Today, I saw an essay by a Forbes blogger complaining, in a shocked and lamenting tone, that Star Trek had used bogus biological science as a plot take-off.  I’m also shocked… but not for the same reason.  I’m shocked that he thought that Star Trek and anything to do with science.  Seriously?  This is Science Fiction, emphasis on fiction.

Let’s start with the simple fact Star Trek is based on the premise that Faster-Than-Light (FTL) travel and communications is possible.  In good science fiction, it is said that one may have one impossible device or technology and build around that.  But Star Trek has used tons of “impossible” technologies and tech-babble.  The point of Star Trek was to entertain and perhaps, occasionally, moralize.

Oh… now I can hear some folks complain, “How do we know that FTL is impossible?”

OK, I’ll grant that we don’t know everything about the universe yet.  We don’t know what Dark Energy or even the more prosaic, Dark Matter are.  We don’t really know how gravity and quantum physics can be unified.  These are indeed deep questions.  But they don’t hint at anything that will allow FTL.

Why? Because the combination of Newton’s Laws of Motion and Relativity, both Special and General.  To get FTL, those laws would have to be shown to be totally wrong.  Oh… and you can forget time travel for the same reasons…  There may be a loophole for FTL communications… or not.  But forget FTL travel.

The other key area where Star Trek has ignored science is indeed biology.  The very casting of humans as aliens that look like humans?  Even considering convergent evolution, the type that has created brains, eyes, wings, and fins several times does NOT mean that it will create creatures like us with very different biology but very similar physiognomy.  Even worse, that these folks can conceive hybrid human/alien children? The writers of the later series, Next Generation eventually tried to create an explanation, that was even worse the than the original plot hole by suggesting that evolution had not done it alone, but was directed DNA manipulation by a progenitor species to control the end result of evolutionary processes on thousands of worlds.  Say what?

So that’s TWO impossible things… the list is long.

For myself, when I started out to write “All The Stars Are Suns” and to map out its successor books in the same universe (not a “series” per se as the characters will not be reappearing), I decided that there would be NO impossible device or technology.  Everything, every tiny detail, would be not only scientifically possible, but technologically probable.  The technologies are things that I would like to have been able to develop myself before I die.  But I can’t.  I won’t live long enough and don’t have the energy to pursue them all.  But I can write about them, popularize them, inspire future technologists to development them.

Excelsior Ad Astra