Sunday, July 07, 2013

Last Week's Posting, This Week

I'm having the same problem this week that I had last week when I didn't post to this blog: Not knowing what to write about.  
And like last week, my problem this week is the same.  It's not that I don't have any topics.  It's more like I have too many topics.  Too many things on my mind that won't coalesce into a single story representative of my life for this last two weeks.  
That's actually not quite true.  It's not only have a brain full of topics.  It's also not knowing which is really real for me.  Which is important.  It's not knowing what I really want to write about.  No, no...  Wait a second...  I'm getting closer.  
It's not know if I REALLY want to write about something or I just THINK I really out go write about something.  
So, I'm going to try to do this week what I tried to do last week, only this time actually finish doing it.  I'm going to present what I have and see if there is a common thread running through it all.  Here we go...
A Death in the Family
I went to a member of my family's funeral on Tuesday.  Jim Melton was my cousin.  He was about my Mom and Dad's age.  My Dad and Jim were raised in the same area of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.  
I grew up around Jim and his family when I was a kid.  There were parallels between the families.  Both Jim and my Dad married someone "exotic," compared to the rest of  our hillbilly lineage.  My Mom came from Belize and Iris, Jim's wife, is from Puerto Rico.  Both families were raised Catholic.  My cousins were about ten minutes away and we were at each other's house every weekend it seemed.  
When I heard the news, my thoughts were something like, "Oh, no.  Jim's dead."  I waited for another thought to follow but nothing seemed to come.  It was a fact.  As simple and irrefutable as the sky being blue or me having a lot of work to get out that day.  
The funeral brought it home.  Listening to Jim's grandson, Matt Jr., and my cousin, his son, Louie, give the eulogies, brought back the memories of what Jim was like as a person, what it was like to have him in our family.  When the casket was wheeled out of the chapel in front of me I thought, "Oh, no...  Jim is dead."  I couldn't think of anything else for a while after that.  I was too busy crying.  Too busy feeling the loss.  Too filled with regret for the years that had gone by without stopping by and saying, "Hey, Cuz...  How's it going?"  
There's more I could say.  I'm not going to, though.  
Robots as bosses; A.I.s as Oracles
I've been thinking about robots.  A story I finished and sent out for submission this week was about robots in a retirement community being secretly taken over by the residents so they could watch out for each other instead of relying on the dwindling staff.  That had something to do with robots being on my mind.  
I've also been thinking about robots taking over everyone's jobs.  Manufacturing has been coming back to the United States according to reports I've heard, but not the jobs.  That's because the work is being done primarily by autonomous machines instead of human workers.  Robots.  And if you extend the term "robot" to mean any device or program that does something a human used to do, then even more work is in jeopardy.  There are programs in the legal field that will review documents that have been made searchable that can build an attorney's case, replacing hundreds of billable hours by a human paralegal.  And I saw one documentary about a company building a robot to replace the workers at a fast food restaurant like McDonald's.  Imagine going in and placing your order the way you would get money out of an ATM.  
This week, though, I read an article in May's edition of Scientific American about the future of robotics that gave me something new to think about: robotic bosses.  The article featured a robot designed to weld frames together for military vehicles.  The specifications for the frame, the materials available,  plus the changes the designers wanted in the frame, were uploaded to the robot.  The robot then not only created its own plans for how to cut and prepare the pieces and what steps needed to be taken, it also divided the work into those steps it would do and those steps the human attendant would do.  
In other words, the robot, not the human, was responsible for deciding what instructions the human would follow.  It was giving the orders for the completion of the job, not the human.  When the job was completed, the robot directed job, with its human assistant that had no previous experience in welding, was completed in about one-third the time at one-third the cost as a test frame made by a team of human expert welders.  
It made me wonder what it would be like to have a robot directing me in my work.  What would happen if the robot decided that firing people was a task it didn't do well, and left that all up to me?  I don't know that I would like such a boss all that much.  Or maybe it would take all the pressure off of me.  "Sorry, it wasn't my decision.  It was the robot's."  
A step beyond this was a writing prompt I heard on "Writing Excuses," a podcast for writers that I listen to.  During the podcast, the cast speculated about A.I.s after the singularity, when computer systems become self-aware and self-directing.  In such a world we would not be able to make our computers do anything.  We would have to approach them and ask them to perform the tasks we want.  The relationship could become similar to that of the ancient Greeks to the oracles they approached, asking for divination in exchange for some sort of sacrifice.  
What would I ask an A.I. oracle for?  I have often quipped that my goal is to find a way to upload my consciousness into a self-sustaining quantum matrix, in essence to become an A.I. myself.  I would be able to create my own universe to live in.  Or I could put my unit into a spacecraft and see the universe for real, not worried about how long the journey would take.  
Or...  I might ask the A.I. to direct me to the woman of my dreams.  "Can any A.I. find me...  Somebody to love!"  With apology to Freddy Mercury and the boys for my alteration to their lyrics. 
With my luck, the A.I. would give me her contact information and I would use it to discover that she's uploaded her consciousness to a quantum matrix that is now boosting past Pluto's orbit on its way to Tau Ceti.  Damn.  
What criteria do you think an A.I. would set to elevate a human into its immortal state?  What would interest an artificial intelligence in taking on such a task?  
Alternate Realities
I directed a play when I was in college for a directing class I was taking.  The play is called, "Hello, Out There!"  It is a one act by a famous American playwright named William Saroyan.  It's about a man locked in a jail cell, for something he claims he didn't commit, while an angry mob gathers outside to lynch him.  Over the course of the play he tries to convince the shy cleaning girl to let him out.  
I had a dream about that play.  It woke me up in the middle of the night.  There was a scene in the play that I didn't get to work quite right.  Now, thirty-some-odd years later, I knew how to direct it.  It was a simple matter of getting the actress something to do, go back to cleaning the sheriff's office, to avoid an embarrassing admission of truth.  
I went back to sleep, dreaming about this change.  The dream continued.  I made the chance in the scene.  I also made other changes in the staging.  And in the set design.  I brought the audience up on to the stage, placing them on risers, and enclosed the seating and the stage area inside a chain-link fence, to underscore the feeling of enclosure and isolation.  I had tried to do this originally tried to do this by placing the actors in an empty stage with minimal props and set pieces and using spotlights to isolate them.  It didn't work to satisfaction.  I even had a frame of chain-link fencing slam down over the heads of the audience just as the lights came up, to make a sound like a cell door slamming shut on them.  
In my dream version of my college production, the play was a much bigger success.  So much so, they let me write and direct my own main stage production the following quarter.  I imagined that as well.  Even writing the play in my head.  When I woke up in the morning, I had it in my head.  It's a comedy-thriller, sort of like Ira Levin's "Deathtrap" but with supernatural overtones.  A young couple, cousins involved in an incestuous relationship, murder their wealthy aunt for the inheritance.  As part of the Aunt's will, a seance has to be held in her home to contact her spirit if she died "unexpectedly," before any inheritance is paid out.  
I think the ideal afterlife would be something like this.  Not a cloudy paradise with choruses of angles or a harem of virgins at one's disposal.  But a chance to replay one's life and experience all the good things again or take the things that didn't quite work out and make them better.  
That's it.  


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