Science and Technology Archives

Stanford biologist Sebastian Alvarado explains the science behind the origin of comic book superhero the Incredible Hulk.
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I’ve had a secret love affair with fractals ever since Clifford Pickover first introduced me to them years ago through his book Mazes for the Mind. I always found the idea of fractals amazing and beautiful at the same time. (Kind of like banana cream pie, only more meaningful to reality.) My love affair with Fractals progressed over the years, particularly in playing with programs such as Fractint and, more recently, Frax.

Perhaps that’s why I find this Arthur C. Clarke-narrated documentary so fascinating. It’s called Fractals – The Colors Of Infinity and you can watch it right here…

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Fran Wilde is an author, programmer, and technology consultant who has worked as a science and engineering writer, a university professor, a sailing instructor, a game developer, and a jeweler’s assistant. Fran’s first novel, Bone Arrow, is forthcoming from Tor in 2015. Her short stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies (forthcoming), Nature, and The Impossible Futures anthology, while nonfiction interviews and roundtables writers have appeared under the banner “Cooking the Books” at Tor.com, Strange Horizons, the SFWA blog, and at franwilde.wordpress.com. You can also find Fran on twitter (as @Fran_Wilde), tumblr, and facebook.

Photo Credit: Dan Magus, 2014   
On Staying Ahead of Evolving Technology (OR: Things Fall Apart)

By Fran Wilde

Diana Rios swore she’d put the next stung brigger who entered her garrison med tent out of their misery with her bare hands.

“What possessed you to put a live wasp in your mouth, Jersey?” she asked, before tearing an antihistamine pen cap off with her teeth.

“Ith wath a beth! Ow!”

- From “Like a Wasp to the Tongue,” by Fran Wilde, Asimov’s April/May 2014.

John DeNardo invited me to talk to SF Signal readers about the sensor wasps that appear in my Asimov’s April/May 2014 short story “Like a Wasp to the Tongue,” and I’m delighted to do so.

SF writers spend a lot of time thinking about where technology is headed. In particular, we try to stay far, far ahead of where technology might be headed. It’s part of the job description. Personally, I find it a lot of fun. But it isn’t an easy sort of fun. Tech moves faster every day.

In a former life as an engineering and science writer, I learned that one way to get a jump on technology and where it could evolve is to look at the problems that technology is currently creating for itself and for its users — the holes it digs for itself, simply by virtue of its own headwind.

I’m totally getting to the wasps. Bear with me.
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Friday YouTube: Ballad of a WiFi Hero

Anyone who watches Archer or Bob’s Burgers will recognize the voice of H. Jon Benjamin in this excellent animation of a McSweeney’s Mike Lacher piece “In Which I Fix My Girlfriend’s Grandparents’ WiFi and Am Hailed as a Conquering Hero”.
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That Time Arthur C. Clarke Did a Car Commercial

I don’t think Arthur C. Clarke had selling cars in mind when he talked about imagining what the future would, could and should be like…but that didn’t stop BMW. Don’t watch the commercial, but do listen to Clarke talk about the future.

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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Nanotechnology, lifelike robots, Google Glass, Invisibility Metamaterials, and 3-D Printing are just the beginning. Many technologies that recently existed only in the pages of a science fiction novel are becoming reality. We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What science fictional technologies do you think are right on the horizon and will become part of our everyday lives in the next ten years?

Here’s what our panelists had to say…

Ken Liu
Ken Liu’s fiction has appeared in F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld, among other places. He has won a Nebula, two Hugos, a World Fantasy Award, and a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award, and been nominated for the Sturgeon and the Locus Awards. He lives near Boston with his family.

Advances in artificial intelligence are not making many headlines these days, but I think within the next decade computer thinking will make inroads in many areas touching our lives. The reason advances in AI don’t seem very “science fictional” to us is that we keep on moving the goal post: computers now can beat humans at chess, answer Jeopardy questions, understand and transcribe your speech, translate in real time, and make billions on the stock market. While most people still seem “skeptical” about whether computers can think, we already live in a science fictional world.

Perhaps two areas will challenge our comfort. One is the military. Right now, military computers are still used in a way that is “supervised” by human decision makers. The drones that are in the news so much are operated by remote pilots, and targeting systems make recommendations, leaving the final decision to kill up to the human (though some have already described the human oversight as “illusory”). But the machinery of war has a relentless logic: eventually, human oversight will be seen as too slow and error-prone and undependable. We will have fully automated robots fighting our wars, where the decision to fire and kill will be made by machines alone—human oversight, if any, will be limited to the crafting of the algorithms governing these systems.
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PROS: Excellent display; rich feature set (makes great use of screen size); great battery life; handy shortcut gesture for adjusting the backlight.
CONS: Contrast could be better.
BOTTOM LINE: A significant improvement over the Aura HD and a slightly better form factor than the Kindle Paperwhite.

I had the opportunity to test drive the new Kobo Aura, a follow-on eBook reader to the more expensive Kobo Aura HD, and it looks like Kobo has made significant improvements to the overall reading experience in the process.
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[GUEST POST] Libby McGugan on Scientists, Philosophers and Going Fishing


Libby McGugan‘s first novel, The Eidolon calls into question the very nature of reality in a contemporary SF adventure that explores deep ideas but with an edge-of-the-seat story line featuring dark matter, the CERN laboratory, and the barrier between the living and the dead.

Today she offers up something a bit more down to earth…

Scientists, Philosophers and Going Fishing

by Libby McGugan

In October 2012, an unusual meeting took place in Geneva, when CERN’s Director General, Rolf Heuer, brought together physicists, theologians and philosophers to discuss the origins of the universe. At first glance, it’s as odd as inviting a group of vegetarians on a fishing trip.
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Max Gladstone is the Campbell Award-nominated author of TWO SERPENTS RISE and THREE PARTS DEAD. He has taught in southern Anhui, wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia.

The Science Fictioning of Fantasy and Vice Versa

By Max Gladstone

I think reports of our world’s science fictionality have been exaggerated. Yes, we have computers, rockets, battleships, particle accelerators, and digital watches, but the way we have these things is very different from the way old-school science fiction expected us to have them.
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In the TED Talks video, educator John McWhorter asks: Are Elvish, Klingon, Dothraki and Na’vi real languages? as he discusses conlangs (fantasy constructed languages).

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Here’s an interesting interview from the early 1960s in which Sam Moskowitz discusses the ideas presented in Murray Leinster’s short story “A Logic Named Joe”. The story fortells the presense of “logics” (what we futurians call computers) and Moskowitz has some eerily prescient predictions.

UPDATE: Video removed by user :(
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VIDEO: Bruce Sterling on Augmented Reality

In his keynote speech at the recent Augmented World Expo, sf author Bruce sterling shares his thoughts on augmented reality.
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Sceince doesn’t have to be difficult to understand, as this serene video demonstrates.

The video creator, James Sutton, describes his video:

Animation for a hypothetical organisation, particles, that make particle physics theories relevant and interesting for the general public. This is a short explanation of the Higgs boson, which I created as part of my final year studying graphic design.

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REVIEW: Kobo Aura HD eBook Reader

PROS: Excellent display; rich feature set; great battery life.
CONS: Awkward form factor; steep price tag.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve warmed up quite a bit to eBook reading. Part of this was because it seems that eBooks have finally, after years of missteps, finally found a foothold as a viable product. Another reason is because eBook readers have come a long way and, well, I’m a bit of a gadget hound. So when kobo offered to send along the new Kobo Auara HD eBook Reader for review purposes, I jumped at the chance.
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Guy Hasson is an SF author and a filmmaker. His latest books are Secret Thoughts by Apex Books and The Emoticon Generation by Infinity Plus. His 45-minute epic SF film, The Indestructibles, which he wrote and directed, will be released on the web in a few weeks, and his start-up New Worlds Comics will go live in July.

Keep It Stupid, Simpleton
A New Trend In High-tech, Gpo Analysis, Labels Sf Readers As Stupid
A Guest Post written by Guy Hasson

A few days ago, I got a phone call from an unknown caller.

“Am I speaking to Guy Hasson?” The woman was cordial.

“Yes,” I said, wary.

“I read your guest post in SF Signal,” she said as if we’re old friends. “The one about the zombies.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Strangers don’t usually call me about these things. There’s a reason God created email.

“And I saw no one left any comments,” she continued.

“Yeah?” I said, warier and warier.

“We can help you with that.”
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I received an email from a student at Stanford working on a forecasting project. He was asking for examples of corporation-produced videos showing the future that could be traced back to science fiction that appeared about two decades before them. The idea is not that science fiction predicted the future, but rather science fiction inspired people to realize that future. The theme here is “tracking the curve of SF optimism”.

I suggested that you, dear readers, would be a better reference than I could be…so I will let him explain it…and let you offer some suggestions.

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Science Friction: The Next Iron Man is YOU

In the first episode of a new video series called Science Friction, Rusty Ward looks att he real science behind Iron Man.

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Diane Turnshek is an astronomer whose short fiction has been published in Analog Magazine and elsewhere. She teaches astronomy and experimental physics lab at Carnegie Mellon University and at the University of Pittsburgh “The Physics of Science Fiction” as well as astronomy. She’s a contributing author of Many Genres/One Craft, a 2011 award-winning book on writing. She has taught college writing classes, helped organize science fiction conferences, founded Alpha, the genre workshop for young writers, and ran the 2007 SFWA Nebula Awards in NYC. Diane has four stellar sons and an out-of-this-world boyfriend.

I am on Mars, at least that’s what it looks like here in the high desert of Utah. Six of us are living in the Mars Desert Research Station, a two-story cylindrical habitat 30 feet across with steep ladder stairs between floors. Our bunks are 4 by 11 feet and we share one bathroom. Why am I here for Christmas instead of home with my four children? For science.

We are pioneers, studying how humans could live on another planet. We’re in full sim. We eat rehydrated/dehydrated food, suffer a 20-minute lag time with communications, travel outside the Hab in spacesuits and ride ATVs in the red desert. We each pay for our travel and a flat fee for food and lodging, but what we get back is invaluable. We have forwarded the progress of science, taking humanity one small step closer to striding onto the surface of Mars.

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[GUEST POST] Ramez Naam on The Science of “Nexus”


Ramez Naam is a professional technologist, and was involved in the development of Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook. He was the CEO of Apex Nanotechnologies, a company involved in developing nanotechnology research software before returning to Microsoft. He holds a seat on the advisory board of the Institute for Accelerating Change, is a member of the World Future Society, a Senior Associate of the Foresight Institute, and is a fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. He is the recipient of the 2005 HG Wells Award for Contributions to Transhumanism, awarded by the World Transhumanist Association. Nexus, his first novel, is available in trade paperback the US and Canada on December 18th and in ebook format worldwide on the same day. It will be published in paperback in the UK on January 3rd.

The Science of “NEXUS” by Ramez Naam

Nexus is a work of fiction. But to the best of my abilities, the science described in the science fiction is fully accurate. While the idea of a technology like the Nexus drug that allows people to communicate mind-to-mind may seem far-fetched, precursors of that technology are here today.
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The Origin of Quantum Mechanics

Minute Physics offers a series of bite-size educational videos that make you smarterer, like this one on Quantum Mechanics…

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