I’ve always been a huge admirer of the works of the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke. One of my favorite aspects of his writing lies in his use of real world, or at least theoretical, physics in his storylines. He never went off into flights of fancy with plotlines that could only happen in a magical universe. (Disclaimer: that doesn’t mean I don’t love Star Wars. Like every other red-blooded American male that came of age in the late seventies, I too am a big fan of the ‘Force’.)
I tried to emulate his approach in my novel. In the book I tie the physics of the UFO encountered in the first scene with an obscure but very exciting branch of theoretical physics known as Heim’s Quantum Theory, or HQT.
In the 1950s, 60s and 70s Burkhard Heim, a German self-taught theoretical physicist developed his unified field theory (HQT). Now before your eyes glaze over let me tell you the exciting part. If proved viable, HQT opens the door to gravity manipulation and faster than light (FTL) travel.
In 1957 he became an instant celebrity (in Germany) when he first presented his work. In the 1960’s Wernher von Braun, the famous German rocket scientist (think: father of the United States’ rocket program, aka NASA) approached Heim about his work and asked whether his Saturn rockets were worthwhile.
In a 1964 letter, relativity theorist Pascual Jordan, a member of the Nobel committee, told Heim his plan was so important “its successful experimental treatment would without doubt make the researcher a candidate for the Nobel prize.”
For multiple reasons his theory was never put to an experimental test. Primarily because the cost, scale and technologies involved exceeded his abilities.
This leads back to my book. Without giving away too much of the plot, it asks the question:
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I think one of the biggest challenges in writing Near to Distant Future Science Fiction lies in finding a common point of reference for today’s readers. Under the mantra that fact often eclipses fiction, I believe the world as it will look a millennium from now will be so alien to today’s culture, any fiction that truly captures the likely changes might be a difficult read.
Most authors (me included) limit the ways future technologies change those cultures, leaving the human condition relatively unchanged. This allows the reader to identify with the story’s characters in ways that would be difficult with the truly alien culture that a millennium of “progress” would generate.
What could so radically change our culture, you ask. Say one day someone implants a chip in a brain for a simple memory augmentation. No big change right? Let’s even suppose that becomes a commonplace treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. In the next step, having perfected nanotechnology, we learn how to implement these changes without surgery. The surgeons or scientist need only inject a solution teaming with millions of nanobots programmed to seek a certain location and self-assemble into the same circuits that were previously surgically implanted.
Now say someone gets tired of doing rudimentary calculations and decides to utilize the same painless, non-invasive technology to implant those memory circuits along with an integrated circuit. Ah hell, throw in a modem while you’re at it. Now you have upgradeable memory in a powerful PC—or Mac—built into and integrated with your mind. (Kind of gives a whole new slant to the “I’m a PC, I’m a Mac” commercials.) All of that incorporated with a low powered Electro-Organic modem. Talk about the information superhighway.
The biggest impediment to seamless computer access is the interface. With a thought-integrated computer, instantaneous internet, email, and tweets are only a thought away. Think the Internet has had significant social implications? What will happen to our society when we’re all linked together with no information bottlenecks.
Now, let’s take our thoughtexperiment a little farther. The next logical brain enhancement would be the implementation of thought expanding circuitry. You have all of this data coming through your Electro Organic Network (EON as it’s called in my book) but the organic part of your brain can only handle so much at a time. Some hacker or scientist figures out a way to reprogram intellect into your memory or integrated circuits (EON). This would enable you to shift some of your thought processes into a network that runs exponentially faster than your organic computer (read: brain). This assumes that Moore’s Law will have made computers much more powerful than the human mind, currently they are not.
Unhappy with the status quo, people add more and more mental functions and thought processes to their EON. Eventually the silicon-based thoughts exceed the carbon-based.
So I’ve laid out the hypothetical path for a society to transition from organic based thoughts to computer-based without a single huge leap. What kind of social changes would that bring about? The slow-thinking twenty-first century man will look like knuckle-dragging caveman in comparison to the twenty-second century EON enhanced man.
Most people shrug off the suggestion that we may someday shift our thoughts to computers, saying “It’s too big of a leap.” Not in the small baby steps I’ve laid out. Or, “It would be a soulless copy of the real person.” Once again, not in the parallel processing scenario I’ve painted. Although, I’m sure philosophers and theologians will argue ad nauseum.
Those ideas represent a mere fraction of the possibilities of the next century, let alone a millennium. On a geologic timescale a thousand years is blink of the eye. What about 10,000; 100,000; or even a million years (still barely a yawn on a geologic timescale).
But who knows, maybe I’m underestimating my prognosticating ability. Maybe humans several millennia removed will closely resemble what I’ve depicted in my book.
Side note: Just when I thought I had an original thought— While looking for links to tie in real-world data to my theories I discovered many references to Ray Kurzweil’sSingularity. He took this thought experiment to its ultimate outcome long before me.
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First of all, my thoughts are with the Japanese people as they try to cope with and dig themselves out of this three tiered disaster. Hit by a trifecta of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown, their losses look to be well in excess of 10,000.
With 500,000 evacuated and displaced, further complicating an already horrible situation, the rest of the world looks on with shock. This tragedy will have many ramifications, not the least of which will be its effect on the global energy picture.
Like no other country, Japan invested more engineering and money into their plants’ safety systems and redundancies than anyone on the planet. This isn’t a Chernobyl; nuclear proponents can’t write this off as shoddy engineering, antiquated systems, or loose government policies.
Kyodo Newshas reported that the Fukushima #2 reactor’s fuel rods are fully exposed. Apparently a meltdown scenario is ongoing. There are reports that several hundred evacuees and rescuers have been exposed to radiation, possibly lethal levels. This extension of the tragedy will play out across the world’s TVs in the coming weeks, months and years.
Today European leaders suspended plans to extend their nuclear footprint.
Der Spiegel reported:
German media commentators across the political spectrum are saying the accident in a highly developed nation such as Japan is further evidence that nuclear power isn’t safe. One commentator in the conservative Die Welt went as far as to liken the global impact of the Fukushima explosions to that of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Last year President Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to Southern Company to build two nuclear power plants in Georgia. Edit: As I write this, a report just came out that President Obama “Stands behind nuclear power.” As stated earlier, I think he’ll be hard pressed to maintain that position as the scenes play across the world’s televisions.
Joe Lieberman said, “I think we’ve got to kind of quietly put, quickly put the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming on line.”
Wikipedia states there are 439 nuclear power plants supplying 14-16% of the world’s energy needs. Thirty-nine are under construction, with more than 400 in the planning stages. The power needs these planned projects were designed to meet won’t go away in the interim.
I can hear the screech of skidding tires from here.
With North African and Middle East unrest, cancellation of nuclear projects, and the continued de facto drilling suspension in the Gulf of Mexico, $5/gal gas is already a reality.
While the financial impact of this tradgedy looms large, it pales in comparison to the huge personal losses hitting the Japanese people. Keep them in your thoughts and help in any way you can.