Monthly Archives: October 2011

Mobile Agents Arrive on Earth

Readers of In the Shadow of Ares , when viewing commercials for the new Siri application for the iPhone 4S, will likely recognize flashes of “Laura” and “Emily”.  The artificially intelligent characters are Mobile Agents or “MAs”, not much bigger than a cell phone, that serve as much more than communication devices. 

This app brings today’s cell phones a huge step closer to what we envisioned on Mars in the not-too-distant future.  Siri is a voice recognition app that is apparently intelligent enough to not only understand what you say, but to know what you mean:

Talk to Siri as you would to a person.  Say something like “Tell my wife I’m running late.” “Remind me to call the vet.” “Any good burger joints around here?” And Siri answers you.  It does what you say and finds the information you need.  And then it hits you.  You’re actually having a conversation with your iPhone.

Like the MAs we envision, and prototypes being developed to assist in exploration activities, the Siri app recognizes location when it provides restaurant options “around here” or when you ask it to “remind me to make a dentist appointment when I get to work”.  Better yet, it also figures out what other apps to use based on what you are asking it to do.

An Awesome View

Check out this time-lapse flyover of the Earth, as seen from the International Space Station.

Very Cool.  Notice the city lights and the lightning in the clouds.  It appears to me it starts on the US Pacific Northwest coast, heads South along the California coast (Los Angeles is the brightest area), down through Central America, and over the Andes.  The only thing I found curious was the pocket of green lights that appears just past the midway point, apparently somewhere in Central America.  Any ideas?

The End of the Future?

Abandon in Place (detail)
Pay Pal co-founder and hedge fund manager Peter Thiel, whom I previously discussed in this post, asks some important questions in the cover piece “Swift Blind Horsemen” in the October 3 edition of National Review.  Specifically, is the rate of progress slowing, what are the consequences, and what can be done about it?

[T]here is no law that the exceptional rise of the West must continue.  So we could do worse than to inquire into the widely held opinion that America is on the wrong track…to wonder whether Progress is not doing as well as advertised, and perhaps to take exceptional measures to arrest and reverse any decline.

He goes on to make a strong case that progress has slowed, but why does that matter?

The technology slowdown threatens not just our financial markets, but the entire modern political order, which is predicated on easy and relentless growth.  The give-and-take of Western democracies depends on the idea that we can craft political solutions that enable most people to win most of the time.  But in a world without growth, we can expect a loser for every winner.

He wraps it up with musings on what can be done, including the ability of government to jump start innovation, as has been done in the past.  Of course, that’s what we hope to inspire through In the Shadow of Ares, and the forthcoming sequels, and it seems it is needed now more than ever:

Science fiction has collapsed as a literary genre.  Men reached the moon in July 1969, and Woodstock began three weeks later.  With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that this was when the hippies took over the country, and when the true cultural war over Progress was lost.

Mr. Thiel proposes that the Progressive Left is incapable of recognizing that things are getting worse.  Personally, I think it’s more serious than that, in that many in that grouping would openly celebrate a tech slowdown as a good thing.