The Future is now!

Today, many of the devices and tools that we use were first dreamt of by fiction writers many years ago. Robots for example, by Isac Asimov and others. The tablets and communicators from Startrek sparked concepts that developers turned into the iPads and smartphones that we have today.

Back in the 18th century, the world was thrust into the Industrial Revolution. Today we stand on the brink of the Artificial Intelligence Revolution. A day does not go by without some new development in AI being announced. Should we be concerned that AI will adversely affect us, Humans?

In 1942 Isac Asimov wrote a short story, “Runaround” where he introduced three rules to protect mankind from rogue Robots. Later in “I Robot” and other stories he implemented those laws, which he
quoted as being from the “Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.”. They are:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

If today they were applied to AI would they be enough?

Science Today has reported that “A group of the world’s most eminent artificial intelligence experts have worked together to try and make sure that doesn’t happen.
They’ve put together a set of 23 principles to guide future research into AI, which has since been endorsed by hundreds of more professionals, including Stephen Hawking and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Called the Asilomar AI Principles (after the beach in California, where they were thought up), the guidelines cover research issues, ethics and values, and longer-term issues – everything from how scientists should work with governments to how lethal weapons should be handled.”

There are 23 guidelines in the report that can be found at http://www.sciencealert.com/experts-have-come-up-with-23-guidelines-to-avoid-an-ai-apocalypse

To me, this seems like a positive start, and I believe that we do need to be preemptive in controlling the negative aspects of AI. However, Asimov’s three basic rules carry weight, even though they are from fiction. I for one would like to see them used as the keystone to how AI is developed and interfaced with us Humans.

Steve Ellis, 4th February 2017

 

Where did that month go?

Time flies, I have spread my Snowbird wings and migrated to Florida for the winter. A good time to read and reflect.

I have been reading Steven Price’s book, By Gaslight, and have found it to be an intriguing story which uses the London of the 19th century as a vivid backdrop. It’s one of the best reads for me over the past few months.

Steven Price has captured the London street scene so well, to the point where I started to remember some of my family histories.

On my mother’s side, from my great grandfather back to the 1700’s, my ancestors had been Watermen working on the River Thames. My great-great grandfather William Henry Campbell was born in 1829 and became an Admiralty Messenger, as well as one of Queen Victoria’s Royal Boatman.

The images that By Gaslight created for me have drawn me towards finding out more about the man and the times he lived in. Now I am wondering if there is a story to be told?

Visit the Steven Price website

SE, Florida

I have been busy!

Where has the time gone, my last post was months ago and I have been busy!

I spent the fall building a new, larger bathroom in our 130 year old house. Apart from that not much. Oh except I finished writing my novel ‘Unwitting Enemy’, and became an Indie publisher.

The novel was well recived by the pre-release readers, and is now out there. I will write more about my novel in a couple of days.

Christmas will be here soon, so have a great and happy holiday!

Guelph, that Ontario town that Sat Nav’s can’t pronounce!

I have to grimace every time I hear my cars GPS try to say ‘Guelph’. It always come out as ‘Gulp’!

Guelph is a University town about an hours drive west from Toronto. I have lived here for the past three years. While investigating my new home town I found out that there are a number of well known writers both living and dead from the area.

The first famous writer I became aware of was through my grandchildren. They are or have been students at John McCrae school, on Water Street. I had heard of Canadian poet back in the UK when I was a child. When my Head Master read a poem on one Remembrance day written by a dead soldier from the First World War. What I didn’t remember was the name of the poet until the grandchildren told me.

John McCrae, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian forces fighting in France. He was a physician, author, artist and poet, best known for writing the famous war memorial poem “In Flanders Fields”. McCrae died of pneumonia near the end of the war.

Guelph has seen many writers over the years and currently has four well known names associated with the town.

Edward Butts

Is a writer and editor with a special interest in Canadian history. He is one of Guelph’s most prolific authors. Butts has published numerous books of fiction and non-fiction, and has written for several publications in Canada and the United States.

He has written a number of books for adults focusing on pirates, outlaws, and bandits of Canada, as well as Canadian battlefields.  His books include stories that would even appeal to Hollywood moviemakers, and definitely prove that Canada had an exciting history.

Jean Little

Is recognized throughout Canada and the United States for her candid and unsentimental portrayals of adolescent life. Once a teacher of handicapped children, Little herself is only partially sighted, and she uses much of her real-life experience as the basis for her books.

Robert Munsch

Is known for his exuberant storytelling methods, with exaggerated expressions and acted voices. He makes up his stories in front of audiences and refines them through repeated tellings.
His stories do not have a recurring single character, instead the characters are based on the children to whom he first told the story, including his own children. He often performs at children’s festivals and appears at elementary schools, sometimes unannounced. In 1991, some of his books were adapted into the cartoon series A Bunch of Munsch.

Thomas King

Has been writing novels, children’s books, and collections of stories since the 1980s. His notable works include A Coyote Columbus Story and Green Grass, Running Water – both of which were nominated for a Governor General’s Award – and The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, which won the 2014 RBC Taylor Prize.
King’s writing style incorporates oral storytelling structures with traditional Western narrative. He writes in a conversational tone; for example, in Green Grass, Running Water, the narrator argues with some of the characters. In The Truth About Stories, King addresses the reader as if in a conversation with responses. King uses a variety of anecdotes and humorous narratives while maintaining a serious message in a way that has been compared to the style of trickster legends in Native American culture.

Being new to Guelph, I have found that there is a wealth of writing talent in the local area. Some of whom have been published and some like myself still on the road to their first publication.

There is a Guelph Writers group that meet on a weekly basis to help and support other writers. They have a website and blog which are worth taking a look at if you are inspired to write.

Their website is Guelph Write Now

Their blog, which list all events can be found at Guelph-Write-Now

So for a town that can’t be pronounced correctly by a piece of software, it has a glowing history and future for the written word. Long may it last!

 

Has Technology made writing crime fiction harder?

Before I retired, I had spent most of my working life in field of Information Technology. When I started out, MS Windows was still a glint in Bill Gates eye! The personal computer was only just becoming affordable even for large companies. There were no cell phones or Internet for the mass public. How things have changed.

As a new writer who is trying to developed his first novel about spies and assorted ne’er do wells, I have to face the fact that technology in a story line can cause a problem for a writer.

I’m referring to the arts of concealment, or evasion, of hiding in plain sight – tactics which protect my white hats being seen by my black hats, and from my white hats knowing everything about their targets from day one!

The problem is that lately there’s just too much technology coming on line, and as a result authors are running out of ways to protect their most cherished creations.

Back during the height of the Cold War pretty much all and author had to worry about was blown agents and dangerous checkpoints. And yes, don’t forget to sweep your hotel room for bugs, of course. Trust No One, even though your protagonist was of course going to end up trusting someone. Preferably a member of the opposite sex, or else you’d soon run out of plot points involving deceit and betrayal, not to mention being plagued by a wholly unmarketable deficit of sex. Ok, well it was the sixties after all.

But technology, at least, was still relatively creaky and cumbersome. Listening posts were, by current standards, ancient places with whining tubes and transistors, crackly reception and overburdened translators. By the time someone finished decoding the hero’s latest transmission from Prague the writer could have him on a train halfway to Budapest, or even seated on a nonstop flight home, enjoying his second martini.

Now look at what authors have to deal with today. Cell phones come with GPS, turning every one of them into a potential tracking beacon. Even if you buy one of those cheap burner phones, it’s pretty much no good after a day or two, thanks partly to the NSA and its caching and screening of millions of calls. And don’t even think about logging onto the Internet. Well, okay, maybe for a second or two on somebody else’s laptop, or on some public library’s machine.

I think I just said public library? Forget that. Those places have cameras just about everywhere. In fact, you can forget about hiding your agent or their target in all sorts of places these days. CCTV is just about everywhere now, especially all those locations you pass through when you’re on the run – airports and train stations and even seedy bus terminals, gas stations, rest stops, convenience stores, fast food joints, ATMs (which you’d be a fool to use anyway) and toll booths.

On TV it’s easier to incorporate Tech. It can very visual and pushed to it’s limits. In the series ‘Person of Interest’, we see the Bluejacking of cell phones and the use of GPS to track people, as well as access to mega enormous databases.

As if all of this weren’t bad enough, we’re now seeing the widespread use of drone technology, some of it carrying, both armaments as well as cameras that can record and analyze thousands of images at a time. And it’s not just the government using drones. It’s everybody and his brother, even in places as crowded as major cities. Most of them have cameras, and most of their operators are itching to post every last image on YouTube or Facebook.

But having spent my life dealing with the use and abuse of technology, I’ve taking the challenge of trying to include it in the story that I am working on. The theme is International espionage, both commercial and governmental, with terrorism thrown in for good measure.

Maybe it would have been easier to place a story line in say the 1940’s before Tech exploded on the scene. However, once the genie is out of the bottle, we have to write about it!

Been there!

How to start or restart writing, that is the question? At some time or another, even old hacks as well as new and aspiring writers will have hit the block. One hopes that words just flow like water from our fingers. Unfortunately at others the stream is like a turgid dripping of words  which freezes in to suspended animation.

When this happens perhaps you get up from your work and walk around. Make a coffee, or go to the bathroom. Maybe shout and scream, before bashing your head against the wall. Well I hope you don’t go that far!

For me starting to write for my own pleasure a couple of years ago was the above and more!

I started late. I had retired and felt that if I was to get an idea I had had for a story on to paper, then now was the time. The idea had been kicking around for a number of years and having never tried to be a creative writer, the prospects both excited me and scared the bejeebers out of me. (I will let you know how I actually started in a later blog.)

Writer’s block has plagued many successful writers, including William Golding, Douglas Adams and Ian Rankin.  Ian is among my favourite crime authors and I recently had the good fortune to  be able to listen to him for a couple of hours in Toronto. He was on one of his whistle stop tours of Canada.

Tom Wolfe said recently he was only inspired to write again after a stroke brought him close to a terminal writer’s block, and it may have been the ever running sands of time that inspired me to start writing for the first time.

I hope that through this blog (and I have no experience with blogging either), I will be able to talk about my journey into writing.

SE – 12th April 2016, Florida.