Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Pursuit of Digital Immortality, Part III

Note: This is the last article in a series. The previous two parts can be found here and here.

One of the other aspects of pursuing "digital immortality" is the idea that mankind can somehow defeat or avoid the aging process by doing an end-run around the problem altogether. By putting the personality, thoughts, and abilities of a person into a chip, technically the idea of aging would cease to exist as long as the power is up and running. Hence the idea of immortality.

Yet there is an aspect of aging that often gets overlooked. It's easy to focus on the incredible advances of science, medicine, and medical care of the past few decades. After all, life spans are increasing, if only by a few years on average, and new drugs are coming onto the market all the time to help people live longer. Despite all this progress, there still seems to be an upper limit in place of around 120 years. In fact, if you check the oldest person in the world list over on Wikipedia, the maximum age achieved so far was 122 years and 164 days by Jeanne Calment. According to the article, Jeanne even met Vincent Van Gogh!

Given what we see nowadays for lifespans, it seems hard to reconcile this with the strange lifespans found in the early parts of the Book of Genesis. How is that Adam lived to be 930 years old when people nowadays can't seem to get past 120 years old? Noah lived to around 950, and Abram (Abraham) lived to the age of 175! Were measurements different back then or is there something more to this?

From a glance at the early chapters of Genesis, it's clear the world was different back then. For example, water came up from springs in the ground (Genesis 2:4-6) and before the fall plants were given to the animals for food (Genesis 1:29-30). But everything changed after the Great Flood.

After the Flood, lifespans changed, too. Take note of the ages in this table, for instance. Shem (one of Noah's sons) lived to be around 600 years old (or 435 in the Septuagint). From there the lifespans appear to continue to fall until Abram's time. It's likely they kept falling, too, perhaps due to disease, malnutrition, and who knows what else. Then, after the exodus period, Moses passed away at the age of 120 (for example).

But that is not all that the Bible says about aging. In Genesis 6:3 (NKJV), right before the flood and the selection of Noah to build an ark, God says, "And the Lord said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years."" Later, in Psalm 90:10 (NKJV), it reads, "The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." Is it any surprise that most people barely make it into their eighties and that only one person in modern times has even made it past 120?

But there's more. Remember what I said about the animals eating plants Genesis chapter 1? There will come a time when that will happen again. In Isaiah 11:6 (NKJV), it reads, "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them." In Isaiah 65:25 (NKJV), it also states, ""The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain," says the Lord." Now, it's unclear as to when these events will occur, but the context of the verses seems to indicate they might take place in the Millennial era or even at the end of that age (see Isaiah 65:17, II Peter 3:13, and Revelation 21:1). Whatever the case...sometime in the future.

Alongside the Isaiah 65 verse about animals, there is another curious verse which states, "No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed." (Isaiah 65:20, NKJV). It sounds as though long lifespans may in fact come back at some point...but not until a lot of other events happen first. Is it possible we were originally intended to have lives that spanned centuries instead of decades?

In summary, it seems as though there is a reason why humans can only live to a certain age. It also appears that the long lifespans in the early pages of Genesis were not an aberration...but part of a much greater plan...a plan that has yet to be fulfilled in its entirety.

So where will the efforts of technology to lead us past our current aging barriers take us? Besides all the other issues I brought up in the two previous posts in this series, perhaps someone should implement a plan to pay a light bill 120 years in advance.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Random Tech Bits

I'm not sure how to categorize this, but here is a story that may have implications not only for farms on Earth, but even settlements of the future on other worlds. From the article:
"The engineers were testing the Lettuce Bot, a machine that can "thin" a field of lettuce in the time it takes about 20 workers to do the job by hand."
Meanwhile, in the same article it talks about a company, Agrobot, that is working on a 24-armed machine with optical sensors for harvesting strawberries.

In space news, there's a Kickstarter project out there for launching space payloads via a spiraling slingshot-type device called the "slingatron". Although only small prototypes have been built, the hope is to build a much larger device that works by spinning the object along a spiral track at a particular frequency.

And in this article here, you can read about how neuroscientists are working on implanting false memories in the brains of mice.

I can only imagine where that kind of experimentation is going to lead.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Summer of Giveaways

I usually don't post too often about these types of things, but I thought I should considering how much will be going on over the next few months.

If you haven't seen it already, I'm running a giveaway over on Goodreads for four Corridors paperbacks.

This will be followed by another paperback giveaway on Goodreads for the yet-to-be-released opening book of the Chronopticus trilogy, Fractal Standard Time. Assuming everything goes right, I should have some copies available in mid-August. The e-book version will follow in early September, first on Amazon and then elsewhere near the end of the year.

If that wasn't enough, I'm also in the process of outlining three novels at once...which is something I've never done before. From there I'll work on the three books (two are sequels to Fractal Standard Time) and if all goes well, another giveaway and book launch will occur in late fall.

More details to come...

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Heavy Hand of Fiction

The pen is mightier than the sword, or so the saying goes. But what if the pen is the sword? What if the words are like fire, or swords, or even a hammer? Should it affect how an author uses them?

One trend I've noticed over the past few years is that including verses of Scripture in fiction creates division. In an era when a lot of people seem to cringe at the idea of healthy and reasonable debate, it's no wonder that I have a difficult time naming many recent books that include Scripture in a character's day-to-day life. I can't remember offhand a novel where a character quoted Scripture or let alone opened a Bible, yet the book was clearly marketed as a Christian fiction.

Now, that's not to say that a book can't have faith-based themes without mentioning God, the Bible, or having a clergy member as a character. There are plenty of books that do that and to great effect. But what I find unusual is that authors (publishers?) seem to run the other way if a character quotes bits of Scripture or struggles openly with passages out of the Bible.

Maybe it would be helpful at this point to back up and see what the Bible says about itself. In Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV), it states, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." In Jeremiah 23:29 (NKJV), it reads, ""Is not My word like a fire?" says the Lord, "And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?""

Then, in Isaiah 55:11 (NKJV), it states, "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." In Matthew 13:1-23 Jesus also discusses how the Word is like seed and illustrates the circumstances that can affect how the Word (seed) is received by comparing it to how a sower scatters seed on different types of soil.

If that wasn't enough, in John 1:1 (NKJV), it says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And over in Matthew 24:35 (NKJV), Jesus expands on this theme by stating, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."

So not only is the Word full of power and can spring forth life like a seed, but it has existed since the beginning and will live on past all of our lifetimes.

Not to pile it on, but the Bible also goes into great detail what can happen when someone shares the Gospel or even parts of it. In short, expect joy, indifference, anger, engaging conversation, everlasting change, or fireworks.

So should a writer back away from quoting Scripture in fiction? Sometimes people balk at the mere mention of anything Christian or anything that reminds them of a bad experience with a church, a pastor, or another Christian. Is that always the fault of the writer though?

As a writer, it's almost impossible to know what a reader is going through when they read a piece of fiction. Including some Scripture (used in a realistic way) might push things over the top...but like a well-preached sermon, maybe that is a good thing. It can certainly be done without "being preachy" (whatever that means...see my previous post on that topic).

Maybe a story will help someone think through a bad decision they are about to make. I recently attended a concert where the band's lead singer spoke of how one of their songs saved someone from taking their own life. Their song was playing on a station and it was the only one that could be picked up that night in the car.

I can't count the number of times God has used the exact same piece of Scripture through multiple sources (books, sermons, Bible studies, radio broadcasts, etc.) to get a point across to someone. Perhaps someone's fiction will some day be a part of that, too, but an author will never know unless they take that risk.

What's the lesson in all of this? I'm not always sure of the way forward, but I do know it's important to try to handle the Word with care, especially in writing. As the Bible testifies about itself, there is a lot more going out than merely words on the page. That said, I'm seriously considering incorporating more verses in some upcoming fiction...not just to include verses, but to illustrate a concept in a realistic manner. It's something I have not seen done very often, if at all. I don't know...maybe I just need to read some fiction from a different era. More on that soon...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Robots of Fractal Standard Time

There are a lot of robots in Fractal Standard Time. In fact, there will be several generations of them, including the lawn-mowing "turtles" of The Mathematician's Lawn, the mining robots of Earthset, and a next generation machine that takes on more of an enforcement role in addition to mining duties. Each generation builds on the previous one's capabilities. To give some idea of the visuals involved with these machines, here is a picture and an article which inspired me...the Moai statues of Easter Island and the Kuratas robot built by the Japanese company Suidobashi Heavy Industry.

Without giving too much away, towards the end of the book, the final generation of machines gets upstaged by something even bigger. This theme is being built upon in the subsequent novels I am working on, Ionotatron and Chronopticus Rising. Ionotatron will feature an even larger machine which will wreak havoc on the settlements.

The goal, however, is to attempt to depict the true nature of technological progress in both size and capability. This is no easy task since technology evolves and changes so quickly nowadays and what may seem like a great idea in fiction at the time may end up never panning out or run the risk of becoming dated if technology takes a sudden turn in a different direction.

One of the complaints leveled against science fiction over the years is that when a new, innovative technology is introduced in a book, other aspects of society seem stagnant, or even the technology itself becomes stagnant. Then again, it is difficult to foresee all the possible impacts of a technology or how it will be used (or abused). For example, imagine a story about a town in the late 1800's and giving a character a ray gun to use in a shootout. How could such technology exist with a supporting infrastructure somewhere? Why wouldn't anyone else have the device? Is it the product of a lone inventor's lab or an alien artifact? Wouldn't this be a game-changer in the hands of villain? Answering these types of questions, however, and at least attempting to predict where a disruptive technology will go creates more realistic novels...if it is done right.

Although the robots run the risk of being the central focus of the Fractal Standard Time, the real heroes/villains come out of a family of mathematicians by the name of Entner. Several generations are depicted in the book, and their offspring will appear in the following novels. And yes, to play off the title and the math there, there will be plenty of fractals to be found...if you know where to look. More on this later.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Between the Cogs

Right now I'm between books, but the publication silence won't be for long. In fact, I'm on the lookout for cover art. Ideally, I need to find art for five book covers at once.

That may sound like a lot, but I'm currently assembling the outlines of three novels concurrently. Two outlines will be sequels to Fractal Standard Time, which will form a trilogy, and the other outline is for Race the Sky, a stormchasing novel. Fractal Standard Time is already finished (it just needs a cover), and several stories are developing which will end up in yet another science fiction short story collection.

If that doesn't sound ambitious enough, besides all the robot and nanomachine things going on in Fractal Standard Time, there is this odd, steampunk aesthetic that keeps creeping into the two sequels I'm working on (Ionotatron and Chronopticus Rising). I'm not sure how far I will carry that since none of three books are set in Victorian times.

I don't have a time frame as to when these books will all be released, although one should be ready to go by September. If I could get them all out by the end of the year, I would. Remember, some of the stories of Fractal Standard Time are available over at Amazon...specifically, The Mathematician's Lawn, The Peddler, and Tales From the Front. These will only be available for a limited time, however, so grab them while you can!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Pursuit of Digital Immortality, Part II

Last time, I discussed some articles about "digital immortality" that were making their rounds in the news. Today, I'd like to continue on that theme by delving into whether or not knowledge is equivalent to the concept of life.

If you amass all of your thoughts, memories, and dreams and were able to transfer them somehow into a computer, would you achieve immortality? Or, to put it another way, would your personality be able to live without a body and would it still be you? What if one could add some autonomous code to the system so that your "digital personality" is able to continue to gather knowledge, generate new memories, and create dreams?

Like I mentioned previously, I don't think you would find too many people who would consider a library or even the internet "alive"...at least when compared to concept of human life. Even if you mix in some type of autonomous ability, it is doubtful it would approach human intelligence or the idea of life. Somehow, the acquisition of knowledge is just not enough, and the reason for that is because human beings are spiritual.

Although the Bible has plenty to say about spiritual matters, it also discusses a great deal about knowledge. Besides the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and Psalms (considered "wisdom literature"), in I Corinthians 8:1 (NKJV), it states, "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies." From that it seems that with great knowledge can also come great pride. The Bible goes further than that, however. In Ecclesiastes 12:12 (NKJV), it says, "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh."

To top it off, in II Timothy 3:1-9, it talks about the last days and in those verses, there is this curious statement about knowledge (verse 7) where it states people in that time will be "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." So, it seems too much knowledge can lead to pride, exhaustion, and even deception since knowledge is not always the same thing as truth.

Yet, when we compare God's knowledge with ours, we find in Romans 11:33 it reads (NKJV), "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" In Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJV), it states, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."

But even if a machine were built that could acquire all the knowledge of the Earth's inhabitants so that it might in some distant way attempt to approach God's knowledge, the spiritual component would still be missing. The effort, in other words, would fall woefully short. In John 4:24 (NKJV), it reads, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

So where does the idea of gathering tons of knowledge in the pursuit of digital immortality potentially lead us? Does it really lead to immortality or does it just create another library of information? Could knowledge be uploaded and then downloaded to a new, younger brain and body? Is any of this research addressing the spiritual side of humanity?

There are verses in the Bible which tie immortality and knowledge together. For example, in John 5:24 (NKJV), Jesus tells a group of Jews who were persecuting Him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life." Then, a few moments later, He tells them, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life."

The point here is that some sought to attain eternal life by spending their time studying the Scriptures...but missed the larger concept. The study of the knowledge (Scripture) was important, but they failed to realize what, exactly, the Scriptures were referring to and that it required faith in God. In short, faith and knowledge are supposed to work together and that the attainment of eternal life requires belief in God and not in one's own limited abilities.

Next time, in part three of this series, I'll cover another goal of digital immortality...that of trying to beat aging once and for all.