More futurist predictions from The Lightstream Chronicles.

Last week I talked about the similarities between Faith Popcorn’s 2025 predictions and that many of these predictions were already included in The Lightstream Chronicles. Since TLSC takes place 134 years after Faith Popcorn’s predictions, a better term than predictions would probably be backstory. As I have written before, one of the reasons for choosing such a distant future is to allow for the dramatic improvements in artificial intelligence (AI). There is quite a debate on this in science fiction and in future studies: When will we break the true AI barrier? Some believe that we will leave our physical bodies behind and become one with the hive, a giant mind merger of shared thoughts and consciousness somewhere in the mid to late 21st century. Ray Kurzweil, and Martine Rothblatt would probably fall into this camp. Kurzweil believes that there is ample evidence to trust that exponential improvements in technology will make this possible. It appears as though Rothblatt is working on achieving this by what amounts to an accretion of your own data, thoughts, opinions, etc. over time producing what would be the ultimate Siri of yourself. The body it would seem is an afterthought, possibly unnecessary.

My scenarios hinge heavily on what I would call, my take on human nature. I think we like bodies. In fact, they obsess us. I can’t see us abandoning our physical selves for an enhanced neural connection to the Othernet, especially as we are on the verge of perfecting it, ridding it of disease, aging and disability. So enamored are we with bodies, we will insist that our robots be equally sleek and endowed.

And while many future predictions include a Singularity, where everything changes, an unrecognizable future ruled by AI, I think change will be more mundane. As I highlighted last week (and where Popcorn and I agree), I believe we will be heavily augmented. Here are some more:

  1. By nature of what I call endofacts, (implanted artifacts) we will become our own ultra-powerful computers. Our input output (I/O) will be built-in as in luminous implants; our user interface (UI) will be visible on our retinas.
Learning to use your new luminous implants. Click to enlarge.

Learning to use your new luminous implants.

  1. Our aging process cease with an outpatient procedure that stops telomere decay. 25-29 will be the preferred age for that.
  1. Because of the powerful transmission chips embedded in our chipset, we will be able to transmit thoughts and images from our mind or our vision to anyone, anywhere who is willing to receive it. It will be a lot like reading minds, but we will also have to invent brain-gate encryptions to keep others from hacking our thoughts. If you want to talk to me, (like a phone call) I have to give you permission.
  1. As with Popcorn, I believe that virtual reality will make physical travel less important, but I also believe it will rule the day. It will be the new drug with millions addicted to it as an escape from reality into their own programmable, perfect world. Once again, this is attributable to human nature. This, I believe, will be the biggest upheaval in the socio-techno future: the determination and separation of real from virtual.
  1. The Top City Spanner is the result of programmable architecture. It can replicate and rebuild itself based on our needs. It’s the same idea that nano technology promises but on a larger, life-size scale. The two technologies will merge.
  1. Replication is another big prediction. We will be replicating food and just about anything else by recreating its molecular structure. It will end starvation, food shortages and most farming.

There are a lot more if you drift through the pages of TLSC, which I encourage you to do.

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The future according to Popcorn and The Lightstream Chronicles.

Back in the 90’s an innovative marketing futurist/consultant by the name of Faith Popcorn created quite a stir with her book, The Popcorn Report. It was a best seller for its predictions of what we would be doing and buying at the turn of the century. I’m pretty sure she coined the phrase cocooning, back then. Some of her predictions came true and then it seems as though we didn’t hear much from Popcorn. Then, earlier this week, I stumbled on an article on the online site, Fusion. The article spun from a presentation called FutureVision:2025 that Popcorn gave earlier this year on the future of work. There are a host of new predictions, but what struck me was how many of these predictions are already part of my future in The Lightstream Chronicles. Herewith are some of the similarities:

1. Popcorn says:                                               LSC says:

Careers and offices are over.                           The majority of the work force works at home. p4 S1.

2. Virtual travel replaces actual travel              Travel greatly reduced by use of the V. p4 S1.

3. Language download to implanted chip         The chipset and implants. See the lexicon.

4. Implanted chips release body chems           Adjusting your chems. See Prologues to Season 3.

5. A robot revolution (lots of robots)                  Major premise of graphic novel is ubiquitous synthetics.

6. Robots will care for the young.                      Introducing Marie-D. See Season 2.

7. Robots and humans                                      Note the AHC logo and image from Popcorn’s deck below.

popcorn

 

8. “Always upgradable embedded chips…”       Lots on the chipset and implants. See the lexicon.

9.”Who will offer immortality insurance…”         Lexicon, p4 S1. Almost no one is getting old.

In a related slide deck, Popcorn also makes a bunch of predictions on the augmented brain. These include exchanging memories, adjusting your mood, reducing sleep time, and escaping into the virtual. Of course, all of these predictions are foundational to my story. And there are a number of slides in these decks that bear an uncanny resemblance to images from the graphic novel. Maybe great minds think alike.

Next week, I’ll highlight some of my other predictions. Speaking of thinking, what do you think?

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Reader thoughts.

This week I’m posing some questions. I know the traffic here is only a fraction of The Lightstream Chronicles but we’ll give it a shot? Answer one, all, any or add your own?

1. How’s the story progressing for you?

2. Would you prefer publishing every two weeks as a “spread, double” page, or stay with the single page format?

3. Have a favorite character?

4. Got a guess on whodunnit or is it too early to tell?

5. I’d describe the blog content now as part design fiction, futurist blather,  part behind the scenes (making of), and part backstory. Do you have a preference?

Hope we get some response on this. If not, I will continue to probe…

introgif

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On Worldbuilding and the graphic novel

Some cursory research into the term worldbuilding will provide the description for an exercise in constructing a different world than the one we live in. It could take on the aspects of fantasy such as the world of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the role-playing game of Dungeons and Dragons, or it could be a fictional universe akin to the worlds of the Star Wars series of movies and books. In fact, any imaginary world, past or present, could qualify for the worldbuilding description. Whatever genre it assumes, good worldbuilding requires a significant amount of thought. Things like culture, politics, technology, social issues, health, and even human interaction are things to be considered and crafted. Since the author is creating a fictional universe and establishing all the rules, I really can’t imagine a science fiction writer doing anything less to assemble a coherent story.

I wrote The Lightstream Chronicles in the spring of 2011, originally as a screenplay, and then converted it into a graphic novel script shortly thereafter. As part of the exercise, I created a timeline that brought the world from 2011 to 2159 taking into account, (broadly at first then gradually adding detail) the geopolitical environment, technology, tools, society, culture and even some wild cards thrown in. Much of this appears in the first few episodes (pages) of the story (Season 1) but considerably more detail is available by accessing the backstory link on the LSC site. Nevertheless, since the production of all the episodes is still in the works, the process of worldbuilding continues as I sort out increasing levels of minutiae as it applies to all of the above.

A key motivating factor in my creative process is also the center of my research, namely how design and technology affect us as human beings. Design affects culture and culture affects design. Because culture is a hefty composite of our beliefs, behaviors, hopes, dreams, and humanity, it is my assertion that design and its conjoined twin technology, in many ways are becoming the primary sculptors of our culture.

I’ve come to view some version of the worldbuilding exercise as almost a prerequisite to design. If designecnology does have such a profound impact on culture and all of its entanglements, can design really afford to move into the future without considering these larger implications?

Perhaps this is something for my next academic paper.

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Backstage on page 109 – latent memories

This week I’m taking a break from the usual future chitchat to give a behind-the-scenes commentary on page 109.

In panel 1, we revisit the Prefectural Medical Center where Sean Colbert is mending from his assault as Keiji gets his first glimpse of the victim. This is reminiscent of the scene on page 54 in Season 2. Keiji’s pre-programmed clearance provides him with access to just about anything and puts him in a very powerful position to hasten the investigation. The doors literally part for him upon his arrival.

Then next step is to see tap in to the patient’s condition and download everything from vital signs to the status of each injury and how damaged tissues, broken bones, contusions and lacerations are responding to the regen process.

I added some details to Sean’s appearance. Since he has been suspended for nearly 12 hours in the regen “soup.” I wanted to show noticeable improvement in the injuries. The bruises are not as severe, nor are the cuts, and he has even started to grow back his hair, which we can note was completely shaved in the Season 2 scenes.

When Keiji accesses the control panel, by virtue of the super conductivity of the regen suspension liquid and Keiji’s ability to bypass anyone’s brain gate encryptions, he receives a quick flash of latent memory that’s still active from Sean’s past. This is an indication that, at least some of Sean’s memory is still in tact (possibly leading to an identification of the perpetrator(s)), but it also reveals an interesting wrinkle that perhaps no one else thought of: the victim is also Keiji’s creator. Erasing a synthetic from any memory of the laboratory and manufacturing process, especially individuals involved in the creation is a primary protocol — which Sean faithfully executed. of The final image on page 109 harkens back to Season 1, page 21 where Sean takes the critical step of erasing any memory of their prior relationship. This could complicate matters, but that remains to be seen.

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There’s a hack for that.

In The Lightstream Chronicles circa 2159, the government of New Asia (virtually the whole world) owns the Lightstream. The Lightstream is the evolution of what we think of as the Internet today. It is a photo-fast unlimited transmission space that channels everything from your DNA, to your recent V (virtual) experience. It’s considered un-hackable because any intrusion is instantly traceable. It was engineered that way back in the 21st century when New Asia’s breadth was expanding and the government realized that anything other than complete control was just an accident waiting to happen. Since virtually anything consensual is legal and the public is convinced that only AI has access to their private behavior, most don’t consider this a breach of freedom or privacy. But that’s the future…

I recently came across an article in The New York Times about a new web service called the Hackers List, where you can hire a hacker. According to the site HL site, “Hiring a hacker shouldn’t be a difficult process, we believe that finding a trustworthy professional hacker for hire should be a worry free and painless experience.” I’ve always thought so. According to TNYT, “It is done anonymously, with the website’s operator collecting a fee on each completed assignment. The site offers to hold a customer’s payment in escrow until the task is completed, “ and over 500 jobs have been put out for bid, including everything from getting into someone’s email to grabbing a company’s database. Yes, we’ve monetized and consumerized hacking.

Now it may seem as though this next item is unrelated, but reserve judgement. A recent article in WIRED magazine tells us “Why the US Government is Terrified of Hobbyist Drones.” I’ve blogged on this before, but the whole drone thing has already escalated out of control. According to WIRED, the FAA held a conference that was open to civilians but closed to the press. At the conference,

“…officials played videos of low-cost drones firing semi-automatic weapons, revealed that Syrian rebels are importing consumer-grade drones to launch attacks, and flashed photos from an exercise that pitted $5,000 worth of drones against a convoy of armored vehicles. (The drones won.)” At the conference they showed something called the DJI Phantom 2 a, “quadcopter, strapped to 3 pounds of inert explosive.”

Hmmm. What have we here?

Hmmm. What have we here?

Interestingly, this was a newer version of the drone that landed on the White House lawn earlier this year. So the drone maker, a Chinese company that doesn’t want to loose it’s foothold on this booming market created a firmware update that incorporated something called GPS geofencing. The manufacturer has added the White House to a soon to be list of 10,000 places you will not be able to take your drone. Most of these are airports.

TNYT cited a spokesman from the drone maker,

“‘We do provide different layers of security to make it difficult to hack and get around,’” says DJI’s Perry. But for those determined to avoid geofencing, “there’s an easy way to do that, which is to buy another quad-copter.”

Now maybe you see the connection to the earlier item. So what are we to take from this? Well, we could say that this is another example of technology out of control. We could say that this is proof that with stuff like GPS geofencing we will always stay one step ahead of the hackers. I say this is just the beginning.

Of course, my residence and probably yours, too is not on the geofencing list. What about us?  But wait. Why not hire a hacker to set one up for you?

Fast forward two years: My telco is overcharging me for my premium channels. I log into the HakStore and download my $7.99 hack for that.

Think the Web is tangled now?

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On eavesdropping on your thoughts and the reason for fences.

Sending and receiving thoughts is not that far fetched.

Last year the science media was abuzz with the news that a thought (basically “hello”) was transmitted from India to France. The experiment was clunky and primitive with lots of wires and electrodes, and took 70 minutes to complete, but it was a step in the direction of telepathic transmission. 1. In other labs, scientists are finding ways to translate thoughts into words through implanted electrodes in the brain. 2  From these reports it would appear that telepathic transmissions like the ones shown in The Lightstream Chronicles are decades or more away. But, as we know, technology tracks an exponential growth. What used to take years or decades to develop now happens much faster. The mobile phone was once the size of a brick and could only make phone calls. Now the basic smart phone is a thousand times more powerful than the most sophisticated computer of 15 years ago. If we look at the speed with which technology expands then it is quite possible that some of our most sci-fi imaginings are really just around the corner. Both sets of researchers cite the obvious benefits for those who are speech impaired, paralyzed, or perhaps in a coma which would be tremendous breakthroughs for medicine and psychology. Of course, I tend to think toward the dark side. As the one researcher in the India-France experiment noted, “‘Could there be potential for sending someone a thought that’s not desirable to them?’ he says. ‘Those kinds of things are theoretically in the realm of possibility.’”

In this weeks episode of The Lightstream Chronicles, Keiji-T is eavesdropping on a conversation between Kristin Broulliard and Colonel Lee Chen. The intercepted data is analyzed the identities of the parties is verified and the transcript committed to memory — human or otherwise. Keiji-T’s marvelous technological features are a huge benefit to crime fighting. Before the introduction of Keiji-T’s state-of-the-art faculties thought transmissions were inaccessible. With so much implanted circuitry in the human brain the pioneers of telepathy created sophisticated and impenetrable encryptions to protect our thoughts and telepathic communications from being intercepted or “overheard”. With the introduction of the T-Class synthetic, that fence came down. All in the name of security, of course

In a broadly interpreted and paraphrased thought from the author G. K. Chesterton, (though this not really what he said), “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.” (If you wan to know what he really said go here.) Nevertheless, the spirit of the quote stands. As a society we are forever tearing down fences in the name of anything from the greater good to freedom or security. The Lightstream Chronicles is sometimes a reminder that regardless of the sophistication of our implants, the human condition prevails.

Citations:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/scientists-prove-that-telepathic-communication-is-within-reach-180952868/?no-ist
http://phys.org/news180620740.html
http://www.chesterton.org/taking-a-fence-down/
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Recognition technology. We know who you are and maybe what you are thinking about.

New technologies are everywhere. They are being developed in labs every day—if not every ten minutes. If you are searching for them, like me, then you are likely to run across hundreds of techy developments that are on the cusp of being something mainstream within the next 10 years. Then, there are those technologies that we never hear about but that are fairly well developed, except that, as a society we’re not ready for them. So they sit in a lab until other developments come to pass or the marketing department decides that there is a high enough percentage of the population that will use or even accept them.

There is a great scene in the 2002 movie Minority Report where John Anderton (Tom Cruise) walks into a Gap store. Immediately upon entering, his irises are scanned and the resident hologram begins to make suggestions based upon his purchasing preferences. In the movie, Cruise has just had his eyes swapped out with someone else to disguise his identity. So the virtual sales person thinks he is Mr. Yakamoto.

That movie is 13 years old. Today, iris scan recognition is already widely in use and in case you missed it, retinal scanning is now obsolete. The United Arab Emirates uses it at border crossings, India has begun enrolling its 1.2 billion citizens by capturing individual iris data, and in at least a half dozen applications for security around the world. It’s only current drawback is that you have to be standing still and fairly close the scanner for an accurate read. 1

Fear not, however because for people moving about and not standing still there is facial recognition which is much less picky about the quality of the scan, or in this case, the image. Facial recognition algorithms have improved dramatically over the years now logging 16,384 reference points which are referenced against a database and, fairly quickly can identify a person with 80 -90% accuracy. Higher accuracy rates just take a bit longer. 2 Right now its in use by law enforcement in airports and high security areas, but also at retail locations to catch shoplifters. Now it gets interesting because, while we fine-tune the iris scan, the same facial recognition system that is used to identify ne’er do wells can also be used a la Minority Report to identify shoppers who are regular customers, or help them find the lingerie department. A quick cross-reference with their online shopping habits, Facebook page and their Google history can also tell them how much you are likely to spend, your favorite color, and the name of your best friend to remind you that their birthday is right around the corner.

Putting this in context with what we’ve seen in the last few weeks of The Lightstream Chronicles, the idea that Keiji-T, with access to someone’s memories can ascertain their guilt or innocence is a logical next step. Too far, you think? Brain implants are already in testing that can implant memories 3 and augment decisions. Commonplace in the year 2159, perhaps.

 

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_recognition#Deployed_applications
2 http://www.fastcompany.com/3040375/is-facial-recognition-the-next-privacy-battleground
3 http://israelbrain.org/will-human-memory-chips-change-the-world-by-dr-ofir-levi/
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Of the Sunday comics and story arcs, and instant gratification.

I was one of those kids who grew up with the Sunday comics and lots of comic books. Peanuts notwithstanding, I wasn’t much for the “funnies” as much as I enjoyed the dramas. I still remember my favorites like Steve Canyon, Dondi, Judge Parker, Terry and the Pirates, and Dick Tracy. In all of these, there were long-running stories that carried on for weeks and months. We would get big doses on Sunday and then through the week there would be a single black and white page with only three or four panels for each strip. Fortunately the artists were savvy enough to save the really big events for Sunday. This all came rushing back to me today as I looked at page 104 of The Lightstream Chroniclesand I’m thinking of the folks who manage to follow TLSC on a regular basis. Even though I’m not giving out the black and white treatment, some of the pages strike me as, “Is that it?” I’m thinking back now to how I felt when there were only a few tiny snippets of dialog to advance the story as I waited for more on Sunday. But alas, I guess that’s just one of the things that make comics such a unique genre and a singular experience all their own.

I have been mapping out the completion of the story and though we’re not at the half-way point yet, I have completed 130 pages and they are ready for publication. As I have mentioned before, my goal is to get this thing finished so that we can speed this process up and I can start publishing all double-page spreads, instead of just single pages. It will get us a little bit closer and speed the story process along a bit faster.

But comics really aren’t about instant gratification. Hopefully, they are about lingering on the images and thinking about both what comes between panels and what’s going to happen on the next page. What do you think?

A classic.

A classic.

terry_pirate

Milton Caniff did Steve Canyon as well.

 

Steve Canyon courtesy of : http://www.oldradioshows.org/2014/11/aviation-in-old-time-radio/
Dondi courtesy of: https://pulllist.comixology.com/articles/497/Talkin-Comics-Up-In-Morningside-Heights

 

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Welcome your new synthetic companion. Where will artificial intelligence go?

And now, back to the future.

In a previous post I looked at the pros and cons of creating a living adult human through a process known as progenation, or genning, as not always successful, despite government assurances that the failure rate is miniscule. The process takes about 4 weeks and the resulting human can be created to the exact age of the customer, however, you cannot order, for example, a younger version of yourself, nor can you be genned if you are under the age of consent, which is 16.

The legal age of consent notwithstanding, there is science behind the decision. Though the body can be developed to the precise age of the customer, based on exact DNA imprinting, the brain, remains an empty mass of tissue. In a sense, since it was grown in the lab, it has no “experiences”, no learning, and no cognitive processes. The final phase of genning is “brain accretion transference” (BAT), where all mental, cognitive and experiential data from the living brain of the original human donor, is transferred to the progenated being. If successful, the progenation process is complete. The government reports the success rate for transference at around 92%, but some sources put the number much lower. When transference fails, there is no way to repeat the process and the living body must be terminated. Additionally, there are anecdotal reports that even successful progens, after years of life, can die suddenly without explanation or display psychotic episodes.

The genning process is expensive and usually reserved for the wealthy, though it is possible to engage a less reputable lab to gen for a fraction of a government sanctioned progen. These labs are, of course, illegal.

The other option, if you are looking for a same, is to build a synthetic human. It is much more reliable and though the final product is not quite a duplicate, the results are considered much more predictable. Plus, you can program out your bad or annoying traits and make the new you more assertive — or submissive. This is just one of the many options in the booming synthetic industry led by companies like AHC.

friendposter-m

One of the latest ads from Almost Human Corporation.

 

Since “grey matter” in a synth is a specifically configured quantum brain, the customer can upload their brain and personality into a synth for the identical synthetic version of themselves, or choose from thousands of other personality types. A same synth is comparably priced with the genned version, but there are also thousands of variations and feature sets that make owning a synth within reach for most of the populace. going the synthetic route also carries fewer restrictions, child synths, for example are also available (saming restrictions still apply).

Synthetics range in style from commercial labor synths to domestic, extended family versions, animal, pleasure models, and expert systems just to name a few.

Science fiction?

This may all sound like crazy talk, or just fun science fiction, but it isn’t an unreasonable trajectory based our current interests in the advancing technology and our human proclivities to adapt and adopt these technologies when they come to life. We already have signs of this. There is Paro the baby seal robot therapist, Zoomer the interactive robopuppy, and activists for synthetic love. While most scientists believe that we are looking to decades in the future before we have an operating system as lifelike and emotive as the one in the movie Her, if you pull those threads into the future of The Lightstream Chronicles, an industry every bit as developed as our current day automobile industry does not seem like a stretch. As far a uploading our minds into a machine, Ray Kurzweil sees that happening much sooner.

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About the Envisionist

Scott Denison is an accomplished visual, brand, interior, and set designer. He is currently Assistant Professor of Design Foundations at The Ohio State University. He continues his research in epic design that examines the design-culture relationship within a future narrative — a graphic novel / web comic. The web comic posts weekly updates at: http://thelightstreamchronicles.com. Artist's commentary is also posted here in conjunction with each new comic page. The author's professional portfolio can be found at: http://scottdenison.com There is also a cyberpunk tumblr site at: http://lghtstrm.tumblr.com
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