Archive for the 'Science Fiction' Category

Fahrenheit (Encryption Key) 451

Now Available as "Kindle"-ing

Now Available as “Kindle”-ing

A really perceptive article in today’s CS Monitor: Kindle e-reader: A Trojan horse for free thought.

Until reading, I had not seen the great irony in the unfortunate naming of Amazon’s “Kindle” device and the title and subject matter of Ray Bradbury’s famous book.

Some really thought provoking and sensible arguments in the article include:

That we are trading ownership for access – access that requires the pre-authorization of a corporation and “thingamajig.”

Well-established principles of Fair Use and First Sale are being marginalized and sweep away.

“…What the Kindle should be igniting is serious debate on the fundamental, inalienable right to property in a digital age – and clarifying what’s yours, mine, and ours.”

The article’s author (also a librarian) also includes a great Ray Bradbury quote on how “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture, just get people to stop reading them.”  (or he might have added- just convince them to stop thinking they own them).

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Current Generation HK’s on Display at the Air & Space Museum

Hunter-Killer(HK) UAV Aircraft

Hunter-Killer(HK) UAV Aircraft

Looking up from the ground floor of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, it is a bit creepy to see the southwest wing’s display of mostly armed UAV Aircraft (UAV = Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).  One cannot help but feel like he or she is suddenly transported to the year 2029 and is accompanying Reese from the movie The Terminator as he tries to evade the autonomous Hunter-Killers (HKs). 

It is interesting that in 1949 George Orwell envisioned a future 35 years in the future (1984) where world-wide totalitarian regimes enslaved their people (using mostly intimidation and propaganda).  Yet, when the year 1984 eventually rolled around, the movie The Terminator envisioned an even grimmer future (this time 45 years in the future) where machines enslave and try to annihilate the entire human race. 

If Darwinism is indeed correct, that may yet come to pass.  But nifty machines like these first crude UAVs may serve an intermediate step and bridge the gap between both of these dystopic visions.  A future in which totalitarian regimes can manufacture an entire robot army to subjugate humans at will (propaganda no longer required). 

Today’s generation still sees these machines as mostly non-threatening and neat.  But who knows? HKs may soon be coming to a neighborhood near you – and this time they may be a little more threatening than a Roomba?

HK Tank

The Death Penalty for Parking Tickets – and for Pre-Crime

Steve Martin used to joke about giving “the death penalty for parking tickets” but with stories of the overuse of Tasers and the unintended consequences – i.e. death – abound this may no longer be a joke.

You need look no further than the “Don’t Tase me Bro’” guy to see that over-eager police may be over-using these handy devices.

And now stories of people being killed by Tasers for relatively minor offenses are starting to surface with some regularity – some 200 deaths since 2002 according to this ZDNet article.   One has to wonder if there were 200 accidental police shooting deaths for minor offences if the public would notice that either (incidentally, accidental police shooting deaths are not even tracked nationally in the US).

It just seems a little creepy to me that these new technologies could be turned loose on a citizenry without some strict protocols on how they should be used as well as strict monitoring of how they are in fact used in the field.

No doubt we will be seeing more of these devices – not less – until we have a perfected some Minority Report-like Halo device to throw on any government suspected “pre-criminals.”   So perhaps we had better decide – and quickly – what amount of newly-enslaving technology is allowed to be unleashed on an unwitting population.

Next Generation Robotic Trucks in “Maximum Overdrive”

A Different Driverless Truck Lurching Out of the LabAdd to the list of the indignities of age the fact that your pop-culture references become so ancient and obscure that no one knows what in the hell you are talking about anymore.

As happened this week, when I commented on the AP story “Driverless Truck Lurches out of Lab” being eerily similar to the effect of the radiation storm in the Steven King movie “Maximum Overdrive.” 

In the movie a radiation storm caused by a meteor or alien spaceship or some such nonsense causes all of the machines to go insane and start killing the non-mechanized.  Sure, it starts out innocuous enough, ATM machines giving people the finger, Coke machines ejecting cans into people’s groins, but then the semi trucks get into the fray and things really go nuts. 

You may be starting to see why some have voted this one of the worst movies of the 1980’s – hardly an obscure reference at all.  But regardless, did this movie teach us nothing about the dangers of having self-aware trucks?  Sounds like we better get those 3 Laws of Robots passed through Congress real soon.  And quickly, before an insane, driverless truck comes crashing through a diner near you.

“Well, Isn’t that Special?” – Special, Yes, Prosecutor, No

Everyone else is talking about the unfortunate Scooter Libby so I might as well add to the discordant din, but hopefully with the added value of cutting to the krux of the matter.

 

It doesn’t take a legal expert to know in advance that jurors like to see guys with plucky Ivy League names like “Scooter” thrown in jail.  So with the jury’s verdict there are very few legal merits to debate here.

 

But let me first admit, that though I’ve tried, I neither understand the Scotty Libby charges nor the defense for that matter.  Apparently the jury felt the same way, because they needed 10 days and countless poster boards and even more Post-Its to deduce some coherency of the events.  Yet, give me and the jurors a break, I doubt less than 20% of the populace in 1974 (and much less today) even understood the charges against Richard Nixon and they were subjected to years of news coverage.

 

So, the only meaningful thing I can possibly extract from this episode is the same thing that I learn every time a Federal Special Prosecutor is appointed. 

 

That is: “Special Prosecutors are bad.”

 

Do you hear me Special Prosecutor? “Bad, bad, bad!” “Bad political lap dog!” “I should roll up a legal brief and hit you on the nose with it for soiling our federal justice system.”

 

So with that unbiased and high-minded remark, allow me to further the discussion by offering a laymen’s definition:

 

Federal Special Prosecutor – a prosecutor with unlimited resources who can’t stop investigating until someone is charged with something (no matter how unrelated to the original allegations).

 

So, for example, take a normal prosecutor, say like Durham’s Mike Nifong, give him a vague mandate, unlimited time, unlimited funds, and a large staff and tell him to just go start investigating people until he finds something wrong. 

 

Is there anyone with a modicum of common sense that doesn’t see this as a bad idea?

 

So what do you do when something is a bad idea?  Well, if you are the government, the one and only thing you ever do is change the name.  In this case it was changed from “Special Prosecutor” to “Independent Counsel” to the current “Special Counsel.” 

 

Dystopian science fiction works offer many characters who are comparable to modern day Special Prosecutors.  I think the most fitting in this case is Jack Lint played by Michael Palin in the Terry Gilliam film Brazil.  Jack works for the Ministry of Information’s Department of Information Retrieval as a civil servant/torturer and he loves his work.  As if the Brazil comparison could not possibly get any more apt, Wikipedia reminds me that “The machinery of Brazil has no personality and exceedingly poor quality control…bureaucracy is ruthless, tyrannical, and without feelings toward the people is claims to serve.”

 

If I may borrow the Church Lady’s catch phase: “Well isn’t that special?!?” – a typical “Special Prosecution” that is.