Category: SF Cons

Quantum internet at Capclave 2021

Somewhat surprisingly, even tho the Washington DC Science Fiction community is hosting this year’s Worldcon, they are still doing their regular annual convention as well, Capclave 2021. Kudos for courage! And it is inperson as well (proof of vaccination required).

I’m doing a talk on the Quantum Internet this year at Capclave. I moderated a panel on the quantum internet at the most recent Balticon. Panel went well (video of the panel is up on youtube) thanks to my two fellow panelists Kevin Roche and Anne Gray. This is a great subject, so I figured a dedicated talk on this would be fun & helpful to people. Hence:

The Quantum Internet: Hype or the next step

What do we mean by the quantum internet? Why do we need more than just quantum computing? What are quantum cryptography, quantum key distribution, quantum sensors? How are these concepts entangled? What are the advantages of the quantum internet? key problems? Who will get to use it? And do we have just a bunch of interesting tech that all have quantum in their name or can the whole be more than the sum of its parts?

This will be 4pm Saturday October 2nd, 2021 at Capclave

I’m doing two panels as well:

Horrors found in the Editor’s Slush

I’ve copyrighted this story so you cannot steal it and publish it under your name. “And their names were Adam and Eve.” The manuscript written in crayon. Threats if the editor rejects a story. Considering that writers want their stories to be published, they do seem to do everything possible to discourage editors. What are some of the horrors you found in submissions? What should new writers know to avoid?

This with Walt BoyesNeil ClarkeDina Leacock

At 8pm Friday October 1st, 2021 at Capclave

A Century of Robots

The play RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots) premiered in January 1921. This play was the first to use the word robot for a scientifically created mechanical worker. Why has the concept of robots been so popular? How have robots evolved in fiction?

This with Jennifer PoveyMichael SwanwickJoy Ward

At 11am Sunday October 3rd, 2021 at Capclave

Artificial intelligence, the quantum internet, and life and/or death

The 2021 Baltimore Science Fiction Convention (Balticon) runs this coming weekend. Virtual but real, if you get my drift. Convention is free; the programming looks very strong. Poke around & check off the interesting ones: I had great trouble keeping my choices down to one per time slot.

And, Balticon has recorded all of the talks: I’ve linked each talk to its video.

For my Balticon talk I’m doing:

Hands as seen by an artificial intelligence.
The Hands of AI

Artificial Intelligence: Past, Present, and Futures: Saturday, 2:30pm

From neural nets and genetic algorithms to facial recognition and deep fakes, artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere today. What exactly do we mean by AI and how did it get where it is today? What are the benefits and risks of AI and how should we manage it going forwards?

Fast moving & fun topic!

Ethics and Robotics: Friday, 4pm

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws formed one of the earliest ethics systems for robots and artificially-created beings, but aren’t necessarily accurate or complete. A hundred years after Asimov’s birth, what approaches are being taken in the practical development of robots? What is “real AI” and how far away are we from it?

With Anne Gray aka netmouse (moderator), Aaron M. Roth and Marie Vibbert

The Quantum Internet: Hype or the Next Step? Saturday, 7pm

What do we mean by the quantum internet? What are quantum cryptography, quantum key distribution, quantum sensors, and linked quantum computers? What are the advantages and key problems? Who will get to use it? And do we have just a bunch of interesting tech that all have quantum in their name or can the whole be more than the sum of the parts?

I’m moderating this one with Anne Gray and Kevin Roche (who is the quantum computing evangelist at IBM).

From “Mostly Dead” to Alive and Back Again: Sunday, 10pm

How is it that something like the coronavirus can be completely inert one moment and then spawning millions of copies of itself the next? How did intracellular obligate parasites — organisms that can’t survive without a host — manage to evolve into existence in the first place? What of transposons (jumping genes), viroids (the smallest infectious pathogens known), and the dreaded “giant” viruses? Join us as we dart back and forth across the line that separates life & death in biology!

I’m moderating this one as well, with the panelists: Dr. Jim Prego, Doug Dluzen, Anna Kashina, Pam Garrettson.

Artificial Intelligence: Past, Present, & Futures

22 Artificial Intelligences (3 Real)

My Philcon artificial intelligence talk is at 1pm tomorrow at Virtual Philcon 2020. You can register for it here.

I’ve uploaded a PDF of the talk to slideshare. The Obama Deep Fake movie was too large to uploaded, so I just used a still for that. The PDF has the references as well as the sources of all the images in the splash page above.

There are 22 images, 3 “real”, the rest from various films & so on.

  • Talos — Jason & the Argonauts
  • The Mechanical Turk — popular chess playing fake (18th century)
  • Tik-Tok — Wizard of Oz
  • Robot Maria — Metropolis
  • Joe (transparent robot) — The Proud Robot
  • Roy Batty (replicant) – Bladerunner
  • R2-D2 & C-3PO — Star Wars
  • Terminator — Terminator
  • Rommie (ship avatar) — Andromeda
  • Android Gunslinger — West World
  • Commander Data — Star Trek Next Generation
  • Mecha — AI
  • Sonny — I, Robot
  • BB-8 — Star Wars
  • Eve & Wall-E — Wall-E
  • Asimo — Honda robot
  • Johnny 5 – Short Circuit
  • Sophia — The First Robot Declared a Citizen by Saudi Arabia (2016)
  • Janet — The Good Place
  • Ava — Ex Machina
  • Samantha — Her
  • Denise Virtual Assistant — NextOS (now Realbotix)

And I have a number of references. These should be useful starting points. One of the striking things about these is that all are from the last five years; and all but two from the two years. The field is moving that fast!

  • Miller 2019 – The Artist in the Machine
  • Mitchell 2019 – Artificial Intelligence
  • O’Neil 2016 – Weapons of Math Destruction
  • Pickover 2019 – Artificial Intelligence
  • Scharre 2018 – Army of None
  • Shane 2019 – You look like a thing and I love you
  • Tamboli 2019 – Keeping Your AI under Control
  • Trask 2019 – Grokking Algorithms

2020 Philadelphia Science Fiction aka Philcon

Philcon runs from about noon this coming Friday (11/20/2020) till early evening Sunday (11/22/2020). It is, inevitably, virtual this year. With that said, they are going to a lot of trouble to make it as live & immediate as possible. And are clearly much helped by the benefit of earlier virtual conferences this year. For instance, the program participants were invited to training sessions to check out their setups & make sure they knew how to present on Zoom & Discord. I found mine helpful. Thanks Syd Weinstein & crew!

I have my schedule as well:

 Joy in SciencePlaza 1Science & TechnologyPanelFri 8:30 PM
What about Science first drew us in to it?

Remembering our sparks of inspiration. Recountings and tall tales of our best discoveries and why they continue to inspire us. With Carl Fink (moderator), John Skylar (the invariably intelligent!), Tom Purdam (always witty & knowledgable), and myself.

Artificial Intelligence: Past, Present, FuturesPlaza 1Science & TechnologyTalk by John AshmeadSat 1:00 PMDuration: 00:50
Artificial Intelligence — Too late to escape it, but too soon to panic.

From Oz’s Tik-Tok to the Mechanical Turk, from Neural Nets & Genetic Algorithms to Chess & StarCraft, from fighting the Coronavirus to flying Killer Drones, from Facial Recognition to Fakes, Deep Fakes, & Anti-Fakes, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everywhere today. How did it start? What do we mean by AI? What are the basic AI techniques? How is it being used? What are the benefits? 

Drift Compatible: The Science of Neural Interface TechnologyPlaza 1Science & TechnologyPanelSat 4:00 PM
Plug in, tune out, or control the world — your call

What can be done with current technology? Are we going to be piloting mechs with our minds before the decade is out? With the ever charming & erudite Catherine Asaro, Rebecca Robare (one of the filk), and myself (as moderator). For me, a nice follow-on to my Arificial Intelligence talk!

Dust to DirtPlaza 1Science & TechnologyPanelSun 4:00 PM
OK, we’re on Mars. What an Expanse of possiblities? Red, Blue, or Green?

 The practical considerations of building a city on Mars, from the habitat to the technology of living on an inhospitable world. I’m moderating based on my talk of a few years back, Mars or Bust! And have Robert Hranek (who has already scared me with his level of preparation), Premee Mohammed (who has scared me with her Lovecraftian Beneath the Rising and who is basically the advance team for Mars), and Tobias Cabral (who I’ve shared many panels with & who is not at all scary — meaning no offense!) to put questions to!

Artificial Intelligence: Past, Present, & Futures

I will be presenting a talk on Artificial Intelligence: Past, Present, & Futures at the 2020 Capclave (virtual). That’s this coming Sunday from 1:30 to 2:25. Capclave is running Saturday & Sunday.

Virtual, yes, but they have rather a good line up of former guests of honor, kaffleklatsches, talks, panels, and so on. I’m looking forward. As to my talk:

Artificial Intelligence: Past, Present, Futures (Ends at: 2:25 pm)
Participants: John Ashmead (M)
From Oz’s Tik-Tok to the Mechanical Turk, from Neural Nets & Genetic Algorithms to Chess & StarCraft, from fighting the Coronavirus to flying Killer Drones, from Facial Recognition to Fakes, Deep Fakes, & Anti-Fakes, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everywhere today. How did it start? What do we mean by AI? What are the basic AI techniques? How is it being used? What are the benefits? risks? and how should we manage AI going forwards?

Physical Balticon Cancelled — Virtual Balticon on

Due to the Covid-19, the physical 2020 Baltimore Science Fiction Convention — Balticon — has been cancelled.

The organizers, nothing if not game, are putting on a virtual Balticon. Looks pretty good. And free (tho they ask for a donation to a GoFundMe for new writers and to help Baltimore’s disadvantaged youth).

Unfortunately I had already made other commitments, after the physical Balticon was cancelled and before I knew it was being replaced by a virtual one, so will not be able to speak at the virtual event.

But I hope to catch a number of the events this coming Memorial Day weekend and hope you will be able to do so as well.

The Past, Present, and Futures of Artificial Intelligence

Tik-Tok — one of the early visions of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is in the news, no question. The last few science fiction conventions I’ve been at, panels on AI have been getting filled rooms & lots of questions. It’s all over the news as well. And it’s a subject I find interesting: and — being a professional programmer — an area where I may be able to contribute, perhaps looking at the use of AI techniques to generate physics experiments.

What is meant by AI is one problem: is it anything that uses AI techniques, as Neural Nets or Genetic Algorithms? Or do you need to be pointing in the direction of some kind of sentience for it to be true AI? Will it replace us? Should it? The hype/content ratio sometimes hits near Trumpian levels.

So good subject for a talk. But what line of attack to take? Last week I caught a great talk at DataPhilly on the use of AI for sports betting (and other things). The formal title was:

Practical Scaling: How to Use Simple Tools to Create and Implement Complex Modeling SystemsJames Piette

For “complex modeling systems” think practical AI. My personal favorite of his slides cited three principles:

  • Moravec’s Paradox: AI and humans are good at opposite things. So use AI for what it is good at (crunching) and let the humans do what they are good at (intuiting).
  • Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 rule. 20% of the work gets you 80% of the value, so focus on the high value parts of the problem.
  • The Scientific method: observe, hypothesize, test, repeat. This works for science — and it works for software debugging (another favorite topic of mine), startups, and AI.

And this strikes me as the kind of no-nonsense, practical, even scientific approach that a subject like AI needs. (Thanks James!) So for my 2020 SF Convention talk:

The Past, Present, and Futures of Artificial Intelligence. — From Oz’s Tik-Tok to the Mechanical Turk, from Neural Nets & Genetic Algorithms to Chess & StarCraft, from Medical Diagnosis to Robot Frogs, from Facial Recognition to Fakes, Deep Fakes, & Anti-Fakes, AI is everywhere today. How did it start? What do we mean by AI? What are the basic AI techniques? How is it being used? What are the benefits? risks? and how should we manage AI going forwards?

Be seeing you:

Philcon 2019 — Recap

Ultimately my “Time dispersion in quantum mechanics” is an attempt to answer Gisin’s question

Got some great questions during my talk at Philcon: lots of stuff I had not considered before. If quarks are high-energy beasts, and if high-energy means short time, and if short time means increased effects of time dispersion, shouldn’t you look at impacts on quark calculations. Should & will! And what of quantum computing: would dispersion in time provide additional bandwidth for quantum computing? Very probably! Not to mention additional insight into the bugaboo of the quantum computing, decoherence.

I also liked that the audience really picked up on why I centered the investigation on falsifiability: I wasn’t trying to prove that there is dispersion in time, I have presented a way to prove there is not. Falsifiability is what makes science science.

I have uploaded the Keynote, PowerPoint, and PDF versions of the talk.

My panels were, as usual, interesting.

Hildy Silverman did a great job moderating Dystopia Now! she kept the discussion focused & moving. Fellow panelist Hakirah D’Almah, a journalist with a focus on the Middle East, was particularly trenchant. Hard to find the bright side of Dystopia, but I think we did. 1984 is a deeply optimistic work: by writing it (Orwell’s last, he died shortly after completing it) Orwell helped us avoid it.

I will admit the Evolution of Mars panel, while interesting, drifted a bit (Wild Marses I Have Known would have been a more accurate description).

I was happy to be the moderator on Looking for Life in our Solar System: the great thing about being a moderator — especially when you are the least qualified person the panel — sit back & let your fellow panelists — Earl Bennett, Dr. H. Paul Shuch, John Skylar — do the heavy lifting. Which they did very well!

And I was also moderator on The Blurry Line between Cutting Edge and Pseudoscience. The panel was right after my talk, so made a nice seque. The best question came from an audience member: how do I tell, when I see stuff on the web, what level of credibility to give it? Just asking that question is the first step. The panelists suggested credentials of the author, links to it, and my personal favorite: does the author find the good in his/her opponent’s arguments, recognize the weak spots in his/her own?

Philcon 2019 — Precap

Lagrange's tightrope, balancing kinetic & potential energy
Working out the effects of quantum mechanics on time requires a delicate balancing between kinetic & potential energy; Lagrange showed the way

The Philcon 2019 schedule is up. I’m doing my Time Dispersion in Quantum Mechanics talk — the tightrope walker is one of the slides, gives you a sense of the style of the whole, balancing ideas against math, time against space, classical against quantum, … — and four panels, all interesting. The con runs from Friday 11/8/2019 through Sunday 11/10. Details:

LOOKING FOR LIFE IN OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

Fri 8:00 pm. John Ashmead (mod), Earl Bennett, Dr. H. Paul Shuch, John Skylar. What’s the latest evidence that we’ve found? Where are the best places to look?

TIME DISPERSION IN QUANTUM MECHANICS

Sat. 4:00 PM. John Ashmead. We know from quantum mechanics that space is fuzzy- that particles don’t have a well-defined position in space — and we know from special relativity that time and space are interchangeable. So shouldn’t time be fuzzy as well? Thanks to recent technical advances in measurements at “short times” we can now put this to the test. Discuss!

THE BLURRY LINE BETWEEN CUTTING EDGE AND PSEUDOSCIENCE

Sat 5:00PM. John Ashmead (mod), Charlie Robertson, Rebecca Robare, Dr. H. Paul Shuch, Carl Fink, Lawrence Kramer. Niels Bohr famously said, “Your theory is crazy but it’s not crazy enough to be true”. How do we keep an open mind but not one so open that our brains fall out? A look at how to tell strange-yet-true science from weapons grade balonium.

THE EVOLUTION OF MARS

Sat 7:00 PM Darrell Schweitzer (mod), John Ashmead, Tom Purdom, James L. Cambias, Earl Bennett. How have depictions of Mars changed in SF from the imaginings of Burroughs and Bradbury to the Mars we know now from studying its surface?

DYSTOPIA NOW

Sat 9:00 PM Hildy Silverman (mod), John Ashmead, Karen Heuler, B. Lana Guggenheim. No one should be surprised that climate change, technological over-reach, and political anxieties have translated themselves into a bumper crop of contemporary dystopian fiction. How coherent are their messages — and how good are the stories? Is there a way to make such a work more than a cautionary tale about the present era’s problems?

Capclave 2019 — Recap

Alice & her dog examine the mysteries of time and quantum mechanics, slide from my talk at Capclave 2019.

Had a great time at Capclave. It’s one of the smaller cons — slightly north of 300 people — and doesn’t have some of the usual con stuff like an art show or cosplay. But for precisely those reasons, you tend to have more of those repeated one-on-one conversations that, for me, are the real life of a con.

Had a good time at the five panels I was on. All were energetic & held the audience.

Technospeed — is technology moving too far too fast? — was the first (Friday evening), with the smallest audience. It was hard to know what to do with the subject, a tad too broad I suspect. Much of the discussion focused on AI, a better subject. (I may take AI that for my big talk next year.) Not a bad panel, with that said: we had a lot of fun with Kurzweil’s Singularity and related topics.

My next two panels (both Saturday), The Coming Civil War & Failed SF Predictions, both had Tom Doyle as moderator. He did a great job, particularly with the Coming Civil War, where he asked the assembled panelists how they would treat present various scenarios from a fictional point of view. How would you tell the story of cities war with the country side? and so on. Kept the conversation from degenerating into what they thought of the [insert-derogatory-noun]-in-chief.

I had a bit of fun with Failed SF Predictions, bringing in some books of pulp age cover art: jet packs, menacing octopi, orbiting cities, threatening robots, giant computers, and attacking space fleets, … The role of women in SF in the days of the pulps is nothing like what it is in the real world today; a lot of the Failed SF Predictions chosen were about gender issues. Not even the first wave of feminist SF writers — LeGuin, Joan Vinge, Joanna Russ, … — fully anticipated how much the field would evolve.

Sunday my first panel was on Secrets of the Dinosaurs. The other three panelists were the GOH Robert Sawyer (author of the Far-Seer trilogy of dinosaur novels), Michael Brett-Surman (Collections Manager of the National Dinosaur Collection at the Smithsonian and co-author/editor of several dinosaur books with Dr. Thomas R. Holtz) and Dr. Thomas R. Holtz (who is the T. Rex of T. Rex scholarship). Being on a dino panel with these three was like being a small mammal in the Jurassic. The primary objective is to not get underfoot and squashed. All three are immensely polite & courteous individuals, who would never think to squash a small mammal who wandered on to the planet panel. I took advantage — as the designated amateur — to ask about dino parental care, how did hadrosaurs defend themselves against a T. Rex (rather easily — those tails are not just ornamental!), and my final q: if dinosaurs lived in groups & relied on visual & auditory display, did they have barn-dances?

My final panel was Exoplanets. My fellow panelists (Inge Heyer & Edward Lerner) were both expert & I had done a fair amount of swotting, so we had a good time going over rogue planets between the stars, planets made of diamond, life within the hidden seas, and various methods of finding new exoplanets — the total of confirmed exoplanets is 4000 & counting!

And my Time Dispersion in Quantum Mechanics talk went well (Saturday afternoon). I had a couple of practice run-thrus with a “volunteer” audience, which left it leaner, shorter, and easier to follow. Same content, but no math (except E=mc-squared, which is so familiar it doesn’t count). Talk went well, good audience and great questions: some I answered there, some I dealt with in the hall discussions, and one or two I had to admit “that’s one for the experimentalists!”

And my thanks to Brent Warner of NASA, who corrected — with great politeness — a couple of soft spots in the presentation. I will incorporate into the next iteration, in two weeks as it happens at Philcon.

And the next morning I got what I think is the best compliment I have ever received: the father of a 10th grader said his daughter was so inspired by my talk she is thinking of going into physics & quantum mechanics. “Here’s my email; tell her to feel free to follow up!” Yes!

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