Category: SF Cons

79th World Science Fiction Convention (Discon III)

79th World Science Fiction Convention DC 2021

The 79th World Science Fiction Convention (Discon III) is being held in DC in three days, running from 12/14/2021 through 12/19/2021. They had a long struggle deciding between real & virtual. They settled on real but with lots of virtual bits. I’m just pleased they decided to go forward. Full schedule is now online. Note the web page is a bit fragile & needs sometimes a bit of coaxing.

I’m giving two short talks and serving as panelist on three panels. Because of space problems, many of the talks are sharing an hour. Both my talks are 25 minutes:

Artificial Intelligence: Past, Present, and Futures

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? How did AI get where it is today? What role will it play in our lives? What are the benefits and risks of AI? And when will we have real AI?

7PM Thursday December 16th, 2021. This is the top of the hour so should start at 7PM. Slides up on slideshare.

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 technologies that all have quantum in their name or can the whole be more than the sum of its parts?

10AM Sunday December 19th, 2021. This is the 2nd half of the hour so will probably start about 10:25AM. Slides up on slideshare.

And I’m doing three panels (all 50 minutes):

The State of Machine Learning

An artificial intelligence does not necessarily have to think like a human being. How do current AIs approach questions of cognition and meaningful analysis? What are other ways that an intelligent AI might perceive and understand the world?

Notes for participants: Examples. AI as a personal assistant, AI as a social benefit, AI as a threat, making sense of big data, autonomous vehicles, neural networks, automated facial recognition, behavioral analysis, racial bias in training data. The term xenosapience is used in some sf non AIs that do not think like people.

4PM Wednesday December 15th, 2021. Virtual

Balancing Story and Scientific Authenticity

Many readers love real science, or just the appearance of real science, in their science fiction. It is no small challenge to create compelling literature that also triggers a scientific sense of wonder. Panelists discuss how to do it right.

I’m moderating this & much looking forward to it. I have a lot of questions for the panelists:

  • How can getting the science right make the story better?
  • What are some of the best examples of getting the science right? Hal Clement — Mission of Gravity, Uncommon Sense, … — comes to mind of course, many others.
  • How to give readers the right amount of explanation? Obviously we want a bit more scientific detail in The Martian than in Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids! My own feeling is that Arthur Clarke was the all-time master of balancing science & wonder. Your selections for this?
  • What are some examples where the science was just so awful that it interfered with the story? Or the story died the death of painful exposition? (Venus Equilateral comes to mind; feel free to disagree of course!)
  • What are some of your own stories where you think, all modesty aside, that you got the science just about right! And what were some places where you had to do a bit of work to achieve the best balance?
  • What advice would you give a new writer on how to handle the science?
  • What advice would you give a reader on what to look for in a story’s treatment of science?
  • What differences are there in way you would handle different sciences? we often break the sciences down into soft and hard, is that valid?
  • How to handle alien sciences?
  • How do you like to prep the science?

11:30AM Thursday, December 16th, 2021. Virtual

International Space Program

Americans may not hear much about it, but there’s a thriving culture of space exploration and science outside of the United States. Come hear about some of the notable missions, developments, and discoveries of 2020 and 2021.

8:30PM Thursday, December 16th, 2021. Physical (Diplomat Ballroom)

The Quantum Internet and: Cthulhu Now!, Don’t get your time machine in a twist, and Warped Plotting

Google conducts largest chemical simulation on a quantum computer to date
Google’s Sycamore Quantum Computer

This year’s Philcon is going forward in person, in spite of Covid! It runs from Friday afternoon (11/19/2021) through Sunday afternoon (11/21/2021). Jabs & masks mandatory, but it will be great to see old friends in person. And make a few new as well. My science talk is:

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 1 pm Saturday November 20th at Philcon 2021

I did this at this year’s Capclave. Went well: some pretty deep questions from the audience at the end, always a good sign. I’ve updated — quantum computing does not stand still! — and looking forward to presenting in a few days. The picture is of Google’s Sycamore Quantum Computer, which recently achieved “Quantum Supremacy”. I will explain what that means!

I’m doing three panels as well:

The Post-Lovecraftian Cthulhu

How have HP Lovecraft’s ideas evolved in the hands of subsequent writers?

At this point, post-Lovecraftian Cthulhu is 99+% of Cthulhu. There are a lot of interesting directions here: from more mythos (Derleth for instance), more grim humor (Stross), high tech reboots (Delta Green), and a deeper (pun intended) take on Lovecraft’s racism (Lovecraft Country, Ballad of Black Tom). And we have uses of Cthulhu in music, film & TV (of course!), theater, and even in real science (the elongated dark region on Pluto nee Yuggoth called Cthulhu Macula!) if we are willing to include songwriters, playwrights, & scientists as part of the dark horde of subsequent writers.

This with Darrell Schweitzer (my co-editor on Tales From the Miskatonic University Library) and Stephanie Burke (writer, cosplayer, and a remarkable presence). I proposed the topic so have been unable to avoid the scourage of moderation.

At 10pm Friday, 11/19/2021

A Beginner’s Guide to Time Travel Paradoxes

You know not to remove a major historical figure, hand Thomas Edison a cell phone, or kill your grandfather. But is it even possible to travel into the past without changing anything?  So you go back to Chicago in 1920, and eat a hamburger in a diner. But, unbeknownst to you, that hamburger was destined to sit for six hours, spoil, and sicken someone else, who misses an important appointment, and… there goes the timestream. Would nature have a way of correcting this?

This with Michael Ventrella, George W. Young, and Russell Handelmann. Michael is currently editing a time travel anthology and is also moderating the panel. Michael’s a lot of fun; the other two I look forward to meeting.

At 2pm Saturday, 11/20/2021

Parsecs, Light Years, and the Speed of Plot

Warp?  Hyperspace?  Ion propulsion?  Improbability drive?  Is it necessary to sacrifice accuracy to maintain pacing?  Our panelists science the heck out of “velocity equals distance divided by time” as used in fiction.

This with Tobias F. Cabral (moderator), Anastasia Klimchynskaya, Tom Purdom. All familiar & valued co-panelists!

At 4pm Saturday, 11/20/2021

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?

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