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June 26th, 2011:

Sampling Yesterday’s Output: Ten Gentle Opportunities

Getting back from Chicago a few days ago took a fair amount of doing: Our 8:30 PM flight did not take off until 11:45, and when we landed in Denver we called for a shuttle to the hotel. It was 2 AM, and the driver who handled such calls after midnight served a whole list of hotels. Alas, he didn’t know where ours was. He got lost. After half an hour of confused wandering around the wide empty spaces in the vicinity of DIA, a young woman in the first row of the shuttle bus looked up the hotel on her GPS smartphone, touched a button, and held the phone up in the air. The phone then began dictating directions to the hotel right out loud–and the driver, perhaps a little reluctantly, obeyed. Ten minutes later we were at the hotel, though I doubt we were asleep until 3:45 ayem.

It sounds like a story, but no, it really happened. I’ll have to tuck it away for future reference.

In the meantime, I’ll give you a sample of the novel I’m working on, a bit of whimsy involving magic-as-alternate-physics and spells-as-software. It involves a jump between a magical universe and ours. It also involves 2018-era AI, and a robotic copier factory in a town I’ll call Merriam, NY. Here’s a representative 850 words of what came out of the keyboard yesterday:

Simple Simon’s office didn’t look like an office. Simple Simon’s office did not have a desk or a chair. “Simple Simon” had not even been his original name. The space in which he worked was not fully rendered, though there were artifacts here and there, most of them gifts from the painfully earnest Dave Mirecki and the infuriating Dr. Adele Sanderson. Simple Simon removed his five-pointed jester’s cap (which had once had bells, now mercifully deleted) and hung it on the hook beside the door. The lights came up, and Simon was now officially on the job.

To Simon’s perception, his office was a pale blue ellipsoid formed of countless minute polygons, and no matter where he walked within the ellipsoid, he was always at the center of the ellipsoid. Walking was therefore pointless.

So much, so infuriatingly much of the Tooniverse was simply pointless.

Like his costume: a particolored tunic over green tights, and shoes with points that curled up over the toes he didn’t have. They could have dressed him in a business suit like the managers wore, or (better) a polo shirt and khaki slacks like Dave. There had been a time, a comfortable, reasonable time, when he had been an unrendered polygon model like the Kid-until Dr. Sanderson began speaking of “resonances” and “human interface friction.” Dr. Sanderson was not the author of his archetype–that had been Dr. Emil Arenberg, founder of Zircon’s AI division and architect of its AI technology–but rather his Human Interface, what in older times was called his “skin.” She looked at his job, and declared him a jester. It was a metaphor, and wrong, at that. But nobody dared tell her that she was wrong, so they made him look the part.

On the wall hung a framed image containing three words:

Be the metaphor.

It was Dr. Sanderson’s slogan, and (evidently) a direct order. Simon resisted the order with all his might. He was not a jester.

He was a juggler.

“Thirty minutes,” said the Shift Clock. Simon nodded, and took a step backwards. He didn’t move, but the step was significant: All around him on the inner surface of his ellipsoid, Windows appeared and illuminated. Some were Windows to the desks of the humans who supervised the assembly floor, and the engineers who had designed it and were constantly perfecting it. Not all Windows were open. Dr. Sanderson’s was (mercifully) closed, as was Mr. Romero’s. (Ditto.) Dave was there, and waved to him. So did nine or ten others.

Most of the Windows were views of the Floor. 90% of Building 800 was a cavernous hall filled with industrial robots. There were seven-hundred fifty-seven robots in Building 800. Simon knew them all as though they were extensions of his own mind-which they were.

The boundaries between his mind and the building were “soft.” Simon leaned his head back slightly, and relaxed. The optical network channels opened to receive him, and he slipped into them, sending his awareness out to control hubs all over the building. At his touch, each robot on the assembly floor came to fluid life, testing the quality of its communication and the limits of its motion, all the while diagnosing its own condition. Each returned a status to Simon, and with each status signal Simon felt himself growing more and more complete.

The welders pivoted their laser heads down toward their testplates, and fired. Sensors measured the strength and purity of their beams, and responded. Parts bins vibrated and checked for the presence of parts in their chutes. Hydraulic drills spun up and down again, indexing forward and back.

He felt them self-test. He felt them reply. He became one with them. Ready. Ready. Ready. Ready…Ready!

Most critical were the Positioners. Nearly half the robots on the Floor did not wield lasers or wrenches or drills. Their job was to move assemblies and ultimately finished copiers around the Floor. At one time this had been done with motorized rollers and belts. No more. The Positioners were arms, with exquisitely controllable wrists and hands. The hands were coated with foam and equipped with hundreds of minute pressure sensors. Some were only inches wide. The largest had grips six feet across, on hydraulic arms as thick as a human’s thigh.

Together, they implemented Transfer Over Separated Spaces. Parts, assemblies, and finished copiers were not rolled around the building. They were thrown, on minutely calculated paths, each path computed and timed so that a part would arrive precisely when needed, with a Positioner’s hand opened to grip it, slow it, and then hand it to whatever device required the part to continue the assembly process. With the Floor running at full speed, as many as five hundred separate objects were in the air at once. Every single one of them was thrown, and tracked, and caught by the GAI Simple Simon, Factory Automation Real-Time Supervisor.

Simon’s smile broadened as the last of the robots responded. Jester, no way. Juggler, yeah.