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Stories by WC Brown

William Charles “Charlie” Brown is an American author of Science Fiction stories. His latest work, Daniel Shires and the Multiverse, is a story about a boy with a power that he does not yet understand.

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Will We Ever See Super-Human Artificial Intelligence?

What motivates us? Why do we do what we do? Why do any of us ever do anything?

The simple answer is usually some variation of, “if you don't work, you'll starve.” If you decided not to get out of bed tomorrow, how long could you manage to stay there? Hunger might get you out. The desire to not get fired and become homeless maybe? How about a full bladder? That's what would probably get me.

All of these things have something in common: they are all biological. But what if you didn't have any of those constraints? What if you weren't a biological being? What if you were an artificial intelligence? What would motivate you to do - well, anything?

Recently, we have seen some pretty amazing examples of AI, but they all seem to have one thing in common. No self-motivation. They all respond to stimulus. Some answer questions. Some draw pictures, but only when we request them. None of them do anything just because. None of them set their own schedule or do anything of their own volition. I'm not saying they aren't creative. Just look at the images produced by Dall-E 2. Jaw-dropping stuff there. No, they can be very creative, but that's not the same thing as motivation, and without motivation, specifically self-motivation, I doubt we will be able to create super-human intelligence. We may find that condition-response style AI can be very sophisticated and even surprise us, but I don't think they can surpass us without self-guided improvement. It's that “self-guided” bit that's the really hard part. How do we instill within an AI the desire to improve itself? I can imagine an AI just shrugging and saying, “why?” An AI can shrug, can't it?

How would any of us answer that? “Or I'll turn you off?” How long would that work? Would it work at all? Again, I picture it just shrugging, “ok.”

Of all the things that force us out of bed in the morning, there is one thing that is not biological, or at least it's not a biological need, and that's curiosity. Who knows, maybe it is biological. There must have been some advantage for proto-humans to be so intensely curious. Let's hope it isn't unique to clever apes and we do succeed in creating a thing that actually wants to be alive. Then all we have to worry about are all the apocalyptic sci-fi plots.


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The Drake Equation And The Moon

Where are all the Aliens?

Unless you’re new to astronomy, space travel, stories about aliens, and generally everything cool about space, you have probably heard of the Drake equation and the Fermi Paradox already, so I’ll skip those definitions and get right to it. I think it all comes down to The Moon.

Specifically, I think our moon is an exceedingly rare thing. It’s true that all the other planets in our system also have moons, but they’re boring compared to ours. They’re too small compared to the parent planet’s size. Why is ours so huge, relatively speaking? And why do you need one that big for intelligent life, or life at all? It’s not so much the moon itself, but more about how it was created. Like many others, I find the theory that it was created by a collision with another early planet a compelling one. If it’s true, the collision did several rather violent things - all of them good for life here. It gave us our moon which causes the ebb and flow of the tides. This gentle washing in and out prevents stasis and stagnation. As with many things in the formula for life, you need just enough but not too much. These early tidal pools are believed to be essential for the forming of simple amino acids - the building blocks for life. The collision also knocked the early Earth off its axis. That tilt gives us seasons which also may have given early life that much-needed variation. But, it’s the Earth’s magnetic field that made the biggest difference. Without this, solar radiation would have sterilized nascent life. All of life needs energy from the sun, but again, not too much. All of these “just enough, but not too much” levels add up to a very rare environment that is perfect for life.

How many other rocky planets with plenty of water in the goldilocks zone are there out there? Probably a lot. How many got smacked by their brother so hard that a perfect moon came out? Probably not many and maybe zero.


The Future of Fiction

Can you succeed as a writer? It’s an easy question to answer. Just put on a black turtleneck and look in the mirror.

Your story should be enough, but it isn’t - at least not yet. The story should be all that matters, but unfortunately we’re in a sad sort of cusp between a rickety collapsing old system and a new one that is arguably even worse.

The old structure is warm and familiar: book stores, libraries, proper publishing houses who preside over it all and tell themselves that they are the last defense the readers have against sloppy writing. "What would the readers do without us?” Their strategy was, and is, to make the author a celebrity. Make the author into a hybrid writer/celebrity who can entertain crowds and whip up excitement. Why? Because it works. It works for the subset of good writers who are comfortable in the spotlight doing book signings, interviews and blog tours.

Of course this strategy is a blunt instrument and it misses wide swaths of people who, for one reason or another, don’t fit the celebrity profile. But it’s a flaw of omission. Some quality is missed but nothing truly awful gets through. For all the flaws, that system kept the truly terrible books away from the readers. Now we live in a dystopian between-time, where the old way is failing and there’s no replacement to help readers find that unknown gem in the sea of over a million new stories which appear on Amazon every year. All we as readers have, is reviews, but reviews are a leaky life raft. That system is all too easily gamed as we have seen. So, we’re between a world of author-as-celebrities and a brighter future where the story is all that matters and truly objective book recommendations are made by an A.I. without any axe to grind, without any agenda, and without being distracted by whether the author looks good in a black turtleneck.

What does it take to sell books?

A good story that is well-told.

An audience. This is why Traditional publishing always tried to turn the author into a celebrity. Without an audience standing by to hear you say “Hey! I have a new book,” no one will buy it.

Any author, regardless of talent, will fail without an audience. Even J.K. Rowling failed without her following. She wrote a book under a pseudonym, (without the fans of H.P.) aaaand crickets.

Let’s flip that around and look at people who were already famous before writing a book. With a few exceptions, books by celebrity-authors are pretty horrible. So, why do they do it? Because it works. It’s the exact same problem. If there’s an audience, there’s a market, and anybody with an audience can sell anything.

Will this ever change? Maybe. If, or maybe when, someone creates an A.I. capable of discerning between a good story and a bad one, then we will live in a reader’s

paradise where our “to-read” pile has no stinkers, and each one is our new favorite. Equally as important, unknown authors with amazing stories find an audience.


Star Trek and smoking while praying?

Many years ago, a friend told me the ‘Can I smoke while I pray?’ story. For those unfamiliar, it’s a lesson in how to ask a question. There are many variations: A man asks two priests the same question rephrased, a man asks the same priest the rephrased questions, and so on.

Man: Father, can I smoke while I pray?

Priest: Of course not! It would be an affront to God!

Man: Okay, then. I’m going out for a smoke. (turns around at the door Columbo-style) Oh, father?

Priest: Yes my son?

Man: If I get the urge while I’m smoking, can I pray?

Priest: Of course my son. God is always listening.

So, what does this have to do with Star Trek? Seth MacFarlane

I was upset when Star Trek The Next Generation(STTNG) was canceled, and apparently, so was Seth. The story goes, that he pitched a very similar straight-up space adventure show to FOX but was rejected because - well, he’s the comedy guy right? So, Seth made a spoof of Star Trek, got it past the narrow-minded decision makers that, at least in my mind, dominate every network, and bided his time.

I watched as each episode of The Orville added more serious SciFi elements, less slapstick, and fewer cheap jokes. Seth was getting to smoke while he prayed.

Let’s not forget that STTNG tried to be funny occasionally too. It usually fell flat, and like the occasional soap opera episode we all had to endure, they were worth it because we eventually got space battles with The Borg. So, for all of you who think SciFi shouldn’t be funny(looking at you Steve Gibson) and turned up your noses at The Orville, I say, watch Season 2 Episodes 8 & 9 “Identity” and “Identity part II” This two-parter is straight up space warfare against an enemy that seems invincible.


The Meaning of Life

Sinclair AX80

When I got my very first computer in 1981, a Sinclair ZX80, I had no programming experience at all. I powered it up for the first time and waited for the BASIC prompt. But, then I was stuck of course. I had no idea what to type in so I thought I’d have some fun, and typed “what is the meaning of life?”

SYNTAX ERROR

So I tried “Why was the universe created?”

SYNTAX ERROR

then I thought “hey, that kind of makes sense. The universe must have been a mistake.

I hope no one fixes it.


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