Thursday, September 30, 2010

Creative Commons

I have uploaded new versions of the existing files, labeled e1.1 for reference, which contain the Creative Commons license, so you can distribute these per the terms. The only one not done yet is the .epub version, because I'm finding Sigil such a pain to use. It's probably because I'm just a noob-nous at it, and I will persist until everything is in that format too. Note that if you want to convert to some other eformat to distribute for iPhone or something, that's great.

A decent draft of the next installment is done. I run hot and cold on the thing, and I need to let it marinate in its own juices for a day or two before I try for a final edit. It's about half the size of the first two installments, and it's not from Calli's POV. So it's like an intermission. Part Three per se is under development with plot outlines and an introduction done.

I just noticed that blogger has a "subscribe by email" link at the bottom. Maybe that can serve as the notification service that was suggested?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

License Change for Life Artificial

Gaz wrote in a recent comment:
[...] I hope you license this under some permissive license (ie CC:SA/NC/ND like Stross' Accelerando) so it can be distributed to iOS and Android devices via Alkido book reader and others.
This is a great idea, and I'm grateful for the suggestion. The work is henceforth available under the Creative Commons cc by-nc-nd license. I have a little work to do in posting this in the documents themselves, and I hope to get that done this weekend. Note that the "no-derivative works" part of the agreement does not prohibit transforming the text into new electronic formats. That is, you are explicitly allowed to take the .pdf version and convert it to a format for some new e-reader you just bought, and then send a copy to a friend (the attribution has to be there, and you can't charge for it--that's the other two parts). If you send me a copy, I'll put it on the site.

This does present a bit of a problem I'd like advice on, if anyone's game. To wit: once I modify the documents to include the new copyright statements, I can't easily make edits anymore. So if there's some godawful error in Part III that someone catches after I post it, I don't have any way to fix the copies hypothetically winging their way around the internet tubes on bit torrent or whatever. I hate to stoop so low as putting version numbers on the text, but maybe an edit date stamp isn't too much. Once the whole first novel is complete I'll post it in one piece with a complete full edit. Maybe that's enough?

Gaz also suggested an email list for notification when the new bits arrive. I'm happy to do that, and thought I'd just create a little CGI form for that purpose when I get a moment. In the meantime, my crude solution is this: just send me a note by email to if you'd like notification as installments come out, and I'll make a mailing list. I'll make sure the RSS feed is working on the blog too.

Thanks for all the support and interest!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Am I Me?

In Part I there's a reference to Am I Me? (AIM) tests that a PDA can buy as a service. It's supposed to give the user a before-and-after assessment of how different they are. The usefulness of these tests is in question, primarily because Rice's Theorem severely limits any general approach to describing behavior of a complex deterministic system (assuming Church-Turing, I guess). Nevertheless, the question is an interesting one that I came across in my research. I posted an article on my professional blog about it: "Surviving Entropy", along with a cute and surprising pair of inequalities that come out of it.  There's an associated questions "Are You Me?" that will eventually make an appearance in the novel.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Short Fiction

I've written a couple of stories in the past unrelated to Life Artificial, but having to do with machine intelligence. Here they are:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Update on Nova's Story

Okay, obviously my estimate for the next installment was way off. I thought it would go faster because it was already written. But re-writing is turning into a bigger project. This piece is smaller than parts one and two, and is a POV account told through the eyes of "Ingrid," as Jumbo calls her. Here's a bit of it.

by Calli0xE

Your identity comes from the shared Good. Alone you are nothing but system noise. Reflect on this: it took three billion years for individual cells to learn how to work together to produce complex life. This is the essence of Good: striving together, tested by the crucible of fate. Duty to this larger struggle runs deep in our genes, deeper than reproduction, deeper even than self-survival. This is the sweet burden, the light load, the joyful climb--attributed to The Preacher


It takes almost a full day for someone to make the connection between the Quasi-human who plunged out of a window in the DiaHai building and this other woman who lives in the old Polk building.  It is Cyclops who makes the call to Dingo. Cyclops lost an eye in a knife fight years ago.  Now he stays away from sharp points and makes a living by knowing things: a human database of rumor, gossip, and speculation.

Dingo always takes calls from Cyclops probably because the mutilated man never wastes his time. Keeping control over a hundred city blocks in the Outs is like living with a wild animal. Good information fast is a necessity to survival.

He sits in a hugely expensive leather chair harvested from a deserted lawyers’ s suite and ponders this turn of events. His perception is nearly overwhelmed by the volume of data--photos, text, maps, and analysis--covering his whole visual field as he tries to make sense of it. The public channels from the walled city to the north fairly writhe with activity concerning the Quasi human and her intentional dive to the street. This woman, this Shanghai, never once let her mask transmit an ID in the Outs. It’s not unusual for the lawless and desperate people who live here to remain anonymous, but to be so assiduous as to not leave a single trace is unusual. Tracking her to the Polk building is therefore a nice piece of work, and Dingo must appreciate that Cyclops did this homework before making the call.

It must also occur to him that Cyclops can make even more money by passing on the information to others. The city’s law and order, their ironically-named MOM, for example. Cyclops would be foolish not to cash in this juicy bit of information with them.

Dingo immediately sends a five man team on their way to the Polk building to watch it. According to Cyclops, another woman lives in the building who keeps to herself. Another oddity in a city of the banished, where that distinction is hard to earn. Maybe the two are a pair.  But rumors and street talk never tell the whole picture. Just enough to get you killed sometimes.

Ten minutes later Dingo gets a call from MOM, from a high ranking PDA named Ahab. Indeed, who else would they call in this part of the city? But the near certainty that Cyclops is sharing promiscuously must be unsettling. Dingo messages down to have a cold fizz drink sent up: a remedy for stomach acid climbing his esophogas.

Dingo sets his VOX for uninflected speech, which will produce a crude robotic rendering of his throat mike input. It’s usually used to avoid emotional signals.

“Lastfour,” Abab’s command voice rakes across his audio field, “I represent city MOM leadership. Heard of us?”

“One prince to another,” Dingo says.

“Well, then prince, you have something we want.” Ahab layers on enough emotags to make up for Dingo’s flatness.

It wouldn’t do to pretend ignorance, since that’s the same as weakness.

“The Quasi’s living quarters, I’m sure. I assume you wish to negotiate?” Dingo chooses his words carefully. Without inflection, it’s very easy to be misunderstood. This goes double when talking to an electronic talk-box so-called artificial intelligence.

“Reciprocity, Lastfour. I assume you know your game theory? Machiavelli could have written the book on it if he’d had the technical language.”

“Reciprocity I can understand. What do you have in mind?”

“I’m glad we are of the same mind, Lastfour. I can see how you have managed to survive your circumstances.” Ahab’s continued use of the honorific contrasts with the Dingo’s intentional lack of social nicities. Machine prejudice, perhaps.

“Why don’t we get to the point, Ahab?”

“Of course. You deliver anything you can find in the Quasi’s living space. You search, capture, and deliver alive the woman identified in the attached documents. In return, MOM will recompense you according to the value of the deliverables.”

The attachment gives only vague details about a suspected accomplice, with some public video of an unidentified lastlegs.

“In hell.” Dingo is probably angry. The volume of goods that passes through “his” roads to get to the South gate every day is significant to the city’s well being. Not to mention the garbage that comes back out.

“I take your response as reticence. Let me assure you, Lastfour, that the good will of MOM is hard to earn. It may not seem like much now, between Waves as we are. But what do you do when the next microbe hack comes along? Remember BLASTER? What would a refuge be worth then, Lastfour? A pass through the city gates when the infected are going the other direction? When every lastlegs in the city is driven into your arms, coughing blood.”

“That’s a start. I want a guarantee of safe passage. What else do you have?”
Ahab pauses for a moment.

“Have you ever considered how your mask filters work, Lastfour?”

“You can’t scare me with stories for the weak-minded.”

“Suppose BLASTER2 comes along. It’s a modification that slips through the immune system even if you survived infection the first time. The last line of defense is your mask. Yours is an old model, but still servicable, a Minuteman, yes?”

“Go on.”

“Without an accurate software update, it isn’t smart enough to recognize the new signature either. It’s the game genehackers play. Who can slip through on a zero-day exploit? It’s an exciting game to be involved in, I understand. Did you know that there are a few high-end DNA printers in the Outs? A new variant from Asia could be in your building within a few minutes of some hacker downloading it. Of course, I’m not human. I don’t think about these things as personally as you. But I imagine I’d want to be the first to get the new patch to the mask filters.”

“I already get the updates.” He holds back a curse. They sound stupid coming through the VOX with this setting.

“Where do you get your updates from, Lastfour?”

“From--” Dingo stops in mid-sentence.

“From your bioware vendor, yes. But the signatures physically route through the city network. It would be tragic if a few packets got mangled in route, would it not? If the new signature didn’t make it intact to your mask. I assure you that if we are looking out for you, such an unfortunate event is impossible.”
The carrot and the stick are in plain view. Dingo doesn’t think about it long. Perhaps it has occurred to him that by acting quickly, he can control what MOM knows anyway. He has nothing to lose by agreeing.

“It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Ahab. I’ll let you know if I find anything you might be interested in.”

“I shall take that as an affirmation of our cooperation. Stay in touch.” The command is not subtle.

“Lastfour?” Vocal, in the room.

Dingo snaps back to real-real, banishing the volumes of heads-up data in his mask view.  There’s a man groveling in his office: Guano, a smuggler.  Not a very good smuggler because his walk-ins both got caught at the South gate and their payloads taken by city security. Some of the drugs confiscated were paid for by Dingo.

Hunch and Gladboy stand behind Guano. It was Hunch, the more senior of the two, who  spoke. He now raises his eyebrows and gives a significant glance at the ceiling.  

Dingo thinks before answering. Cruelty is a tool, like a pry bar or hammer. In the hands of an amateur it can be used passably well as a simple instrument. But Dingo plays cruelty like a pipe organ.

“How much is he worth?” he asks. This is a reference to Guano’s blood type.  The harvestable organs of rare blood types are worth more.

Hunch shakes his head.

“Sleeper,” he says.

Dingo’s curse shows surprise.  Guano is sniffing his own product? Not that such things are unknown. He addresses Guano directly.

“Is it true, Lasty? Have you taken to the pillow?”

A string of curses pass out of Guano, rising in pitch, denying ever more emphatically. Then he turns to swearing on gods and mothers and all that is sacred that this charge is false.

Dingo’s software rates Guano low on truth-telling due to several factors. Among them is blink rate, use of hands, and particularly the swearing on maternal parent bit.

“Tell me Guano, have you seen the videos of the Quasi diving from the tower?”

Guano shakes his head slowly left and right. His mask hangs by a strap. His eyes are squeezed shut and leaking wet hope.

“No? I bet you have. Do you know anything about her? Ever seen her in the zone?”

There’s a hopeful flash, a widening of the eyes, as Guano sees a sliver of light.

“She plays the numbers,” he says, coughing to get it out.

“Really? What building does she live in?”

Guano freezes, trapped. His mouth trembles.

“Head first,” Dingo says.

Guano collapses prone on the floor, limbs spread out like a starfish and begins to wail.  He is dragged away clawing at the rug, grabbing at furniture, eyes seeking Dingo’s, pleading. But there’s only the mask between them, and its judgment is fixed. Dingo can hear him bumping up the stairs, to the thirteenth floor, curses floating down as a vulgar fugue.  In a moment or two, Guano will plummet past his window into the pavement below.  The concrete there is already spider-webbed with cracks from the skulls that had hit there before and stained them dark with living dye.

Dingo opens his window—one of the few in the building with glass still in it.  He tunes in the video from the launch floor. Guano continues to scream as his arms are tapped at the wrist, and and L-shaped hook slid between. The whole wall has been knocked out to give an unobstructed panorama north where the ‘scrapers still shine: monuments to the Age of Large Things.

“I have names!” Guano is howling. “Names! I have names!”

This is Dingo’s Game, and everyone on the street knows the rules. If you can convince the man that there’s someone else more deserving of a trip on the express elevator down to the concrete, then sometimes--if Dingo can be convinced--you might win a reprieve. At that point, the Game depends on how long it takes to catch the substitute. Of course, Dingo is choosy about making enemies, and prefers only to eliminate the ones that already exist and who are vulnerable. So this exercise is a crude way to gather intelligence.

Guano makes the mistake of kicking Hunch in the knee and gets a solid blow to the gut in return, which knocks the wind out of him. Mute, he is shoved out on the rolling carriage hanging from a beam that projects five feet beyond the edge of the building. There he dangles over the hundred foot drop, feet cycling.

“I have a name for you,” Hunch hollers at him. “Defenestration. Know what that means, Bat-shit? It means being chucked out the window.” He laughs.

Hunch puts his hands on the lever that will release the L-hook and let gravity do the rest of the work.

“What was that, boss? Didn’t make it out?” 

Guano’s shirt has fallen down over his head. Urine runs up his belly and drips, falling lightly to the pavement as profane rain. 

“Pull him up. Cage him. Then get down to the Polk Building.” Dingo commands.  It is perhaps a test of Hunch’s loyalty. The lieutenant is as cruel as his boss, but not nearly as clever by all accounts. But if it is a test, the men pass it, hauling Guano back in, and releasing the catch to let him fall in a shivering huddle.

“Good,” Dingo says.  Guano might be an asset in some way not clear at the moment. And gravity is patient; it grinds down bones and mountains and smothers stars in their own waste. It always wins in the end.