Human to Robot Symbiosis

Here's a bit of interesting news regarding a human-machine interface from MIT: Brain-controlled Robots.

A new system from MIT CSAIL uses EEG brain signals to detect if a person notices robots making a mistake.

A new system from MIT CSAIL uses EEG brain signals to detect if a person notices robots making a mistake.

They're a long way from a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines, but this is a good start down that path. This technology strikes me as a clever way to train your robot without the need to sort your dataset up front. The EEG methodology is crude and requires its own customization (a major impediment to general purpose application), but it's easy to imagine a future where we have implants that will give us better information about our thoughts.

Most adults will instinctively correct the behavior of babies and toddlers, and children have an equally native response that cues them to our sentiments. The type of technology that MIT is working on will let us do the same for our future not-so-human helpers. The next question in my mind: how do we make sure our robot toddler doesn't go through a "No!" phase?

 

It's A Trap!

A number of historians and political analysts have come forward to point out that the USA is falling into an old political trap: divide and conquer. We are an increasingly polarized nation, treating each other as if we're fans of opposing sports teams rather than a whole society looking to its best interests. As the left and right move apart, they leave a gap in which a demagogue fits perfectly.

Human nature lends itself to tribalism, but a nation needs to see itself as a tribe or it will fall apart. I recently saw a comment to this essay that asked, "So what can we do?" In this case, the "we" would be those on the left. I don't have the answer, but I suspect that a good first step would be to recognize the trap and avoid it. In our eagerness to protest - and why wouldn't we be? We're angry! - we fail to see how this plays into the executive branch's strategy of false dichotomy. We say, "No discrimination!" and the other side says, "The liberals care more about immigrant rights than citizens."

Of course, this isn't true. Liberals have a long history of caring for those who struggle to care for themselves. Conservatives (the fiscal kind) have a long history of supporting open borders. But we can't talk about middle ground when each side is busy fighting to score for their team. We've fallen into the trap. Who ultimately wins? The Trump administration, by consolidating their power.

I understand the anger. I'm an immigrant. My parents struggled with visas, finances, and the family we left behind. I'm a feminist and a support abortion right. My first instinct on hearing about the new Supreme Court nominee was to say, "Obstruct him! For the next four years! Let the right have a taste of their medicine." My reaction the new immigration order was that it's a BS political stunt that hurts innocents.

But all of that, once again, plays into the trap. Tit-for-tat is a losing strategy without cooperation. Who wins in the Prisoner's Dilemma? The jailer. Only if the two prisoners share information and agree to cooperate will they benefit. 

The Trump administration is playing this country - and our Congresspeople - like a zero-sum game. It isn't. We need our representatives in Congress to communicate and cooperate with each other - and this has to go both ways or it fails! We need to push less on emotional hot-buttons and more on the legislative gridlock that's tearing us apart. If we keep falling into a punishing tit-for-tat trap, we all lose. We lose economic prosperity, jobs, global power, and social progress. Meanwhile, the jailer wins.

The question left in my mind is: How do we get through to the other player when we've locked ourselves in separate rooms?

My Award Eligibility for 2016

It's that awkward time of year for published authors in genre fiction. The Nebula and Hugo Awards are open for nominations. After having a reader be incredibly generous enough to buy a WorldCon membership to nominate Binaries, I felt that I would be remiss not to make this post. 

All of my stories from 2016 are eligible for the Nebulas and the Hugos. I am no longer eligible for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Foremost for your consideration, in the Novella Category, my debut standalone book, Runtime, was released in May, 2016, from Tor.com Publishing. This is a near-future, adventure-cyberpunk story with layers of social commentary and set in Los Angeles and the High Sierras.

My other three publications last year fall into the Short Story Category.

The shortest, Binaries, appeared in Lightspeed Magazine's special issue, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction as well as on their website in June, 2016. This slice of science fiction won't take you long to read, but it may not leave you quickly.

The Boy Who Made Flowers is a fantasy/slipstream story published in Mothership Zeta, Issue 4, in July 2016. It also appeared on BoingBoing. 

Another flash piece, Gaps of Joy, and a Knot for Love, appeared in Podcastle in October, 2016. This is a magical realism story set in my family's home state of Tamil Nadu.

I consider the ability to nominate and vote for awards to be a privilege, and I'm grateful for the excellent stories that the Hugos and Nebulas bring to my attention. If you are reading for awards consideration, please accept my thanks for your time and effort.