Exploring the Future...until we get there

Author: G2 (Page 1 of 10)

Short and Sweet

Hope everyone is doing well this lazy Sunday afternoon. Here in the NW FL Panhandle, we are getting a good soaking from Tropical Storm Cristobal, but not too alarmed about her doing much harm, at least not in our neck of the woods.

I have been continuing to write a great deal as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve been among those fortunate enough to continue working from home and I’m so thankful for that. A major benefit of the down time has been the opportunity to get several of my short stories posted to my online account with Amazon’s KDP.

As a side benefit of the extra time at home, I’ve been reading back through some of my older stories (say from a decade ago, or even two in some cases) and evaluating their content from my current writing perspective.

Some of the takeaways from the time spent are described below. With effort, some of our most stubborn bad habits can be improved over time.

  1. Short words are usually better than longer ones. I know I know, it’s kind of fun to try out that word we just learned because we just love the way it rolls off the pen. By all means. But we always need to be aware of our reader and perhaps dip into the deep well of loquaciousness only once in a great while.
  2. Short sentences are usually better than longer ones. Some of mine droned on much too long. In my last post Icebergs (link below), I outlined how whittling down your writing to the bare minimum is a practice in brevity we can all stand to impose on ourselves. Whether as a writing exercise, or just as a way of keeping our content crisp, deleting or crossing through can be cathartic and energizing. It’s amazing how many words we discover are just not necessary when we are forced to prune our word garden down to the barest essentials (that whole last sentence could be stricken).
  3. Short paragraphs are usually better than long ones. It’s easy to get carried away in the moment, when the ideas are sprouting forth like new buds on the creeping vine. On and on we go. Before we know it, we have thirteen sentences all sitting snugly together in an unbroken block of intimidating text. Readers’ eyes are looking for visual breathing room moment by moment. Short paragraphs of perhaps 3-7 sentences can lend the needed space. Easier on the eye than great swaths of continuous text (“much like you see here,” he said, sarcastically).
  4. If you truly are a writer, parting ways with beauty should not scare you. What does that mean? Simply that, no matter how lovely your last sentence, your last paragraph, or even your last chapter may be, you should be unafraid to delete it decisively, knowing with conviction that it’s not the last beautiful thing you will ever write. Not by a long shot. Edit with impunity.
  5. How much time you invest in your writing may have little to do with how good your story is. If you are not investing time, effort, and possibly money in your pursuit of improving your writing, you may ultimately become frustrated by the fact that you keep hitting the same brick wall. If such is the case, ask yourself why, then chase down the remedy with conviction.

Hope that helps. Probably none of it is anything you haven’t heard a dozen times before. But seeing such pointers yet again may help them stick even better in your writing head. Don’t fall so deeply in love with words on the page if they lend little to the purpose of your story. How essential are they? What do they contribute to the setting, the theme, the plot, the forward movement? If the answer is “Nothing, but they’re so pretty,” chase them away with the backspace key. Your reader will thank you.

Writing Exercise: Open up one of your previous stories in your favorite writing software. Beginning with some logical starting point, scroll down and highlight approximately 1000 words. Copy and paste this section somewhere else where you can work on it. Challenge yourself to whittle it down to 750 words. Is it better? Is the essential meaning still there? Do you like the result? Now cut down what’s left to just 500 words. Is it still good? If so, you have just learned a valuable lesson about your own writing. Tighten it up!


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In the past two weeks, a couple of writing situations presented themselves to me that wound up being quite challenging to fix. And they were mirror opposites of one another. I had two stories, both good candidates for Amazon KDP, and both with length issues. The first one was too long, and the second too short. I wanted both of them to land around the 7500 mark for word count (my restrictions, of course, not Amazon’s).

In my ongoing efforts to improve my approach to writing in general, I have recently stayed focused on the principles of “Show, Don’t Tell” and the “Theory of Omission.” The two are quite related, and both came into play as part of my efforts to fix my conundrum. If you are unfamiliar with these guidelines, Wikipedia has useful topics on each, and I would encourage you to read up as a great way for improving your own writing (Iceberg Theory is Hemingway’s and the reason for this post’s title).

It didn’t take much time for me to realize that the easier of the two tasks would be adding content to the one, rather than stripping away sentences from the other. Why? Probably because it takes more effort to decide what has to be yanked out than it does to just plunk in more good stuff. So, we’re only going to talk about the pain, and not the pleasure.

An analogy might be having a garden that needs to be weeded. In some cases, it might be hard to figure out where the plants that you want to keep end, and where the weeds start. If you can picture in your mind a garden that has gotten more than a little out of hand, the idea of having to go in there and find the invaders so you can dig them out feels visually daunting.

Imagine pushing the good stuff carefully out of the way to get to those pesky weeds. Down in the dirt, sweaty, grimy, irritated, thinking about visiting the produce section more often instead of deluding yourself that organic produce grown with your own sweat and tears (maybe blood?) is the better way to go.

Okay, I’m overblowing this on purpose. The point being, if you don’t get to the weeds, you’re going to lose the garden, including the stuff you want to eat. Might as well get started.

I stared at my story, realizing that about 2000 words had to go. I vowed I would never put myself in this same situation again.

With that in mind, here are some guidelines for you to ponder, so that you can better avoid getting into this same predicament. These are offered in the form of questions that you will want to ask yourself:

  1. Have you made an outline of your story, so that you have a good idea of its beginning, its end, and most of the stuff that happens in the middle?
  2. How long do you want your story to be? Is it a short short story, short story, novelette, novella, or novel? (There are other word-count breakdowns, but those are the main ones you will likely run into.)

Those two questions are pivotal as you approach your goal of working within a semi-established story length that will (hopefully) accommodate everything you want to communicate as vital parts of your storytelling.

Going back to the garden analogy, wouldn’t it always make for a better experience if you took the time to lay your garden out? If you decided what plants would go where? If you were careful the whole time to ensure that you took everything slow, worked steadily, made sure the weeds stayed under control in the first place?

Yes, of course. But you didn’t listen to sage advice and now your vegetables are growing up and over your back fence, while also threatening to join you in the kitchen as a vine without end.

Okay, that’s it for the garden! Here’s what you do with your troublesome story, again offered in the form of questions that you will want to ask yourself:

  1. Does your story start at the right place in the overall progression of events? If it starts out too far away from the end, and this is part of your word-count problem, nudge the beginning and the ending closer together.
  2. Are you over-explaining things (telling, not showing)? If so, take the time to figure out the details that are nice, but not critical to include. Get out your paring knife and start whittling things down (that may be where the blood comes in).
  3. Is there too much dialog? Why is everyone talking so much? Is the conversation moving the story along in efficient manner? If not, tell some of your characters to shut the bleep up!
  4. How much of your iceberg is showing? (This is related to number 2 above). Don’t underestimate your reader. Hone your craft so that you give them just enough to cause an anxious turn of the page, not so much that they feel weighted down by too much description. Icebergs that are top heavy will flip unexpectedly.
  5. Even if you did have an outline of your story, it’s possible that you still went substantially over your word count. Why? Two reasons that are most likely: either there’s more to your story than you thought, and the additional words are actually vital; you’ve done too much meandering off the main path. If that’s the case, go through all the elements of the story and ask:
  • Are all my characters necessary?
  • Are all my scenes necessary?
  • Are all the places in my scenes necessary?
  • Are all my sentences as tight and succinct as they can be?
  • What have I missed? Where can I improve? Have I really dug deep? Have I really let go of all the fluff? Am I holding on to aspects of the story because of my emotional connection to them, or because they are actually crucial to the structure of my story?

Well, good news, I was able to trim the fat from my bloated short story by about 1500 words or so, and now I think it makes for better reading. I also hope not to repeat that torturous task too many times in the future. It was not fun.

Have fun in your gardens and on your keyboards and here’s to summertime writing!


Links to my short stories are here:

Mariazell & the Workshops of WeeBitten

Book cover
Mariazell & the Workshops of WeeBitten

Just posted the above short story up to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) yesterday. It came together really well and really fast. The only part I’m probably not thrilled about is the cover. I have not yet invested the time in acquiring that skill set to any great degree, but I’d like to think one day I might. In the meantime, KDP offers a quite rudimentary version of cover design software as part of its overall offerings, so I thought I’d go that quick and dirty route, even as I acknowledge the visual could be much stronger.

While I don’t want to give too much of the story away, I think I’m revealing little when I say that the element of snow globes plays a part in the plot. Of course, I did a small bit of research on that commodity and found that it all started with a man named Erwin Perzy, a maker of surgical instruments, who was looking for a better way to focus light in surgical lamps. Without going into the details (you can click on the link below for the Wikipedia article) his quest accidentally led him to the start of his snow globe business. Never know where your path is going to lead you.

The basilica in Mariazell was Perzy’s inspiration at the time for the model he used in his first snow globe. The more the name Mariazell stuck in my mind, the more I decided it should serve as the name for my short story’s main character (she started as Helene–not nearly as alluring).

There’s quite a bit more I could share with you about how the story began, but I don’t want to be presumptuous. I will say, however, that it falls into my personal categorization system as a Toggle Switch. If you want to understand more about that process (which I use pretty often, and it’s a little weird, and that’s why I love it), you can click the second link below to go directly to that post.

Anyway, I hope you are inspired to give my short little story, which you can get to directly by clicking the third link below.

Happy writing!


For the Wikipedia story about snow globes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_globe

For the entry on this blog describing my Toggle Switches:


To get directly to my book on Amazon:

Kindle Create

As a follow-up to my last post about Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), here is what I’ve experienced so far using the free software download, Kindle Create. This is KDP’s app to assist self-publishers in getting their manuscripts uploaded quickly.

As mentioned, Kindle Create is free, and is compatible with both Windows and Apple operating systems. I won’t go into the details for downloading the application, since it’s pretty straightforward, with everything you need to do so offered right there on the KDP website. Once you are there, the marketing is pretty alluring, and is certainly what caused my own buy-in. Because I’m not very proficient in HTML as a skill set, I was happy to have this option.

Once you have the app on your desktop, you just open it up and start the process by creating a new project. This action essentially kicks off the entire process that will be necessary to complete to satisfy KDP’s requirements for a formatted manuscript. This is what is later accessed by Kindle users (or anyone with a tablet or smartphone) to purchase and read your eBook.

Overall, Kindle Create is pretty basic. There are only three themes to choose from. The HTML tools are also quite rudimentary. It was for this reason that I found some of my formatting that came with my MSWord document somewhat skewed in translation. And I wasn’t able to fix it, so I had to opt for a different, less desirable look on some pages than what I had hoped for.

One thing to keep very much in mind is the fact that text that looks correct on one platform may not look good on another. For this reason, Kindle Create allowed me to preview what each page of my eBook will look like on a phone, a tablet, and a Kindle Reader.

One nice feature I noticed in the app was its ability to provide pretty good guidance in the way of the expected front matter (table of contents, epigraph, prologue, preface, foreword, etc.), and the same, as well, on the back matter. This made it easier to figure out what to include and in what order it would most likely be organized.

All in all, the interface is similar to what I encounter on this blog using WordPress, which can be described as providing what the writer needs to communicate with the reader, if only minimally so. If that writer needs more bells and whistles, they will need to look elsewhere using some other more robust tool.

Once all text formatting and content is satisfactory, the last step is to click the Publish button. This puts everything in a proprietary format that is then uploaded to the KDP website for selection by the subscriber.

To sum up, I would say that for those who are not HTML-savvy (that’s my camp), Kindle Create provides an easy, straightforward, basic tool for getting this rather tedious and not-so-fun component of the overall e-publishing process done.

Happy writing!


Kinda Defeats the Purpose? No, certainly not. This is Kindle Direct Publishing. I’m going to share with you what’s involved in pursuing this option of self-publishing.

I don’t remember how I learned about KDP, but probably in the same way you might have…you just did. Now that I have discovered it, and have made the decision to get on with it, the choice has really lit a fire underneath my writing desk (without actually burning it down…yet).

I have finalized my manuscript for my first installment in a sci-fi trilogy, starting with the title The Falling of Metal. That, of course, prompted me to make my first attempt at the upload. It’s more involved than I had hoped, but then I should have known better. The devil is always in the details.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m only going to be covering what has already been detailed by many others, no doubt, as they also attempted to self-publish on KDP, either blissfully happy in their success at having accomplished the feat, or still reeling from the agony of something less.

I must also admit that, were it not for the love I have in my heart for the craft of writing, I might also give up. This aint easy so far by any stretch. Hence, this effort to show you the pitfalls I have already suffered so that you won’t go a-steppin’ in ’em yourselves.

My next post will be about the Kindle Create application (free download) that facilitates the whole process of getting your manuscript into the Amazon space. In my humble opinion, a bit clunky, but overall still a pretty good way to approach it.

Stay tuned.

Redefining Blog – Again

Hello, Happy Fellow Reader / Writer. We are once again redefining what this blog is going to be moving forward. We started out with a blog that was going to be a fun place to read about all things relating to water. Then Climate Change got in the way. Then we made the shift from that horribly depressing topic to one that more fully embraced writing, with a heavy emphasis on how AI, Robotics, and advances in technology generally speaking, could give us lots of ideas for stories (sci-fi, fantasy, etc).

Now that I am in the thick of my attempt to self-publish on Amazon KDP, I find it most satisfying to share with you the trials and tribulations involved in that heady endeavor.

So…moving forward, as we always must, please look forward to enjoying future reads about my struggles, my strife, my small steps up to the top of the self-publishing mountain as we slog through the process that precedes standing on the summit of success.

Whisper in the CRISPR

It has only been a few short years since the advent of CRISPR, and one instance of ethical impropriety (the one that we know of, and-Wow!-what a doozie) in the usage of this strangely simplified process for carrying out gene editing has already occurred. There will be more. Perhaps many more.

Such overstepping is the whisper that comes along with the usage of this technology. It’s too tempting for some. Some of us cannot resist the temptation to trespass where we dare not tread. But with a new technology that is cheap to manufacture, small enough to ship without much fuss, and apparently easy enough to learn, how do we legislate our way out of the desires, the yearnings to explore, the inevitability to answer questions we never should have asked? We won’t.

This particular researcher only revealed his actions after the deed was already done, and apparently only because it was leaked before he could mount his justifications for changing the human germline in a way that simply goes beyond logical explanation. Well intentioned or not, you can’t undo that. What’s done is done. Those children are altered irrevocably. Some experts have stated that they will possibly suffer in unexpected ways as a result of this one individual’s tinkering. I would have to agree.

We, as a species, will go about addressing the possibility of other such scary prospects in the manner we always do, with big organizations full of big brains documenting all kinds of rules and regulations designed to prevent labs around the world from engaging in risky business such as this researcher undertook, doing his work in plain sight at the university that employed him.

It should work…mostly. Most people don’t want to break rules on purpose and will go out of their way to stay within the bounds of the law. But then there are those scientists, those laboratories in countries around the world, who will skim up close to the edge, feeling the excitement of daring to do something taboo. Will somebody step over the line in a big time way within the next 3-5 years? I’d put money on it.

I equate such daredevilish behavior to the driving habits of those among us on any given highway on any given day, essentially flaunting, not only the law, but good judgment, as well. All the laws on the books don’t stop them from driving like idiots, as though they were the only one on the road who counted, and everyone else being placed in danger as a result is not their problem.

So we’ll listen to that whisper in the CRISPR, so full of promise, so bursting with risk. How will the future play out? We won’t know until we get there, and we can only hope Pandora hasn’t peeked inside her box.

Original Recipe or Extra CRISPR

The idea—the dream and the nightmare—of designer babies has been with us for longer than most of us probably suspect. But the ability to act on the impulse has never been easier, thanks to a new technology known, rather comically, as CRISPR. If you haven’t encountered a news story or two regarding this cutting edge tech, I’d be quite surprised (unless you’re someone who closely follows the Kardashians, in which case you are excused…no seriously, please go…no wait, maybe the Kardashians will use CRISPR to further enhance, so…at least stay tuned).

CRISPR, in a nutshell, offers a revolutionary new tool in the world of gene modification by introducing much more precision in the manner by which a particular strand of DNA is sliced, as well as the manner in which it may be spliced, or altered with new bits of inserted DNA.

Let’s not go into the technicalities of the process, fascinating though they may be (genuinely). Let’s instead state that, aside from the obvious benefits to be realized by such a powerful addition to our arsenal of disease fighting tools, the allure of using it for more commercialized (profitable) purposes is just as obvious. Enter stage right…the designer baby.

Imaginings of designer babies (some would say the products of eugenics by a more subtle, less onerous name) have been around for at least as long as they’ve been making Ken and Barbie, and possibly as far back as say, Mengele, or the ancient Greeks. Wherever the actual truth may lie in there (I’m gonna go with the Greeks, although I’m quite sure ancient Chinese culture probably beat them to the punch somehow), human imaginings of changing each new generation in ways that evolution is simply not capable of have been hanging around since time immemorial.

Of course, as would be expected, the main focus for CRISPR is to introduce new protocols that address existing human-related diseases, such as Sickle Cell Anemia, or Huntington’s, or HIV. No doubt, this is noble and worthy work that should unquestionably be pursued.

But what about the day that surely must come, and probably sooner rather than later, when the conversations you have with your primary care physician, your gynecologist, your obstetrician take on a different character? What happens when somebody throws out the idea that there are now technologies that can greatly increase (perhaps even guarantee?) the chances that your child will be that little girl you always wanted, and that her eyes will be blue, her blonde hair slightly wavy, her height exemplary, and her IQ well above the average? And the price for such desirable traits? Not nearly as expensive as you might have thought and you can pay it off like you do your car.

So you find yourself, referral in hand, walking through the pretty stainless steel glass doorway, surrounded on all sides by beautiful people of all shapes and sizes soaring heights and lighter skin tones? They sure look pretty/handsome (godlike in proportion and structure), their complexions flawless, their crystalline eyes staring down on you, their full lips all but accusing you of taking too long to get to this point, their posted IQs all but insinuating that the decision is a no brainer. My Gawd, you utter. What’s there to think about? You can hardly believe you’ve been granted this choice…of turning yourself around and high-tailing it back through those doors before it’s too late. Original recipe is just fine by you.

Slippery slopes don’t always appear as such until a deluge has covered over the skies and the dry cracked earth turns to slick, broken bone treachery. Such is the case with technologies that blow onto the scene so quickly, with so much promise, so much potential, so much profit to be had.

Such abruptness (I think this is what they call “disruptive technologies” nowadays) prompts some concerned groups to demand that we all collectively stomp on the brakes until we can have a better look at the future. Others will tamp down any such admonishments, much preferring something that tends not to be stopped easily once set in motion, like a jet, or maybe even a rocket.

Whatever may come, it’s coming soon, and the definition of the privileged versus the deprived will take on a whole different meaning. One that accounts for, not only what you have, but also what you have become.

Robots Robots Everywhere (and not a one can Think)

I was just watching a news story about a humanoid robot named FEDOR the Russians included as part of the payload on their recent mission to the International Space Station. FEDOR was launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket bound for ISS on Aug 22 of this year.

The six foot tall FEDOR can be remotely-controlled, while also capable of some autonomous movement. FEDOR was originally designed for rescue missions, but now apparently has a role to play in space when the mission includes aspects that might be too dangerous for humans to perform. FEDOR came back to Earth earlier today (September 7). I doubt his initial trek up to space was his last.

Of course, more and more robots looking increasingly similar to you and me are populating mostly specialized spaces for now. But that’s changing, and it’s only a matter of time before I encounter one. Possibly on the back of a garbage truck, or maybe on the docks of a warehouse unloading trucks. I’m quite interested to know when a humanoid robot and I will cross paths directly, and what my reactions will be.

I’m not talking about the run-of-the-mill robot encounter, like the one I experienced in Walmart several months ago. The clunky contraption was supposedly scanning the shelves for inventory purposes, but was then later observed by me wandering about aimlessly, getting in the way of shoppers.

The architecture was neither humanoid nor pet-like in its anatomy. Trundling slowly along in the performance of its duties, it seemed uninspired…and uninspiring. Most onlookers gave a quick glance, then immediately returned to their business at hand. It wasn’t their idea of a proper robot, anymore. They wanted to be dazzled, and if they couldn’t have that, then they surely wanted less.

I could perceive that many of them just wanted the piece of hulking plastic to get out of their way. Instead, it seemed to be causing stress in the employee who was handling it. In answer to my query, she said the investment was more trouble than it was worth.

The thing that is most appealing to the human eye is in finding the robotic something mimicking us humans in both appearance and motion. Whether we asked for it or not, the world of humanoid robots is here. So, if that’s the case, these inventions will have to deliver in order to gain our tolerance and acceptance, if not our respect.

How will I feel when I first encounter the package deal, something close to me in size, with eyes that seem to carry life, and movement that I could casually walk down the street next to and not feel slightly embarrassed? I sense that, before I ever witness this moment for myself, it will have already happened to many others around me, and likely involving my own friends and family. Why do I say this? Because, whereas I have not accepted the speaker assistant into my home, nor sport wearable tech on my wrist, nor push wireless headphones into my ears all day, an increasing number of those around me have.

So, it is likely that someone in my circle of friends will relay to me, after the uncomfortable transition period has passed, what it is like to have a personal robot assistant serving the family in their home. I’m certain that the news headlines will become increasingly interesting.

All this tech sits uncomfortably with me. Always has. It is for this reason that I explore it. Moving too fast into the future goes against my grain, my intuition. Have I ever once said that electronic switchboards have served me well, and are way more efficient than a human on the other end of the line? Never. Same answer would apply to a dozen other areas of everyday life I can think of.

So, the idea of robots invading my life by an increasing number of degrees, potentially smarter and stronger, and probably more intrusive and more manipulative than any human I can think of, that’s disturbing.

But here we are, already snuggled up close with Artificial Narrow Intelligence, the kind that’s all over our smartphones, and soon (possibly) to be flirting with Artificial General Intelligence, the variety that will be on equal footing with humans, but surpassing us with breath-taking speed in intelligence. God knows what it will be contemplating at that point. Some big brains on the planet (the human ones) warn that we should definitely be concerned. I know I am.

In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for that first encounter. Maybe he’ll be my pizza delivery guy. As I think about the poor bastard whose job he took, I’ll contemplate the decision of whether or not to tip him. He won’t care either way, briskly walking back in his corporate-branded skin to the self-driving car that will propel him to his next deluded customer. I’m pretty sure the pizza won’t taste as good, either.

Humble Uncertainty or Unchecked Competence?

In a post a few days ago (Spot the Tenacious Dog) I didn’t realize at the time that what I was describing, and what I was asking that you go see for yourself, might well be the very component of AI that is the most troubling to many of us-its competence.

Many years ago, for reasons I can’t possibly imagine now, I engaged in a most thrilling activity for one day by donning a canine bite suit. This suit would later be used by a trained police dog who, after running me down and tackling me, then holding me continuously to the ground with very sharp teeth, would shake me viciously using that suit (as opposed to my arm or leg) as the source for gripping me relentlessly until his handler gave the order to release me. Thank goodness for the extra protection or I never would have volunteered.

Quite the adrenaline rush to be hit hard from behind by an animal that could easily have inflicted terrible bodily harm, perhaps even killed me, were that his unchecked intention. Fortunately, this dog training took place in a highly-controlled environment. Happy to report that I walked away without a scratch that day (well, almost…I had been forewarned that the dog, when muzzled with a heavy gauge metal contraption, had the habit of walking around and muzzle-butting participants in the groin. Not so happy to report that I was one of the dog’s victims and…ouch!)

So, for purposes of this illustration, let us say that this dog was quite competent in his goal of apprehending me, the suspect, and then relentlessly restricting my movement until the order to let me go had been issued. The police department would consider this dog a good investment.

Now, let’s move the same situation to a real-world scenario where the suspect is unprotected by a bite suit, the dog has been given the order to attack, and, at the last minute, it turns out that the police have identified the wrong guy. The supposed suspect is actually an innocent bystander now running for his life while the real bad guy gets away. It’s still soon enough to call off the attack, but the dog is running on sheer adrenaline in a highly charged situation. Wanting terribly to please his handler, he doesn’t hear the counter command clearly, has a hard-time stopping himself, and, in his confusion, is unable to do so. The wrong suspect gets bit, and hard.

In the end, an innocent person was still attacked, blood was shed, and much physical harm was done to a human before the handler could intervene and get the dog off who we can now unquestionably consider a victim of circumstances. (This may not be an accurate depiction of how things would most likely have panned out, and is only one possible example, entirely dependent on the quality of dog, the confidence of the handler, the level of training that had come before, and the quickness and accuracy of decisions made under enormously stressful conditions. Let’s say this scenario is not entirely out of the realm of possibilities; the likelihood of its actual occurrence is not the point of the example).

Now let’s pivot once more and talk about the robot dog in the video who is intent on getting through that door, despite the heckler’s (undoubtedly pre-scripted) attempts to prevent it from doing so. What many of the viewers see in this footage is what we are being told we should potentially fear most about Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)-competency. This is not the same as malevalency, or evil, or bad intent, or anything similar. It’s about the machine, the robot, achieving the goals that it has been programmed to achieve. Let’s face it, people don’t build things just to build them, at least not when there are investors involved. There are functions, missions, objectives, goals to be met-always. Building AI is no exception.

If a product is supposed to successfully self-drive itself down the road and get its passenger safely to a pre-appointed destination, but instead accidentally runs itself off a cliff, then its competency in fulfilling its mission has failed and the project’s funding plug is pulled.

Perhaps we can achieve a better kind of AI, one that, first and foremost, considers human-centric goals as the most important part of its competency.

What the experts in AI are suggesting is that there should be some uncertainty built into an intelligent machine’s competency. Let’s say the dog we see in the video, (SpotMini is actually Boston Dynamics’ assigned name for this particular make and model) gets the message late in the game that going through the door is perhaps not what it’s supposed to do, afterall. Does the dog ignore the unexpected alerts coming in and charge forward at all costs, or does it go into some sort of uncertainty mode where it questions its original goals and waits for further instructions, or clarifications, or confirmation?

Hard call to make even when it’s strictly humans involved in the decision-making. Perhaps even much harder when programming a robot with a mission to complete, but with the caveat that the mission might change at any point, based on changes occurring in the situation.

Who’s giving the mixed signals? Why? Maybe they are geared toward a better outcome because new information has been introduced (there’s a fire on the other side of the door and SpotMini will surely be destroyed if it makes it through). Or, perhaps the mixed signals are coming in via a hacked system because real malevalency has injected itself (a bad actor knows there are innocent people on the other side of that door waiting to be rescued by the robot dog, but the bad guy actually wants those people, his enemy, to perish).

What does the robot do, and how is that determination made? This, then, may be the hardest part of the human brain’s amazing capabilities to replicate in a learning machine that doesn’t yet possess the equivalent of what we call consciousness.

The burning question for the world of AI, before we get much further down the road, before our dream of giving birth to a super-intelligent mind is actually achieved, is simply this…how competent do we really want our AGI to be?

In the meantime, the pursuit of achieving AGI charges on, unabated, with not even the debate as to whether or not it’s possible yet settled. When and if we find out that it is, let’s hope we are fully prepared to deal with the power that we have unleashed into the wild. Let’s hope we’ve already donned a bite suit.


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Spot the Tenacious Robot Dog

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