“This world must differ from the given in at least one way, and this one way must be sufficient to give rise to events that could not occur in our society — or in any known society present or past. There must be a coherent idea involved in this dislocation; that is, the dislocation must be a conceptual one, not merely a trivial or a bizarre one — this is the essence of science fiction, the conceptual dislocation within the society so that as a result a new society is generated in the author’s mind, transferred to paper, and from paper it occurs as a convulsive shock in the reader’s mind, the shock of dysrecognition. He knows that it is not his actual world that he is reading about.”
Philip K. Dick on worldbuilding a science fiction story
DALL-E is the new artificial intelligence project from OpenAI that is sweeping the internet. It is an AI that can instantly produce a unique image based simply on a text description. There seem to be few limits, as the AI can create multiple high-quality images of just about anything you can think of. This has many people fearing that DALL-E will spell the end of human artists. But are the images DALL-E produces even art? Can AI ever create art?
This is the bible of Austrian economics by the grandfather of Austrian economics, Ludwig von Mises. Human Action is Mises’ magnum opus on economics, philosophy, and history—or more precisely, it’s about what Mises terms “praxeology”: the study of human action, which all economic activity boils down to. This is a long book (it took me half the year to get through, which is why there are fewer honorable mentions this year) but it was worth it. You will better understand the world today by reading this 82-year-old tome than by reading today’s newspapers.
Why do people freak out when they meet celebrities? I used to think it was ridiculous how fans go wild and lose their minds when they see their favorite singer/actor/athlete in person. But I have to admit, when I see a famous person in public, I feel an emotional reaction as well. Albeit not to the same extent. I don’t act crazy or run up for selfies and autographs, but I do have a surreal feeling of awe, like, wow, its really them. I used to think those who had extreme emotional reactions toward celebrities were immature or obsessed with fame—and maybe some are—but I don’t consider myself either, yet I still experience that surreal feeling.
I am a recovering Twitter junkie. I used to be addicted to the social media network—that is addicted to reading others’ tweets as opposed to tweeting myself. When I first joined Twitter in 2009 I would only read my timeline. I didn’t tweet anything myself until much later. At first I only followed a couple dozen people, but over time the number of people I followed grew and grew. I don’t know if it was some kind of obsessive compulsive trait of mine, but I felt a need to read every tweet in my timeline. When I woke up in the morning I’d scroll back through all the tweets I missed the previous night. Such a practice was manageable then because I wasn’t following too many people (in the dozens), and those I followed didn’t tweet too often.
The best form of advertising is word of mouth, and the new word of mouth is social media. The aim of social media companies is to make their users spend more time on their platforms in order to generate more ad revenue. The more time people spend online, the less time they spend with other people in person, which means less time for physical “word of mouth” interactions. Today, people have more interactions with other people on the internet than in real life, making social media the new “word of mouth”. (This was true before the Covid-19 pandemic which only compounded this effect further.)
Most of my toughest problems writing fiction come from hitting a wall midway through the first draft when I realize I must alter the narrative in some dramatic way, requiring massive rewrites of what I’d written so far. This doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it is demoralizing—especially for longer projects like novels. I dread going back to do that rewriting work because it is difficult, tedious, and time-consuming. Fixing what I wrote before often takes longer than it took to write in the first place.
According to my Goodreads stats (which I use to track every book I read), I read 95 books in 2020, which is down slightly from last year (114). Though that includes comic books, which are shorter and quicker to read, plus audiobooks, and I read less comics, so more full-books in all. My increased reading was not due to being stuck at home during quarantine as that didn’t affect my lifestyle much—it’s primarily because I severely cut down on reading Twitter and other online news. I previously wrote about the futility of following the daily news closely, but I still clung to Twitter—a little too much—sometimes a lot too much. I will expand upon how I broke my Twitter addiction in a future post, but suffice it to say, these days I check Twitter just once a day (at night after getting my work done) for only a couple minutes—if at all. This immediately reduced my stress levels and gave me much more time to read more valuable things that will stand the test of time, such as the following books.
Self-driving cars are inevitable. Tesla, Ford, BMW, Nissan, GM, Google, Baidu, Apple, Amazon, Uber, Lyft, and many more companies are all working on developing autonomous driving systems for their vehicles. It is not a matter of if, but when. Self-driving automobiles will be ubiquitous in the future. There is one core conundrum with self-driving cars, however. Self-driving cars will only work if there are only self-driving cars.
Death by Self-Driving Car is a collection of three short stories about the near-future prospects of autonomous automobiles and their potential impact on society.
“The Autonomous Trolley Problem” is a new spin on the classic philosophical thought experiment. What was originally proposed as an insoluble ethical dilemma may soon need to be solved when programming self-driving algorithms in the real world.
“Redundant Truckers” is about the mass unemployment former truck drivers could face in the wake of self-driving semi-trucks such as those being developed by Uber’s “Otto,” as well as the possibility of Universal Basic Income (UBI) to address that issue.
Finally, the titular story, “Death by Self-Driving Car,” is a Sherlock Holmes-style detective mystery about an insurance investigator hired to look into a rare self-driving car accident that resulted in the death of a human passenger.
Death by Self-Driving Car is now available as an ebook on Amazon, free to read for Kindle Unlimited members. You can also buy the ebook from me directly via PayPal, Cash App, Bitcoin, or other cryptocurrencies at any price of your choosing (including free if money is a problem for you). Just email me with your preferred file format (PDF, EPUB, MOBI) and payment method.