The only people signing autographs here are authors. Armadillocon is a very literary science fiction convention for writers, editors, artists, publishers and fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and speculative fiction. The only people from Hollywood are writers (and, infrequently, agents). I attended as a "Regional Participant," presenting a lecture on “The Future of Money” on Friday night, and joining a panel discussion on “The Perfect Heist: Crime in the 23rdCentury" on Sunday afternoon.
After my talk on Friday night and the opening ceremonies, I went to “Lunar Fiction” which was okay and then “The Social Impact of New Technology” which was great. Dr. Robin R. Murphy (AI, robotics, and emergency response) moderated and was excellent. It was her first science fiction convention. Also on the panel were Dr. Anne V. Smith (computational biology), Paige E. Ewing (data analytics), and authors Lauren C. Teffeau and Becky Burkheart.
|The Social Impact of New Technology|
When not rapid firing her .45, Burkheart races horses over 50-mile and 100-mile open country courses. (She also delivered a talk earlier on “Writing Realistic Horsemanship.”) She said that until a few years ago, a cross country race was attended by a veterinarian with a stethoscope. Now, she wears a real time monitor for both herself and her horse. My other takeaway was that “science fiction does the emotional labor of technology.” Also, it is not so much that science predicts the future (though there is that), but Paige Ewing said that she sees scientists today who were inspired by the science fiction of their youth to actually create the speculative inventions such as robots. The panel also agreed that “AI without governance is immoral” and that we need more regulation. Ewing said, “everyone here agrees…” and I said that I did not and Prof. Murphy said that we would not discuss that now, which was fine with me.
|Urania Fung (blog) teaches |
at Tarrant County College
On Saturday, Laurel and I attended panels from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. The show continued but we could not. So, I had to forego “What Science has not been Used in Science Fiction?”
Mostly following different tracks, we both showed up for “Research for Authors” at noon. Usually, they do that by reading science or history and sometimes interviewing scientists. Stina Leicht took a “Black Taxi” tour of Belfast. Thinking that she had been protected in the company of two large men, she discovered that they were happy to be safe in the company of an American. The more typical danger for a writer is going down a rabbit hole of fascinating but irrelevant research that only prevents writing. Urania Fung said that she just [brackets] the unknown and keeps writing.
The Archive Theater delivered a presentation on sword fighting taken from a new translation of Cyrano de Bergerac running August 29-September 29.
|Stina Leicht blog|
The panel on “Law and Lawyers” was lively and informative. Moderator Christopher Brown is an attorney. Law pervades science fiction from the Three Laws of Robotics to the Prime Directive. She Hulk and Daredevil are lawyers. (Even Superman needs a lawyer. See Action Comics #581.) Writing as John Cambell (Naval Officer), John Hemry (LCDR USN Ret), has "JAGs in space" in his novels. Citizen of the Galaxy and Blue Mars were offered. Melinda Snodgrass (Circuit series and ST:NG "Measure of a Man") holds a law degree from the University of New Mexico. It was suggested that blockchain would allow “smart contracts” that change to meet new legal contexts.
“How to Get the Science Right” was mostly about how not to get the science wrong. The Scientist Guest of Honor, Dr. Moriba Jah, was more tolerant of weak science in storytelling as long as the deeper methods of science are not violated. “What are some fundamental principles that you can apply?” he asked. “Consistent character development is like consistent science development. Does this science make sense? Can you predict how it will work?” So, too, with character, is it important to be able to be able to predict how they will act. He said that a good story lets the reader remove ignorance. For those reasons, despite the many flaws in Gravity, he accepted the character. He also found value in the revelation from his own field of work that orbital space is crowded with potentially dangerous junk. As for research, he recommended that authors attend science conventions to meet scientists. Rice University librarian Alexis Glynn Latner suggested graduate school poster sessions. Dr. Robin Murphy’s rules for meeting scientists were: (1) suck up to them (2) ask direct questions and (3) say thank you with chocolates.
|Dr. Moriba Jah|
UT Austin here
I also attended Murphy’s presentation on “Disaster Robotics.” She displayed EMILY, a marine surface robot for rescue. Most of her presentation was about emergency response from FEMA’s point of view. (Maximizing the public good rather than reducing individual suffering.) Murphy ran videos of aerial drones inspecting bridges and said that no people were rescued from rooftops because of them. I was comfortable with all that from my own training. I think that the audience would have preferred more about AI and robotics, maybe be shown flowcharts and decision trees from a “Rescue Roomba” or something.
Dr. Robin Murphy interviewed Dr. Moriba Jah at 5:00 PM on Saturday. About 20-25 people attended, which was pretty good considering the many tracks that were running. Jah studies non-gravitational orbital dynamics in order to track the thousands of objects orbiting Earth. After a tour of duty in the USAF, he attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and completed his doctoral work at the University of Colorado Boulder. He now works for the University of Texas Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. He suggested that the first armed conflict in space may not be between the USA and China but between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.
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