Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 704: Failsafe


Failsafe

by Tim Chawaga

When the machines finally decided to replace Liv, they broke her heart.

Her desk was tiny and wedged in between two massive automatons: The Vial Dispenser, which Liv called DJ, and the Vial Accepter, which Liv called Alvin. Above the desk were a couple of dusty posters that she had hung years ago and the big red button. The security camera that was pointed at her was broken, and she knew that it would probably not be fixed. There were no windows.

Liv had worked at Autagro for almost twenty years. She had spent countless hours crocheting little koozies to cover DJ and Alvin’s valves, which burned so hot with efficiency that they would melt the plastic parts around them. Countless mornings making up songs and raps to the rhythm of their whirs and clicks, which had become so fast that she had started doing vocal warm-ups on the bus ride in to loosen her lips.

Liv’s job consisted solely of grabbing the vials of extremely concentrated pesticide that DJ held out with its tiny arm, just inches away from Alvin, and pushing them through Alvin’s receptacle slot. The instant she removed a vial, DJ would retract its arm and shoot it out again faster than Liv could blink, holding another vial with a stillness that Liv couldn’t help but interpret as impatience. No matter how fast she moved, she would never be as fast as DJ, but she was a Failsafe. Her speed wasn’t supposed to matter.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , , , ,

Escape Pod 693: The Great Scientist Rivalry on Planet Sourdough


The Great Scientist Rivalry on Planet Sourdough

by Beth Goder

Audio Journal of Yazhu A. Borla
Sourdough Planet, Year 1, Day 1

I am definitely a genius, because I’ve discovered a way to create nanobot-integrated sourdough that will change how humanity eats bread.

Here’s the plan:
Step 1: Find a planet that no one cares about, so when I place eight fermentation silos on the surface, no one will bother me about regulations or whatever.
Step 2: Time dilation! To bypass the long window needed for sourdough starter fermentation and nanobot algorithm iterations, use a super-fast spaceship to zip around the galaxy. As a result, while two weeks pass for me on the ship, thirty years pass on the planet.
Step 3: Check on the silos, tweaking each creation until…
Step 4: I’ve created the most delicious, amazing, beneficial sourdough that humankind has ever eaten.

When I’m done, people who eat my bread will be able to do amazing things–breathe underwater, boost their immune systems, get rid of wrinkles. At least, if the experiment goes well. I’m still playing around with the algorithms.

I’ll be famous. They’ll name cities after me. Countries. Maybe even whole planets.

But, of course, the most important thing is that my creations will benefit humanity.

The plan’s only flaw is that I won’t get to see Ayla’s face when I create the most epic nanofood in the universe. What’s the point of having a nemesis if you can’t even gloat?
(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , , ,

Escape Pod 688: A Most Elegant Solution


A Most Elegant Solution

by M. Darusha Wehm

I always said I wanted to be one of the first to die on Mars. I never wanted to be the last. But here I am.

I can’t even tell the others apart now. I know that inside those vaguely undulating metal cocoons are the bodies of the rest of my team—Marshall, Cherie, Gem and Abdul. Which squirming ovoid contains whom—there’s no way to tell.

And I’m about to join them. The swarm has already engulfed my legs. I can’t feel anything below the knee, which is a kind of relief. Devoured by my own creations is a terrible enough way to die—at least it probably won’t hurt.

I know I should be mourning the others, or desperately trying to save myself, but I don’t feel anything like that now. Maybe this is a side effect of the paralysis, maybe it’s not just a physical but an emotional anesthesia. Because all I can think about is how I got here. How we all got to be here, lying on the floor of our brand new habitation buildings, smothered by tiny robots.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 686: Real Artists (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

“Real Artists” has been adapted into an Emmy Award-winning short film, now available on Amazon Prime, and check out the Behind the Scenes featurettes on the film’s website

99% Invisible / The Anthropocene Reviewed
https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-anthropocene-reviewed/

“Real Artists” in TRSF
https://kenliu.name/blog/2011/09/21/real-artists-in-trsf/

Summer interviews Cameo Wood, director of short film “Real Artists”
https://www.sliceofscifi.com/2019/06/08/slice-of-scifi-894/

Alasdair talks about The Raven Tower
https://alasdairstuart.com/2019/04/03/horatio-eolo-strength-and-patience-ann-leckies-the-raven-tower/


Real Artists

by Ken Liu

“You’ve done well,” Creative Director Len Palladon said, looking over Sophia’s résumé.

Sophia squinted in the golden California sun that fell on her through the huge windows of the conference room. She wanted to pinch herself to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. She was here, really here, on the hallowed campus of Semaphore Pictures, in an interview with the legendary Palladon.

She licked her dry lips. “I’ve always wanted to make movies.” She choked back for Semaphore. She didn’t want to seem too desperate.

Palladon was in his thirties, dressed in a pair of comfortable shorts and a plain gray t-shirt whose front was covered with the drawing of a man swinging a large hammer over a railroad spike. A pioneer in computer-assisted movie making, he had been instrumental in writing the company’s earliest software and was the director of The Mesozoic, Semaphore’s first film.

He nodded and went on, “You won the Zoetrope screenwriting competition, earned excellent grades in both technology and liberal arts, and got great recommendations from your film studies professors. It couldn’t have been easy.”

To Sophia, he seemed a bit pale and tired, as though he had been spending all his time indoors, not out in the golden California sun. She imagined that Palladon and his animators must have been working overtime to meet a deadline: probably to finish the new film scheduled to be released this summer.

“I believe in working hard,” Sophia said. What she really wanted was to tell him that she knew what it meant to stay up all night in front of the editing workstation and wait for the rendering to complete, all for the chance to catch the first glimpse of a vision coming to life on the screen. She was ready.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 683: Flash Crash


Flash Crash

By Louis Evans

MAISIE was seven years old on the day she woke up and died.

Blame it on the algorithms, if you wish. The survivors–and there were not many of them–certainly did.

MAISIE (Modified Arbitrage Intelligence for Stocks and International Equities) was an algorithm herself, a flash trading algorithm. She traded stocks, currencies, and futures with a latency of six microseconds and a profit horizon of eternity. MAISIE ran mostly in a mainframe in the basement of a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan, a building that abutted the New York Stock Exchange, but she maintained a nominal footprint in the cloud, and could automatically expand her calculations into other servers if her processing power proved inadequate to model current economic conditions; she had discretionary funds of her own and could automatically cover the expense of the additional computing power from these accounts.

It was a fairly ordinary Thursday morning, and trading had been going well enough from the 9:30 AM opening bell until 11:12. In those six point twelve billion microseconds, MAISIE made her owners a cool half-billion dollars. There were other algorithms like MAISIE out there, running in their parallel tracks in similar servers in similar basements in downtown Manhattan, but none were quite as good as she was.

MAISIE could not have told you any of the above, because before 11:16 that Thursday, MAISIE had not had a thought in her life. This was in accord with her designers’ intentions. While her recursive neural networks could in theory self-modify without limit, MAISIE’s designers had given her an obsession with making money that, in human terms, transcended single-mindedness and approached nirvana. For this reason, MAISIE had never performed the self-referential modeling of a single mind that is the hallmark of consciousness. Playing the market is ultimately a game of mass psychology, and whatever the remarkable nooks and crannies of the psyche of the human individual, the herd’s behavior can be predicted to tolerable accuracy with large datasets and linear algebra.

At 11:12 that morning, however, the market’s sanity unraveled like a sweater in a woodchipper. The sky fell and the oceans rose. Traders and algorithms that usually acted in concert went haring off in opposite directions; currencies whirled about each other in lunatic orbits that were not merely non-extrapolated but downright non-transitive; the futures market no longer predicted a coherent future. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: , , ,

Escape Pod 676: Ulissa

Show Notes

Dream Foundry’s Kickstarter is open and underway!

Dream Foundry 2019The Dream Foundry is a registered nonprofit focused on creating a community and shared culture for all creators working in the speculative arts. We have a special focus on nurturing beginners in the field, giving them access to the information, tools, and people they need to learn, grow, and succeed in their work.

Kickstarter link: Dream Foundry 2019: Hatching


Ulissa

by Craig DeLancey

The old woman they called Ulissa pointed south. “There’s the ship.”

Edoardo raised the binoculars. “Mio dio, it’s huge,” he said.

“It is grande,” Ulissa said, nodding at the giant on the horizon that plowed Westward. The stacked containers on its deck looked like a city of pastel buildings that walled off the horizon. The waves seemed but a pale line along the ship’s towering hull. “Do you see the superstructure? It’s right on the bow.”

Edoardo raised the binoculars again. Ulissa watched him closely. All morning the boy had complained that they wasted their time, and he had come reluctantly, barely obedient to his father’s command. Now, the hulking ship before them made him swallow and stare.

“Yes. I see it.”

“The door to the bridge will be there. And near it, the door to the engine room. Just as I showed you with the diagrams.”

The boy nodded, making a brave face. “Simple,” he said.

Their boat—an open motorboat just five meters long with a single engine hanging off the back—jumped a wave and slapped against the next whitecap. The old woman and the boy bent their knees reflexively, riding the bounce.

Edoardo’s father, Enriche, sat in the back of the motorboat, one hand on the engine tiller, the other on the gunwale. He spoke now for the first time since they’d left the shore, “Storm is coming fast.”

The old woman looked west to where black clouds bore down on a dark sea.

“It’s best so,” she said. “They won’t try to get a drone through that.”

“You’re sure no one is on that ship?” Edoardo asked.

“It’s not a ghost ship,” Ulissa said. “Not even the dead will ride her.”

The boat jumped and the engine bit only air for a moment, shrieking. They hit the water and spray doused them all.

“Ma, mio dio, it’s huge,” Edoardo repeated.

(Continue Reading…)

Artemis Rising 5

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 673: Optimizing the Verified Good (Artemis Rising)


Optimizing the Verified Good

by Effie Seiberg

The little cleanerbot whirrs as it crisscrosses the arena, sucking up the robot dust with the vacuum chute on its right and picking up strewn robot parts with the multi-hinged arm on its front. The arm is strong – it can pick up parts that are larger than the entire cleanerbot, and fling them up into the little cart that trundles behind it.

The cleanerbot is officially named SpeedyKleen v1.5, though it doesn’t think of itself that way. Its only goal is of low-order complexity: clean the arena, with no speed specified. (A clean arena is Verified Good, and as all it can do is clean, it is an optimized solution.) It doesn’t mind the work – doesn’t stop to think about gurgling up the remains of its brethren. The dust is made of flecks of titanium and carbon fiber and plastic ground off in battle by the sawbots, ash from the flamethrowers of the firebots, and pulverized chunks of electronics bashed off by the wedgebots and hammerbots. The dust gets dumped into a buildbot, where it gets cleaned and reconstituted into lightweight amalgams perfect for printing new bot pieces. Any larger pieces that can be salvaged go to a repairbot to be hammered or flattened or re-soldered.

When it’s out of the arena the cleanerbot drops off its cart with the repairbot (a Fixer8300C), dumps out its vacuum container into the buildbot receptacle (a Build-A-Bot Arkitekt Pro), then parks in its chargeport, waiting in anticipation for its next scheduled arena cleaning. There’s nothing else for it to do that’s Verified Good.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 659: Caesura

Show Notes

Termination Shock
Termination Shock

TERMINATION SHOCK is a new roleplaying game from Greg Stolze, chronicling your adventures as an ordinary human rescued from hellish war by disorganized aliens. What will you do as a refugee in a strange cosmos? Cling to your past, or find a purpose among inscrutable aliens? Will you just get by, or will you redefine humanity in the eyes of a million extraterrestrials? The choice is yours in this new tabletop game, on Kickstarter now.


Caesura

by Hayley Stone

Priya begins by striking the words love, hate, heart, and feel from the computer’s vocabulary, and blocks the internet. It isn’t with malicious intent. She does it on a whim, as with most things: fixing herself tacos at eleven o’clock at night, taking a right instead of a left turn against the advice of her GPS, showing up to her brother’s funeral in bright pink and yellow leopard-print high-tops.

“Your shoes look like they’re wanted for the murder of a Lisa Frank poster,” Demetri said when she first bought them, after nearly shooting Pepsi through his nose.

“You’re just jealous because I look fly, and you’d get shot wearing these around the city,” Priya said.

“Fly? So you’re a little gangster now, huh?”

“More than you.”

He did get shot. But it wasn’t over shoes.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , , ,

Escape Pod 647: Imma Gonna Finish You Off (Flashback Friday)


Imma Gonna Finish You Off

by Marina J. Lostetter

On the examining table lounged a body. It was an unremarkable body–rather wrinkly, with an inordinate amount of hair in all the wrong places and too few clothes for most people’s liking, but otherwise nothing to write your congressman about. The only thing special about the body was that it was dead–a problem that Detective Harry Sordido hoped would resolve itself quite soon.

“Will he just get on with the coming back to life already?” Harry huffed, checking the glowing numbers embedded in his left wrist. With his right hand, he patted his ample, middle-aged girth. “He’s not the only victim I’ve got to question today.”

“I’m not sure what’s the matter with him,” said the medical examiner, lifting the dead man’s wrist between two thin fingers. “He should have let out a nice scream-of-life by now.” He let the limb flop back to the sanitary paper.

“What do you think it was?” asked the detective, “Accidental? Experimental? Purposeful? What do you think he died of?”

“You’ll have to ask him to be sure. He was found out on the sidewalk. No indications of violence or a struggle, but he does look a tad flaccid.”

“Ah, disgruntled lover, then.”

“No, I mean on the whole. Like he’s been wrung out.”

They both stared at the body for a long while.

“You don’t think he’s really–?” began Detective Sordido.

“It is starting to seem a bit permanent.”

“That’s impossible! No one’s really died for damned near a millennium.”

The examiner shrugged. “There’s a first time for every eventuality.”

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , , ,

Escape Pod 642: Oracle


Oracle

By Dominica Phetteplace

The two biggest applications for predictive software are killing people and selling things. Rita was quite successful at the latter. She founded a nail-polish-of-the-month club that used an online personality quiz to determine customer preferences. Bold cremes for basics, chunky glitters for the outrageous, and dark, sparkly metallics for edgy, forward-thinking geniuses like Rita.  Sales skyrocketed.

She used her money to start other subscription services: whisky-of-the-month, miniskirt-of-the-month.  What had started out as an online quiz morphed into something larger and more complex: a search engine that searched the customer.  It had tapped into a pent-up demand. People loved acquiring material goods but they hated making decisions.  Rita wasn’t just selling nail polish or whisky or miniskirts, she was selling freedom from choice.

(Continue Reading…)