[tsat home] [#36] [editorials]
Living in a Science Fiction World
by Quentin 'Cubist' Long
©2004 Quentin Long -- all rights reserved
Lyrics from The Boy in the Bubble © Paul Simon

Have you heard the one about the glow-in-the-dark bunny rabbit? It seems that this crazy artist got together with some geneticists, and the result of their collaboration was an albino rabbit with a jellyfish gene -- GFP, short for "green fluorescent protein" -- in its DNA. Perfectly normal critter... except that the damn thing really and truly does glow under UV light.

Here's the punchline: This isn't a joke. The artist is Eduardo Kac, and the rabbit's name is Alba.

Transgenic life as an art form: What a concept...

It's a turn-around jump shot
It's everybody jump start
It's every generation
     throws a hero up the pop charts
Medicine is magical and magical is art
The Boy in the Bubble
And the baby with the baboon heart

The Turing Test (named after its inventor, computing pioneer Alan Turing): Hook up a computer to a chat room. If the human on the other end of the line can tell he's conversing with a machine, the computer has failed the Test. When do you think a computer will be able to pass the Turing Test? 2010? 2050? Never?

Guess what? It's already happened. Back in the 1960s, when a program called ELIZA managed to convince quite a few of its users that somebody was talking to them from within its code. In reality, ELIZA is nothing but a series of rules which detect specific character strings and generate replies by simple-minded character-shuffling -- for example, one of these rules might look for the string "I hate [whatever]" and transform it to the response "Tell me why you think you hate [whatever]" -- so all ELIZA really did was demonstrate that the Turing Test isn't a good way to figure out if a computer really is sentient.

Again, ELIZA was written forty years ago. And now? There's "artificial life". Expert systems. The Lord of the Rings movie made use of wholly computer-generated crowds with realistic-seeming behavior. The CYC project, whose ultimate goal is to build a machine with common sense. Genetic algorithms, which exploit Darwinian evolutionary principles to find better solutions to problems than any living human ever could.

These are the days of lasers in the jungle
Lasers in the jungle somewhere
Staccato signals of constant information
A loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires...

We're inching our way towards nanotechnology -- the ability to manipulate matter on the scale of individual atoms and molecules, with all the rights and privileges thereof. As I write these words, Burt Rutan's team is halfway to winning the Ansari X Prize, ten megabucks US to the first privately-owned vehicle that reaches an altitude of 100 kilometers twice within 14 days (holy 'private space program', Batman!). We've built functional replacements for hearts, eyes, kidneys, ears, lungs, and many other parts of the body. We can kindle a (rather small) star within a magnetic bottle, albeit we haven't yet managed to get more energy out of one than was needed to spark it up in the first place.

All of this is real. Cold, hard fact. We live in interesting times, and they're only going to get more so.

With all the amazing things Reality has to offer, who needs Fantasy? You can keep your arcane, eldritch mystical energies; I'll take science any day of the week, thanks.

These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That's dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don't cry baby, don't cry
Don't cry

[tsat home] [#36] [editorials]