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Will androids dream of data sheep


Richard Adams @dickyadams

I have added the text of the talk in note form on blank slides in-between the picture slides so this can be read.

Science fiction is perhaps the most maligned of literary genres. At various times it has been insulted, ignored, pilloried, renamed and even possibly stunned by phasers. You can see this easily where certain authors create what on every level is science fiction but they refuse to call it that. For example AudreyNiffenegger , who wrote The time Traveller's Wife is reluctant to label the novel as scifi, saying she "never thought of it as science fiction, even though it has a science-fiction premise. Similarly, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is often classed as speculative fiction rather than sci-fi, despite it being set in a world that Huxley might have created. She had the following to say. "I like to make a distinction between science fiction proper and speculative fiction. For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can't yet do, such as going through a wormhole in space to another universe; and speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand, such as DNA identification and credit cards, and that takes place on Planet Earth. But the terms are fluid." Personally I like Clarkesworlds definition better.

Sci-Fi has a history but its primarily a 19th and 20th Century form as we know it

Kaguya-hime returning to the Moon in The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

Bacon describes the discovery of a utopian society based on experimental science, including the development of "New Artificiall Metals," vivisection, genetic manipulation, telescopes, microscopes, telephones, factories, aerial flight, and submarines.

Another thing to understand with sci-fi apart from it not being totally infantile is that it very strongly has an interesting relationship with the time in which is written and there are clear trends. Science fiction is a modern era invention. There were proto science fiction books around and fantasy stories but sci-fi as we know it was a child of the technological era.

It's very interesting when you look at what futures are represented when.. I was digging around and found these diagrams that show what era various decades concentrate on.


One can't help but conclude that scifi does follow the concerns of the era in which it is written as do other art forms of course. Brave new World for example was written during an era where eugenics was being actively proposed as something that could be used. It's even set inLondon AD 2540 or 632 A.F. "After Ford mass production was the major invention of the age.

Brave New World

Obviously we are here today to talk about data in science fiction, there are rarely arguments about the way data is represented in sci-fi or whether its speculative or not.this is a mighty odd subject for a talk really but one I have been concerned with in my own limited way through my own work both day job and writing. I guess most people wouldnt want to read a sci fi story if you told them it was about data but some really popular stories were built on data at their hearts. Data is also a very dry subject - mention it and people run to the hills with nightmare pictures running through their heads of mutant Excel spreadsheets trying to tie them in knots for the rest of their lives.well, whether we fear it or love it, data is a fact of life for everyone in this room - for those digital experts here it's now almost impossible to call oneself that without being able to understand the impacts and scope of data in your workspace. But the thing is, if you think about it, data can tell a story in its own right.


For example the following picture is data interpreted as a person like thisor We all know that marketing people for instance invent characters from dataand with more data comes the chance to create much more complex characters. Writers use tools to create characters and stories based on data - we can see that with this with tools that some writers use such as this Rarely do we find characters created from data, but we do find data at the heart of numerous stories.

Or This

Today I'm going to look at just a few stories - including two by one author and a TV series The first story is Foundation by Isaac Asimov, a story and epic series that puts data at the heart of the narrative. The foundation Series is one of Asimov's best loved works


The premise of the series is that mathematicianHari Seldonspent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology (analogous to mathematical physics). Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy, which has a population of quadrillionsof humans, inhabiting millions of star

The premise of the series is that mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology (analogous to mathematical physics). Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy, which has a population of quadrillions of humans, inhabiting millions of star systems). The larger the number, the more predictable is the future.

Psychohistor y
Psychohistory dealt not with man, but with man-masses. It was the science of mobs; mobs in their billions. It could forecast reactions to stimuli with something of the accuracy that a lesser science could bring to the forecast of a rebound of a billiard ball. The reaction of one man could be forecast by no known mathematics; the reaction of a billion is something else again. Isaac Asimov,Foundation and Empire

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Using these techniques, Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting thirty thousand years before a second great empire arises. Seldon's psychohistory also foresees an alternative where the intermittent period will last only one thousand years. To ensure his vision of a second great Empire comes to fruition, Seldon creates two Foundationssmall, secluded havens of all human knowledgeat "opposite ends of the galaxy".

His World

Asimov was born sometime between October4, 1919 and January2, 1920[1]inPetrovichiin the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic(near the modern border withBelarus) to Anna Rachel (Berman) Asimov and Judah Asimov, a family ofJewishmillers. His family emigrated to the United States when he was three years old

Basically though the world he grew up in was one of great super powers and massive blocks - the rise of control economies and new science meant that new ideas abounded and Asimov reflected and distilled these. He also grew up in a time new theories of the mind and behaviour were exploding into consciousness, Freud, Jung etc. In a lot of ways Asimov's Psychohistory was a a clear mix of this new attitude to mind mixed with the new physics of the time but framed by geopolitics. So is it possible? Well lots of chat on Quora about this

Thing is that new maths such as Game Theory and so on seemed to render this as a fairy tale but just recently we have seen moves back to using larger and larger data sets to predict events for example this in Afghanistan where the insurgency was predicted there was even a talk given by a noted mathematician in London earlier this year where he discussed the fact that Asimov may have been right. In my day job I'm looking at health and predictive health through big data, so for me this is very real. After all, what is Psychohistory but big data?

Now of course that was years ago and things change Asimovs society has evolved into something else. We now live in an era of terror by unseen forces that aim to undermine our lives and souls. The old certainties have disappeared. Supra national blocks have and are dissolving. Old businesses are being disrupted and disintermediated; manufacturing is facing a threat from 3D printing. The end of mass production that backbone of the twentieth century economy is now starting to face a challenge. We also live in a era of surveillance from every time you logion to your email down to walking the streets under c0onstant camera surveillance and indeed cameras that can recognise and track you. Which brings me to Person of Interest

Person of Interest

Still paranoid after all these years.

POI has a very modern take on Data we all I think saw the Minority Report future but I think POI is a little more real and very very now. It concerns the invention of a computer than can predict crime.The series revolves around a formeragent recruited by a mysterious billionaire to prevent violent crimes in.The Machine is a mass surveillance computer system programmed to monitor and analyze data from surveillance cameras, electronic communications, and audio input throughout the world. From these data, the Machine accurately predicts violent acts. Under control of the U.S. Government, its stated purpose is to foresee terrorist attacks, allowing the government to forestall terrorist activity. However, the Machine detects future violent acts of all kinds, not just terrorism. During the development of the Machine, Finch created a routine that would pass on the "irrelevant" non-terrorism related data to him in the form of social security numbers, via coded messages over a public telephone. Unknown to Finch, his partner, Nathan Ingram, also created a routine, called "Contingency", on the eve of the government handover. It has not been revealed what this program does, or whether it is currently active. Over the course of each episode, the viewer periodically sees events as a Machine-generated on-screen t display of data about a character or characters: identification, activities, records, and more may be displayed. The viewer also sees a Machine-generated perspective as it monitors New York. Commercial flights are outlined by green triangles, red concentric circles indicate no-fly zones around tall buildings, and dashed boxes mark individual people The Machine classifies the people it watches by color-coding the boxes: white for no threat or an irrelevant threat, red or red-and-white for perceived threats, and yellow for people who know about the machine, including Finch, Reese, Ingram, Corwin and Root. The white-boxed "irrelevant threat" targets include the Persons of Interesthat Reese and Finch assist. There was a great episode, "Super", that gave us a flashback for the machine. The whole show was devoted to flashbacks about the machine and we saw how far the computer has progressed and where it will go next. The machine was much more basic in 2005 but through the episode we saw how it became smart. Now it's generating threedimensional wireframes of buildings and tracking people, even keeping tabs on its partners Reese and Finch. Before, it used voice recognition (and gait analysis!) to spit out information on people in DOS-style font. Now it's registering audio, tapping mobile phones (it even has the decency to block out the whole phone number), and updating threat analysis in real time. It's getting smarter every day and becoming more of an actual character with each episode. Of course in the UK we had this in Blakes 7 where Orac which was plugged into every computer network and had quite a personality But any show can make a super-smart computer program that can spy on the population and identify potential threats and victims. What Person of Interest does differently is show us how that kind of technology relates to the two characters who rely on it. It also shows how the information the machine processes and spits out is useless without the right people to process it. Of course there is also a potential wider government conspiracy surrounding this. The most intriguing question for me is whether or not the machine is sentient. Of course this is drawing on all the current angst about the Singularity and so on as well as tapping basic fears that the machines are taking over something that goes back to the saboteurs and beyond but feels new again with every technological refresh that society undergoes.


The writing Ive been doing is similarly in this space I won't pretend Im brilliant but Im rapidly improving the first fours shorts deal with the changes in society in the midterm that such pervasive computing have brought. Behind the scenes is a view of the very far future; of planetary networks evolving and beyond that to when intelligence is capable of reaching the stars through being data, not organic bodies. The next few stories bring the action closer to now and deal with things such as big data dating going wrong Dark stories tapping that slight paranoia. I also look at the idea that big data profiles might take on our illnesses, paranoias and other personality traits and reflect them back at us.

There are other terrific ideas around about the nature of information, for example this passage from Olaf Stapledon's 1930 "Last and First Men" (Chapter XV, Part 4) seems to suggest that thought has gravitational mass. Or something like that. "You may wonder how we have come to detect these remote lives and intelligences. I can say only that the occurrence of mentality produces certain minute astronomical effects, to which our instruments are sensitive even at great distances. These effects increase slightly with the mere mass of living matter on any astronomical body, but far more with its mental and spiritual development. Long ago it was the spiritual development of the world-community of the Fifth Men that dragged the moon from its orbit. And in our own case, so numerous is our society today, and so greatly developed in mental and spiritual activities, that only by continuous expense of physical energy can we preserve the solar system from confusion. Of course this notion of information and data as being "something real" is really interesting in some ways this is reflected in the Holographic Principle that posits that the entireuniversecan be seen as atwo-dimensionalinformation structure "painted" on thecosmological horizon - or even more as data sitting on the event horizon of a black hole.

Last and First Men

But although these more philosophical pieces exist, most sci-fi tends to reflect what is happening now but through a mirror of enlargement. For me good speculative fiction has the power to reflect to us what we are doing and to enable us to ingest and process ideas. It always surprises me that a marketing team can spend so much money on understanding customers and their stories that they dont go further and dont actually create fictions around their customers. Theres been a lot of talk over the last few years around stories and conversations and we are now entering an era where we can get these personalities accurately defined to the point of them becoming virtual characters with whom we can interact. Data is empowering this. It's not the new oil as some slick commentator once said, in some ways, data is the new molecular structure of experience and interaction. Of course someone had to go much bigger than this. To finish off I'd like to talk about one last short story written in the 50s at the dawn of computing.

The last Question

From Wikipedia: The Last Question: Isaac Asimov The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way... Opening line, The Last Question The story deals with the development of computers called Multivacs and their relationships with humanity through the courses of seven historic settings, beginning in 2061. In each of the first six scenes a different character presents the computer with the same question; namely, how the threat to human existence posed by the heat death of the universe can be averted. The question was: "How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?" This is equivalent to asking: "Can the workings of the second law of thermodynamics (used in the story as the increase of the entropy of the universe) be reversed?" Multivac's only response after much "thinking" is: "INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER. All of which reminds us of the Hitchhikers Guide and Deep Thought - which gives us a model for all of us working with big data you need to ask the right question!

Anyway. The story jumps forward in time into newer and newer eras of human and scientific development. In each of these eras someone decides to ask the ultimate "last question" regarding the reversal and decrease of entropy. Each time, in each new era, Multivac's descendant is asked this question, and finds itself unable to solve the problem. Each time all it can answer is an (increasingly sophisticated, linguistically): "THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER." In the last scene, the god-like descendant of humanity (the unified mental process of over a trillion, trillion, trillion humans that have spread throughout the universe) watches the stars flicker out, one by one, as the universe finally approaches the state of heat death. Humanity asks AC, Multivac's ultimate descendant, which exists in hyperspace beyond the bounds of gravity or time, the entropy question one last time, before humanity merges with AC and disappears. AC is still unable to answer, but continues to ponder the question even after space and time cease to exist. Eventually AC discovers the answer, but has nobody to report it to; the universe is already dead. It therefore decides to show the answer by demonstrating the reversal of entropy, creating the universe anew. The story ends with, well, lets listen Play video from 23.24 minutes

The last Question

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3 key questions for working with data

1. Am I asking the right thing 2. What are the real impacts of what I am doing? 3. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Good Governance)

Richard F Adams on Kindle @dickyadams