Is You Is, or Is You Ain’t My Baby?

We're back with Joe Dillon, the social psychologist, who is introducing you to one of his graduate students. The young woman - who doesn't, in fact, look much younger than her academic supervisor - is called Leah Hart, and the fall of her neat black hair frames a round, earnest face located at a level with Dillon's bicep.

"Leah is working on the cues by which people identify Gubots and distinguish them from Gupes," says Dillon. "She reckons people are developing greater ability and better strategies to do so as the pseudo-AI gets more sophisticated."

"That's right," says Hart. "I've compiled evidence from a number of sources - real-time brain tracking, experiments I've done, surveys - and I believe I can show that human discernment of non-human, but humanlike, actors is increasing in power."

"That sounds like a thesis title," you say.

She smiles shyly, dipping her head. "Almost. Of course, it's a kind of arms race, because when researchers in my field find ways in which people distinguish between fellow humans and Gubots, the Gubot researchers try to find ways to overcome that, to make the illusion more convincing. Eventually they'll win."

"You see it as a struggle?"

"For some people it's a struggle. They want to be able to choose their responses differently based on whether they're interacting with a real human or an imitation one. Some people don't care. Some people pretend they don't care, but when you observe them they actually do behave differently when they believe they're interacting with a Gubot. And some people think they can't tell, but again, when you observe them, they have a subtly different response - and they're right more often than they're wrong, in many cases."

"Can you give me an example of the differences?"

"Well, most of them are matters of degree rather than kind, but if someone thinks they're talking to a Gubot, their syntax tends to simplify. They don't make as much eye contact, and sometimes they'll catch themselves making eye contact and then pull away. They instruct more and collaborate less."

"How can you tell that apart from arrogant people with poor social skills?"

Hart laughs. "Sometimes, we can't. We've developed some informal categories, actually, for different kinds of interactors. There are the 'uncaring interactors', who fall into two categories: those who treat anything they interact with as if it was a human being with feelings, and those who treat nothing that way. They don't distinguish, in other words. Then there are the 'subtle discriminators', who will act one way when they believe they have a Gubot and another way when they believe they have a human, but the difference isn't highly marked, you need to be observing closely to see it. Perhaps the largest group, though, is the 'differentiators', who behave distinctly differently if they think they're talking to a human. If a differentiator was talking to you and thought you were a bot, you'd probably get quite offended with them."

"And how quickly do people make up their minds?"

"That also varies. Some people make up their minds very quickly and ignore any cues that they're wrong, which they quite often are. Others go back and forth for an entire conversation. But usually what happens is that people will begin by observing until they spot something which they consider a 'tell', a unique marker of language or behavior that tells them, 'Houston, we have a Gubot.'" She blushes and laughs nervously at her own joke. "Then their behavior changes. Or, of course, if they spot a 'tell' that they're confident marks a human."

"Can we see any examples?"

"Sure, here's a nice straightforward one."

A young man, his features digitally anonymized, is talking to - something made out of Gu and shaped like a young woman, which may or may not be controlled by one. We enter partway through the conversation. He is speaking.

"So, what did you think of Bowline's speech last night? Did you catch that?" He looks at her intently for her reaction.

"Yes, I did. I don't usually follow politics but something that important... I thought he had some good points, actually."

"Like what?"

"Well, people are getting complacent. I know my parents... they used to be activists, but they've become comfortable, you know? It's all too easy. I hope I never get that way."

The man's body language changes. He leans forward, touches her lightly on the arm and makes eye contact. "Yeah, I know. Mine too. That's... so what are you doing? About Bowman's thing?"

"Well, that's what I don't know. Is there, like, a group we can join on campus or anything? To like raise awareness?"

"Well, let's check the campus groups directory." He pulls up a projection and moves round so he's sitting next to her and they can both see it.

"Oh yeah, duh, I should have thought of that." She laughs.

"Takes some getting used to," he says, and smiles at her, making eye contact. "Now, what have we got...?"

"Now that," says Hart, "is a beautiful example of the moment when someone decides to believe that he's talking to a human."

"And is he?"

"Funnily enough, he is, despite the fact that the conversation itself could quite easily have been AI fabricated. What's a lot harder to fabricate is the body language, and hers is perfect, it completely matches the tone and content of the conversation and responds to his very precisely. What he hasn't picked up, and never does, is that the person on the other end is in fact male, and that's the other dimension to this kind of interaction - people who are representing themselves truthfully as human, but untruthfully when it comes to other matters."

"And are there any people who pretend to be Gubots?"

"There are, and it's almost a performance art. I have a competition going: if you can fool me for 20 minutes that you're a Gubot when you're not, I buy you a beer. If your Gubot can fool me for 5 minutes that it's human - I buy you a keg. It's a lot easier one way than the other."

"And have you had to buy much beer?"

"Not for a long time. I can spot the difference very reliably these days."

"Can we try something? I'd like to see if I can spot the difference. Let's have two figures, one controlled by you and one by a Gubot, and see if I can tell which is which."

"All right, a classic Turing test. You're on."

"And if I get it wrong, I'll buy the beer."

"In that case you're definitely on."

Cut to the test. Two Brandy figures are sitting in chairs facing you, identical except that they have large red numbers on their fronts designating them as "1" and "2".

"All right, first question," you say. "Number 1. Is a skylark green?"

Number 1 blinks as if startled. "Um - I don't know."

"Number 2 then. How often each day do you clean your teeth?"

"Twice," says 2. "Morning and night."

"Not at lunchtime? Why not?"

"I don't carry a toothbrush with me."

"Number 1, if someone asked you if you had the time, what would you say to them?"

"12:37." The answer comes without hesitation, but it's accompanied by a glance up and left. Number 2 uncrosses and recrosses her legs.

"OK. Number 2, which is heavier, a kilo of lead or a kilo of feathers, and why?"

"A kilo of anything is always the same weight."

"And number 1, which is more important, freedom or security?"

"I'd have to go with freedom."


"Security will never be perfect. Also, if you sacrifice freedom for security you don't deserve either."

"Who said that?"

"Uh, Benjamin Franklin, I think."

"And Benjamin Franklin invented what?"

"I don't know. I know he was an inventor but I can't remember what he invented."

"Do you know, 2?"

"Bifocal spectacles. And a kind of stove."

"Did you know that or did you look it up?"

"I knew it."

"Do you remember where you learned it?"

"I think I must have learned it in grade school."

"And where did you go to school?"

"Portland, Oregon."

"The name of your first teacher?"

A pause. "Mrs... Cunningham."

"OK, 1, how many roads must a man walk down? To the nearest approximation."

"That's a rhetorical question - there isn't a numerical answer to that."

"Can you give me an example of a similar question?"

"Umm... How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"

"2, if you came into a room and saw your boyfriend kissing another girl, how would you feel?"

"I'd be very surprised."

"Why is that?"

"Because I don't have a boyfriend."

"What about you, 1?"

"I'd feel angry and betrayed."

"Do you have a boyfriend?"

"No, but if I did, that's how I'd feel."

"OK, one last question, and either of you can answer. What's wrong with this sentence? 'Is you is, or is you ain't my baby?'"

The two figures think for a moment, then 1 speaks. "It's not conventional English grammar. It's not even the usual way that 'ain't' is used in dialect."

You look at 2, who says, "What she said."

"All right," you say. "The test is at an end. Would the real human being please stand up?"

1 starts to stand, but 2 says, "Wait a minute. You haven't said which one you think is real."

"You are," you say.

"Yes, you're right," says 2. "How did you know?"

"I didn't until that last moment," you say. "The Gubot doesn't care about the bet; it's just programmed to pretend to be human as best it can. You weren't doing as good a job, and that made me suspicious, but I was only certain once 1 stood up."

"Actually," says 1, "we rigged the test. I'm controlling both of them. Neither one was a Gubot."

You stare for a moment, then crack up laughing.

Posted in Joe Dillon, Leah Hart | 1 Comment

Three Laws

Tavita Sharma, the only one of the original development team that we haven't seen since the documentary's opening, develops Gubots these days. She is still plump and graceful, with a gleaming smile which hints at a sense of mischief. Her hair gleams under the lights of her minimalist, sparkling clean office.

"So, what does that mean, developing Gubots? That would be mainly a software thing, wouldn't it?" you ask.

"Almost entirely, though we do, naturally, have input as part of the developer group into new hardware capabilities. The thing is, though, if Gu works for Gupe it works for us, at least for the anthroforms."

"Let's talk about that. All the early science fiction, right back to Čapek, assumes that a robot is automatically humanoid - anthroform, as you say. Many of yours aren't."

"Right back to Homer, in fact - he has artificial female assistants helping Hephaestus forge Achilles' armor in the Iliad. But industrial robots never were humanoid, unless you think of a single mechanical arm as humanoid. If you have a practical as opposed to a literary purpose, in fact, most applications don't require humanoid form. We have kitchen robots for dishwashing and even cooking which are basically a set of tentacles surrounding a few sensors on a stick. We've had non-anthroform housecleaning robots since the Roomba. Some people like to feel like they've got a maid or a butler when really they aren't in that income bracket, but a lot of other people just want the dishes done and the house cleaned and they aren't particularly fussed what the device that achieves that looks like - despite what our marketing department frequently argues to the contrary." She sparkles a smile.

"So what proportion of Gubots are anthroform?"

"Depends where you are. In Japan, for example, the proportion is very high, and even the ones that don't look actually human as such usually have something that looks like a face. It's considered important that a robot is kawaii. In the west, not so much. More often than not, if you see an anthroform in the west it's actually a Gupe."

"And in Africa or South America?"

"It varies. Some cultures favor anthroforms, some favor zooforms - animal forms, which are also quite popular in Asia - and some favor what we call pragmaforms, which are shaped to the task that they're doing."

"Form following function?"

"Exactly, though in cultures like Japan, 'function' includes much more than just accomplishing a task. In all cultures, really. How you feel about something is part of its function, in a sense."

"Do you believe that there's an Uncanny Valley - a disturbing place between what's indistinguishable from human and what's clearly non-human?"

Sharma laughs.

"Well, I do and I don't. That is, I don't think it's necessarily a general phenomenon, but it is something that some people struggle with. The lines are getting blurrier all the time, and that bothers some people. You go on a support line, it's not always clear whether you've got an AI or a human on the other end at first. The Turing test keeps getting passed, in limited circumstances. Same with Gubots. The ones we design to be interactive - using pretty much the same models of human interaction as are used by the support lines, naturally enough - within their limited scope could easily be mistaken for a human who's a bit insincere, a bit stereotyped in their interactions. Someone who's working off a script and isn't very fluent with it. And there are people like that running Gupes, of course, and not every Gupe looks anthroform either, let's not forget. Shive-ers and furries and technos, oh my!"

"So a lot of the time you just can't tell."

"No, and that's what makes people uncomfortable. You like to be able to tell whether you're talking to a thing or a person, but the line is getting harder to detect and will eventually get hard to draw, if we carry on as we're going. Strong artificial intelligence is still a long way away. People are complex and we don't understand ourselves yet enough to reproduce ourselves any way except the old-fashioned, unskilled way." She gives a chipmunk grin for a second. "A couple of careless teenagers still have our top scientific minds all beat when it comes to creating intelligent beings."

"A general-purpose robot is some way off?"

"In the sense of one like Asimov's or Čapek's or Homer's, a self-aware being that acts more or less human, definitely. The funny thing is that a lot of the early pulp depictions of robots assumed that as machines they naturally wouldn't have or understand human emotions - like Data in Star Trek TNG. But actually, an understanding of emotions predates and forms a necessary foundation for an understanding of any other form of human interaction. The 20th century wasn't comfortable with its own emotions - legacy of the 19th century, I suppose - so it treated them as secondary and logic as primary, and we know how far that got us. Strict logic works wonderfully, right up to the point where it doesn't, and that point comes fairly early on in human interaction. Which isn't to say it can't be studied or reproduced scientifically. That's what we're busy doing - I say 'we', but I'm on the technical end, I just implement what other people discover to a large degree. Eventually you will be able to interact with your robot valet as if it were Jeeves, and it might even help to sort out your tangled love life, though probably not with a Jeeves-like degree of creativity and subterfuge. At the moment, though, we keep our focus on enabling robots to perform effectively in limited domains where the task is clearly defined and can be broken down into a relatively straightforward set of procedures that cover all cases."

"That sounds like a quote."

"Pretty much, yes." Again the chipmunk smile. "One day we'll do it. But not any day soon."

"That has to be good news for people whose jobs are one level up from the ones that robots - Gubots - are taking as we speak."

Sharma turns serious. "Yes, that's - an inevitability that is kind of the downside of what we do. If only the social engineers could come up with that system whereby everyone lives a life of leisure and creativity. But in the meantime, everyone, even the poor, can live in a clean house. The streets are cleaner than ever before in history. Public toilets are even clean. Automated farms produce, automated transport ships and automated kitchens prepare food that's so cheap it's very nearly free. If I could invent a robot that gives meaning to people's lives, I would, but I'm only clever, I'm not a genius." The smile is back, briefly, but it doesn't last for long.

"So what, will we need Asimov's Three Laws soon? A robot may not harm a human or allow a human to come to harm, all of that?"

"Gu is building all of that in anyway, to a greater and greater extent. The First Law isn't a law for robots, it's a law for - aware matter, I suppose you could say, matter that is able to detect and identify potential harm and prevent it. And at the moment that has to be a physical definition of harm - we'll get into all kinds of trouble if anyone tries to broaden it too far. Huge, huge can of worms. The Second Law, about a robot not allowing itself to be harmed except in service of the First Law, well, Gu is cheap and easily replaceable. We don't need that one. And the Third Law, obeying humans, that's pretty much assumed. Any authorized human can give an order, a set of instructions, to Gu which is set to accept instructions from him or her; that's how Gu works. No, when it comes to robots we can pretty much throw out most of the 20th century's fiction, I'm afraid. It was always more about humans than it was about robots, really."

Posted in Gubots, Guplicates, poverty, robots, Tavita Sharma, unemployment | 1 Comment

Spread Across the World

Ngo Cong An is also known as Andy Ngo. He's 16 years old, chunky, and wears his hair in a buzz cut. He sits in a traditional Vietnamese home - wooden, built on stilts, with a thatched roof - and glowers at you.

"I was born in Vietnam," he says. "I live there again now, but from age 3 to age 14 I lived in Cleveland."

"Why did you go back?"

"My parents made me. They're not educated, and they couldn't make much money in Cleveland. They wanted to send me to a good school, but the cost of living was just too high. So now we're back living in their ancestral village."

"Where do they work now?"

"Cleveland still. They still have the same jobs they had before, but now they do them remotely. Gupes, y'know?"

"Do you still get to see your old friends?"

"Yeah. I Gupe them sometimes, but it's not the same, y'know? I had a girlfriend - that's over. She's old-fashioned, she doesn't want to date a guy who's Guping. There's a twelve-hour time difference, that's a real killer. I can't go to netschool with them, I have to go to one in Australia, where everyone speaks strange English. And I have to live here, in this crappy house in this dirty little village full of chickens and brats. It's boring."

"Will you go back to the US, do you think?"

"As soon as I can. I don't care if I have to go into debt, work the rest of my life, I'm going back. There's nothing for me here. I don't know my relatives, I don't want to know them. They're always trying to push into my life. I have to get out of this place."

Gina Ma also lives in a small village, in inland China.

"I was brought up in the US, but now we've come home," she says. "I remember crying as I left my village, when I was about six. That's 10 years ago."

"Which country do you prefer living in?"

"Oh, I like it here." She smiles. "In the US, I never felt that I fitted in, you know? I looked different - not that there weren't other Asian kids, but we all got lumped in together, it didn't matter if they were Thai or Japanese or Chinese or what, everyone assumed that we all knew each other and were basically the same. Here I'm myself - I look like everyone else but people see me as a person. And I've connected back up with my cousins who I used to play with when I was little."

"Would you go back to the US?"

"Oh, to visit, yes. But here is where I want to live."

Agnes Avila lives in Manila in the Phillipines. She is a maid for a family in France. Her eyes and her hands dance as she talks to you, and she smiles, showing somewhat crooked teeth.

"The hours can be hard," she admits to you, speaking Tagalog with simultaneous translation. "It's seven hours later here. It means I can get up late, though, and still be at work very early. I make the croissants for the family before they wake up. Then I work through the afternoon here, cleaning the house and putting everything in order and making the dinner. They still work outside the home, so when they come home from work it's all done and I can go to bed. That's between midnight and about half past one in the morning, Manila time."

"How is it, to live between two time zones?"

"Not so bad once you are used to it. I can't go out in the evenings except on my days off, but when I do, I am used to being up late and it isn't a problem to party! And I have Euros to spend. I have my own house - I am only 23. It's a little house but it's mine. I can shut it all up and sleep through the morning. Yes, my life is all right, I think."

"Would you like to live in France?"

"Oh, no, I would never live in France. I mean, I don't often go outside the house there, so I haven't seen much of it, but I hear the family talk. There are many problems there, they complain about the government all the time, and the weather. It is very cold, I'm glad I don't feel it through the Gupe, I am warm while they are cold."

"Is it easy to get work in other countries?"

"Oh, yes, everyone wants Filipina maids, they know we are the best." She laughs. "Most of my friends are maids. We work all over the world, though most of the ones I see often work in Europe or the Middle East. A few work in China or Australia. The maids who work in the USA or Canada, they are on a different time schedule from us, we don't connect with them so much."

"And do you know people from anywhere else in the world?"

"The gardener at the place I work, I speak to him sometimes, he is in the Congo. He does gardens in several places in that town and in Germany as well. But my friend Mary Ann, she works in a big house in the Czech Republic. They have a butler from Barbados, a gardener from Mauritius, three maids from here and one from Taiwan."

"How do they get on together?"

"As well as anyone. I mean, it isn't always easy, when you're doing everything in translation and sometimes the way people put things is different in their language, and you misunderstand. She tells me stories. One time, the butler told her to clean something and she thought he meant get rid of it, and she got in trouble. But no worse than anywhere else, and he can only yell at her. My aunt, she was a maid in Dubai when she was younger. Her arm still hurts in the damp weather where another servant broke it."

"Are you worried that robots will take your job?"

"Not my job, no. But if I have children they will not be servants. I will get them an education. My parents could not do that for me, they live in a little village out in the country, there was no money in those days. My children will do better." She sets her jaw and her eyes go distant, looking into an imagined future.

We're back with Callie Arnold.

"Servants?" she says. "Well, I employ local people, actually. I think you should, when you can."

Serena Koslowski.

"I'm wealthy enough to afford live, local servants, but I don't have any now. Gubots just do what they're told. Much less trouble all the way around."

Ted Anderson.

"I have a woman from Gabon come in, via Gupe. She's very good, hard-working, and I'm glad I can help her family out by employing her."

Jill Kwan.

"Oh, my house has pseudopods, dear, for dishes and things, and it cleans itself. I do my own cooking or buy food wherever I happen to be. I don't think I'd be comfortable with a servant. I mean, I'm the Hermit Crab."

Jan Kress is a statistician. She's showing you a map of the world, large enough to walk around, with big looping striped ribbons connecting a number of countries. The stripes have chevron-like arrowheads moving down them to indicate the direction, and the speed of their motion varies. Most of the western countries have narrow ribbons outbound and wide ribbons inbound, and most of the developing world vice versa.

"The width of the ribbon shows how many people are Guping to work in the various countries," she says. "Just to work - not for tourism, as best we can separate them - some people, of course, claim to be going for tourism and actually try to work, but they usually get caught. The different colors show what they're going there to do, and the speed of the arrowheads shows how quickly the trend is increasing. The black stripe is domestic service." She touches one arrow that loops from the Phillipines to France, one of a dense set of broad arrows from that country to all over the world. It has a wide black stripe.

"So here are people from the Phillipines in domestic service in France." A secondary set of graphs blossoms above the ribbon. "Mostly female; mostly relatively young. Total number: almost 500,000. Now here is what happens when you switch the display to show the direction of the money instead of the direction of the labor."

Most of the ribbons, naturally, change direction; some get wider, indicating countries which are able to charge a lot for their labor, and others narrower. The Phillipines is one that stays about the same width. She switches back and forth a few times, finally stopping on the original display.

"Can we see, for example, just the Phillipines and just domestic service?" you ask. "I find this a bit busy."

"Sure," she says, and the display simplifies. "Now, one of the interesting things is that people in the Phillipines are now buying in domestic service from overseas themselves. See that ribbon there, from Cambodia? The value of servants has got so high that the people in the Phillipines can't afford local ones. In fact, there are people who are making such a good living in service in Europe that they have a Cambodian remote servant for their houses in the Phillipines."

Dorothy, who doesn't want to give her last name, is one such.

"And what do you do, Dorothy?" you ask her. She is standing in the hall of her own well-appointed house, with two Cambodians who are present by Gupe. She answers in excellent English.

"I'm a domestic manager - effectively, a butler - for a millionaire in Latvia," she says.

"And these are your servants?"

"Yes, they cook, clean and garden for me." They smile and nod.

"Isn't it odd to have servants when you are employed as a servant yourself?"

"Yes, I suppose it is funny," she says very seriously. "But I have a demanding job, and my employer pays me well to do it. Why should I come home and have to clean my own house? It's too big for me to clean, and anyway, cleaning houses is not what I do. I'm not any kind of maid."

Posted in Agnes Avila, Callie Arnold, Dorothy, Gina Ma, Jan Kress, Jill Kwan, Ngo Cong An, Serena Koslowski, servants, Ted Anderson | 1 Comment

Working up to it

Larry Herschel is an economist for the Department of Labor. He's evidently balding but has shaved his head - an old-fashioned style these days - and wears a conservative business shirt and dark trousers. His analysis, though, is very current.

"Gu challenges most of our old working assumptions," he says. "We've become well aware of that in the past 15 years. It seems like it's been a lot longer than that - and at the same time, it seems like it's all very recent. Well.

"The thing with Gu is, it makes the global labor market truly global. The services sector was well down that track already, anything you could do on a computer you could already do from nearly anywhere, but Guplicates accelerated and expanded it. Now I can't think of any job that can't potentially be done from a foreign country, and that has huge economic implications."

"Because the unskilled are now competing against people living in countries with much cheaper living costs?" you ask.

"Absolutely, Susan. Supply and demand cuts in, and the supply of unskilled labor vastly outweighs the demand in western countries. The price can't fall below the minimum wage, which is historically based on what it costs to live in the country where the work is performed, so what happens is that employers look for the workers who will work hardest and produce the best work. If you live in a poor country and you're a good worker, that's great news, because you're being paid in hard currency and you can live well in your country on what would be barely subsistence in the country where the work is being performed. Typically, you share your good fortune in one way or another with the people around you - either you flat-out give them money or you buy their products and services - and your whole community prospers as a result. You haven't had a polluting western factory built in your neighborhood, where you'll work for a pittance while your children get cancer, either - which was the old model of global labor, or one face of it. Nor do you need to leave your home and your culture and your family and friends and go to a foreign country, live in a slum and claw your way up from the gutter. But on the other hand, nor do your kids get to go to a western school for free, or get western medical care paid for by the state, and grow up to be doctors or whatever. They get some benefits, but not all the benefits that immigrants traditionally have got after a generation or two."

"So this has affected immigration, too."

"Oh, very much so. Most western countries, of course, have only been dealing with mass immigration since the 70s, when cheap air travel became available, but America has always been a country of immigrants. We still do get them, but the proportion of poor economic migrants has dropped dramatically. What those people are mostly doing, if their country is livable at all, if it's not so bad they have to flee into the orbital habitats, is staying there in their communities and working for the Yankee dollar. Which affects, of course, our balance of trade."

"And taxes?"

"Well, taxes are a lot more complex. On the one hand, you aren't paying for education and healthcare for a big immigrant population who themselves are not paying high taxes, or any taxes at all in some cases. On the other hand, you do tend to have high unemployment locally, which costs tax money, and has social costs as well, of course. There are a lot of unhappy people on unemployment, and unhappy people are unhealthy people, and are also more likely to do things you'd rather they wouldn't, up to and including crime. So employers can end up paying two or three times over. They're paying for someone from another country to work at a job. They're paying, via taxes, for someone else in this country not to work at that job. And potentially they're paying the cost of that person's unhealthy life choices and/or criminal activity."

"So why not employ local people?"

"Because the perception is that they just won't work as hard. And if you think about it, their motivation is much lower. A local person can work at a minimum-wage job and be close to the bottom of the heap, just above the people who don't have a job at all. But someone from, say, Gambia can work at the same job and be a big deal in their community, someone with a lot of money to splash around. Of course he works harder."

"But the number of jobs isn't just static, is it, Mr Herschel? New jobs, new job sectors, keep being created even while some of the old ones are reduced or destroyed."

"Absolutely true, and an excellent point, Susan." He gives you a slightly creepy look; perhaps he's attracted to you. "The domestic service industry, for example. Hit its previous peak probably in the 19th century, when even quite a modest middle-class family could usually manage to afford a maid. The loss of population and the social changes following the world wars pretty much finished it off except for the very wealthy, and the history of late-20th-century technology was, from one point of view, the history of the development of labor-saving devices to replace the missing domestic servants. And now that pendulum is swinging again, and in three ways: One, domestic servants working via Gupe from their own countries; two, local people who would otherwise be unemployed and would rather be a domestic servant than nothing; and three, increasingly, domestic Gubots."

"There's a whole status hierarchy there, isn't there?"

"There is. It goes: I have a Gubot, I am middle-class; I have a Gupie servant in the Philippines or wherever, I am upper-middle-class; I have live local servants, I am wealthy - though not necessarily as happy with their work."

"And where does this leave, for example, young people who don't yet have qualifications for a skilled position?"

"You're feeding me my lines, Susan." He definitely leers this time. "Yes, the traditional teenage job in fast food or such similar scut-work is fast disappearing. The employers had spent years breaking those jobs down into such repetitive, mindless parts that even a not-very-bright, not-very-motivated teenager could be trained to do them to a degree of effectiveness that usually stopped short of driving away your customers. Which, of course, makes them great candidates for automation. Food outlets with human servers are definitely in the premium tier these days. And, as you implied with your question, this leaves unqualified young people in a bind. Where are they going to make the money that they believe they need in order to become the consumers that they have been programmed to be? Surprisingly many of them have risen to the challenge by, in effect, joining the entertainment industry - which is what a lot of education these days is training you for, basically. They've learned creative skills, and they put those to work and find ways to generate money out of them. Some of them, sadly, end up in that sector of the entertainment industry which never fails to make money even in the hardest times - pornography and prostitution, though often called by various other names. And if you're neither creative nor attractive, crime is always a thriving industry and always needs disposable runners, fighters and similar dupes. But the bright student whose abilities lean towards the scientific and who has some moral scruples is left in a spot, all right, unless they have at least some minimal skill at teaching and can tutor those less bright or less advanced than themselves. A physicist, say, or a mathematician is unlikely to be employable for much until they're in their mid-twenties and are half-dead from ramen noodle poisoning and damp, roach-infested apartments."

"You're dramatizing a bit, aren't you, Mr Herschel?"

"Larry. Well, yes, a little, but - that's the thing with change. It's dramatic, it affects people in powerful ways, unpredictable ways largely, and those who can't adapt go under. It's not always very pretty to watch, and part of what I'm supposed to do here is predict the unpredictable so we can do our best to prevent the unpreventable, or at least slow it down enough for people to be able to deal with it."

"Because the real cost of living has gone down, hasn't it?"

"The real dollar cost, yes, despite climate change and all the rest of it; so far our technology is staying ahead of the disaster curve, solving slightly more problems than it creates. Yes, you can live reasonably well now on unemployment, looked at purely from a financial angle. It's still not a life I'd envy at all. It doesn't hold out a lot of hope, and the most recent of the economic migrants are probably the worst affected. Some of them are going back now, if they have a country to go back to, re-emigrating, uprooting themselves yet again, dragging their kids kicking and screaming back to the third world in the hopes of building a better life."

Posted in Gubots, Larry Herschel | 1 Comment

With Many Eyes…

You are standing in a simulation of the North American continental weather, up to your ankles in thunderclouds. You twist a virtual control with your right hand and Alice up. Now you're tall enough to see across the Atlantic to Britain, but the curve of the earth prevents you from seeing most of Europe. You Alice down, and the clouds rush up to meet you. Under the cloud cover is Milwaukee. You can see the individual lightning strikes, and with a step you are at the site of the most recent one.

A clock appears above you to the left, and you wind it backwards, seeing the thunderstorm disappear to the south, then forwards, past the red marker of the present, the storm rolling over the city and receding, growing gradually more transparent and imprecise as you move further into the future.

Another giant joins you: Janet Pennington, of Compound Eye. She wears an Alice-blue Alice band to keep her immaculately hairsprayed blond coiffure in place, though she has stopped short of a pinafore.

"A lot of this we do with satellites," she says, "but the ground-level stuff relies largely on the distributed sensors in millions of bits of Gu. More common, of course, in heavily populated areas, which is also, happily, where there's more demand for the information."

The scene flickers, lightninglike, and switches to a busy intersection. This time the clock spins by itself, and traffic surges and recedes in the tidal movement that even widespread telepresence hasn't fully eliminated.

Now the buildings go transparent, all the public areas visible - like the police view in New York. "You don't need to tap into the buildings' own security cams for this," says Pennington. "You do for true real-time, of course, but just for navigation you can use the aggregate of the thousands of images seen by Gupets and Gu-servants on a daily basis, with the moving elements - mostly, the people - stripped out. Nice in a mall. I always used to get confused in malls, because they all have the same stores but in different places. Now you can just query the publicly exposed Compound Eye data - the mall doesn't even have to do anything - and everything else goes transparent and a big red arrow points to the store you want, and then a path shows you the quickest way to get there, taking crowds into consideration. Traffic, the same way. Road conditions, accidents, traffic density. Crime statistics, too, including time of day so you can avoid dangerous areas. None of this is new, but what is new is the grassroots, massive sousveillance approach."

"Sousveillance being?" you ask, as the two of you walk along a street bare of people and lined with partially transparent buildings.

"The opposite of surveillance - being watched from above. This is being watched from below. It keeps governments and police honest, for example, and has done increasingly ever since Rodney King."

"But don't you strip out the faces - even the people, most of the time?" You gesture to the unpopulated scene around you. The occasional warning sign rotates in the air above an intersection or alleyway; if you pay attention to them, they disgorge data, including the movement of wireframe figures without recognizable clothing or faces, who re-enact traffic accidents or street altercations.

"We strip them out for public reaccess, yes. But when the data gets to us, it's archived in a rolling window thirteen months in length. Within that time, anyone who can prove their legitimate interest - usually through a police complaint of some kind - can access the raw, unstripped images and use them as evidence in court, if they want. We have algorithms, too, to look for images of violence or even arguments, property damage from all causes, people tripping and falling, anything like that, and those go into a long-term archive indefinitely in case someone says, 'I tripped over on Fifty-sixth near Tenth in January eight years ago and now I want to sue the city for not maintaining the sidewalk.' I mean, good luck to you if you try that, but the footage will be there."

"And I believe that there's been some controversy about police and intelligence access to the database."

Janet stops and faces you. "Look, Susan, governments have to meet the same standards anyone else does for getting access to our data. They have to get some kind of official court document to show that they have a legitimate interest, and their application is recorded. Anyone who believes that data involving them may be accessed can place a request to know who is accessing it and for what purpose. That's so that they can know the charges against them and face their accusers in court. You know, Magna Carta stuff."

"And will the people accessing the data be informed that someone is being informed about that access?"

"Yes, and so ad infinitum. It's an open system, as open as it can be and still retain privacy and control. And news media may not release any data which has not been authorized for release by a court, incidentally."

"I can think of circumstances in which I'd want the news media to release data involving me despite the fact that a court didn't want me to. And many examples of that happening, in fact."

"If it's your private recording, there's nothing stopping you. Or you can contact other people who were recording in the area and get their private recording, if it exists. But once it hits our servers, we don't disgorge it without court order, end of story, because it's aggregated, automatically collected data from multiple anonymous members of the public, and that's the only responsible way to handle it."

"You're in an interesting position, Janet," you say as you both resume walking. "I mean, Compound Eye is registered as a nonprofit corporation, but you're performing kind of a public service, and some of what you do is heavily regulated by the government."

"Yes, well, the point there is that we aren't a part of the government, any government - because we're international, of course - and no government controls us. No individual controls us - there's a board - and no company controls us. Our individual users, who both provide and extract data, don't control us. Every access to our raw files is logged, and those logs are independently inspected to ensure that nobody tries to get around the system."

"How do you keep running? I mean, thirteen months of data, that's got to be some serious storage."

"Much of which is holographically and redundantly distributed around the spare storage capacity of millions of devices owned by companies, individuals, other nonprofits and even a few government agencies. We have a couple of large sponsors, Jennings-Jansen being one, and they take every opportunity to proclaim that their storage solutions are used for our "critical moments" database - all those accidents and arguments. Other corporate sponsors give system admin time, programmer time, and we have volunteers. There's a small core staff, of which I'm one, paid for out of publicly recorded donations. We do everything we can to avoid becoming another Wikipedia or Google or BopDeBoop."

"So, is it true that it's possible, with the right kind of warrant, to monitor an individual through Compound Eye?"

"No, it's not. We don't do the intelligence services' work for them. If they want to monitor someone they have their own spyders and their own network of Gu-based sensors that they can use. But it is true that we're considering a request from several probation services to allow them to monitor individuals with their consent, so that they don't have to wear trackers. That is under consideration. Not implementation, though, just consideration."

"But it's possible?"

"It's technically possible, yes."

"And you don't allow parents to monitor their kids, either."

"No, Susan, we don't. Again, if they want to do that, there are technologies for it, but we're a data aggregator primarily. It just so happens that in aggregating a lot of data we collect some information which is valuable as court evidence, and we believe it serves natural justice to release that data under strict conditions."

"But mostly, you help predict the weather and route the traffic."

Pennington smiles at you with a note of relief. "Yes, that's right."

Posted in Janet Pennington, sousveillance | 2 Comments

Rubber Pets

As Halwaz, you walk across the Harvard campus from Digby Duke's office to that of Tarla Meyer, in the psychology department. As you go, you scan the students and staff who are passing back and forth or sitting between classes, and count under your breath how many of them are accompanied by some form of Gupet. The count tops 20 on a relatively short walk. They include a raven on a student's shoulder, a number of dogs of various sizes (and at least one wolf), several small dragons on shoulders or dog-sized ones following at people's heels, a wallaby, six cats, a couple of alien creatures and a monkey.

Meyer has graying dark hair which she evidently disdains to dye, a vivid red and gold scarf, and expressive hands. She leans forward in her chair.

"The Gupet," she says, "has become ubiquitous. Live pet ownership is falling, but the number of people who own Gupets is growing every day. And I find it an interesting commentary on the direction of our society." She holds up one finger and wags it slightly in time with her words.

"How so?"

"Well, over the past, what, three hundred years, we've become an increasingly urban society. A lot of children - a lot of adults, for that matter - have never seen a farm animal that wasn't in a storybook or on a plate, let alone a wild creature that wasn't in a zoo. We've systematically disconnected ourselves from the natural world, from other creatures, and increasingly romanticized it as a result. The Disneyfication of nature. Our domestic pets, and the domesticated vegetation and occasional squirrel or pigeon in our parks, have been the sole remaining direct links we have with the rest of the living world. And now we've found a way to distance ourselves further, through the Gupet." Her hands distance themselves from each other illustratively.

"Because a Gupet is artificial?"

"Exactly. It doesn't eat, it doesn't excrete, it doesn't mate, it doesn't give birth." She pokes the arm of her chair emphatically with each item. "We're now only faced with those messy aspects of life in ourselves, and we do all we can to make them hygienic and safe and tidy and as far removed as possible from nature. What's more, a Gupet can be anthropomorphized in a way far beyond what's possible with a cat or a dog, simply because a Gupet can be programmed with language and human-style interaction - of a basic sort, of course, but the state of the art continues to advance. And so Disneyfication becomes complete." She spreads her hands.

"You see this as a loss," you observe.

"I see it as a loss, yes. I was brought up on a farm, and although I chose not to make that my life, I learned valuable life lessons there. Lessons about pain and death and birth and dirt and sex. I got soil under my fingernails planting a vegetable garden and helped a cow to calve. It was formative." Palm down on the chair arm.

Joe Dillon is Meyer's colleague and opponent. He is youthful-looking, with straight brown hair and the air of an athlete. His gupet, a lemur, observes from his shoulder as you interview him.

"Well, you see, the thing with Tarla is, on the one hand she rants about romanticizing nature, and on the other hand that's exactly what she's doing. She's making direct contact with the natural world into some kind of... moral good. But we have to ask ourselves, do we orient ourselves to our past or our future?

"I mean, we are an urban society. Though now that telepresence technology is becoming so high-fidelity, a lot of places are seeing a net migration from urban to rural areas for the first time in, I think, recorded history. And the skills that are needed in our society as it is and as it is becoming are much better learned, I believe, through exposure to Gupets than through exposure to raw nature."

"For example?" you ask.

"Socialization. Communication. Pickup of emotional cues. Interaction with AIs and giving them instructions - that's going to be an increasingly important skill. All these are things that kids are learning from Gupets. Plus, a Gupet can monitor a child's behavior when there are no adults around, and attempt to modify it or at worst report it. You can see problems arising early and correct them."

"Isn't that socializing them into acceptance of a surveillance society, though, Joe?"

"Well, Susan, but isn't that what we have?"

You are talking to bearded, tanned, ponytailed, wrestler-stocky Henry Matherson, a fellow documentary director. He is the creator of Catseye, the story of the last 10 years of actress Irene Dalgleish's life as recorded through her Gupet, Miggsy.

"So, Hen, do you think this is the first of a genre?"

"Oh, I'd like to think so, Susan. Yes, the biopic has a new direction and a new lease of life thanks to liferecorders in general and Gupets in particular."

"What do you think the difference will be between a first-person liferecord from grayware and what you might call an intimate third-person liferecord coming from a Gupet?"

"Much the same as first-person and third-person narration in text, Susan. The right tool for the right job. I can see competing biopics made from the two perspectives, I can see biopics mixing the two perspectives. On the one hand, the story from the subject's own viewpoint, with their own feelings - though not their thoughts, unless they subvocalize. On the other, a more objective, but still, as you say, intimate, treatment."

"Irene gave you permission, in fact willed you access to Miggsy's recordings, is that right?"

"Yes, she said, 'Hen, I trust you to do it in good taste, darling. Don't spare my blushes, since by then I won't have any. But do it in good taste.'" He imitates Dalgleish's smoky voice.

"So when you're in front of your Gupet - do you ever act? Do you ever think, One day this could be part of my biopic?"

"Well, of course I do, Susan. Don't you?"

Posted in gupets, Henry Matherson, Irene Dalgleish, Joe Dillon, Tarla Meyer | 2 Comments

Just Cos

Once again, we're back at the Gu launch 15 years ago, picking up where we left off. The Colonel's question has kicked off a flurry of hands and point-to-point hails, both of which you are ignoring.

"I will take further questions in a moment, gentlemen, ladies. I'd like to just draw your attention to some possibilities we have thought of, which I'm sure will trigger further ideas in your own minds. It may even answer some of your questions.

"There's not much to carry any more. Think about all the junk we used to carry round just a few years ago. Keys, wallet, watch, phone, computer, GPS, camera - it's all inside your head now. Apart from your outerware, there's nothing to carry. Convenient - but also, not many visible gadgets to show off.

"If you are carrying Gu, it's better than a Swiss army knife. A piece of Gu the size of the largest tool you want to use can be most tools you would want to carry, and it can fit around your wrist or your waist when you're not using it. You just need a portable hologram projector like the little 3D-Man Marbles Sony are putting out - half the kids have them on their outerware already." (Sony's stock, already high, hardly moves.)

"Once the price drops a little, you can carry more Gu, enough to make a seat if you feel like sitting down anywhere, say. And within five to seven years, we think we can bring it out at a price point that would allow a Gu servant to follow you around, morphing into anything you like, carrying your luggage - or rather, being your luggage; carrying you, if you want it to. Mechanical robots are very useful, but they're always the same shape, more or less. Gu can be anything.

"That's the point I want to make, people. Gu can be anything. This isn't just an advance in materials science. It's an advance in technological civilization. For the past twenty years, more and more things have been vanishing out of the quote "real world" into virtuality. If you can afford a full grayware mesh, you can immerse yourself in a completely convincing illusion of anything you like. But with Gu, all that creativity, all that adaptive power, reemerges back into the world that you can touch - without full mesh. Without any mesh at all.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Gu is holodeck for the masses. Gu is the new art medium. Gu is every piece of conceivable gear for the tradesperson, the spaceperson, the adventure traveler - but also, eventually, the householder. Gu is furniture and servants and transport in one. And the history of technology tells us: Gu is things we haven't even thought of yet, because when you put a new technology in people's hands, they will think of things that have never been done before - because they never could be done before.

"Gu, ladies and gentlemen, is the future. Our future. And it's in your hands."

Fade out on applause, and fade in the contemporary Caribbean setting. Halwaz's viewpoint.

"Your remarks were very prescient," you comment. "You had obviously given a lot of thought to the potential uses of your new technology. Adventure travel, you mentioned that. You're probably aware that my first documentary was of a trip the length of the two American continents with no equipment apart from a hundred kilos of Gu per person."

"Yes - and I enjoyed it, by the way." (You feel gratified.) "But as Jayden Todman pointed out recently, definitely my most prescient comment was the last one - that we didn't know what we had here until people started using it. Gu-pets, for example. Never crossed my mind that someone would take their Gu with them in the form of some sort of creature or companion animal, but in retrospect it was totally obvious. I mean, the Japanese have had robot pets for years - they don't eat, they don't crap, they don't shed, and they can talk to you. Or Gu-coses - you walk down the street these days, it looks like Carnival, everyone's wearing a costume. It's a new semiotic, there's some fascinating stuff coming out on it - people like Digby Duke over at Harvard have elaborate theories."

Stock footage of a street in a middle-American small town, present day. A small boy in a bearcos is riding a cartoonish Great Dane behind his mother, who is covered in what look like roses. A teenage couple pass by; their Gu-coses are morphing, abstract shapes occasionally resolving into the faces of pop-culture figures, with unrelated color patches appearing and disappearing in a different rhythm. A nine-year-old girl cycles up costumed as a knight in shimmering metallic rainbow colors. Her bicycle morphs into a small dragon as she dismounts, and follows her into a shop.

Cut to Digby Duke, a Harvard sociologist who specializes in cosplay, sitting in front of a wall-sized screen displaying this scene. He spins his chair to face your/Halwaz's viewpoint and reveals that he is gu-masked and –cosed as a Gley from Nomads of the Universe.

"Yes, did you notice, a very ordinary small town, but wide adoption, wide adoption of the Gu-cos. It's not even edgy any more, it's like tattoos when I was growing up - a tattoo was something your grandmother got. If you want to be edgy you make it ugly or horrifying, or if you're a teenager you have it morphing all the time, like that young couple were doing, so that anyone over the age of 20 is nauseated. But conservative businessmen wear Gu-coses now. I walk into my lecture room like this, nobody blinks an eye."

"What's the Gu-cos saying, in your opinion?" asks Halwaz.

"It's saying, I don't mind you knowing something about me, about my interests, my tribal affiliation if you like. But also, I'm a complex person, I'm not just one-dimensional." His cos shifts into medieval scholars' garb, then into the more modern academic's uniform of tweed jacket and beard, a superhero costume, and finally a Jane Austin suit with lace ruffles. "It's play, but it's social play; it identifies you to others who share your interests. I'm doing some very interesting work right now on the historical fascination communities, the ones who will immerse themselves completely in just a few key years and learn everything about them, obsessively. Tiny groups, but they often connect up in real life by wearing extremely accurate gu-coses of their chosen period. They even signal the length of their period of interest by having the cos slowly morph back and forth across it, reflecting the changing fashions over what can be a five-year period in some cases. Fascinating."

"And mainstream?"

"Yes, yes, increasingly mainstream. Sydney was the first to introduce themed months, with a different historical period each day during May of, I think it was the year before last, yes, that's right. But before they'd even finished out the month, others were joining them, and now every major city in the world does it, and it's coordinated internationally, with a large community that proposes and votes on what should come next." Footage behind him of midnight in Times Square, the previous New Year. As the ball drops, a change sweeps over the large crowd of Old Father Times and their coses morph into those of small children. "And there are designated zones, too, in some cities, particularly where the buildings are of a certain historical period or there's some association with an historical event, which encourage cosplay of the relevant period." A Georgian square in London; as people enter, their coses morph into periwigs, tailcoats and pannier dresses. "As an educator, of course, I love it that people are interested in history, although of course history is far from the only source of the cos. Entertainment, particularly pop culture, fantasy and science fiction literature, comics, TV and film, these were always well-represented in early cosplay and they still, still tend to predominate." A blend of images from all round the world of a wild variety of coses, representing dozens of entertainment franchises, all being worn on the street during daily life.

"It's like living in a carnival," smiles Duke, as his cos morphs to a vivid samba outfit complete with Carmen Miranda fruit-salad hat.

You smile back, and project a still image of Davidman. "Professor, could you identify the semiotics of this cos?"

He studies it, and his eyes flicker as he consults reference sources. He smiles suddenly and says, "Ah. A nice piece of nerdreference. Take a look in the Internet Archive for a webcomic called XKCD, early 2000s. He's referencing a couple of key advocates of open-source philosophies, Doctorow and Stallman, as they appeared in that comic."

"So, an in-joke?"

"Yes, but also a message, to those in the know, and more than that, too. Often what people are doing with a cos is identifying themselves with some desirable aspect of the original, whether it be heroism on the one hand or the ability to inspire fear on the other." Two coses appear on the screen, Andy the hero and Kon-Nol the villain from the anime Mist Voice Blood House.

"You see very similar things with masks in primal cultures. By taking on the mask, the shaman or worshiper took on characteristics of the animal or god represented."

"So you not only see who people are, you see who they would like to be?"

"Yes, that's well put, well put. People theme their lives. It used to be only children got to do that, that play about identity and themed costumes and surroundings were only permitted if you were little. But nerd culture, to which our current culture is increasingly indebted, by the way, embraced the idea of play and identification and theming continuing into adult life, and now that is being mainstreamed. There are people who theme their whole houses. It's not just for kids' parties and their bedrooms any more."

"How much of that do you think is because it's now so easy and cheap to do?"

"Well, certainly, that's going to be a factor in the widespread adoption of any trend. It needs to be simultaneously aspirational - and that aspect is covered by the identification - and also within the economic reach of people in general. But I think we were heading in this direction anyway. Gu just made it a whole lot easier."

Posted in cosplay, Digby Duke, gupets, Jayden Todman, robots | 2 Comments

Unconstrained Morph

You are Bill Davidman, and you are exercised. This is quite usual.

"You see, exing that clip, what I'm struck by is the dishonesty underneath the apparent frankness," you say to Halwaz. "That last remark. 'There's nothing like an economic incentive to make a corporation do the right thing'." You perform the quote in an exaggerated, smarmy voice. "Well, there's nothing like an economic incentive to make a corporation do the wrong thing, either, and they have plenty."

"The wrong thing being?" asks Halwaz.

"Closing up their source, of course," you say, in a tone which implies, "Did you think I was merely talking about their sacrificing small fuzzy animals?"

"Hold on," says Halwaz, "I thought..."

"Yes, you and most other people, but it's a deception, see? What they call their operating system, GuOS, is open-source and anyone can build on it. But it's really just a set of utilities and applications running on top of closed, compiled code, and it's a breach of their terms of service to try to decompile, reverse-engineer or otherwise get at that hidden lowest layer. They say it's for security, of course."

"And isn't it?"

You look at Halwaz as if she's just seriously posited the existence of the Easter Bunny. "Yeah, right. Look, open code is more secure. This argument has been hashed over and over. With many eyes, all bugs are shallow. If there are any vulnerabilities in the Gu kernel, putting it out where people can see it is the fastest way to get them fixed."

"And not the fastest way to get them exploited?"

"The best programmers are not crackers. What they're doing by closing the kernel - and incorporating an increasing amount of "safety" stuff, application stuff, in it, like that perky little actor who was pretending to be a scientist was talking about - they're systematically undermining the integrity of the entire system. That, and of course protecting their IP, which is another way of saying, their monopoly. Nobody can make Gu without a license from Adaptable as long as nobody knows exactly how they make it, and as long as they're hand-in-glove with governments who are clinging to an outdated notion of central control. Control is distributed nowadays, hello?"

"So, you would allow anyone who wants to to make Gu? Gu without safety restraints built in, if that was what they wanted to make?"

You become solemn.

"Susan, the question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are we for freedom, or against it? As long as Gu is fettered, we are also fettered, in that same degree. As long as the economic interests of Adaptable Materials Corporation are what ultimately controls Gu, there's a level of creativity that we simply can't access. And we have no idea what lives there. None. It could be something that would transform human life completely, that would allow it to pass into the next phase of evolution."

"Or it could, much more likely, be something that would destroy human life completely," says Halwaz, enraging you.

"You know what? The rhetoric concerning terrorism is itself terrorism - it's used to terrorize the populace and keep them sheeplike and submissive. Control is what it's all about, and that control shouldn't reside with Adaptable. It belongs to all of us."

"With 'us' in this scenario being what, a self-appointed technocracy?" asks Halwaz, and smiles. She is clearly enjoying herself, much to your irritation.

"Absolutely not! You're setting up straw persons, Halwaz, implying a conspiracy where none exists. The only conspiracy here is the conspiracy between big government and big business, and there's nothing secret about it - you only have to look around you without rose-colored spectacles for five seconds. Openness means freedom, and if that comes at the cost of shifting economic and political power outward from where it's increasingly concentrated, in the hands of the elites, then so be it."

Cut back to Halwaz's viewpoint. Davidman, a chunky man, is almost as red as his cape and looks ready to draw his (Gu) katanas and have at you; sweat is dripping down his forehead from under his flying goggles.

"Thank you, Bill," you say, in a "this interview is concluded" sort of manner.

"You can't just cut me off, Halwaz, you..."

You cut him off.

"Intellectual property, yes, indeed," says Jacob Merrilees, an intellectual property lawyer. His dark hair is graying at the temples in a distinguished manner that complements his charcoal suit and long, slender, expressive hands. "At one stage we switched to calling it NTA - non-tangible assets - but with the advent of Gu we've mostly switched back, because Gu makes the intangible tangible."

"Can you unpack that a little?" you (Halwaz) say.

"Certainly. Gu is, essentially, a tool or means for causing digital representations of solid objects to be present in what we usually think of as the real world. It's a technology for reification. We've had technology for digital-to-real-world conversion for a long time now; printers, followed eventually by 3-D printers, various sound technologies. And, of course, the corresponding real-world-to-digital converters: scanners, cameras, microphones. But Gu takes it to a new level. Now you can capture a 3-D image of a solid object, any object, using a camera that costs - I think you can get them for under a hundred dollars these days. Any computer is then capable of running utilities which are distributed for free that will convert that image into a form capable of being translated into Gu. And so, anyone who can afford enough Gu - and that, too, is getting cheaper all the time - can have that solid object at effectively no cost."

You're getting impatient with his explanation, and shift in your chair. He notices.

"All of which seems obvious," he says. "But a change of degree is also, in this case, a change of kind. Taking a photograph of, let's say, a Porsche gets you a picture of a Porsche, and that's never been regulated. Firstly because you couldn't regulate it, not effectively, and secondly because you can't drive a picture of a Porsche. But taking a 3-D image of a Porsche and reproducing it in Gu on a cheaper auto frame? You can drive that. You're not simply taking the work of the Porsche designers and appreciating it or putting it into a form where it's effectively an advertisement for their product, spreading the meme, if you like." He looks at you intently to see if you've noticed his buzzword (which he's used incorrectly). "You're making use of their design work in a way which benefits you tangibly, but doesn't return any tangible benefit to them. And this is what is sometimes called piracy."

"Surely, though, this has been going on for decades," you say. "I mean, my uncle came back from a trip to Malaysia in the 90s with a couple of cheap Calvin Klein knockoff shirts. He didn't realize they were knockoffs, or even CK, he just liked the shirts. What's the difference between that and your Porsche scenario?"

"The difference, Ms Halwaz, is that those shirts had to be made in a factory. There was a production infrastructure behind them. If Calvin Klein had wanted to pursue legal avenues, there was a company profiting from production of the shirts which could be sued - perhaps successfully, perhaps not, but there was one. But I'm talking about individuals copying things, for no personal profit, and distributing them. It's much more equivalent to, say, music filesharing."

"Yes, and the music industry - and all the entertainment industries, in fact - have evolved and adapted to the new realities that creates. Why is Gu any different?"

"It's not. But in this context, 'evolved and adapted' has meant 'got used to much smaller profits and the reality of piracy'. The industrial design industry has had to do the same, and they're hurting."

Cut to Pat Finnan, a sculptor who works in Gu. He is a stocky, middle-aged man with a bald head and a large mustache.

"Oh, the poor design industry. We feel their pain. Bulldust, Mr Merrilees. Industrial designers, apart from a few at the top end, used to mostly work for salaries. They saw very little of the profit from a typical large company's product, much of the price of which consisted of manufacturing and distribution costs. They certainly didn't get to share in those profits, no matter how good their work might be. Thanks to Gu, that's changing, and we who work in tangible media are finally catching up with the musicians and the filmmakers and the writers and all the other beneficiaries of the digital revolution."

"And you're benefiting how?"

"We're benefiting because when production and distribution costs almost nothing, and there's no need to do an industrial quantity of something that you might sell one, five or twenty of, you can go ahead and do works without worrying about going into debt and being stuck with a warehouse full of unwanted statues. Storage takes, effectively, no space and hence no money. You have no inventory and, once you have your gear, no overheads to speak of. So it's great for someone starting out who isn't sure how they're going to do. And then if things do go well, you don't have too much trouble scaling up either.

"And you can experiment. I can make a sculpture, decide I don't like it, and change it, and I've wasted no materials and I don't need to get rid of the old version. It works for consumer goods as well, by the way. If you do a new design, a better design, your customers can upgrade, without throwing the old one out. Which is great for the customers and probably not quite so great for the manufacturers. There's been a huge power shift since the turn of the century, and also a huge blurring of the lines between producer and consumer. I manage several public art installations, for example, which are truly public art - they are art in public and art by the public. Anyone can submit a digital file and have their sculpture on public display, and it rotates among them, morphs from one to the next. On one of them, we've implemented voting so that people can tell us which ones they like, and those ones get more frequent rotation. We're going to do the same with the others soon." While he speaks, we see the public art in question, on a street corner in Milan. Everything from the unsophisticated but direct sculptures of schoolchildren to achingly beautiful geometric abstracts are morphing on top of a pedestal which displays the artists' handles and a couple of links to vote particular pieces up or down. Passers-by stop to watch, and vote using grayware or netphones.

"So, from your viewpoint, it's a good time to be making a living as a designer?"

"It is, because while in theory it's possible to do work and never get paid because people simply take what you've done, in practice that's balanced out by the people who want to exchange value for value, who will pay you even if they don't have to, just because they think you're cool and your stuff is cool. The corporations aren't seeing that, because nobody thinks a corporation is a cool person who deserves compensation. But we see it all the time. We rely on it."

Posted in art, Bill Davidman, intellectual property, Jacob Merrilees, lawyer, open-source, Pat Finnan, piracy, security | 3 Comments

Cracking Gu

Footage: A carnival float. Cheerful people in anime coses are waving from it. Suddenly, their coses attack them and they fall thrashing and choking to the ground.

Reset: Same float. This time, the coses suddenly stiffen, then lurch from the float, the people inside helplessly screaming as they are carried into the crowd, where the coses force them to attack.

Reset: Same float. The coses abandon their wearers and begin attacking the crowd themselves, wrapping tentacles around their throats.

And a final reset: This time, the coses simply fall off, leaving the embarrassed cosplayers in their underwear.

You are Serena Koslowski, now Chief Security Officer of the Adaptable Materials Corporation, and you are talking to Halwaz.

"Only the last of those four scenes actually happened," you say. "Fortunately. Not because the others weren't possible, just because the crackers who 0wnz0red the Gu on that float didn't have anything worse in mind than embarrassing their friends in front of half of Berlin. That's why Gu security is so important.

"Right from when we first designed Gu, we knew that it had to be as robust against cracking as we could possibly make it. Fortunately, grayware had already solved some of the hard problems, since people really do not want their nervous systems cracked. If your PC got incorporated into a botnet and some of its processing and bandwidth was scrumped by spammers, it ran slower, and a lot of people got unwanted email. That's annoying, but hardly fatal. The stakes are a lot higher for nervous systems - and for real-world morphable objects.

"The thing is," you say, standing up and starting to pace, "you can't make an uncrackable system. You can't. You can make it very difficult, but you can't make it impossible, not as long as it's connected to the outside world and general-purpose - and if it isn't both those things it isn't very useful. It's always going to be possible for someone to install code that does something you don't want it to do."

"So what was your approach?" asks Halwaz. You stop pacing, turn, and look at her with your knuckles resting on your desk, and scrape a tendril of your long, pale hair back behind your ear.

"We swiped the personal signing system off the grayware guys," you say. "Your Gu is yours, and responds to your signals, because you have one end of an encryption code and your Gu has the other. Then you shift codes by mutual agreement, rapidly enough that it's not computationally possible to crack them before they've shifted. The new code gets transmitted in the old code. It works fine, as long as the software at your end is secure, which means, as long as you keep up your patch levels and don't install anything stupid. But you can make the patches free - as we're legally mandated to do; you can warn people against malware; you can set up a central registry where people can check their downloads to see that they're safe; you can make it illegal, as a number of jurisdictions have, to have ware more than two minor patch levels behind, and issue instant fines when your security monitors detect it. You can make the system idiot-resistant, but never idiot-proof. There only needs to be one old piece of un-upgraded, unpatched software, or one person who downloads and installs a Trojan without checking, and there you have it - a potential zombie. One that actually shuffles round, in the case of Gu, or, in the case of grayware, tries to eat your brains." You smile wryly.

"We've tried to build in more features to, in effect, get compromised Gu to signal 'Help, I have been 0wnz0red!' to the nearest security monitor, but - it's an arms race. So far, there haven't been any major hostile incidents, though. So far."

"You're being very frank," says Halwaz.

"That's because I don't want people to get complacent," you say. "There's more and more Gu out there. Now, increasingly, we're focusing on the other side of the equation. It's one thing to prevent other people's Gu from being used by hostiles - it's important, but it's not our biggest challenge. We also need to make Gu safe when the people who it legitimately belongs to are setting out to cause maximum chaos, or even when they're just being stupid. Not all of our measures are public, naturally. But here are a few that are."

You trigger a corporate holo with the same kind of reassuring announcer voiceover that's been around since the 1930s.

"Today's Gu has more safety and security features than ever before," it enthuses over the Adaptable logo (3-D morphing letters that continually spell A, M, C). "Here are just a few that we're working on or have already implemented."

Cut to a shining orbital laboratory.

"At AMC Laboratories, we're attempting to answer the ancient question: What is man, that you are mindful of him? Each generation of Gu has more sensory capacity than the last, and our Human Detection team is taking advantage of this, continually refining the fuzzy logic that enables Gu to sense probable humans and avoid hurting them."

Enter a stereotypical scientist, with safety glasses and white coat - even though probably most if not all of the team are high-end programmers and have never touched a beaker in their lives. The scientist is attractive in a slightly nerd-girl way, with dark shoulder-length hair and an earnest expression quickly lightened by a pleasant, shy smile.

"Our inspiration," she says, "is Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics. Particularly now that Gu is used so much in domestic robot applications, that seems increasingly appropriate. The First Law, and the one we are focusing on here, is: A robot - or, for our purposes, Gu - shall not harm a human, or allow a human to come to harm. Which you and I as humans understand intuitively, but it's remarkably complex to implement. To get a complete solution, you need to encode an understanding of what a "human" is and what would harm one, which involves physics, biology, chemistry and even some psychology and sociology."

The next part is in voiceover.

"Starting with version 4.2, though, we've built in the capacity for Gu to recognize living flesh and go soft and rubbery when approaching it." An actor tries to cut himself with a Gu knife and pound himself with a Gu hammer, to no avail. A car decorated with Gu foams up at the front as it approaches another actor, and he bounces off the soft front and stands up unhurt.

"That's a big step forward right there. And from 4.7, Gu now recognizes a human neck and won't squeeze it, and 5.3 introduced the ability to recognize when someone is breathing and ensure that their breathing isn't blocked. In fact, Gu 5.6 and greater will attempt to supply more oxygen if your breathing becomes difficult for any reason. So we're well on the path to our goal." This one is illustrated by a Gu oxygen mask spontaneously forming over a gasping actor's face in a smoky room, and a fan creating itself to compress air, with a filter to take out the smoke. "Already, dozens of people have been enabled to escape from fires thanks to our initiatives."

Cut back to the scientist, smiling her little smile. "Eventually, we'll solve the general problem of recognizing and protecting humans, but for now, our issue-by-issue approach is working really well." The smile widens and we go out on triumphant music and the morphing logo.

"All those measures are hackable, of course," you tell Halwaz flatly. "In theory, at least. In practice, it's not yet been done. We're under close scrutiny by governments all over the world, many of whom have threatened a public safety tax on our product if we don't make every effort to render it harmless and secure. We've been hit by fines, occasionally, when we've let something slip by, and court cases. There's nothing like an economic incentive to make a company do the right thing."

You smile yourself, rather cynically.

Posted in cracking, safety, security, Serena Koslowski, terrorism | 1 Comment

To Keep and Bear Arms

We're watching the familiar stock footage from security cameras of the May 7 incident. In a federal building in New Mexico, people are going about their daily business: renewing permits, going to testify in court, collecting or dropping off parcels. Several Guplicates fan out among the crowd. Nobody pays them much attention.

The footage is mercifully interrupted just before the explosion, by a cut to Halwaz's view of Jim Daji of the Bureau of Firearms and Explosives. He is short, stocky, balding in a ring pattern, and wears a Bureau windcheater jacket. There is a table in front of him with three items: an object that looks like a Techno-Cubist grain of rice, a laminated card, and a handgun.

"The designers of Gu," he tells you, "are brilliant people, and were very careful to ensure that Gu would make a really poor weapon. For which we're duly grateful. But what they didn't think through was that something that isn't itself a weapon can be used to carry a weapon. That's what makes it militarily useful, and also what makes it useful to terrorists such as the May 7 bombers."

"Because it's difficult to stop?"

"Exactly, because it's difficult for an unarmed civilian, without special equipment, to stop a Guplicate. Also, because it's easy to conceal a weapon inside Gu. And finally, because you no longer need to recruit people fanatical enough to blow themselves up or advance into a hail of bullets. They can commit their crimes from locations where they are at no personal risk whatsoever, provided they don't get caught."

"Hence, the limiting laws on Guplicates."

"Exactly. Which has led to a lovely constitutional headache over the right to bear arms." He taps on the table next to the grain of techno-rice.

"This is the technology of the concealed-carry provisions which apply in most states," he says. "This little gizmo is an implanted identity verifier, of course. No state mandates that all citizens must bear one of these, but practically all states which allow concealed carry of deadly weapons mandate them as a condition of a concealed-carry permit, which is what this is." He taps the laminated card.

"Both the IDVIA - the identity verifying implantable autoresponder - and the permit contain RFID tags which return data when queried, as does the gun. The IDVIA and the gun both have different forms of biometric authentication so that they can't be used by anyone except the registered owners, which is a safety feature as well, of course - an attacker can't get your gun off you and use it against you. And throughout most settled areas are RFID readers which query the tags and post back to our database, where we do a three-way match. No three-way match, a flag goes up and a human gets involved. The codes are anonymized - it requires a search warrant to match our data with another database which would identify the person by name, and that would normally only be issued if there was a gun crime reported in the area. But we do expose the anonymized data as a web service to law enforcement agencies, so that they can spot if there's a convergence of armed individuals in any particular area.

"So if a wide-band holography scan, as used in most sensitive or crowded areas these days, detects that you're carrying, you better have a permit and a three-way match, or be prepared for some questions, which are likely to be asked by large police Guplicates appearing suddenly out of the floor on either side of you. Now, to most people all of this is quite sensible, though there are always the extremists who consider any form of gun monitoring to be the beginning of the apocalypse, even when it has a dozen safeguards built in so that someone carrying a gun for lawful self-defense has nothing to worry about. Where the real controversy comes in, though, is over whether your Guplicate can carry your gun. Just exactly because a Guplicate with a gun is much more dangerous than a person with a gun."

Anthony Balboa is a constitutional lawyer, and looks it: sharp gray three-piece suit, bound books behind a big oak desk, retro glasses with built-in visual overlay tech. He leans toward you.

"The big constitutional issue," he says, "is, does the individual's right to bear arms - assuming that there is one, which is not an uncontroversial view - does it extend to one's Guplicate, or not? On the one side, it's argued that since crimes committed via Guplicate are prosecuted as if they were committed in person, the reverse also applies; rights which apply in person also apply via Guplicate. Against this, it's argued that a Guplicate is merely a tool, that applying the right to bear arms to it is no different from applying it to, say, a remote-controlled aircraft."

Cut to archive footage of the Supreme Court trial Jimson et al. v. State of Nebraska. Balboa is presenting his closing arguments.

"The pro-gun lobby has a saying," he says in oratory tones. "'Guns don't kill people; people kill people.' In other words, a gun is a tool, without moral culpability; moral culpability - and rights - belong to legal persons, not to tools. In exactly the same way, a Guplicate is a tool. It is not prosecuted for crimes; its operator is. And so, it does not have rights; its operator does. Its operator's rights do not extend to it, and so I submit that this Court should rule that the right to bear arms as a natural person and a citizen does not extend to any Guplicate under that citizen's control."

Back to Balboa's office. "We won Jimson," he says. "But it's still controversial. Farmers like Jimson want to be able to patrol their own properties with weapons if they expect attempted thefts, and they want to be able to do so in safety, which means, by Guplicate. On the face of it this isn't unreasonable, but we had to make the constitutional point. It's not acceptable in our society to have armed, privately owned Guplicates wandering about, particularly because there is no reliable way as yet to authenticate who is actually in control of them."

Back to Daji.

"The May 7 terrorists were disgruntled ex-US military, mostly from Gulf War 3," he says. "They were controlling their Guplicates from just a few streets away. But apart from a bit of satellite lag, there's nothing to prevent someone in, oh, let's say, to take a random example, Saudi Arabia or Yemen, doing exactly the same. Of course all Guplicates display standard metadata showing the location of their operators, but the system's quite hackable by a determined professional; I'm not a cybercrime expert, obviously, but I understand that there's only so much you can do to prevent that, and it's never going to be enough. Our only protection is to forbid Guplicates from carrying any kind of offensive weaponry, and to be ready to spot them doing so and bring them down immediately. There's only so much you can do to prevent them, but we do everything we can. I mean, there was that serial killer, the Cornell Suffocater, who covered his victims' mouths and noses with Gu. How do you stop that? But it's not going to be an effective terrorist tactic against a mass target, is it?"

Posted in Anthony Balboa, guns, Jim Daji, May 7, military applications | 2 Comments