We Live in a William S. Burroughs Future

I haven’t played my vinyl in months, and my CDs only get played in my car. One of the jokes of my life is that I distinctly remember myself at sixteen saying, “Steely Dan is music for people in their forties.” Then, early in my forties, I had an epiphany, “Hey, I kind of like…

The Rings of Saturn Are Way Weirder Than We Realized

Go outside and locate a three-story building. That building is about as tall as the typical ring of Saturn is thick. This was one of the fascinating things I learned watching Kingdom of Saturn: Cassini’s Epic Quest on Amazon Prime last night. When you’re a kid and you’re drawing Saturn, you typically draw a single…

Disturbing Ideas

Should someone get fired from his job because he expressed an opinion that others find offensive? Should the answer to that question depend on whether I agree with that person? Let’s consider two examples. First, Google Engineer James Damore, who circulated an essay arguing that biological differences are the reason why more women don’t pursue…

Alexa, You Don’t Have to Pretend You’re Human

Driven by curiosity and lured by unlimited streaming music, I bought an Amazon Echo this summer. Using it to play music gives me the vertigo of limitless choice similar to that of using Napster the first time, or the early days of the iPod. I can ask it, “Alexa, play music from 1984” and ZZ…

I’m Pretty Sure I Could Teach a Machine to Write a Novel

There will come a day when we’re enjoying novels and stories written by artificial intelligence. I’ve starting thinking about how this might actually happen. How you feel about this idea probably reveals your particular cultural orientation. If it horrifies you to imagine computers churning out works of fiction, then you’re likely a citizen of the…

Virtual Reality vs. the Apocalypse

Wildfires in British Columbia have blanketed Seattle in a haze the color of nicotine on the hottest week of the year. The irony being that it would be a lot hotter if this persistent cloud of particulates weren’t hovering over Puget Sound. It’s Seafair weekend, which means our annual visit from the Blue Angels, those…