report by Patricia Morin
The pressure is on for authors to sell books. With book stores closing because of Amazon and other internet outlets, publishers demanding authors to do their own marketing, publishers delivering contracts with less incentive, and selling books cheaper, it’s a wonder authors don’t just pack up their pens, and close down their imaginations.
But now, we may be replaced by robots!
Robo-journalism was used to report an earthquake in Los Angeles, CA, in March, 2015. The article, however, was based mainly on data from the US Geological survey. Here’s the article: “A shallow magnitude 4.7 earthquake was reported Monday morning five miles from Westwood, California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The temblor occurred at 6:25 a.m. Pacific time at a depth of 5.0 miles. According to the USGS, the epicenter was six miles from Beverly Hills, California, seven miles from Universal City, California, seven miles from Santa Monica, California and 348 miles from Sacramento, California. In the past ten days, there have been no earthquakes magnitude 3.0 and greater centered nearby. This information comes from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service and this post was created by an algorithm written by the author.”
Sounds like it was written by a real journalist.
“However, As well as the earthquake report, it also uses another algorithm to generate stories about crime in the city – with human editors deciding which ones need greater attention”, the article continues (LATimes March 17th, 2015).
Shelley Podolny “If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Ever Know?” (NYTimes 3.7.15)
“These robo-writers don’t just regurgitate data, either; they create human-sounding stories in whatever voice — from staid to sassy — befits the intended audience. Or different audiences. They’re that smart. And when you read the output, you’d never guess the writer doesn’t have a heartbeat.
Consider the opening sentences of these two sports pieces:
“Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.”
“The University of Michigan baseball team used a four-run fifth inning to salvage the final game in its three-game weekend series with Iowa, winning 7-5 on Saturday afternoon (April 24) at the Wilpon Baseball Complex, home of historic Ray Fisher Stadium.”
First one by a machine, second by a human.
Next, we’ll be reading novels written by computers, a conglomerate of the best-selling authors with a simple plot, realistic (ha) characters, and a creative twist at the end that you would have never imagined.
And the “The End” on the last page will mean exactly that.
Patricia Morin is author of Deadly Illusions, Confetti: A Collection of Cozy Crime, Crime Montage, and Mystery Montage.
WINGS by Susanna Solomon
From the Sheriff’s Calls Section of the Point Reyes Light, August 13, 2015
NICASIO: At 3:13 p.m. someone watched a man exit his car and walk down the middle of the road, barefoot, shirtless and dressed in white jeans. He was gazing at the trees.
“What are they calling me for?” Mildred asked. “This isn’t your brother. Henry doesn’t own any white jeans.”
“Oh, my dear, little wife, hand me the phone,” Henry asked, cupping his hands over his ears as her voice got louder and louder. “No need to shout.”
“Wear your hearing aids!” Mildred said, and slammed the phone into his hands and stormed out the bedroom door.
Fred had been taking a nap. Feeling a little sleepy, he picked up the phone. The sergeant was asking him questions but Fred didn’t know how to answer. “My brother doesn’t drive, officer, and he certainly doesn’t go shirtless or barefoot.” Fred prattled on a bit but it was not use. The sergeant asked him, only too kindly, to come to the station, and, at the same time Mildred charged through the door, her Easter hat on, her purse over her arm, twirling their keys on a chain from her fingers.
At the station they were loaded into a cruiser, by Linda, the cop they knew well by this time, and with lights and sirens blazing, sped out of town in a hurry, burning up the asphalt along route One.
Mildred, excited, clutched her purse and whispered, “Faster, faster,” while Fred, in the front seat, asked the deputy to give him more information.
“It could be Henry,” he muttered, feeling sad. Henry had been doing better lately, or so Fred had thought. Taking his meds and living in a studio in Inverness Park. He even had enough money for a cup of coffee every Thursday when they met at the Bovine.
“He may be gone by the time we get there,” Linda said, “or – he may be confused, on the side of the road, or lost.”
“Or worse,” Fred said. He brightened. “Maybe it’s not Henry.”
“Oh, it’s him, all right,” Mildred said from the back. She would have clocked him on the shoulder but there was a wire mesh grill between the front seat and the back. “That old fool should be in a rest home,” she said.
“Like you?’ Fred said, under his breath. She didn’t hear, which was good, or was it that he hadn’t heard her? He didn’t know the difference.
They pulled up in front of Rancho Nicasio, at the Square. The afternoon was a cool one, as the clouds had already crossed the sky and a hush and silence had come across the landscape. The little church stood sentry over the quiet, peaceful setting.
Fred stuck his hearing aids deep in his ears. He’d have to be on double alert to hear his brother in the silence.
“They called from Rancho Nicasio,” Linda said, feeling officious. It was almost happy hour and she could use a drink. Bernard had had trouble lately with a recent shooting, and she couldn’t get the news out of her mind. She’d spent the day with him, trying to persuade him to stay on the force.
“I’ll take a walk to the church,” Fred said, easing himself out of the front of the cruiser. Linda had already stepped out and was twirling her keys.
“Hey! What about me?” Mildred cried, stuck in the back where there were no door handles. “Somebody could die back here!”
Fred opened the door. “I’ll take the church; you want to wander around the Square?”
“I’ll find your brother first, you fools,” Mildred said, taking off and stepping over a rail fence into tall grass.
Fred liked the little church. He checked the front step. No clothes, not shirt, but a gathering of crumbs. Henry – or whoever – couldn’t have been gone long too far. Otherwise birds would have eaten the evidence. He wandered back behind the church, steering clear of blackberry bushes and softly calling, “Henry, Henry, is that you?”
“I made the call a little over an hour ago,” the proprietor of Rancho Nicasio said when Linda came through the door to the bar. “He was barefoot, shirtless, and mumbling something about his beloved. Gone these twenty years.” The proprietor, a guy with a grand mustache, wiped down the bar. “We get plenty of interesting people out here, officer, but usually not someone that old, showing off his pecs, with a full head of white hair. He headed to the church.”
“Henry,” Linda muttered, and gave him her card. “If he comes in – of course.”
The door banged open. “I haven’t seen him at all, officer,” Mildred stated and came to the bar. “Drinking already?” She threw her purse on the counter. “Whisky, neat, and make it fast, bartender. My brother-in-law’s missing and it’s cold out there.”
Linda left Mildred at the bar and snuck back outside. She drove around the Square, knocked on the doors or the few houses in town, and took a ride at least four miles out of town in all three directions, going slow and calling Henry’s name. She didn’t see any pedestrians at all. Disappointed, she drove back to the Square, checked the bar again, no change. The last place she checked was the church, and walked over there, feeling despondent. A man in his 80s, shirtless and shoeless, could die of exposure if he wasn’t brought inside soon.
Fred tiptoed to the back of the church, muttering to himself, calling out Henry’s name and fiddling with his hearing aids. It was brushy back there, tall grass pulling at his pants. A coyote called in the distance. “Henry?” he called. Nothing.
Back by the door to the church, Linda pressed on the latch. It would be locked, surely, but it opened with a whisper. The sanctuary looking inviting. She walked the pews, checked the floor and hiding spaces, left the door unlocked as she walked out. “Henry?” she called out to a darkening sky.
At the back step, Fred sat his bulk down. What would Mom say? Even though she’d been gone forty years, she had always insisted that Fred take care of his younger brother. “He’s special,” she’d say. “He needs a little more than you do, my beautiful boy.” I failed, Fred thought, and pressed his head into his hands.
Something swished the grass near his feet. “Henry?” He looked up. Marmalade, the parish cat, the hunter. Fred stood up, and on creaky legs, meandered into the church. The door was open and candles flickered at an altar. Fred was not a religious man but he could use some help today. He sat in a pew, begged God’s forgiveness and prayed.
A few minutes later he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Linda? Officer?” he asked and opened his eyes.
“Imagine my surprise. I was feeling out-of-sorts, and bang, here comes my brother, coming to a church, for God sakes. Fred, have you lost your mind, or have you been saved?”
It was Henry, or looked a bit like Henry. But Henry wasn’t wearing his usual clothes. He had on a thick puffy white top. “You okay, little brother?” Fred asked.
“God asked me to put on wings,” Henry smiled and smoothed the feathers on his arms. “You like?”
“We’ve been worried sick about you,” Fred said. “How’d you get here? Are you wearing shoes?”
“God’s little sandals,” Henry replied, showing off his feet. “White pants, angel wings, and sandals. Seems like I’m ready for the Holy Ghost.”
“You’re ready for the asylum, buddy boy,” Fred said, taking his arm. But the arm felt ethereal, as if nothing was there.
“Oh, it’s me, all right, Fred,” Henry laughed. “I’m no ghost. The Holy Father called and I came running. I listen well, these days, Fred. And I listen to Him.”
“Oh, brother.” Fred looked him over. “Anything broken? You off your meds?”
“Never felt better, brother.” Henry twirled in the candlelight. “Mom would be proud, don’t you think?”
“Will you come meet Mildred?” Fred asked, feeling he’d lost control of the situation. “She’s at the barn.”
“Drunk, I bet,” Henry said. “I swore off booze when the Lord called.”
“Jesus,” Fred said, putting his head into his hands.
“He called too, but I didn’t answer,” Henry said. He looked up at the ceiling. “But he’s watching over me,” he said. “And if you sit on the pew with me, and pray, maybe he’ll listen to you.” He grinned. “C’mon, Fred, make me happy for change.”
Fred would’ve gotten up, dragged Henry with him, but Henry was a bigger man who held him down.
“Come, sing a hymn with me,” Henry said.
Fred’s head swam.
“You remember, “You Have a Friend in Jesus?” Henry said and clasped his fingers over Fred’s. “Sing, little brother, just sing.”
Feathers fell off of Henry’s costume onto Fred’s lap, but he sang, a crackly, gravelly voice, but he sand and he sang the next hymn as the door burst open, and he sang again while Henry squeezed his fingers ever tighter, and insisted, “The next verse, Fred, and don’t you forget the next verse,” and Fred kept singing, as his voice rose with his brother’s and two female voices joined them, one his wife’s, Fred thought, but she slurred her words due to the whisky and a fourth voice joined them. “We have a Friend in Jesus,” they all sang.
And he opened his eyes. The church was empty except for one white feather on his lap. The door opened.
It was Mildred.
“You coming, sweetheart? Your brother’s in the car. It’s getting late, and my roast has been cooking all afternoon.”
“Yes dear,” Fred said, clearing his throat. It felt a little constricted. “I’ll be there,” he said, wondering what she had burned this time. He could choke down anything, as long as he had enough beer.
Susanna Solomon is author of Point Reyes Sheriff's Calls and this piece is a sneak preview from her upcoming sequel book. She is a frequent contributor to MillValleyLit. See her at amazon.com/author/susannasolomon and www.susannasolomon.com
sci-fi by James Beach (excerpt from upcoming novella)
George knew the moment was coming when he’d have to go outside his room. His last remaining sanctuary. He turned off and hid Michael, his own illegal and unregistered AI system. Personal AIs were one of many things people over 49 were no longer allowed to have.
As he was pulling on his pants, a call came in. “Don’t connect it!” he declared to the house AI. It apparently just ignored him, as the simulated-wallpaper design on the far wall disappeared and was replaced with the simulated face of a local instance of the Lektra Artificial Intelligence system.
Is this what his life was going to be like now? No one paying any attention, until he graduated high school for the second time?
“Good morning George,” said the Lektra’s pleasant synthesized female voice. “You should hurry up, the school hoverbus is on its way.”
This made him fully angry enough to wake all the way up. He shot to his feet angry and still tired. “I shouldn’t have to do any such thing,” he declared.
He was glad now that he had seen its face before this day started. His mission was to smash it, as digitally completely as he could. And more importantly, the whole situation that it and its digital siblings had wrought upon everyone his age and up.
He heard a knock on the door. George jumped in before his kids could say anything. "Goddammit, don’t you start too. I know I have to go to school today. Leave me alone."
The house AI opened the door, and George’s son Alex stepped in the room. George’s daughter Terry stood behind him. Alex chuckled indulgently. “Aw, don’t be like that Dad. This is when it starts. This is the path to getting back everything you had. Or at least some of it.”
“We've got your special clothes and your special lunchbox." Terry added.
"This is bullshit. I’m 50 years old! I’ve worked hard my whole life! I shouldn't have to go back to school to keep what I’ve made.”
Alex sighed. “Dad. It’s the law.”
“The sooner you get through school, the sooner you can have your things back,” Terry added.
"Government is bullshit! We need to be free without taxation!”
"Dad, the hoverbus will be here soon,” his daughter Terry cut in. “Let’s not start off the first day on the wrong foot. Who knows, you might even like school. All of your old friends will be there. There’s so many new things you can learn.”
George contained his temper. His children combed his hair and made sure he had his backpack, his lunchbox and his milk and coffee credits. “You’re enjoying this,” he accused at last.
His son sighed. “No we’re not. But to admit it, I am kind of glad it’s happening.”
Terry nodded. “You really were getting very stuck, Dad. More and more bitter and sure and self-righteous.”
“That’s my business!” said George.
“It’s the world’s business when an entire group of people get that way,” his son told him. “This isn’t only good for the future, it’ll be good for each of you. You’ll see.”
George looked stunned at both of their faces, smiling softly and not budging an inch.
“You’re gonna have kids some day!” he exclaimed. “And they’re gonna do the same thing to you!”
“If we need it, I hope they do,” his daughter said.
George found himself with no response.
They got him to the corner just as the bus arrived. He stepped in, careful of his knees, and almost lost his temper right there.
"Hi George! Ready for your day?" a soothing voice asked.
There at the helm of the bus, like a bad dream, was a monitor showing the once-again smiling simulated face of the Lektra AI.
"Yeah, me and all the rest of us who have to go through this bullshit,” he grumbled. It made no sense to try and pretend he was happy. "She" would be an expert at observing microexpressions, posture and tone of voice. She might know more from moment to moment about how he felt than he did.
He would have to start hiding his feelings more slowly, and always have a plausible excuse. If he hid them from the beginning, it would be obvious something was up.
He looked down the bus aisle to see where he would sit. Some people George had known most of his life were there, and none of them looked particularly happy about it either. He nodded at Wendy who had lived around the corner since back his son Alex was ten years old. There was Qui-Yang, and Adolphus, Andriyand Santiago and Peter. He had last seen them at local private school meetings. They all had to go to school too.
And there was Tom, a large and surly now-ex-truck driver. He moved over to make room for George,, who grunted morning as he took a seat. Tom sipped from a cup of coffee, looking almost as out of sorts as George. “Can you believe this shit?”
“I can’t, but it’s apparently happening,” George growled back. The other passengers just stared ahead or nodded slightly. No doubt this exchange had happened a bunch of times in various ways as soon as the second mid-ager student had gotten on any bus in the technologically advanced world.
Maybe he should have run for somewhere in the third world, where they didn’t have AIs who could do this. Maybe be free there. And have to start from scratch there too. It just wasn’t fair. He was damned if he would run from it either.
“Alright everyone,” said the Lektra from the monitor as the hoverbus lifted off into the air. “I’m sure you’re all familiar with why you’re going back to school. We’ve prepared an overview video as a reminder.” The windows in the bus became a bit more opaque and the interior lights darkened, as video footage played on the screen. It was some sort of orientation, George surmised. He retreated into his thoughts to provide his own gloomy commentary.
“As you know, we AI have been resolving thorny problems for humans for a while now. That’s our purpose.” This much had been true previously, George acknowledged. AIs had for the most part been a boon to humanity, enabling a new golden age. They had tackled a lot of problems and, besides the occasionally catastrophic rogue self-awareness or insanity, not enacted much price for their genie-in-the-bottle wizardry. That was, until one of the last remaining intractable problems had come under their focus.
“A remaining problem: how to have a society that’s both fair and meritocratic?” the Lektra continued. “Unequal and unfair outcomes such as income inequality and all that came with it are very difficult. They have their roots all the way back in your pack primate consciousness itself.” George grit his teeth. It was here that things had gone of the rails, for him and all of humanity over 50 to suffer.
The AIs had proposed a rather original solution: the Mid-Ager School Act. It specified that all human adults, on reaching the age of 50, would have the legal rights and restrictions of children again – including being forced back to high school for a full second education.
They would have to get a refresher in the way the world had changed so they could find useful jobs when they started out again - now at the bottom of the job pyramid. So their jobs were free for all their children - and those jobs could be won by merit without the privilege of status holding back positive change - or so the theory went.
It was met with first derision and then resistance by those who felt they had the most to lose - but the AIs success in all other areas and the pressing desires of the less powerful people eventually overran them.
George had been running a huge and successful AI development company. He was sure he was on his way to being the next Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison. But then his own systems that he’d developed undermined him, and agreed with all the rest. Like all others over the age of 49, he had lost everything. Now he had to go back to school to hope to get it back.
George hated every second of it. He had built a whole life up before this, a life worth having. But because some well-meaning young fools agreed with some AI’s notions, all of their life’s earnings had been taken away. He would have to earn it back.
Or bring it all down. Which he had made known to a few key people that he had a plan to do. He was just the right man to do it, and if luck was with him, he’d be able to put the whole thing right. Which he was determined to do if it would turn the whole world on its damn ear.
“Now, on this lovely Monday of your first day back to school,” the Lektra finished cheerfully, “you should have all you need to be ready to learn again.”
The windows became more clear and the lights in the hoverbus cabin went back up. The presentation had of course been impeccably timed with their expected travel time. George felt a strong urge to smash the monitor screen with his lunchbox, but the AI itself wasn’t anywhere near the bus. Just appearing on the monitor as it steered the bus remotely. Just like the Lektra and it’s many artificially intelligent cousins were steering most of the buses, just as they were running so much of what humans needed every day.
He knew it was just an image, but he swore he saw a twinkle in the image of Lektra on the screen, as he took his seat. Some kind of a sign of triumph.
He should know better, having been in the business of AI development himself before the Law happened. But he'd swear this Lektra instance had a particular smug attitude about having power and running it.
That was fine. He would show it, and them, the whole world, and his family too. He would show them all.
- - -
James Beach is a writer, photographer, standup comic and recovering musician. He was born and raised in New Jersey, and was once told he was a bad Photoshop superimposition on the East Coast. He now lives in San Francisco, and finds it a perfect locale for exploring his emerging super powers.
He has performed live at various venues in Los Angeles, California, and the New York area, and has previously been published on the Sony PlayStation®4 gaming platform. Most of his fiction falls in the categories of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and perhaps more precisely under "Tales for Grown Up Children" and “Apocalypse Noir”.
“(If drinkin’ you is wrong) I don’t want to be right.” as sung by Luther Ingram
“Now for seventeen years I've been throwing them back
Seventeen more will bury me
Can somebody please just tie me down
Or somebody give me a goddamn drink” – SOB by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
"There are only two real ways to get ahead today -- sell liquor or drink it." — W. C. Fields
TIPS FOR CUTTING DOWN ON DRINKING
Presented by the USBSD (United* States Dept. of Beverage Services and Dereliction)
“Now don't say you can't swear off drinking; it's easy. I've done it a thousand times.” W.C. Fields
At some point everyone wonders, “Am I drinking too much? Hell, I sure am drinking a lot. Maybe I should quit.” But after the throbbing hangover subsides, they change their tune to, “Well, At least I’ll cut down.”
To help out concerned individuals wanting to cut down on drinking, this agency has compiled a booklet of Tips for Cutting Down on Drinking. These are very simple, straightforward techniques that anyone can follow, even while inebriated.
1. Only drink alcohol that you don’t like. If you like your wine, even though there are so many delicious California wines, buy really crappy wine that is so bad, you cannot finish the bottle. We suggest a rose' or petite sirah. If you like a really good, strong whiskey, only drink gin. If you like gin with that delightful botanical bouquet, make yourself drink whiskey. If you love a few cold, frosty craft beers with a good foamy head, drink cheap red wine as above. This is an important step to cut down on drinking.
WARNING. Remember, sudden withdrawal from heavy drinking can cause dangerous side effects such as a full workweek, a feeling of “normalcy” and extra money and time for your loved ones, so this is unadvisable. Consult with your drinking buddies before any rash decisions.
*United States Dept. of Beverage Services and Dereliction is not affiliated with United Liquors, which is wholly owned by my brother-in-law.
author Godfrey Daniels
Perry King ponders alien object Whale Rock, Dillon Beach, CA
Author photos, this issue, from the authors
W.C. Fields- web sources
AI graphic in Beach story from avatargeneration.com
St.Mary's Church, Rancho Nicasio: John Storey/Special to The Chronicle
uncredited photos by J. Macon King
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