MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS - 05.17.2023
May 17, 2023
Good third Wednesday of May.
Welcome to RUPP'S NOTES & FBI SPECIAL AGENT HARTMANN SERIES posts. I'm novelist Richard V. Rupp (Dick), writing from Burbank, California.
It's a beautiful morning here.
A.I., A.I., A.I., . . . Those two letters are all I'm hearing these days. It doesn't make any difference what media you are listing to or viewing - Scripted T.V. series, business shows, talk shows, newspapers, internet posts, news shows. . . Artificial Intelligence is changing the landscape. There is no question we are entering the A.I. Revolution that will impact how business is done. One article I read indicates "that uncontrollable A.I.s could infiltrate every aspect of our technological lives, disrupting or redirecting our infrastructure, financial systems, communications, and more."
It will change the makeup of the workforce, and it will change our social structure. But, at the moment, there are far MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS about how it will be implemented.
What is A.I.? A.I. or artificial intelligence is sophisticated computer programs that simulate human intelligence. Examples are ChatCPT, a large language model (LLM) that can generate coherent and contextually appropriate text. Google Bard. Anthropic Claude and others have expanded their systems to where they can combine text, images, video, audio, and robotic functions. More on this later in the post.
As of next Wednesday, I'll be halfway through my octogenarian years. It will be my 85th birthday. It's nice to hear people say upon hearing my age, "You don't look that old." I suspect they are just trying to be nice. My response is, "It's got to be my genes because I know it's not because of my lifestyle."
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for the genes I inherited from you that have allowed me to look and feel younger. I've also helped a little by never smoking, doing daily exercise, and generally having a positive attitude. And the fact that I still write every day and love doing it, I'm sure, helps. I suspect my frequent visits to the likes of STORY TAVERN have contributed to some adverse aging features.
I'm laughing as I edited this post as Monday, I read the digital edition of the LA TIMES, and my Horoscope read (I kid you not) – "You can go far beyond the limits usually imposed on people your age; it's just a number. Really."
Over the years, I have seen mainly good times (Happy Days) but some bad times (like the Present Days).
My current work-in-progress, SKYWARD, includes my impressions of those "Happy Days" and "Present Days." Then goes on to project what I think will happen in "Future Days." The manuscript has reached the point where the Bowman Colony is well-established on the Moon. Now the colonists want to grow as much of their own food as possible. This has taken my research into what crops best suit the Moon's growing conditions. I have discovered that you can bake bread on the Moon, but you will need to use fewer leavening agents (baking soda, baking powder, yeast – that help the dough or batter rise); otherwise, with the lessened gravity, you will have a supersized loaf. Wheat and oat bread are out as they take too much space and water to raise. So, cornbread and substituting corn flour for wheat and oats are in. Corn grows great on the Moon. My research into chickens leaves more questions than answers, so I have to take my author's creative option on this one. There does not seem to be any consensus on whether or not chickens could lay eggs or reproduce on the Moon. You will have to read my novel to see my answer to this.
A couple of days ago, one of my STORY TAVERN writer friends asked me if I wrote in a linear way or just kind of bounced around. My first two novels were linear writings which I was able to finish in a reasonable time frame. SKYWARD has turned out to be a bounce-around effort. That's one of the reasons it is taking me so long to finish.
The title of this post, MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS, indicates what I'm going through as I try to project the future. Another reason SKYWARD is taking so long. The world is in a major state of transition at the moment, and my novel reflects this transition. Its direction is subject to many unknowns controlled by the likes of a Roulette Wheel with both number and color variables. You don't know where the bouncing ball will land.
The title also applies to a major problem with the current WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA (WGA) strike against the ALLIANCE OF MOTION PICTURE AND TELEVISION PRODUCERS (AMPTP), which I will address later in this post.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about. My research into the Millennial, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha generations indicates a shift in social values. My characters move away from an Earthly society that aims for monetary wealth to their new Moon colony, where they are determined to respect achievement over wealth. A recent KIPLINGER post titled What Is Wealth? Shifting Values Change What It Means to Many suggests my interpretation of the younger generations is correct.
The first sentence in the KIPLINGER article is – "We consider ourselves 'wealthy' when we have an abundance of what we value, but what many of us value is changing with the times." And the last sentence is – "Prioritizing what you value is the key to unlocking a rich and fulfilling life." The article includes the following –
"The reimagined definition of wealth extends beyond an abundance of money and material possessions and includes additional factors that contribute to a rich life.
These factors include health, knowledge, status, influence, time, energy, and experiences, plus intentional, meaningful relationships. These aspects represent a
holistic interpretation of wealth. This trend is reflected back to us through cultural and financial activity."
On the Happy Days side of things, I had the opportunity to dream about my past while watching the CAROL BURNETT: 90 YEARS OF LAUGHTER + LOVE T.V. show. She preceded me by five years at Hollywood High School. THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW was on the tube from 1967 to 1978. Those were the days when families watched together in the living rooms. It was an upbeat show, and I will always remember her singing, "I'm so glad we had this time together/Just to have a laugh or sing a song," at the show's end.
Watching Carol's birthday show reminded me of another production involving Hollywood Hi students. It was THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET, which included David and Ricky Nelson, who were at Hollywood High School at the same time as me. The show ran from October 3, 1952, to April 23, 1996. Initially, it was a radio show, then moved on to T.V. I just noted it was the longest-running live-action sitcom in U.S. television history. Several episodes were filmed on the Hollywood Hi campus.
While I'm on my old high school days, other notable names at Hollywood Hi while I was there were the Four Preps, famous for the song "26 Miles" (to Santa Catalina) and who were the backup singer for Ricky Nelson. Then there was Jill St. John, who played the Bond girl Tiffany Case in the James Bond movie DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, starring Sean Connery.
My high school years (1954-56) were Happy Times. One of the significant differences between then and now is that the news was not that important. Usually, the news only lasted half an hour and was not presented by slanted personalities. It was kind of the age of innocence, as we watched family T.V. shows, and I loved the somewhat corny T.V. sci-fi shows SPACE PATROL and THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
Seventeen days ago, the movie and T.V. writers went on strike. In talking with my industry friends, it does not appear there will be a settlement for a long time. I have heard three to six months estimates, with one source indicating it won't be settled until October. In talking with my drinking buddies, the consensus is that the studios and streaming companies, particularly Netflix, have no desire for an early settlement. They have a lot of shows in the can (Yes, 3 to 6 months' worth). Their profits will significantly increase for the rest of this year.
The new media heads are repeating the lack of appreciation for writers held by the studio moguls many years ago. Louis B. Mayer, one of the MGM founders, once famously remarked, "What's all this business about being a writer? It's just putting one word after another."
Jack L. Warner, one of the Warner Brothers where my dad worked, called writers "schmucks with Underwoods." And the famous movie producer Irving Thalberg indicated his writers "were much like factory workers."
I heard one rumor (probably originating with a writer) that Netflix wants to give ChatGPT screen credit for writing some of its shows. Netflix has been designated by the writers as a disruptor because of its streaming success. In 2021 they reported $6 billion in profit. Writers claim the studios are turning their profession into a gig economy consisting of short-term jobs with low pay. That is kind of what Thalberg suggested.
On the other side of the coin, you have - "I'm striking because I've never said a funny thing without a writer." Those are the words of Timothy Simons, who played Jonah Ryan on VEEP, as he walked the picket line outside of Netflix in Los Angeles. Jonah is just one of many celebrities showing their solidarity with the writers. Drew Barrymore dropped out of hosting the MTV MOVIE & TV AWARDS, and Mayim Bialik has bowed out of hosting JEOPARDY.
The Writers Guild is one of the first to face the question of how A.I. will impact its members. Both sides want to control when and how it is used. The problem with this is that no one currently understands what A.I. can and cannot do. The U.S. Congress is now trying to figure out how to control its use. All kinds of questions need answers – the algorithms have been constructed using copyrighted writings and images, it creates data security problems, can produce misinformation, will produce massive job losses, etc. Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Also, the Office of Management and Budget said it would soon release draft policy guidance on the use of A.I. by the government.
This is from an article published by the LAWFARE INSTITUTE in cooperation with the BROOKINGS INSTITUTE titled A Digital Regulator Must Be Empowered to Address A.I. Issues - Specifically, the digital regulator would be responsible for ensuring that social media companies include in their risk assessments an evaluation of the dangers associated with letting AI-generated content flourish on their systems. The agency would also be authorized to demand that social media companies construct a mitigation strategy to deal with these new and less familiar risks and to make its containment approach available to the public.
To me, the use of A.I. must somehow be taken off the table by the writers and producers until government regulations are in place. Otherwise, the strike could last into next year.
After a couple of beers, the other night at STORY TAVERN, I jokingly suggested that ChatGPT be assigned as an arbitrator to the current writer's strike and requested to draft a strike agreement. Then we speculated on whether ChatGPT would be biased toward the producers and draft a contract where it was to be the sole provider of scripts.
As a member of the Authors Guild, I am including what my Guild is saying about my striking writer friends. I also just learned that many of the Authors Guild members are also members of the WGA.
* * *
"The Authors Guild stands in solidarity with our fellow writers and members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), who began a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on May 2, 2023. The WGA's demands for adequate compensation, weekly employment guarantees, improved royalty rates for streaming, and protection from the unlicensed use of creative work in generative A.I. technologies resonate with writers across all fields, including book authors and journalists.
As the creative industries enter into a new era of technological disruption and an entrenchment of consolidated power, the WGA's strike underscores the urgent necessity of action, dialogue, and policy interventions. We stand by the WGA's pursuit of fair treatment and compensation for writers' invaluable contributions to the film and television industry and urge the AMPTP to engage in good faith negotiations to address these crucial concerns.
Writers and storytellers are the lifeblood of the film and television industry. They deserve to be fairly treated for the immense value they contribute.
* * *
Yes, I do bring my characters from my first two novels DEATH & TAXES, and DEATH ON THE HIGH SEAS to SKYWARD. This chapter draft indicates the part Dick Hartmann and Coleen Ryan play in my first Sci-Fi effort -
Their favorite watering hole, the French-themed Le Central Restaurant, was packed as Dick and Coleen entered. As their eyes adjusted to the light, Louie, the part-time actor, and longtime waiter, stopped them.
"Good afternoon, you two. Your guests are already here." Louie walked them toward the back of the dining side of the restaurant and pointed to a table. Dick and Coleen were surprised to see Jackson Wallace and Mrs. Bowman sitting next to Mark Gambirasi, Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Office, and John Hamper, Associate Deputy Director, from D.C.
"Well, this is an interesting crowd," said Hartmann.
"Well, this is an interesting occasion," replied Jackson. "How are you, my old friend. And good to see you, Coleen."
As pleasantries were exchanged, Louie walked up with two bottles of wine.
"As I remember, Brunello di Montalcino is a favorite of you two," said Jackson.
"You should remember that in our day, we tried to corner the market on it. But why does this reception give me the feeling something is up?"
As Louie poured the wine, Jackson continued, "Well, we will get to that in time. But, first, we should order food and drink a lot of wine."
Upon finishing lunch, Dick leaned over to Coleen as the table was cleared. "Have you noticed the table turnover around us?"
"That I have. All new faces for this place. I've kind of got the feeling they work for the same outfit as us."
"Me too." Raising his voice back to normal, Dick asked, "Okay, what's up?"
The Associate Deputy Director responded, "First, we want to thank both of you for all the great work you have done on the Skyward Project."
Dick raised his hand to stop the conversation, "Oh, come on. Why are we really here? We have been vetting people like newbie agents and overseeing security on the thing. And I'm really curious as to why you and our good friend Daniela are here."
"You'll understand why they are here in a minute. First, let me give you some background. The Bowman Colony on the Moon has turned out to be successful and is expanding rapidly. As they settle down, the Colonists have developed some unusual governance ideas. They are based on the makeup of the group and the fact that they live in an unforgiving environment where a human mistake could wipe out the Colony.
As you know, each Colonist has been implanted with a chip that monitors their location, heart rate, respiration rate, blood oxygen saturation, stress, hydration, menstrual cycle, and on and on. All this information is fed to and maintained by Sky, the master computer. So, the concepts of freedom we are used to here on Earth are gone. The Colonists have concluded that they have a new concept of freedom where no one has to worry about whether or not they have a job, food, housing, or healthcare. All are provided to them by the Colony.
Now you may remember that the Bowman Colony has been designated a U.S. Territory for various P.R., political, legal, and international relations reasons. And, as a U.S. Territory, its law enforcement is to be provided or supplemented by the FBI. I will stop my comments now and let Mrs. Bowman explain more about what they are doing."
"Thanks, John. As you two know, my sons and their friends are called the 'brainiac clique.' It seems the people selected to establish the Bowman Colony have ended up creating the 'brainiac colony.'"
Daniela looked down at a page of notes. "My son Norm prepared these for me. This is his explanation of how the Bowman Colony will be governed. He indicates that everyone has been involved in developing this structure through what he calls a Virtual Philosophique. Philosophique literally means 'love of knowledge.' With the Virtual Philosophique at a pre-prescribed time, everyone in the Colony sits in front of their computer and participates. As he says, they reflect and debate on concepts concerning the running and maintenance of the Colony. Then a vote is taken to validate a concept developed to a conclusion. As I said, it's the 'brainiac colony.'"
Norm points out that his group is not the first the think this way. It has long been realized that space would become an important part of the human genetic expansion. It would act as a genetic filter. British philosopher Nick Land predicted a space colony would create what he called 'hyper-racism' where 'space colonization will inevitably function as a highly selective genetic filter.' The tech elite will fly into space and become a different species. American psychologist Timothy Leary envisioned space eugenics in the '70s. He proposed that five thousand of the smartest, most attractive humans jet off into space and create a smarter, longer-living, and more blissful species. Following Land and Leary are Freeman Dyson and Martin Rees and psychedelic investor Christian Angermayer who believe new genetically-modified hominid species will emerge off-world.
Norm believes the Colony has resulted in a true democracy where the people exercise direct power. He and his brother have been designated as Co-Administrators who will run the Colony based on the decisions made by Virtual Philosophiques.
The colonists feel that most of the governments on Earth have too many laws encompassing just about every circumstance. Even laws for private matters between people. We want to only have rules and customs here to ensure survival. Everything should be solved logically. They believe that a society's overall good must be decided democratically. And that while a scientifically educated majority may occasionally get it wrong, they are more likely to get it right.
Now that brings us to an agreed-upon decision at the First Virtual Philosophique that apparently ran for an entire day. Norm said the session was cathartic and motivational. It was recognized that some of the decisions made by the Philosophique may need to be enforced, particularly those prioritizing the colonists' safety and the protection of the Colony. And that's why we are here this afternoon. With that, it's back to you, John."
"To cut to the chase, we would like you two to establish the law enforcement system at the Bowman Colony."
Dick looked at Coleen. "YOU WANT US TO GO TO THE MOON??? Are you out of your minds? I'm close to retirement and would be twice the age of anyone up there."
Coleen added, "Dick's right about that. How in the heck did you guys come up with us? We would probably end up being outsmarted by the brainiac set."
"Don't downgrade yourselves. I have known you both for many years. I can attest that you are both brainiacs in your own way. You have outsmarted some of the most intelligent criminal minds in the world. You two are a perfect fit," responded Daniela.
With a big smile, Dick responded, "Thanks for the nice remarks. I'm not sure about all your logic here. I seem to remember that Timothy Leary spent a lot of time in prison for using psychedelic drugs."
"Got me. But, using psychedelic drugs doesn't necessarily mean your not a brainiac."
"Okay, I'll buy into that. It happens to be true of many of the guys I put in the pen."
"Now as respects our picking you. First, all of the colonists know and respect you. You two were long discussed in the Philosophique, and part of what they liked was you being older than any of them. The old wisdom thing. And they believed you would be discreet because you were trained as FBI agents. Second, Dick, you mentioned retirement. John, why don't you address that subject."
"Dick, we would like you to retire from the FBI. We've arranged a special package for you that I think you will like. The FBI doesn't want to get involved in the domestic law enforcement of the Bowman Colony because of the constant monitoring thing. We are already having enough trouble here on Earth. Some bureau idiots thought up the idea of collecting the internet browsing history of U.S. citizens in bulk, and it leaked out. That's gotten us a ton of adverse publicity. Could you imagine how the press would tie us to monitoring U.S. citizens in the Bowman Colony using a master computer? I can see the headlines now. FBI TESTING CHIP MONITORING OF ALL CITIZENS. The FBI is okay with assisting a separate domestic law enforcement agency, but we don't want to be the primary one.
So, the plan we came up with is that Dick, you would form what the colonists call the B.I. or Bureau of Investigation. Coleen would establish a separate Attaché Office and be the FBI Director's personal representative to the Bowman Colony."
"You two will be part of a whole new world. One we believe is vital to humanity," said Daniela. "As a further enticement, I will arrange a signing bonus for Dick of $250,000."
"Oh, my God. I certainly didn't see this coming," said Dick.
"That's two of us," added Coleen.
"Look, at first, I thought you guys were joking. You're not, are you?" As Dick watched the heads nodding no. He looked at Coleen and said, "Give us a couple of days to think about it, and we will get back to you."
* * *
Until next month.
Richard V. Rupp, Author
Website – www.richardvrupp.com
Email – email@example.com
Copyright©2023 by Richard V. Rupp