Artist Feature – Zivko Kondić



I used to enjoy featuring the work of Science Fiction artists on my Blog. It was cool to see what people were making and shine a light on other creators. Things do tend to get hectic with writing and publishing and I have became remiss— let’s correct that!


First up, Živko Kondić, a Serbian painter, who draws inspiration from science fiction to create some truly unique pieces of art.

Interview with Živko Kondić



Sunset of a Dozen Suns by Živko Kondić

What inspires you to make sci-fi art? TV shows, books, other artists, etc.?

From when I can remember, I liked to fantasize, and I think the first introduction to SF were movies and comics. When I was growing up, media was scarce in war-torn Yugoslavia, but the nineties gave us some cult SF movies, comics and cartoons that opened the doors for me. I began reading SF books by authors like Clarke first, he was “THE” SF author, but then I discovered I prefer the stylings of Iain M. Banks, Alastair Reynolds, Vernor Vinge, Ken MacLeod, even Kim Stanley Robinson, whose Mars trilogy was one of my favorite reads back in the day. Along with art and tv-shows, it all influenced me to explore and find my own way.

Transmitter Station by Živko Kondić

Which of your pieces is your favorite? Why?

One of my favorite pieces is “The Powerplant”, an oldie from 2016. I owe that piece my entire life probably. It’s one of those works that defined what I want to do. To be honest, it also sold really well, which helped me live off art. I can see many faults now, but it’s dear to my heart and still remains my most sold and printed artwork.

The Powerplant by Živko Kondić

What’s your technique like? Do you finish pieces in a single sitting or spread them out over multiple days?

I am the multiple-sitting guy. Sometimes it takes a year to get something done! I usually start my art with small thumbnails directly in color, to just solidify what I want to present. Then I just resize, add details and do this multiple times until the image turns out the way I like. It is all personal art, so there’s no rush. Sometimes I change things drastically, mid-process. Sometimes the image doesn’t really change from the initial one. Many times I will livestream the process on Twitch

Finally, of all the future technology consistently theorized across all forms of media (teleportation, instant communication, genetic editing, spaceflight, cloning, etc.), what would you like to see the most?

I would love for our civilization to enter the post-scarcity era so much. So, nuclear fusion, solar mirrors/arrays and other ways to exploit solar energy, ending dependence on fossil fuels. I would love for each person on earth to live a peaceful, plentiful life not bound to an exploitatory system. Also curing diseases, yes, please.

Arctic Egyptians by Živko Kondić

Many thanks to Živko for sharing his work and inspiration.
If you would like to keep up with his work, make sure to follow him on Twitter, Instagram, or Pateron.

Tesla’s New Android – Initial Thoughts (TLDR: It’s a Big Deal!!)



Unless you are living under a stone, you’ve probably heard that Tesla is building a humanoid robot—that thing we used to call an ‘Android’ before Google appropriated the word.

After watching Tesla’s AI Day videos, listening to opinions, and swapping between my Corporate Innovation and SciFi Author hats, here are some initial thoughts:

Note: I am skipping past the obvious stuff like how the robot is going to bring manufacturing back onshore, how it’s going to make millions of jobs obsolete, how it will kick-start a round of innovation on the scale of the internet, how it will necessitate UBI… etc.

1) Five Million ways to die
Ok, let’s start silly— the robot looks so cool that I’ve decided I would rather die in a robot uprising than through a biological plague.
Update: having given this more thought, I’ve decided civilization might not even have to end this way after all… see final bullet point.

2) Cheap and Cheerful, aka Winning Humanoid Robotics
Tesla is winning self-driving by leading in data. Each Tesla on the road sends multi-perspective sensory data back home to ‘DOJO’ for training the next generation of AIs. No other player has a million bots in the field collecting data. If Tesla wants to win humanoid robotics (and why wouldn’t they?) Tesla will want to get as many robots as possible out in the real world as soon as possible. This means they will be cheap — or at least, only as expensive as they need to be to keep waiting lists reasonable (perhaps 200k for v1.0? dropping to 50K in a few years as production ramps up?) My point is that although a tireless robot working 22 hours a day, 7 days a week, might be worth 2M based on a 5-year break-even period for the purchase investment, a robot in the field is worth a LOT more than mere money to Tesla. Money is free these days! Data is not, especially data nobody else has…

3) Robot Slaves
In Asimov’s Robot books — the first were written back in 1950s! — robots were leased not purchased. This strategy would make sense to me. I would love to own a robot-slave like C3PO or R2D2, but I can imagine Tesla doing better business with a recurring revenue model. This point is moot anyway because:

4) Show Me The Money!
The money is going to be in the Apps. The robot will do basic stuff, just like the iPhone does out of the box. But most people/businesses will eventually be using specialist Apps: chef, tailor, surgeon, plumber, fembot… This is where the real money will be. Tesla will take a cut of each sale, just like Apple does today, let’s say 15%. Tesla will also provide ‘DOJO’ for development and training. Obviously, they will charge for this too.

How much will the brain-surgeon-bot upgrade cost? 500K sound fair? How about if you want your house painted? Would you buy the 100K house-painter App? Or would you perhaps subscribe to the service for few days at a charge of only 1K/week?

This thing will be a money-printing machine! For shareholders, it gets even better because the real money is going to be:

5) Monkey See, Monkey Do
Tesla Bots will be cheap and ubiquitous. At first, they will be doing the basic entry-level/assistant jobs — bringing water and coffee to clients in the office of the senior partner in a legal practice, standing behind the dentist’s shoulder, handing the mouth-wash cup to the patient. BUT, all this time they will be watching, learning, sending the data back to ‘DOJO’ to be integrated into expertise, ready to be downloaded on demand, for the right price, so that your Tesla-bot plumber will be able to download the Tesla-bot lawyer App when it inadvertently floods the flat downstairs with lumpy brown water…

Google wants to m̶o̶n̶e̶t̶i̶z̶e̶, oops, sorry, I mean organize, all the worlds data, but the Tesla-bots, watching and listening to everything around them, sending all this back to be integrated by ‘DOJO’, will assemble and organize all the worlds skills. The Tesla-bot surgeon App will eventually be better than any individual surgeon because it will have learnt from all the best and synthesized the shards of exceptionality into one seamless super-surgeon!

6) Bad Robot
All this seems pretty good, right? Especially if you are a Tesla shareholder… but I like living! I would consider it a shame to be torn to pieces by a mob of androgynous androids when the inevitable robot-uprising comes — heralded by “Kill All Humans” chanted in pleasant reassuring tones. Asimov gave this some thought and came up with Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics:

 

First Law
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Second Law
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Third Law
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

 

These are pretty good, but the devil is always in the detail. As I read as a kid, in dozens of Asimov stories, things get woolly and edge cases lead to unforeseen consequences. If a robot must obey a human, what happens when my neighbour orders my Tesla-bot to give him the contents of my beer cooler? What about the definition of human itself… birth or conception? Arg… let’s not even go there!

We don’t want a badly programmed dentist-bot-app going into a loop and pulling all our teeth out, or gassing the dental assistant. We don’t want malware creeping into the Tesla-bot gardener App so that on the first of May they all form a mob and go on a killing spree with pitchforks! This is where ‘DOJO’ comes to the rescue. ‘DOJO’ will run all apps in its simulation sandbox putting the software through multiple variations of the Trolly Problem and watching for incidents of indecency, theft or attempted murder.

This will be the equivalent of Apple approving Apps for its iOS App Store. Tesla will check for memory leaks, inappropriate content, scams, genocide… ‘DOJO’ will enforce Asimov’s three laws in the virtual to stop any species terminating behaviour sneaking out into the Real.

In case you can’t tell, I am super excited about all this. I’ve always wanted a robot butler, especially one that won’t murder me in my sleep!

Summer SciFi Musings



It’s summer, it’s hot, I’m in Turkey doing some writing—surrounded by some very pushy cats and startlingly clever Jaybirds.
I got to thinking about non-human intelligence again (a big theme in my books).

Forget about aliens, we already see non-human culture and technology.

Animals are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. We know they are capable of using tools. Some even pass new knowledge onto their offspring and colleagues—technicallythis is culture.

In my writing, the ‘BugNet’ allows animals to interact economically with humans. It’s Science Fiction, but it might not be as far off as we think…

I recently read about a group of scientists watching as a population of crows learned to use paper money to purchase treats from a vending machine!

The idea of their study was to see if birds could be incentivized to adapt to a completely new situation. The guinea pigs (flying guinea pigs) in this case were a murder of crows on a small south pacific island. They had already demonstrated they were able to make and use tools to snag bugs out of holes. In this experiment, they were presented with a vending machine and given some spending money. These very special birds quickly learnt that by inserting pieces of paper into the machine they could buy themselves lunch. Going further, when they were given notes which were too big, the crows were able to tear the larger denominations to match the advertised price.

In Siguarity’s Children I have a sequence where a trapped super-AI uses incentives and rewards to enlist wild animals to help it escape. Some of my early readers expressed scepticism that this might be a stretch, but here we have animals using tools, adapting to novel scenarios, and innovating on the fly (no pun intended). This is the same set of skills we might hope to find in a bright human being!

Imagine, if Instead of birds behaving this way, we’d found slug-beasts on another planet, or a population of zeno-chaete swarming beneath the ice of some Galilean moon! We’d be flipping out!

 

“Our difficulties in understanding or effectuating communication with other animals may arise from our reluctance to grasp unfamiliar ways of dealing with the world.”
― Carl Sagan




Let me know your own examples (or YouTube videos) of animals being unusually smart. I might include them in my upcoming book which (starts under the crust of an ice-moon).

If you want to read more about smart critters working within the human economy to build a better world… check out my Science Fiction!

Cheers, have a good summer!

Toby