Author Archives: sheng

(Revised Proposal) Genetic Modification Organism

Genetic modification of organisms have been around for thousands of years. The early version of genetic modification is through selective breeding by humans to produce organisms with desired traits, such as dogs with stronger sense of smell, flower with brighter colors, etc. However, that is still within the range of the same organism. With the advancement of technologies, humans have start with splicing and mixing the genes of two or more creatures. The manipulation of genes have gone beyond that of animals and plants, recently, there is a Chinese male named He Jiankui who performed a gene surgery on a pair of twin sisters Lulu and Nana so that they are immune to HIV infections.

The appearance of genetically modified humans is quite a heated topic. The splicing of other genes into humans is a huge advancement of human as a species, it can produce healthier and possibly stronger, more intelligent humans. However, like any other appearance of new, unknown topics, the uncertainty invoke feelings of fear within people. There are a lot of movies and tv series about zombie apocalypse involving human manipulation of biology. Furthermore, in the¬†Westworld, Dr. Robert Ford once said that once humans slip out of nature’s law, humans are done for (42:50).

Rangel, Gabriel. (2015, Aug. 9). “From Corgis to Corn: A Brief Look at the Long History of GMO Technology.”¬†http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/from-corgis-to-corn-a-brief-look-at-the-long-history-of-gmo-technology/

  • This text is a brief history of GMOs from the early selective breeding to modern use of technology.

Stein, Rob. (2018, Nov. 26). “Chinese Scientist Says He’s First To Create Genetically Modified Babies Using CRISPR.”¬†NPR.¬†https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/11/26/670752865/chinese-scientist-says-hes-first-to-genetically-edit-babies

  • He Jiankui creates twin sisters who are have their genes changed to prevent HIV infections. The two children are currently healthy with their parents, but He faces criticism about the ethnicity of his experiment with human children.

Zimmer, Carl. (2018, Dec. 1). “Genetically Modified People Are Walking Among Us.”¬†New York Times.¬†https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/01/sunday-review/crispr-china-babies-gene-editing.html

  • There have been bans and debates over human experiments, but some scientists have turn to underground research. Nowadays some people walking among us are actually like Lulu and Nana created by He, people that have their genes changed.

Notes for class 11/29/18

Words:

  • Initial stage is stressful, but do more research and you’ll understand more about your topic.
  • Bring¬†4 copies of revise proposal to class on Tu. 4.
  • Should not know their arguments yet at the beginning.
  • Bring in devices to work on the research project.
  • More help email prof. to schedule a time given that some work is already done. Make sure to sign up for conference after class on Tu/ Thur.

3 Things To Ask Yourself When Drafting Proposal:

  1. Is the topic clear and specific? The narrower the better.
  2. Is the topic worth doing?
  3. Is it directly related to science fiction? How can it be explore through lens of sci-fi.

Thur. 12/6:

  • Analog edition + OL Discussion
  • Symposium debate/ Westworld.

Pros or Cons: Uplifting Animal Intelligence

Intelligence is a dangerous thing, a double edge blade if you will; like a gun, it can be good and bad depending on the user. As far as we know, humans are the most intelligent creature of Earth, with this intelligence comes curiosity, a thirst for more knowledge and understanding, a creative mind that is far too big for its shell. To change, one needs to destroy first. For example, things are not always what it is now in the modern day, in the past, people believe Earth is flat, but it is in fact round. It is through endless experimentation that humans are able to make process. Nowadays, there is a debate on a new change, whether humans should increase the intelligence of animals.

I got inspired Vishal’s post and decide to focus on this topic myself. Personally, I am against that idea. First of all, the increase in animal intelligence would pose a threat to humans. Animals are naturally more gifted physically, if given the intelligence to match, what would become of the humans? Furthermore, what would the relationship be like for different groups of intelligent creatures? Will humans be able to accept these animals that they once consume and use as equals? Will these equally intelligent animals be able to accept humans?

Gent, Edd. “If We Could Engineer Animals to Be as Smart as Humans – Should We?” Singularityhub.com,¬†Singularity Universe, 16 Jan. 2018,¬†https://singularityhub.com/2018/01/16/should-we-use-brain-enhancing-tech-to-uplift-animals-to-our-level/#sm.000004qcv4k3fofjgx248efudjkl8.

This article give some example of human experiment with animals. He argues that animals to some extent become smarter, but in the end, they can never compare to humans because they do not have the mechanic conditions, such as brain size.

Xu, Christine. ‚ÄúScience or Science Fiction? Uplifting Animals.‚Ä̬†Yale Scientific Magazine, Yale Scientific Magazine, 8 May 2015,¬†www.yalescientific.org/2015/05/science-or-science-fiction-uplifting-animals/.

This article brings up the question of whether humans are obligated to uplift animals come up. Some says yes. because it is unethical to purposely withhold intelligence enhancement from other animals.

Maughan, Tim. ‚ÄúFuture ‚Äď Should We Engineer Animals to Be Smart like Humans?‚Ä̬†BBC News, BBC, 1 Oct. 2014,¬†www.bbc.com/future/story/20141001-why-supersmart-animals-are-coming.

This article points out that humans have an obligation to help uplift animals, and that one of the benefits for humans is to have helpers with making Earth a better place. Paul Graham Raven question if humans have the right to make decisions for the animals in the matter of uplifting.

Knapp, Alex. ‚ÄúIs It Ethical to Make Animals As Smart As People?‚Ä̬†Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Sept. 2011,¬†www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2011/08/30/is-it-ethical-to-make-animals-as-smart-as-people/#5efbd8fa4dc4.

In this article, Knapp believes that the uplifting of animal intelligence is feeble, instead humans should focus on the bettering of our own society.

A Recipe For Disaster

Westworld is a science fiction tv series. It takes place in another world, where human technologies have evolved to the point that humans can create a “virtual reality.” Through the use of human-like robots with artificial consciousness, humans are given free reign in this futuristic amusement park, able to play out their wildest dreams and desires. However, this free reign will lead to human downfall.

First and foremost, while watching the first season fist episode of this tv series, I am flabbergasted by the ideas of the two inventors, Bernard Lowe and Robert Ford. There is nothing wrong with creating human-listic robots, given that the proper precautions are taken. Now, I am not talking about the guards and clean-up crews, but real laws and regulations that should be followed by the players. One should know that most humans, not all, are worse than animals if given the opportunity to let loose, for we are creatures of insatiable desires; rape, murder, and violence are all part of what we are. This futuristic park satisfied the conditions, for they are there to gratify desires of humans who pay to visit their world (00:10:52). Without laws, morals, and consequences to keep humans intact, it is only obvious that we would indulge in desires, and turn to something unrecognizable.

I agree with Ashley Stubbs’s, head of Westworld security, words to Bernard, “You don’t have kids at home, do you, Bernard? If you did, you’d know that they all rebel eventually” (00:18:43). These robots are like a “growing boy,” they absorb the actions and knowledge around them, and are shaped by them (39:32).¬†If we are to pair up self-conscious robots and the dark side of humans, it is a recipe for disaster. Just like how abused slaves under the hands of a tyrannic master will rebel, these self-aware robots are the same. These “violent delights have violent ends” (1:04:00).

While watching this episode, I have never liked Bernard or Ford, to me, they seem too obsessed with upgrading these robots to human standards. Do they even know what they are doing? They may think that they are creating perfection robots, but by giving them subconsciousness and intelligence, they have gone beyond the creation of a tool, instead of an lifeless object for the sake of serving humans, they are creating a whole new species. As with every species, these machines would have their own will, desires, and freedom. As stated before, a “violent end” is only a matter of time when these new species’s lives cross paths with the humans.

Perhaps it is human egoism that truly sets their end. Despite the repeated faults coming up with the robots throughout the episode, they believe that everything is under their control, for the robots are programmed by them. These pride and self-confident creates a world of free indulgence that blinds them to the ever evolving robots.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Horrifying And Sickening To The Core

In The¬†Handmaid’s Tale, things have changed drastically from our world. Parts of Earth are littered with toxic waste and poison produced by humans. These areas become what is known as The Colonies, while the health parts of the Earth become known as Gilead. Gilead is a totalitarian society ruled by fundamental regime that strips women of all freedom and rights, subjecting them as properties instead of humans with emotions. In all, it is a totally and utterly a disaster of a dystopian universe.

When watching the first episode of season one of this series, I am horrified by the cruelness and brutality taking place. According to Offred’s words, “So many things are forbidden now,” and in truth, it is (5:46). Handmaids, women for the purpose of creating offspring, are limited to many things, such as space, time, reading, buying, and even their names. Offred is use to be known as June, but she is not¬†allowed to be known by their original name. A name is an identity, it sums up who one is. Giving someone a second name and forbidding he or she access to their original is the same as forcing them to become someone else. This obliteration of identity is also seen with the standard appearance of the handmaids, for they all wear a white cap and dress in red. These red robes covers their entire body and the white caps, to some extent, obstruct the face of the handmaids, like the barren wife, Serena Joy said, “I want to see as little of you as possible” (7:34). These handmaids are not seen as humans, but sex dolls with a face. It is sickening seeing the Ceremony in which the husband have to have sex with the handmaid while having the barren wife witness the whole thing. The blankness on their face and just plain torture.

Furthermore, the Red Center where handmaids are sent to to be educated about sexual servitude, is beyond words. Violence is served to all of the disobedient, such as a character known as Janine has her right eye gorge out for rebellious spirit in her eyes. Furthermore, on top of losing an eye, she is also forced to serve many men for many hours as well. However, the worse is the mental attacks that she suffers. The rest of the handmaids are forced to point and shame her for all the things she has been through, as though it is truly her fault and that she deserves it, when in truth, that is not true at all (21:56, 27:50). The world is crazy, enough to drive many people insane, and maybe it is more of a blessing to be insane than live in an insane world.

On top of that, there is an eerie similarity between this and the book¬†1984 by George Orwell. While¬†1984 has “Big Brother is watching you,”¬†The Handmaid’s Tale has “Under His eye” (10:28). There is both surveillance and lack of privacy in both texts. There is an utmost power, control of the people with eyes and people with guns everywhere. Furthermore,¬†both the novel and the tv series, there is an opposite and twist to many slogans and words. For example, the sexual intercourse between a handmaid and a male servant is define as “rape” and the forced sex is seen more as a divine duty. The handmaids, used as sex dolls, are known to be “good women” while the others on the run from the totalitarian rule is known as “whores” and “sluts.” It is ironic and sarcastic, sickening to the core.

Back To The Archive, A Day Spend Reading And Relaxing

The second trip back to the science-fiction archive on the fifth floor of the library was better than the first. We were given more time and freedom to do what we like, not to mention the experience of relaxing in an peaceful, silent, air conditioned room with an intriguing book in hand is just pure bliss.

I continued with my reading of the magazine¬†Amazing Stories¬†vol. 52, No. 3, May 1979 that I was reading before on the first trip. From this collection of short stories, two tales caught my interest: “Devolution” by Edmond Hamilton and “I, Robot” by Eando Binder.

Edmond Hamilton wrote for science fiction pulp magazines, and he was a pretty popular SF writer back in his days; in fact, he was awarded the first Jules Verne Prize by the votes of fans (Jules Verne Prize is the first SF prize before the existence of the Hugo Awards). It is interesting to note that Hamilton’s progress is similar to the¬†Amazing Stories¬†in which they both evolved from romantic, fantasy centered stories to more unsentimental and realistic stories (haffnerpress). “Devolution” plays with the idea of “what if humans are the devolution products of more advance lifeforms,” contradicting with Darwin’s survival of the fittest and evolution. When I was reading this, I imagine what it would be like if it were true, I found I was a little shock, angered, and sad. Deterioration gives me ideas of backward, destruction, chaos, and disappearance like the people of the short story “There Will Come Soft Rain.” I always look at evolution as an advancement for the better, the idea of deterioration and eventual disappearance is just sad.

Eando Binder’s stories often focus on superheros, and he is most well-known for his writing the scripts for Captain Marvel Adventures (wiki). However, the one that caught my eye is his story “I, Robot” which is the first of his Adam Link Robot¬†short stories. These stories centers around a robot named Adam Link who is made in the likeness of human and gains self-awareness. Adam is not welcomed by the humans as they viewed him as a monster and a dangerous threat, and they are also nervous with the idea of a self-aware, intelligent robot among them. This ideas portrayed in this story makes me feel ironic, sad, and want to laugh. First of all, humans seem so feverent in creating artificial intelligence, playing god in trying to create another intellectual being, but at the same time, they are afraid of them and want to control this being. If an intellectual being is born, it can be considered another race, it has its own thoughts and feelings, and the act of controlling him/her/it will eventually lead to revolution and war. People want to play god, they want to dictate others, they want to be able to give, grant, or take power to or from others; however, when even if there is the slightest possibility that others might become just as or more powerful than them, they try to destroy or limit them. In this way, humans can be seen as puny, they just cannot seem to stand the idea that humans are not the top and center of the world.

Between these two stories, I think that “I, Robot” is my favorite, it really lets the reader think a lot. I understand that it is natural for intelligent beings to be wary of unknown, potential threats, but the quickness that humans pounce on it with intention of destruction or dictation just mouth-dropping. Makes me want to “Heh Heh.”

http://www.haffnerpress.com/our-authors/edmond-hamilton/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eando_Binder

Image result for amazing stories  May 1979

Tuesday 10/16/18 Class Notes

Announcement 

  • We have a tie for the latest reading response, congratulation to Tyler and Justin!
  • Meet at the Sci. Fi. Archive in the library this Thursday.

Class Discussion

Google Progress.

  • All images have notion of up and forward.
  • But one person’s utopia is another’s dystopia.
  • Idea of an utopia varies from person to person.
  • Example: Metropolis.

“There Will Come Soft Rains.”

  • Ray Bradbury (1950).
  • Progress = change/ dynamic = objective towards a goal = relative/ abstract.
  • Written around the time of WWII, nuclear, atomic bombs.
    • Blurring lines between utopia and dystopia.
    • Sift in attitude towards science and sci. fi.
  • Setting:
    • Allendale, CA.
    • 8/4/2026.
    • A span of ~1 day.
    • “City in ruins” – (Pg 1 (10-11)).
    • House.
      • Technology try to save itself, self-preservation (human-like).
      • Robot mice/ “electric mice” serves surveillance purposes.
      • Technology doesn’t understand that humans are gone.
    • Relationship between technology and humans (Pg 2 (3)).
    • Humans becoming standardized (Pg 1 (2)).
  • Poem’s relation to the story.
    • Human does not affect time. Even though everything’s destroyed, time still goes on.
  • Similarity to “The Machine Stops:”
    • Notion of hierarchy of serving and the served.
    • There’s chaotic confusion and lots of actions going on in the end.
  • Automated, Routine.

“The Last Question.”

  • 1940-1943, 1951-1958.
    • Pulp Mag.
    • Shortage of material.
    • Decline.
  • Isaac Asimov (1956).
    • Pulp Magazine: Science Fiction Quarterly.
  • Span of tens of billions of years.
  • Repetition of the same question.
  • Energy question, Sustainability.

Vocabulary

  • Hard science writer:¬†Including factual information into the story.
  • Turing Test: Machine test to be able to think for itself.
  • Singularity Test: Test to see if technology can evolve to take care of itself.

The Empty Ghost House

The short story “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” is written by Ray Bradbury in 1950. It¬† takes place in the future where humans have perished, and leaving behind them, an empty building relic that repeats never-endingly.

The first sentence of the story is pretty normal, it reads “In the living room the voice-clock sang, Tick-tock, seven o’clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o’clock! as if it were afraid that nobody would” (Bradbury, 1). We might not notice and have just written it off as a regular alarm clock that is sing loudly to wake its owner. However, the next few two lines that followed quickly disrupted this feeling of normal and ease with “[t]he morning house lay empty. The clock ticked on, repeating and repeating its sounds into the emptiness” (Bradbury, 1). All of a sudden, we are hit with a sense of oddness, the clock is ringing, but there are no sounds or any indications of human activity.¬†At this time, questions might have already risen as to why and a feeling of dread that something has happened might be tugging at the heart. This dread is only deepened with the repetition of the clock’s alarm, “Seven-nine, breakfast time, seven-nine!” (Bradbury, 1).

As the story progresses, we can see that there are mention of time littered throughout, everything seems to be dictated by it, like a routine code. We are taken through a monotone day, like a part of the dead mechanic house, watching the scenes played out without the appearance of humans to lighten the mood.

Things might have made a turn with the appearance of the living dog that seems to have connections to the humans that might have owned the house, but events did not played out favorably. “The dog ran upstairs, hysterically yelping to each door, at last realizing, as the house realized, that only silence was here” (Bradbury, 2). On the parlor, the dog display a series of movements, sniffing, frothing, running in circles, biting its tail, before eventually dying alone in the desolated house, unnoticed. “Two-fifteen.

“The dog was gone.

“In the cellar, the incinerator glowed suddenly and a whirl of sparks leaped up the chimney” (Bradbury, 2). There is a light up in the eye and the heart at the appearance of a living creature, but with its death, they grew colder as the realization of death came upon. The house is dead¬† already with the departure of its inhabitants; it is just an empty shell of itself, a ghost house that replay on repeat.

The story resonates with the poem, mentioned in it, by Sara Teasdale known as “There Will Come Soft Rains.” The last four lines read:

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,

if mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn

Would scarcely know that we were gone. (Bradbury, 3)

Indeed, no one realizes the departure of the humans, except the old dog that eventually left the world of living as well. The destruction of the house at the end, left me feeling empty, sad, and relieved. Empty, because everything is gone. Sad, because there is even less of a prove that something once exist. Relieved, because everything finally ended. Life can continue instead of being stopped in a loop replayed on end. Reading this story is really tiring, clinging onto the past and trying to relive it despite the fact that it is gone.

The Sci-Fi Attic

On Thursday, October 4th, 2018, the class of ENG 2420, under the lead of Professor Belli, took a trip to the Science Fiction Collection located at the library on the fourth floor here at New York City of Technology. Amazingly, one of the finest and grandest collection of Science Fiction in the world is located at the very college that we are attending. The collection contains a variety of items, some are as early as the 1920s, while others are modern day, there are critics, magazines, and novels, and all these treasures are donated by an anonymous donor.

When I was first aware of such a grand collection, I imagined towering shelves standing next to one another like solders in uniformed lines, raising from the floor and overreaching towards the ceiling, books and magazines packed neatly and tightly in their rightful place on the shelves. However, this fantasy of mine was soon met with reality as the real home of these collections are in fact rather small. Tightly packed, yes, but small. The shelves are taller than me, but not towering, and there are less room and shelves than what I had imagined. Furthermore, the collection shares a room with other materials, like boxes and plastic wraps, and some other not books that I cannot name. Maybe I am more of a romantic or having too much of a fantasy, but I think I had imagined something more traditional, or something you would see out of Harry Potter.

The looks might have been different all together from what I imagined, but the smell of book is the same. When I walked in, standing between the shelves of the collections, and with a book in hand, I can smell the old, woody smell from the pages as I flip there them. It smells of history, of the lingering past, a whole different sensation and awe that can never be imitated by the electronic books. Some of these old collections are wrapped protectively in a plastic wrap and forbidden to be touch in fear of breaking, like fragile flakes.

After that, looking back at the shelves of collection once more, I thought that it is kind of amazing to have all these. Though the books and magazines have not been completely shorted out, the organized neatness and tightness is still there. There is still a far-ranging research materials and philosophy of knowledge that any scholar dedicated to the research of Science Fiction would be interest and excited about.

All in all, I think that this collection have the potential to become an attraction to scholars all across the world, but it still has a long way to go. The arrangement, organization, room, and decoration could definitely use a little more work before the grand opening of the collection to the world as an exhibition. As of now, it is more like a humble¬†attic at a scholar’s home, suitable for tumbling beginners, like us, as the first step into the deep abyss of the Sci-Fi.

From these collections, I chose the¬†Amazing Stories as my choice of reading, vol. 52, no. 3, May 1979, due to it’s eye-catching cover page and intriguing short stories that are worth reading.

Image result for amazing stories may 1979