Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wizardry

The wizard strides onto the stage, his long, silver beard flowing gently. In resounding, sonorous tones, he begins to speak...

Well.

At this stage we should really clarify a few points. Firstly, the person on stage -in real life, who I encountered to-night (yes! Another post about real-life! This is apparently a typical blog now! I am filled with sadness!) - did not have a long, silver beard. He had a little stubble-beard thing, and his hair was silver, but that's as far as it goes.

Secondly, his voice was neither resounding (except insofar as the sound system assisted it) nor especially sonorous. He spoke fairly well, but there was no shortage of "ums" or "ahs" - especially in the earlier portions of his talk - and he had a bit of a stutter to his speech at times. It essentially worked out.

And, most importantly, he was not, as such, a wizard.

But he was Vernor Vinge.

And that's much cooler.

(Pause for those who haven't heard of him to read his wikipedia entry. He had more stubble-beard-stuff in person than in that photo.)

So. 5:00 PM. April 23rd. Vernor Vinge to give a lecture at UCSD - Vernor Vinge, an author who has inspired and amazed me for years! I am very pleased by this. So, somewhat before 5 PM, I head over - I have no idea what sort of crowds to expect, so I want to get there a little bit early. I also bring a copy of one of Vinge's books, Rainbows End. It isn't my favourite, but it's the only one I have on campus, and it has the additional benefit of being set on and around UCSD. (In the future.)

But I digress. I arrive at the specific location; a fairly large, comfortable lecture hall/auditorium/thing. (I've had several classes in it, including one this quarter.) There are only a few people around, including Mr. Vinge himself. I meet a friend there, the dreaded Justin Huang; we sit down together in a pair of front-row seats. (Why not?) We discuss classes for a little while; time passes. People straggle in, including a few that I know; notably, three or four teachers show up, including two which I have for classes this quarter. It's a little odd. By the time Mr. Vinge's talk begins, there's something on the order of twenty people in the room, maybe a third of whom I know.

Later, pizza arrives, but I'm far too busy listening to Mr. Vinge talk to do anything about it.

It's roughly an hour-long talk. That's fascinating enough. And then there's a half-hour or so of questioning after. (It might be closer to forty-five minutes each, actually.) Subjects covered include:
- How to predict the future (with scenarios, not with trends)
- Why Moore's Law has spoiled technologists
- Why there is no such thing as "Good Enough Computing"
- Why the next generation of native Mandarin speakers will infuriate their parents
- Hint - really good OCR and text-to-speech
- Cell phones sans cell towers
-And a host of other things that I'm forgetting
And then in the questions - which had some really standard questions that Vinge must have been asked literally hundreds of times, and some really good ones - he covered things like:
- The singularity: quite likely in the next ten years
- Was the invention of fire a singularity? No.
- On writing - get a day job (and make writing a hobby)
- Video games - It's an entirely new art form - several of them
- Video games vs. silent film - skimming the surface of the technology
- The singularity again - probably after 2005, before 2030
- Intellectual property - mixed views, but legislation won't change reality
- unless you have a sufficiently prepared reality
- Favourite Philip K. Dick story - "Man in the High Castle"
- Augmented reality (with contact lenses) - still pretty far away
- AI, and moving the goal-posts
- The Turing Test is valid, but requires a larger scope to operate on
- "Will there ever be human-intelligent AI?" "Only very briefly." A new short story by Hugo-Award winning science fiction author Vernor Vinge, coming soon to a something near you!
- Suspension of disbelief as a "soft hack"
- They buy it to enjoy your story; so they accept it, to some degree, and it can shape them!
- unlike an essay
- "them" = "the very smart people who will be rich and powerful some day, but aren't yet

There was one professor in the back - I suspect I misheard, but I could swear that the dreadful Justin Huang said he was a geology professor? - who asked questions that fell rather into this category. Slightly annoying.

But it was completly splendid all the same, and - best of all - after the panel, I managed to ambush Mr. Vinge himself! Yammered at him for seven or eight minutes, maybe. Talked to him about "indie games", in the context of his earlier comments about silent films - specifically, Passage, my description of which made him burst into a grin, and Braid, which is harder to describe. (Or I just did a worse job of describing it.) Also: narrative approaches in video-games (traditional vs. emergent) and webcomics as a model for IP-free art. (He reads both xkcd and Dresden Codak! Holy crud! I really did not expect him to have heard of Dresden Codak.)

No photo, no book signed (it didn't really seem appropriate), and all the pizza was gone by the time I got there - but look. I got to talk to Vernor Vinge about webcomics and video games.

This was my best birthday ever.

3 comments:

Calvacadeofcats said...

maravilloso

Calvacadeofcats said...

things that i didnt know what they mean

- How to predict the future (with scenarios, not with trends)
- Why Moore's Law has spoiled technologists
- Why there is no such thing as "Good Enough Computing"
- Why the next generation of native Mandarin speakers will infuriate their parents
- Hint - really good OCR and text-to-speech
- The singularity: quite likely in the next ten years
- Was the invention of fire a singularity? No.
- The singularity again - probably after 2005, before 2030
- Favourite Philip K. Dick story - "Man in the High Castle"
- Suspension of disbelief as a "soft hack"
- They buy it to enjoy your story; so they accept it, to some degree, and it can shape them!
- unlike an essay
- "them" = "the very smart people who will be rich and powerful some day, but aren't yet
questions that fell rather into this category. Slightly annoying.
Also: narrative approaches in video-games (traditional vs. emergent) and webcomics as a model for IP-free art.

Buffy said...

wow! I never would have guessed. What a GREAT birthday present - even better than what we are sending you (if it ever gets there!). -- Mom