“Real-time,” Interplanetary Chat

While recording a podcast with the guys at DecipherSciFi about the twee(n) love story The Space Between Us, we spent some time kvetching about how silly it was that many of the scenes involved Gardner, on Mars, in a real-time text chat with a girl named Tulsa, on Earth. It’s partly bothersome because throughout the rest of the the movie, the story tries for a Mohs sci-fi hardness of, like, 1.5, somewhere between Real Life and Speculative Science, so it can’t really excuse itself through the Applied Phlebotinum that, say, Star Wars might use. The rest of the film feels like it’s trying to have believable science, but during these scenes it just whistles, looks the other way, and hopes you don’t notice that the two lovebirds are breaking the laws of physics as they swap flirt emoji.

Hopefully unnecessary science brief: Mars and Earth are far away from each other. Even if the communications transmissions are sent at light speed between them, it takes much longer than the 1 second of response time required to feel “instant.” How much longer? It depends. The planets orbit the sun at different speeds, so aren’t a constant distance apart. At their closest, it takes light 3 minutes to travel between Mars and Earth, and at their farthest—while not being blocked by the sun—it takes about 21 minutes. A round-trip is double that. So nothing akin to real-time chat is going to happen.

But I’m a designer, a sci-fi apologist, and a fairly talented backworlder. I want to make it work. And perhaps because of my recent dive into narrow AI, I began to realize that, well, in a way, maybe it could. It just requires rethinking what’s happening in the chat. Continue reading

Sci-Fi Purple Drank

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After Alphy sings to wake her from her 154-hour sleep, Barbarella turns to one of a pair of transparent plastic domes beside her bed. As Alphy announces that she should “prepare to insert nourishment,”” a tall cylindrical glass, filled with a purple fluid, rises from a circular recession. All Barbarella has to do is lift the hinged dome, grab the glass, and drink. When she’s done she puts the glass back into the plastic dome, and Alphy takes care of the rest.

Sharp-eyed readers may note that there are two sets of rectangular buttons in the dome. Each set as one black, one gray, and one white button. We don’t see these buttons being used.

As an interface, this is about as simple as it gets.

  • Human has need.
  • Agent anticipates need.
  • Agent does what it can to address the need.
  • Agent provides respectful, just-in-time instructions to the human on her part.
  • Human has need satisfied.

Seriously, this bit from 1968 is the future.

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