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Aphelion Editorial 077

December 2003

by Dan L. Hollifield

The Usual Rant from the Aphelion Senior Editor

When the internet finally gets a voice of it’s own,you can bet it'll sound exactly like Majel Barrett.

Or Stephen Hawking. Or, in some homes, Peter Tuddenham.

Now, I'm not talking about AI here.

What I mean is, when we have voice control and read-to-me text-to-speech programs running in as many computers as we now have modems, we'll all get to pick the voice our own computers use to talk back to us. When its become common and normal to give voice commands and receive audible replies from the computer, we will have customized voices to pick from. Backing Majel's voice as one of the options is a sure bet. The Trek franchise is not going to miss the boat on that one. Brent Spiner would be another good bet, too. There'll be a C3PO voice, with optional R2D2 sound effects- you know there will. The BBC will licence the voices of K-9, Zen, Orac, and Slave. That's another sure bet. Maybe some of the voices of the Drs. Who, Daleks, various companions, and others as well. Sean Connery is also a sure bet. As is Christopher Lee- and the Hitchhiker's Guide voice, and Marvin the Paranoid Android, and Xena, and Foghorn Leghorn, and Jonny Quest... I'm sure that people will soon want their computers to read text to them, and give vocal responses to voice commands.

The voices we each pick for our computers will also become social cues. Girls will start checking out the guy's choice in computer voices as clues into the guy's personality. This will be useless- Single guys will probably opt for their computer responding to them in sexy female voices. Hmm, perhaps we should omit the word "single" in that last sentence. I think that "probably" can stay, though.

I don't know what guys will start looking for in the ladies' choice in computer voices. (An "I Dream of Genie" computer persona would be a sure-fire danger flag to all sexual orientations. I think that anyone who wants their computer to call them "master" is potentially dangerous, LOL!) But I'd tend to think that most women would opt for having their computers talk to them in their personal heart-throb's voices, too.

I'm already saving up for the Jessica Rabbit voice, myself... Just as an option. I figure the Majel voice will come standard on most computers by then. I also want a Dean Martin voice. That one would come in handy for chatrooms. ("Hey Pal, someone wants to send you a private message. You wanna accept it, or should I tell them you just stepped out for a drink?") This could revolutionize chatrooms again. And not only by letting your computer give you vocal responses for it's own alerts and pop ups. Just think of being able to pick the voice your nickname will sound like when it comes out of the other people's computer speakers. Hmmm... On second thought, chatters will probably opt for some variety of teleconferencing instead. A mix of text chat, speech-to-text chat, text-to-speech chat, live vocal chat, and video. I see the sales of great big computer monitors going up. Got to have more room for all those little windows... OK, I'm rambling again.

Alright, I admit that this will be a few years from now, but it will come. We ought to start making a list of the voices we want and let the programmers get started on it early. No need to waste time. Let's get in on the ground floor, here. Programmers, take note!

LOL! As if anyone ever listens to me!

And now, for something completely different:

Re: using old designs in an emergency. (The “Rednecks In Space” plan, LOL!)

"I say, if there is anything in orbit that can be used as-is or for parts, let's utilize it! Surely it would be better in the long run to save something, if only to have an existing framework to hang upgrades upon."

"And shouldn't we launch one or more of the remaining US space shuttles to leave in orbit as a working tugboat rather than ground them and let them rust away? Can't we think of a safe way to refuel them in orbit? I know that there are other problems with that idea too, but I hate to see a perfectly good workhorse put out to pasture. Surely there is a way to boost them out to higher and more useful orbits? I know the next generation of surface-to-orbit-to-surface craft is going to be a few years in the future. I just hate wasting things."

I’ve talked about this a little bit in a previous editorial, using space shuttles as the object of speculation. I’ve been thinking about the matter some more and come to new speculations for recycling our older tech for new uses. Like: Modify Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsule designs into craft to use as lifeboats for the ISS. Old designs, but updated and built using new materials and developments.

Put ‘em on anything that’ll launch ‘em up there, and dock them to the ISS at strategic locations. (I remember reading back in the 1970s about a design for an Apollo capsule to be used as a lifeboat, stripped of everything not needed for re-entry, that was able to have 5 to 7 seats shoehorned into the basic capsule. That’s from memory, so don’t be surprised if the number of passengers was actually higher.) Then in case of emergencies we’d have a way to get everyone off of the station safely. And for routine crew changes too, while the shuttles are grounded. (OK, this would only be possible if we already HAD some of these lifeboats built, I know.) Just send up the new crew in the lifeboat, and bring the old crew back down.

Or modify them further for use as workhorses in space. Like the Larry Niven singleships that the Belters use in some of his stories. Take something like a Gemini, and outfit it for a single astronaut to use. Add on a “service module” a-la Apollo and you’d wind up with a nice little runabout. Start launching up big sections of space station or segments of big rocket stages and tugboat them to Lunar orbit, or into a Lagrange point for assembly. Some of the Russian capsule designs could be used too. And this could also mean a new use for some of those old ICBMs that we want to disarm- free engines for stuff. And new jobs for the people that will be needed to put all this stuff together.

We HAD the technology. We can rebuilt it- some of it, the really good bits -and put it to new uses. We can make it stronger, faster, better... We’ve got lots of info and material to recycle. I do realize that it sounds more like a plan to build dune buggies out of old cars, but if it’ll get the human race out into the solar system quicker, then let’s do it.

We’re going to need lots of edges and advantages to retain our presence in space. I see where the next Chinese rocket will have two astronauts aboard, and they also have both unmanned and manned Lunar missions scheduled for further in the decade. China may colonize the Moon and Mars before the US or Russia finally get serious about people exploring space again. (Weeks after I wrote this, President Bush announced a US return to the Moon. Could it be that we have the makings of another Space Race here? If so, good- We can use whatever crowbar that we can get to motivate the burrocrats -{ NOT a typo }- of various nations to move towards the future.) I admit that there is an awesome amount that we can learn with robotic probes. I’m all in favor of continuing their use. But there is still the dream of many to actually go there. To live on the Lunar colony, or an L-5, or on Mars, or out in the asteroid belt, or even the outer system.

Some of us want to go. Right now- if possible. We’ve been ready for years while we’ve waited for technology to catch up with our dreams. Give us an engine that will get us there, a buggy to strap it to, places we can trade at, a place to live, jobs, and millions of people would leave Earth for the rest of the solar system. Today. You’re sitting there reading this-- Wouldn’t you go? Right now?

We’ve been learning how to get into space for half a century now. Let’s not forget that we can use everything we’ve learned so far to go even further. We’ll have to use everything we can lay our hands on if we’re ever going to get more space stations- and even colonies -going. Or mining the asteroids for their wealth. Or setting up new instruments to track comets and asteroids for possible threats. Or planting colonies all over the solar system, or putting space stations out where they’d make good way stations for long trips. Or whatever. This is our future. How can we make it real as rapidly as possible?

Colonies on other planets or the moons of other planets would not only give humanity room to grow, but challenges to learn from as well. Ditto with space stations in distant regions of the solar system. I like to think of it as getting more eggs and lots of different baskets. Right now, we’re doomed if anything catastrophic happens to Earth. We need to spread out further, so one big rock doesn’t take us all out at once. And we need to spread out soon, while we still have a chance. Its only a matter of time before Earth catches another cosmic Kung-Fu punch from some equally cosmic debris. And I hate to have to be the one to point out that it won’t be those cute and cuddly dinosaurs that get extincted this time. It’ll be you and me, partner. Getting humans to live off of Earth and spreading them all over the rest of the solar system is the only way to keep our species safe from the next celestial smack-down.

And there will be a next one. Its only a matter of time.

Of course, the swifter of those among you have already noted that in my speculations I’m oversimplifying many, many real-world problems that would actually take years of hard work to overcome. What I’m really getting at in this editorial is that there are many possibilities out there for “re-inventing what we’ve already invented” that have yet to be explored-- while we wait for new space shuttle designs to become real. We can’t abandon research into new vehicles, but we can get a head-start by upgrading old ones in the interim. Humanity needs to start exploring space more fully, right now!

Think of it as making use of modern reproductions of grand old antiques if it helps clarify the concept for you. Like those rebuilt Model T roadsters with modern, high-performance engines and suspensions that you see on the highways sometimes. Or, to continue the automobile analogy further, any of those classic automobile replica kit-cars that can be seen on the roads today. Take what we’ve already got and make it new again. Updated, upgraded, and accelerated!

Make the most of what we have at hand, while learning how to make new tools. That’s the philosophy that built this little civilization of ours. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, invent new uses! Thinking caps on, people! There will be a pop quiz sometime later-- and survival is a pass or fail subject. There are no second chances.

Besides, getting off of Earth ought to be fun!

Don’t just dream it, be it.


I now return you to your regularly scheduled reading...


2003 Dan L. Hollifield

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