This page brings together videos on a variety of topics that form the background to Luck and Death.
Some of these materials are included in parts of the new Facts in the Fiction section of the second edition of L&D, but most are new additions that go beyond FITF.
Dogware and Legged Robots
One of the features of Luck and Death that extrapolates from real life science is the Dogware that comprises part of the security system at Cloud City.
FITF section of the book already contains some information on precursors to the Dogware and you can find that section reproduced on the FITF Page on this site.
In that material we met Big Dog, a four-legged robot built by Boston Dynamics for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The book linked to a video, but I’ll embed it here.
With Big Dog the emphasis is on stability and the ability to bear a significant payload. That said, its later iterations have combined this with a significant increase in coordination.
Remember the Dogs in Luck and Death grabbing and tearing at each other and at their prey? The early versions of Big Dog don’t seem capable of that, but this newer one (from February 2013) shows signs of transforming into something that would be.
The video’s short, so watch through to the slow motion part at the end. That starts to look like one of the Dogs in the heat of madness.
Even with its improved coordination, Big Dog isn’t agile and quick like the Dogs in Luck and Death. Like the old-fashioned zombies of Night of the Living Dead, Big Dog is a little slow and clumsy (at least for now) and that reduces his scariness.
But another Boston Dynamics robot, Cheetah, is more like the sort-of-zombies in 28 Days Later: fast and fricken’ scary.
Cheetah already set a world speed record for legged robots some time ago by hitting 18 miles (about 28 kilometres) per hour. Now it has not only demolished its own record, it’s also surpassed Usain Bolt’s human speed record of 27.78 mph (44.7 kph) by reaching 28.3 mph (45.5 kph) [see here, and here]
You do not want this mother chasing after you.
The Kaikki as a Universal Translator
When Gat’s in Mexico in Luck and Death, he uses his Kaikki–a multifunctional portable computing and communication device, like a futuristic cell phone/iPad combination–as a translation device to converse with people who don’t understand English.
The universal translator is an old science fiction trope, invented as a bit of handwaving to get around the fact that folks in space operas, like the original Star Trek, needed to be able to converse with aliens without interrupting the story with a bunch of explanation.
Still, as Marshal McLuhan’s global village becomes less of a metaphor and more of a reality, the potential utility of a real universal translator has increased enough that serious work is being done in this area.
And really, if you want to test the reliability of any communication system there’s nothing like trying it out in a dangerous, high-stakes domain, like military field operations or surgical training. These are areas where clear, accurate communications are sometimes essential to living through the day. If we can produce translators that work well enough to work in these situations, we should be able to rely on the same systems to help us get directions in Tokyo or Skype with people we meet through Facebook.
So check out some recent progress in the videos below, which show prototype translation systems being assessed in military operations and the training for delicate laparotic surgery.
First the military:
And now surgery: