2018 Capricon Science Fiction Convention

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2018 Capricon Science Fiction Convention
2018 Capricon Science Fiction Convention

This weekend (Feb 15 thru 18) is the 38th annual Capricon Science Fiction Convention, an event I always look forward to. As usual, I’ll be participating in the convention’s programming as both a panelist and as a panel moderator. Even though Capricon is a convention about science fiction and fantasy, my participation will not be all that different than my participation in last weekend’s NIRCON, the annual convention of the Northern Illinois Rocketry Association, where I gave a presentation on the future of human space exploration.

Given that at Capricon panelists "apply" to be on specific panels, the list of panels that I am on will give you a good idea of the types of topics I am most interested in and most qualified to discuss and debate.

How Soon Artificial General Intelligence

My lead-off panel will be How Soon Artificial General Intelligence, moderated by Bill Thomasson. The panel description asks us to answer the questions of how soon AGI (artificial general intelligence) might become a reality and how will that development affect human society. The question of how long it will be before true artificial intelligence becomes a reality is anyone’s guess. I do not believe that anyone can with any degree of accuracy answer this question. As to the impact on human society, that is an easier – and quite interesting – subject to tackle. With respect to workplace automation, AGI could be considered as being automation on steroids. Some will view this as a threat to their livelihood while others will be beneficiaries of this development.

Capture Deflect Destroy

Next I’ll be serving as moderator for the panel Capture Deflect Destroy in which the panel discusses the options we have in dealing with an identified asteroid or comet that is on a collision course with Earth. As moderator I’ll be expanding the panel’s discussion to include asteroid mining as a use of these objects. What I see as relevant areas for our discussion are background on the environmental impact of collisions, asteroid/comet detection and tracking programs, the classification of asteroid/comet families (orbital and compositional), and of course the technologies associated with altering the orbits of these bodies.

Pirates of the Asteroids: Who Owns ET Resources?

From talking about asteroids as a threat to civilization, I’ll be segueing to the panel Pirates of the Asteroids: Who Owns ET Resources? which may well be the most interesting as we debate the question of ownership and the making of territorial claims in outer space. Despite the panel’s title, taken from the title of a science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov, this is a very serious international space policy concern that must be addressed.

The framework for this discussion is The Outer Space Treaty which prohibits nations from making territorial claims in space. It was this restriction, along with the outlawing of all military activity in space, that really caused the Space Race to cool off. Our panel will also be specifically addressing the twin questions of whether or not a private company can claim ownership of space objects and, more importantly, if those companies will retain full legal ownership of any mined ET resources that they return to Earth. For a Wikipedia description of recent United States legislation that touches on this issue, see Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015 in November 2015. You may also want to read about what the tiny European nation of Luxembourg has been up to at Luxembourg aims to Contribute to the Peaceful Exploration and Sustainable Utilization of Space Resources for the Benefit of Humankind. This panel is being moderated by Pat Sayre McCoy. Pat and co-panelist Jeffrey Liss are a couple of folks I always look forward to serving on panels with.

What Are Acceptable Risks in Space Exploration?

Continuing with the theme of space exploration is the panel What Are Acceptable Risks in Space Exploration? moderated by Dr Michael Unger. In this age of the emergence of commercial space exploration, this question is particularly relevant. In his book Disturbing the Universe, Freeman Dyson made an interesting observation on this subject as it pertains to cost:

“As soon as our government takes responsibility for such as project, any serious risk of failure or loss of life becomes politically unacceptable. The costs of Island One (Gerard O’Neill’s space colony proposal) become high for the same reason that the costs of the Apollo expeditions were high. The government can afford to waste money but it cannot afford to be responsible for a disaster.”

Supporting Dyson’s observation is the fact that within the realm of NASA and space projects we have multiple examples of commercially provided goods and services successfully delivered at a fraction of the cost of their NASA/government counterparts. While our panel’s description is oriented towards the risks associated explicitly with NASA programs, I hope that our scope extends beyond that to include commercial (private) alternatives.

Science Fiction Cover Art: A History to Modern Day

Having served on both computing (AI) and space exploration panels, my final Capricon panel will be on the subject of art. The panel Science Fiction Cover Art: A History to Modern Day (moderated by friend and physicist Bill Higgins) will talk about the past and future of science fiction art with a particular focus on the publishing industry. Over the years, styles of science fiction cover art have come and gone while production methods (medium) went largely unchanged. The advent of personal computers and software tools for the creation of digital art has had a dramatic impact in this arena – and this will be a central feature of our panel’s discussion.

The Rest of The Time

When not on a panel, I look forward to being an audience member for those panels that interest me. These panels tend to be either space, science, computing, or art business related. Some of the panels that have caught my eye and which I’d like to attend include:

  • The Singularity: Mechs or Shapers?
  • Photo Color Temperature: What it is, Why it Matters
  • Computing Before Computers
  • Exobiology for Dummies
  • SETI: To Lurk or To Post?
  • Marketing Your Book
  • Science For World Progress
  • I, For One, Welcome My New Robot Overlords

Clearly Capricon offers quite a diversity of programming. For complete details about all the programs being offered at Capricon, please see the Capricon Programming Guide.

Closings Thoughts From Bruce Sterling and Robert Heinlein

I’d like to leave you with a couple of closing thoughts. First, this observation from science fiction author Bruce Sterling:

Designers talk and think a lot like science fiction writers do, except in a much less melodramatic and histrionic way.

More importantly, I’d ask folks to give serious consideration to the words of science fiction great Robert Heinlein who in a speech at the 1961 World Science Fiction Convention made the following statement:

Remember this: once the human race is established on more than one planet and especially, in more than one solar system, there is no way now imaginable to kill off the human race.

The 38th annual Capricon Science Fiction Convention is being held at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling Illinois.

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