Thursday, 14 November 2019

Sci-Fi Stories That Inspired Classic Sci Fi Films: “Farewell To The Master” by Harry Bates


"Farewell to the Master" is a science fiction short story by American writer Harry Bates. The story was first published in the October 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The 1951 classic science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still (which is featured on this blog) was loosely based on this story.




Clip: Gort Appears

Both the story and the film are quite dissimilar. In Bates’ story, the events are told from the viewpoint of Cliff Sutherland, a free-lance picture reporter and concerns the sudden appearance of a mysterious "curving ovoid" ship on the grounds of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

As in the film version, two "visitors from the Unknown" emerge from the craft: one an 8-foot tall robot called “Gnut” made of green metal, and the other a being called “Klaatu.” You can find out what happens next in this story by downloading the epub version of Farewell To The Master.



Or

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-i-m7xlhJ3QnW1en3bDmy7pZc94ynxuv/view?usp=sharing


********

Recent Additions!!

Check out the Classic Sci Fi Double Feature Page which for this session features two back-to-back films from 1955:



The Day The World Ended & The Phantom From 10.000 Leagues.

Head off to the Classic Sci-Fi Radio Page where you’ll find a link to a classic radio play adapted from the Doctor Who TV series. This one features the second doctor in "Tomb Of The Cybermen" from 1967.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Sci-Fi Future Is Here & Now (Part 13): Surveillance Society Starts At School

In my recent posts, from the “Sci-Fi Future Is Here & Now” series, Surveillance Society Sneaks Into Our Lives & Facing Up To The Future – Now, I outlined some recent examples of the introduction of surveillance technologies and the implications they have for all of us. It seems that we are continuing to sleepwalk our way into a future of increasing acceptance of widespread and pervasive surveillance, along with the further diminution of our personal freedoms and privacy.

Take for instance the Australian Federal government’s facilitation of the introduction of Facial recognition technology into Australian schools.


Nine News Australia

Globally, we already have students in China being required to have their faces scanned before being admitted to their schools. In the United States cameras keep a watchful eye over classrooms.

Here in Australia, five schools have been trialing a pilot system to mark students attendance which has started to set alarm (school?) bells ringing. “Looplearn's” system (trialed at Clarendon College in Victoria) scans a person's face in order to record their attendance in class. It then sends the information to an app, possibly contained on a teacher's laptop or perhaps even on a smartphone.

Looplearn’s introduction in schools is due in part to a federal government grant of almost half a million dollars. The introduction of such a system would no doubt be justified under the pretext of a legal requirement for schools having to record accurate attendance records at regular intervals throughout the school day. Proponents of such a system would claim that it merely automates the process thereby improving attendance recording accuracy and speed for schools by replacing slower existing manual processes.

Despite the company’s assurances that Looplearn is not a surveillance system and that it meets high security standards, there is no information as to what makes it so secure, where (apart from the school) the data is to be stored and who potentially could have access to it.

Should such facial recognition technology become normalized and an accepted part of life at such an early age, then I believe there is cause for concern for the future of society as a whole.

Consider for instance the mass incarceration of one million Muslim Uyghur people in political re-education camps in the far-western Chinese province of Xinjiang. A sinister data collating system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform has been rolled out locally, making the province one of the most heavily surveilled areas on the planet.

The Chinese Communist Party uses facial recognition technology as part of its surveillance system, such technology having apparently been developed with the able assistance of a number of Australian universities!


The mere fact and manner of how the facial recognition technology is being applied in China should be of grave concern to all citizens of the world.

No.1: Cigarette vending machine incorporating a face recognition system  

Meanwhile back in freedom-loving democratic Australia, it turns out that the federal government has been entertaining plans to roll out an all-pervasive system possessing the ability to link CCTV cameras nationwide with all citizens’ ID photos.

Specifically, in 2017 it was proposed at a COAG (Council of Australian Governments) meeting to establish the “Capability”: a system that will provide law enforcement and intelligence agencies with the ability to match identification photos with CCTV footage images in real time. Under such a system, all federal and state citizen identification image databases would be linked via a central hub.


No.2: Jimmy answering questions

With a continuously activated real time facial recognition surveillance system, anyone who dares to step outside their home will by implication be considered suspect and will have their right to privacy and anonymity removed. But that’s OK, folks! After all, we’d be well and truly used to it since we were kids at school!

We are also supposedly being asked to trust those who are in authority with our personal data and privacy. Now I ask you, have you ever….ever….EVER heard of any occasion in which an agency has transgressed a law involving data retention that was established to safeguard our privacy?? Coincidentally, as I type this, a news report has come on the radio concerning 37 breaches of Australia’s My Health Record system in 2018-19!

Slowly but surely we’re being softened up and manipulated into accepting ever greater degrees of surveillance, without the annoying impediments of public consultation and debate. Take for instance:
  • The failed trial of facial recognition technology at both Sydney and Canberra airports with its incorporation into surveillance systems at last year’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
  • Perth City Council’s recent announced roll out of a trial involving 30 cameras with the capability of recognizing faces and tracking movements.
  • Federal bills enabling Australian passport information to be utilized in the running of the “Capability” system being sent to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for review early last year.
  • The Northern Territory May budget allocation of $375,000 towards its part in the implementation of the facial recognition system.
  • The NSW government's passing of its “Capability” enabling bill making all NSW citizens’ license photos and associated information accessible nationwide, so it can be matched in real time with images taken from CCTV footage.

No.3: Face Tracking & Analysis

The imperatives of national security and counter-terrorism are employed by governments to justify and increase the scale and scope of the surveillance state with ever increasing powers being handed over to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

As we have seen in relation to the recent press raids by the Australian Federal Police and and its consequent whistle-blower intimidation, such laws that are supposedly designed to deal with terrorists are in fact being turned upon citizens who are just doing their jobs and upholding our society’s democratic values. If that is so, then who 
exactly are these people posing a threat to? 

The current adoption and use of facial recognition technology with its indiscriminate and large-scale recording, storing and analysing of our images violates our right to privacy and allows the State and private companies to intrude into our affairs in an unprecedented unwarranted way.

We can be sure that the temptation will prove to be too great for the authorities to use blanket surveillance technology to monitor people’s participation in political protests and campaigns for change and could ultimately lead to the infringement of the right to freedom of assembly, association, and expression.




Individuals of colour or from minority ethnic groups should be concerned about the adoption and use of facial recognition technology. Algorithms trained on racially biased data sets could misidentify such people and result in unlawful arrests, detentions and discrimination. A false believe in the infallibility of such systems could determine how state agencies or private corporations treat individuals, leading to bad decisions and outcomes, much of which would be based on a technological form of racial profiling.

How would you know 
whether or not that right now your facial image is being contained on a database? How would you know whether or not that right now your image is being shared by a private company or law enforcement agency? How would you know whether or not that right now your image has been included on a watch-list of potential suspects - without your knowledge or consent? If so, how would such a threat to your individual rights and civil liberties make you feel? 

With facial recognition technology being increasingly adopted across much of the world by law enforcement agencies, at airports, railway stations and shopping centres, we are becoming far too easily conditioned to accepting automated and indiscriminate live surveillance of ourselves as we go about our daily business while having our every move tracked.

We must ensure 
that as a minimum we have iron-clad specific legislation that regulates the use of facial recognition technology that restricts the authorities from obtaining our images without our knowledge or consent and using them in ways we would not approve of. 

This means that we the people must given the opportunity to consent to the recording, analyzing and storing of our images in databases. At the moment we are being denied detailed and specific information as to how facial recognition is being and will be used. We are at present being denied having the choice and control over the use of our own images.

Science fiction films and stories have often pondered the possibility of our creating a dystopian-style police state in what would have at one time been taken for granted as being a free and democratic society.

Such science fiction visions of the future could very well become a reality if the silent majority (or “quiet Australians”) continue sit back and watch our civil liberties being incrementally and systematically eroded.

We need to take our cue from those around the world who refuse to remain compliant and quiet in the face of the State's abuse of power such as the protesters in Chile, in Hong Kong, in Iraq, in Lebanon and many other places around the world. 

Added to the appeals for greater democracy, equality, freedom, the ending of corruption and action on climate change, all of us must also demand that we will not have every aspect of our lives monitored and that our right to privacy and anonymity be guaranteed!!



©Chris Christopoulos 2019



Image Attributions

No.1: Cigarette Vending Machine: By Corpse Reviver - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6204812 

No.2: By Jimmy answering questions.jpg: Wikimania2009 Beatrice Murchderivative work: Sylenius (talk) - Jimmy answering questions.jpg, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11309460

No.3: By Abyssus - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52520278

Friday, 1 November 2019

The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)


A likable low budget monster movie with limited ambitions.

Directed by Irvin Berwick
Produced by Jack Kevan
Screenplay by H. Haile Chace
Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop
Edited by George A. Gittens
Production company: Vanwick Productions
Distributed by Filmservice Distributors Corporation (United States), Grand National Pictures (United Kingdom)
Running time: 71 minutes
Budget: $29,000


Cast


Les Tremayne as Dr. Sam Jorgenson
Forrest Lewis as Constable George Matson
John Harmon as Sturges, the Lighthouse Keeper
Frank Arvidson as Kochek, the Storekeeper
Jeanne Carmen as Lucille Sturges
Don Sullivan as Fred
Pete Dunn as Eddie/the Monster
Joseph La Cava as Mike
Wayne Berwick as Little Jimmy




Trailer 

Read on for more.....


Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Sci-Fi Future Is Here & Now (part 13): Mind-controlled exoskeleton suit

Amazing medical advancements have often featured in science fiction stories in which devices are employed to help the blind to see or the physically impaired to regain their mobility and independence.

The concept of trans-humanism is often explored in sci-fi highlighting the more sinister applications of using devices such exoskeletons to enhance human abilities, especially in relation to military applications.


Brain-controlled exo-skeleton allows paralyzed man to walk

First Steps

Just recently, we have learned that a man has been able to move all four of his paralyzed limbs with a mind-controlled exoskeleton suit.

The patient had suffered an injury to his spinal cord that left him paralyzed and he spent the next two years in hospital.

Then in 2017, he took part in the exoskeleton trial with Clinatec and the University of Grenoble, France.

He began by practicing using the brain implants to control a virtual character, or avatar, in a computer game before moving on to walking in the suit.

By “walking” we are not referring to autonomous walking as the patient needs to be attached to an overhead harness in order to reduce the risk of him falling over.


Proof Of Concept

Although the man’s movements are at the moment far from perfect and the exoskeleton suit is being used only in the lab, this development could in the future lead to the improvement of patients' quality of life.

The patient in question had surgery to place two implants on the surface of his brain (to avoid possible infection), covering the parts of the brain that control movement.

Sixty-four electrodes on each implant read the brain activity and beamed the instructions to a nearby computer.

The computer software then read the brainwaves and turned them into instructions for controlling the exoskeleton into which the patient had been strapped.

When the patient thinks "walk," a chain of movements in the robotic suit are set in motion that in turn move his legs forward. He can also control each of the arms, maneuvering them in three-dimensional space.

At the moment there are limits imposed by the amount of data that can be read from the brain, sent to a computer, interpreted and then sent to the exoskeleton in real-time. Only 32 out of the 64 electrodes on each implant are being used. There is, therefore potential to read the brain in more detail by using more powerful computers and artificial intelligence to interpret the information from the brain.

The implants have been successfully used by the patient to control a wheelchair and there are plans to develop finger control to allow him to pick up and move objects.

The future holds out wonderful possibilities with such medical advancements especially when combined with progress in the areas of spinal cord and nerve regeneration.


Costs & Benefits

On the face of it, no-one can argue with the development and application of such amazing technology that is aimed at the repairing of injured patients who have lost function. Will it, however be made available to everyone with spinal cord injury, or will the cost of it place it out of reach of most who would need it?

One can easily imagine a future in which human beings will be routinely implanted with microchips and electrodes allowing them to control with their minds and the power of thought not just medically assistive devices, but everyday devices such as houselights and appliances.

Technology that we now carry around with us will be incorporated into our attire and accessories and then into our very bodies. Some day, all the functions we can now perform with our smart phones including communication will be able to be performed via mind-control.

Imagine at birth or in infancy being required to not only receive the necessary vaccinations, but also being required to have the necessary technological implants (complete with all our personal information being constantly updated) inserted into our brains and bodies in order for us just to function in a future world of smart homes and smart cities.

The question remains: who or what will be doing the controlling?

Friday, 11 October 2019

GOING FORWARD


The often-used phrase “going forward” tends to be employed by politicians and those in authority to deflect attention away from whatever mess is currently taking place and which they have been responsible for having created in the first place.

Science fiction writers and sci-fi films also deal with matters of “going forward” with a view of allowing us to actually look forward into the future and contemplate what may be in store for us. By doing so, they also enables us to reflect on our present condition.

My poem below attempts to make use of the now hackneyed phrase, “going forward” to highlight some developments we see in society today and consider their possible implications in the future…...a future which is in our hands to do something about right NOW!




GOING FORWARD

“And so...going forward” 

Off we go on linear leaps 
Forward toward a fantastic future, 
Where all will be well and so shiny 
In a social media virtual stupor. 

“And so...going forward” 

Or so we convince ourselves 
As we wade through the mess we made, 
And hope that no-one will notice 
The price for our folly to be paid. 

“And so...going forward” 

To a time where the blind can see, 
All but what is in front of their eyes 
And where many will live forever, 
To endure an eternity of lies. 

“And so...going forward” 

We launch into a race into space, 
But with whom, why and where? 
For national pride and to win! 
Lebensraum! We don’t care! 

“And so...going forward” 

We all get carried along apace, 
And the silent majority fall in line; 
Our progress checked and monitored 
Hup, two, three, four, we march in time. 

“And so...going forward” 

An empire fades and another rises, 
While fools play pretend presidents, 
And tweet out their egos and paranoia 
Like petulant infantile malcontents. 

“And so...going forward” 

Ensnared in a net and a web 
All together, all of us connected, 
Hauled along by codes and algorithms 
To whose cruel rule we are subjected. 

“And so...going forward” 

We stride on followed, friended and liked, 
Arm in arm with like-minded tribes, 
Clutching cherry-picked facts to our breasts, 
With which to beat others with insults and gibes. 

“And so...going forward” 

We reel from Earth’s blast furnace breath, 
And stagger back into stinking waters 
Lapping and rising about our feet, 
While millions are forced to float over boarders. 

“And so...going forward” 

We swap good sense with A.I. nonsense 
And live in smart cities and smart homes, 
Knowing less about more while feeling alone, 
Dependent on Alexas and smart phones. 

“And so...going forward” 

To a place where all is commodified, 
To a time where “freedom” is just a word, 
To a life lived and liked as a valued consumer, 
And where “privacy” is a notion just too absurd. 

“And so...going forward” 

Our evolution is taken in hand, 
Man and machine merge into one, 
While genes are shuffled and sorted 
And all the old certainties are undone. 

“And so...going forward” 

Like Luddite apes with minds held fast 
By rusted chains anchoring us to our past 
Can we be sure we wont trip over in haste? 
“Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast.” 

And so…

Watch where you’re going! 







©Chris Christopoulos 2019

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

The Killer Shrews (1959)




A mediocre film with laughable creatures, minimal tension and underdeveloped characters but with numerous martinis and a well stocked bar being the only redeeming feature! A film best enjoyed after several martinis. 



Directed by Ray Kellogg
Produced by Ken Curtis, Gordon McLendon
Written by Jay Simms
Music by Harry Bluestone, Emil Cadkin
Cinematography: Wilfred M. Cline
Edited by Aaron Stell
Distributed by McLendon-Radio Pictures Distributing Company
Running time: 69 minutes
Budget: $123,000 (approx.)
Box office: $1 million (U.S.)



Cast











James Best: Thorne Sherman
Ingrid Goude: Ann Craigis
Ken Curtis: Jerry Farrell
Gordon McLendon: Dr. Radford Baines
Baruch Lumet: Dr. Marlowe Craigis
Judge Henry Dupree: 'Rook' Griswold
Alfredo de Soto: Mario (as Alfredo deSoto)


Trailer


A remote and isolated island, 

Infested with flesh-eating monstrous giant shrews! 
Populated by a small band of humans, 
Cut off and stranded by a hurricane! 

How did the vicious shrews come to be there? 
What will become of the trapped humans?


Read on for more.....

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Sci Fi Future Is Here and Now (Part 12): Facing Up To The Future - Now


Science fiction films and books have often portrayed scenarios which feature a dystopian future in which citizens find themselves at the mercy of authoritarian technocratic regimes and corporations. Often they have surrendered or have been robbed of their personal freedom and privacy, along with every vestige of their individuality.

As technology progresses and we become more accustomed to it infiltrating our lives, we seem to be on the whole oblivious as to the dangers it can pose to our right to anonymity and privacy when it is turned against us by governments and corporations intent on finding out more about us than we know about ourselves!

The once future sci-fi world of surveillance, monitoring and control is entering the world of the here and now and must be resisted. In a blatantly totalitarian surveillance regime like China we witness the brave young people of Hong Kong taking a stand against the encroachments being made on their personal freedom and liberty – even while the rest of the world largely stands around and looks the other way! 


Even in a professed democratic country like Australia, standing around and looking the other way and pretending that there’s nothing to see here, could result in the development of a police-like state, particularly when there’s no Bill of Rights to ensure that the citizenry has its freedoms and rights enshrined and protected.



So, it is with some alarm to learn that as part of The Australian Federal Government’s implementation of a national facial recognition database, it has been announced that the driver's licences of all Victorians have been uploaded to the system. Was anyone consulted? Was anyone’s permission required beforehand?

The system is apparently being tested ahead of a nationwide roll-out of the National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution (NDLFRS) in December.

I think we are supposed to breathe a sigh of relief to be told by the government that the data will only be made available to state-based agencies such as at first, VicRoads and Victoria Police.

If that is not enough to convince us, the state government is using the issue of identity theft and the cost of combating identity fraud as a rationale for the implementation of the program.

Of course the authorities have gone to great pains to assure us that our privacy will not be compromised. This from a government who cannot even guarantee the security of its citizens' medical records and other personal information on data bases.

We must never be led to believe the assurances given to us by governments and corporations when it comes to the collection, acquisition, storage and use of our personal information. They are lying to us if they claim;
  • Their data bases are protected from hacking. 
  • That data held would never be on-sold to other agencies and entities. 
  • That personal data would never be misused. 
  • That profiling and mis-identification would never occur with facial recognition technology. 
  • That they can guarantee the intentions and actions of future governments.

The National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution is part of a wider scheme by the super Home Affairs ministry to vastly increase the federal government's bio-metric capabilities. What would prevent the government from manufacturing a crisis in order to use national security as a justification for further expansion of such capabilities?


There’s definite cause for concern when we also learn that there’s a process called "The Capability" which allows the government to compare visual data such as CCTV images to a database of passport photos. I guess we could then compare notes with China if that’s the case!

At present, everyone with a driver's licence will be locked into a national database. However, we can be sure that once such technology use becomes normalized it will only be a matter of time before every facet of our lives will require the use of facial recognition and everyone’s image will be stored for the purpose of identification and – control. We just simply wont be able to function in society without it – but only if we allow it!

It doesn’t take a wild leap into the realm of science fiction to imagine a scenario developing in which the existence of such a database could be used by the authorities to curtail people's freedom of expression and right to protest.

While we still have such rights available to us, it is important that we actively express our dissent and take a leaf out of the book of the young protesters of Hong Kong struggling for their freedoms or the young protesters across America and the rest of the world who are saying NO to gun violence and NO to our continuing contribution to global warming and climate change. 


NOW is the time to face up to the future!


Note: Please feel free to check out my Classic Sci-Fi Double Feature Page for an actual 1950's double feature. There'll be more to follow soon.

Check out also my Classic Sci-Fi Radio Page which features radio adaptations of some sci-fi episodes from The twilight Zone series.

©Chris Christopoulos (2019)