Thursday, November 19, 2015

Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft, edited by Jennifer Henshaw and Allison Linn

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(Hard SF) These visionary stories explore prediction science, quantum computing, real-time translation, machine learning, and much more. (77,700 words; Time: 4h:19m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 2 RSR-recommended stories + 4 others out of 8

"," edited by Jennifer Henshaw and Allison Linn, published on by .

Great Futures at a Great Price

I finished reading Microsoft's new SF anthology, Future Visions, and have reviewed the individual stories (ratings are below the line). Future Visions is free, so it's hard to complain about the price. Even so, the quality is roughly double what you'd get in a typical issue of an SF magazine.

The anthology does live up pretty well to Microsoft's claims for it:
These visionary stories explore prediction science, quantum computing, real-time translation, machine learning, and much more. The contributing authors were inspired by inside access to leading-edge work, including in-person visits to Microsoft's research labs, to craft new works that predict the near-future of technology and examine its complex relationship to our core humanity.
These are all hard-SF tales, and the science in them is pretty good. (Full disclosure: I worked at Microsoft for 15 years [ending 2009], part of that in Microsoft Research, so I know a good bit about machine learning, natural-language software, and Microsoft's approaches to these subjects.)

Out of eight random stories from the big six SF magazines, we generally recommend one, recommend against two, and find the rest to be adequate. In Future Visions, we recommend two, recommend against one, and found the rest entertaining. Readers who care more about the science than the stories will definitely think this book rocks.

There are two stories worth recommending in particular, for busy people without the time to read the whole volume: "The Machine Starts," by Greg Bear, which tells what happens when a big quantum computer starts to work following some unorthodox modifications, and "Another Word for World," by Ann Leckie, which deals with language-translation software and high-stakes diplomacy.

Also, GeekWire has an interesting article that gives some background on the anthology with quotes from Nancy Kress, David Brin and Greg Bear. The included 40 minute video is cute but not directly related to the anthology.

Other Reviews: Search Web, GoodReads.com
5- & 4-Star Stories: 2; Estimated Time: 1h:23m (25K words)
Recommended By Stories: 6;  Estimated Time: 3h:25m (62K words)
Total Stories: 8; Estimated Time: 4h:20m (78K words)
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Rating: 5 -> Hugo-worthy


Rating: 4 -> Recommended

Another Word for World by Ann Leckie  Time: 46m (14K words)  IssueFuture Visions 
Ashiban's attempts to negotiate peace with the Sovereign of Gidanta get off to a bad start when someone shoots down their flyer. They try to evade pursuit, having no idea which side staged the attack.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4 GDozois NClarke
The Machine Starts by Greg Bear  Time: 37m (11K words)  IssueFuture Visions 
Bose is a project manager for the "Magic 8 Ball," the world's first quantum computer. Desperate to get it to work, they're ready to make some unorthodox changes.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4 SFEP

Rating: 3 -> Average

Hello, Hello by Seanan Mcguire  Time: 26m (8K words)  IssueFuture Visions 
The narrator, a computational linguist, has installed an advanced speech-and-gesture-recognition system to let her deaf sister make video phone calls. But a stranger seems to be using the system too.
Looking for Gordo by Robert J. Sawyer  Time: 27m (8K words)  IssueFuture Visions 
After mankind receives the first message from another civilization, there is a huge debate about whether to send our own messages. A mock trial is held to hear both sides. Entertaining exploration of alien languages, machine learning, and dialogue systems
Machine Learning by Nancy Kress  Time: 30m (9K words)  IssueFuture Visions 
In this very emotional story, to distract himself from the wife and child he lost, Ethan buries himself in his work on a AI system designed to teach children.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [3]  Recommended By: GDozois
Riding With the Duke by Jack McDevitt  Time: 28m (8K words)  IssueFuture Visions 
After giving up on a physics Ph.D., Walter tries teaching  high-school physics. He knows his subject cold, but struggles to relate to the kids.
Skin in the Game by Elizabeth Bear  Time: 26m (8K words)  IssueFuture Visions 
Neon White is a popular near-future singer who needs something to keep her act fresh. She already uses a lot of augments, but her publicist presses her to consider "machine empathy," technology that would let her fans experience her emotions directly.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [3]  Recommended By: SFEP

Rating: 2 -> Not Recommended

The Tell by David Brin  Time: 38m (12K words)  IssueFuture Visions 
The narrator is a magician who helps debunk con men, but he gets involved in serious, high-tech efforts to uncover the truth and predict the future.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [2]  Recommended By: SFEP

Rating: 1 -> Needs Improvement

Rating: Not Rated

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