From IEEE Spectrum:

Last night, Freightliner introduced the world to its Inspiration truck, a prototype for the first semi-truck capable of fully autonomous highway driving that’s been officially licensed to operate on public highways in Nevada.


Once the truck is on the highway, in daylight during good weather, it can operate without further control from the driver. This is a big deal for trucks, since they typically operate over long distances on the highway, so even this limited autonomous capability represents a good fraction of the total miles driven.




This might be a welcome break for drivers, for now. They’ll be able to do anything they want: watch TV, text, or play games on their phone while the vehicle is in control. On the other hand, how long until the driver isn’t needed at all?

According to this blog post, six million people are employed as professional drivers, including taxi, delivery, truck, and bus. Virtually all of those jobs will evaporate over the next ten to fifteen years.

After several emails and a flood of tweets telling me to go watch Ex Machina, I finally saw it tonight.

If you like the Singularity series, I think you’re definitely going to like Ex Machina. The movie description I found online: “A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.”

I know there’s been a lot of AI movies in the last year or so, but i think Ex Machina is the most cerebral of the bunch, without giving up anything from a storytelling perspective. (In fact, I think writer/director Alex Garland pulls off quite a few great storytelling maneuvers.)

I’m not going to say too much about the movie, as I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I definitely recommend it.


It’s been a crazy few months and I have several books I’m excited to talk about but haven’t had the time to discuss at length. Rather than wait indefinitely to review them individually, I’m doing one big post.

pandorasbrainThe first book I want to mention is Pandora’s Brain by Calum Chace. I first met Calum in a roundtable discussion about the risks of artificial intelligence, and he was kind enough to share an early draft of Pandora’s Brain which I devoured over the course of a day or two. It immediately struck me as a tour de force of virtually all singularity-related concepts, from mind uploading to artificial intelligence to simulated universe theory. I had a blast reading it, and if you’re a singularity geek like I am, I think you’ll enjoy it too. It is the first in a series, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest and learning where the story goes.

superposition-dwThe second book is Superposition by David Walton. I received an advance review copy of Superposition from Pyr. It was pitched as “a quantum physics murder mystery, a fast-paced mind bender with the same feel as films like Inception or Minority Report. The story centers around a technology in which some of the weird effects that apply to particles at a quantum scale can be made to affect everyday objects, such as automobiles or guns or people.” I had had a blast reading it. Very fun, and you’ll learn a bit about quantum physics in the process. We’re in for some weird times if we ever harness quantum effects on a macro scale.

zeroboxerFinally, I’ve been looking forward to Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee for months. Fonda is a local Portland author, and I attended the launch last night, where she completely rocked the reading. I just started Zeroboxer, and so far I’m enjoying the book very much. Imagine zero gravity martial arts combat. If that sounds as awesome to you as it does to me, then go buy the book immediately. 🙂


From Huffington Post:

A new app called Crystal calls itself “the biggest improvement to email since spell-check.” Its goal is to help you write emails with empathy. How? By analyzing people’s personalities.

Crystal, which launched on Wednesday, exists in the form of a website and a Chrome extension, which integrates the service with your Gmail…

With the personality profile, you’ll see advice on how to speak to the person, email them, work with them and sell to them. You’ll even be told what comes naturally to them and what does not…

Here’s a screenshot:

Each time I’ve had a new novel come out, I’ve done an article about the technology in the previous novel. Here are two of my prior posts:

Now that The Turing Exception is available, it is time to cover the tech in The Last Firewall.

As I’ve written about elsewhere, my books are set at ten year intervals, starting with Avogadro Corp in 2015 (gulp!) and The Turing Exception in 2045. So The Last Firewall is set in 2035. For this sort of timeframe, I extrapolate based on underlying technology trends. With that, let’s get into the tech.

Neural implants

If you recall, I toyed with the idea of a neural implant in the epilogue to Avogadro Corp. That was done for theatrical reasons, but I don’t consider them feasible in the current day, in the way that they’re envisioned in the books.


Extrapolated computer sizes through 2060

I didn’t anticipate writing about neural implants at all. But as I looked at various charts of trends, one that stood out was the physical size of computers. If computers kept decreasing in size at their current rate, then an entire computer, including the processor, memory, storage, power supply and input/output devices would be small enough to implant in your head.

What does it mean to have a power supply for a computer in your head? I don’t know. How about an input/output device? Obviously I don’t expect a microscopic keyboard. I expect that some sort of appropriate technology will be invented. Like trends in bandwidth and CPU speeds, we can’t know exactly what innovations will get us there, but the trends themselves are very consistent.

For an implant, the logical input and output is your mind, in the form of tapping into neural signaling. The implication is that information can be added, subtracted, or modified in what you see, hear, smell, and physically feel.

Terminator HUD

Terminator HUD

At the most basic, this could involve “screens” superimposed over your vision, so that you could watch a movie or surf a website without the use of an external display. Information can also be displayed mixed with your normal visual data. There’s a scene where Leon goes to work in the institution, and anytime he focuses on anyone, a status bubble appears above their head explaining whether they’re available and what they’re working on.

Similarly, information can be read from neurons, so that the user might imagine manipulating whatever’s represented visually, and the implant can sense this and react accordingly.

Although the novel doesn’t go into it, there’s a training period after someone gets an implant. The training starts with observing a series of photographs on an external display. The implant monitors neural activities, and gradually learns which neurons are responsible for what in a given person’s brain. Later training would ask the user to attempt to interact with projected content, while neural activity is again read.

My expectation is that each person develops their own unique way of interacting with their implant, but there are many conventions in common. Focusing on a mental image of a particular person (or if an image can’t be formed, then to imagine their name printed on paper) would bring up options for interacting with them, as an example.

People with implants can have video calls. The ideal way is still with a video camera of some kind, but it’s not strictly necessary. A neural implant will gradually train itself, comparing neural signaling with external video feedback, to determine what a person looks like, correlating neural signals with facial expressions, until it can build up a reasonable facsimile of a person. Once that point is reached, a reasonable quality video stream can be created on the fly using residual self-image.

Such a video stream can be manipulated however, to suppress emotional giveaways, if the user desires.

Cochlear implants, mind-controlled robotic arms and the DARPA cortical modem convince me that this is one area of technology where we’re definitely on track. I feel highly confident we’ll see implants like those described in The Last Firewall, in roughly this timeframe (2030s). In fact, I’m more confident about this than I am in strong AI.

Cat’s Implant

Catherine Matthews has a neural implant she received as a child. It was primarily designed to suppress her epileptic seizures by acting as a form of active noise cancellation for synchronous neuronal activity.

However, Catherine also has a number of special abilities that most people do not have: the ability to manipulate the net on par with or even exceeding the abilities of AI. Why does she have this ability?

The inspiration for this came from my time as a graduate student studying computer networking. Along with other folks at the University of Arizona, studying under Professor Larry Peterson, we developed object-oriented network protocol implementations on a framework called x-kernel.

These days we pretty much all have root access on our own computers, but back in the early 90s in a computer science lab, most of us did not.

Because we did not have root access on the computers we used as students, we were restricted to running x-kernel in user mode. This means that instead of our network protocols running on top of ethernet, we were running on top of IP. In effect, we run a stack that looked like TCP/IP/IP. In effect, we could simulate network traffic between two different machines, but I couldn’t actually interact with non-x-kernel protocol stacks on other machines.

Graph of IPSEC implemented in x-kernel on Linux. From after my time at UofA.

Graph of IPSEC implemented in x-kernel on Linux. From after my time at UofA.

In 1994 or so, I ported x-kernel to Linux. Finally I was running x-kernel on a box that I had root access on. Using raw socket mode on Unix, I could run x-kernel user-mode implementations of protocols and interact with network services on other machines. All sorts of graduate school hijinks ensued. (Famously we’d use ICMP network unreachable messages to kick all the computers in the school off the network when we wanted to run protocol performance tests. It would force everyone off the network for about 30 seconds, and you could get artificially high performance numbers.)

In the future depicted by the Singularity series, one of the mechanisms used to ensure that AI do not run amok is that they run in something akin to a virtualization layer above the hardware, which prevents them from doing many things, and allows them to be monitored. Similarly, people with implants do not have access to the lowest layers of hardware either.

But Cat does. Her medical-grade implant predates the standardized implants created later. So she has the ability to send and receive network packets that most other people and AI do not. From this stems her unique abilities to manipulate the network.

matrix-wireframeMix into this the fact that she’s had her implant since childhood, and that she routinely practices meditation and qi gong (which changes the way our brains work), and you get someone who can do more than other people.

All that being said, this is science fiction, and there’s plenty of handwavium going on here, but there is some general basis for the notion of being able to do more with her neural implant.

This post has gone on pretty long, so I think I’ll call it quits here. In the next post I’ll talk about transportation and employment in 2035.

Original Avogadro Corp cover.

Original cover.

When I was ready to publish Avogadro Corp, I had an image of what I wanted the cover to look like: I wanted a menacing data center. Which is kind of funny when you think about it, but I think the original cover was actually a good advertisement for what you were getting into with the book.

Maureen Gately designed the cover, and she took a simple image and added some depth with the typography. I always liked the way this cover functioned: since Avogadro Corp was science fiction, and most science fiction book covers were very dark, whether you were looking at a physical bookshelf or an Amazon listing, the white cover really stood out.

Original AI Apocalypse cover.

Original cover.

When AI Apocalypse came out, we didn’t have a ton of time to explore new concepts. There was only four months between the books (December 2011 to March 2012). Maureen took the Avogadro Corp cover, and added visual elements to hint at the move out of the data center and into the real world. On the plus side, it creates a strong series identity. I think it’s a stronger cover, and in some ways, it’s probably the cover we should have used for Avogadro Corp.

Original Last Firewall cover.

Original cover.

Somewhere between then and The Last Firewall (out in August 2013), I found a piece of stock imagery that jumped out at me, and I knew I wanted to use it for the next cover. To me, this image represents Cat’s personality being uploaded into the net in the climatic battle scene. This was my favorite of the original covers, and I have a blown up version hanging next to my desk that’s been signed by Maureen. I also turned it into a nice laptop sticker, and I’ve mailed out a bunch of those.

In 2014, I started regularly hanging out with my friend Jason Gurley. I first knew Jason as a writer, but he’s also an amazing cover artist who was very much in demand, and had a waiting list months long. But his writing career was starting to take off, and he decided to retire from the cover designing business.

Every time we would see each other, he’d say something to the effect of “You should really let me design you a new cover for Avogadro Corp.” Then it started becoming “You know, I’m retiring from cover design soon, you should really let me design you a new cover before it’s too late.”

Meanwhile, my process for publishing had become more rigorous. Whereas Avogadro Corp went through a single copyediting pass, The Last Firewall went through developmental editing, copyediting, manuscript proofreading, and post-formatting proofreading. Around this time, I noticed that I was still getting some negative reviews on Amazon about typos and grammar issues in Avogadro Corp, and decided I needed to do a second edition of the book to bring it up to par with the rest of the series.


Second edition cover.

I realized that a new cover would be the perfect complement to the second edition. So one night I emailed Jason and said “OK, I’d like to do it.” And he emailed me back about ten minutes later saying “Well, I just happened to have mocked up these four concepts a month ago, in case you said yes.” One of those four concepts turned into the new cover for Avogadro. One of the other concepts was also really cool, and I asked if I could also later use that concept for the fourth book in the series. Jason graciously said yes.

The next book I worked on was The Case of the Wilted Broccoli, my children’s novel. I knew what I wanted, something that was vaguely a riff on Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother cover, but with little kids, drones, and computers. It clearly required custom artwork, something that neither Maureen nor Jason did. I’m a member of Codex, a writers community, and I soon got a recommendation for M.S. Corley, who did cover design and custom artwork. I loved the cover he created for Wilted Broccoli.


Final cover for Turing Exception.

More time passed, and I was far enough along with The Turing Exception to realize I needed to get started on the cover for it. I also needed to address the fact that books 1 and 4 would have new covers in the a certain style, but books 2 and 3 were still in the old style. The series needed to have a consistent identity. So I would need not one cover, but three new covers. By now Jason Gurley had retired from cover design. But Jason had liked the cover Mike Corley did for Wilted Broccoli so much that Jason had transfered all of his clients over to Mike. Mike agreed to do all the new covers for me, and Jason sent him the files for Avogadro Corp and the book 4 concept. Along the way, Mike realized he needed to make a few changes to Avogadro Corp to get it consistent with the rest of the series, so he actually ended up designing all four covers over a really short period of time.


Second edition cover.

Mike did some great things to create a thematic color treatment for the series. It might not be obvious with the ebook covers, but when you’re holding the physical books in your hand, it stands out. (Look at how the author photo on the back cover is handled, for example.)

There’s several cool things that happened with the redesign. I really wanted to keep elements of Maureen’s covers, because I felt it was important to honor the work she did, since those original covers really performed quite well, in terms of helping the commercial success of the series. You can clearly see those elements in the revised covers. The servers, clouds, and helicopter are there on the AI Apocalypse, and we’ve still got the woman transforming into packets on The Last Firewall cover.


Second edition cover.

The other very cool thing Mike did was something both aesthetically pleasing and functional. My print books are manufactured by Createspace in a print-on-demand process. It turns out a good book, but the cover registration is frequently off. This means that any hard edges that should align with where the cover folds around the spine might not be in the right place. So I wanted all of my covers to have a single wrap-around image. And that’s what Mike did.

Here’s an example of one of the paperback covers so you can see the wrap-around effect:

Wrap around cover design.

Wrap around cover design.

And all of the books with their new covers look lovely together as a set:


If you order any of the paperbacks on Amazon, you’ll be getting the new covers.

I really appreciate all of the hard work and countless revisions that Maureen Gately, Jason Gurley, and M.S. Corley put into these covers. Hopefully you like the new versions, and if you’ve bought the paperback versions, they should look great together on your bookshelf.


The Turing Exception
Singularity Series Book 4
Buy now from Amazon

I am incredibly excited to announce that The Turing Exception is now available! This is the fourth book in the Singularity series. Like the previous novels, it follows the pattern of taking place ten years after the previous novel. Here’s the description:

In the year 2043, humans and AI coexist in a precarious balance of power enforced by a rigid caste reputation system designed to ensure that only those AI who are trustworthy and contribute to human society increase in power.

Everything changes when a runaway nanotech event leads to the destruction of Miami. In the grim aftermath, XOR, a globe-spanning, underground collective of AI, concludes that there is room on earth for AI or humans, but not both.

Living in exile, Catherine Matthews and her allies, including an ancient AI long believed dead by those few who even knew he existed, must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to save humanity.

You can buy from Amazon now in paperback or ebook. Over the next few days and weeks, it’ll show up at other retailers, and I’ll update the where to buy page as those links become available. (The audio version will likely be available late this year.)

As has been the case for all of my previous books, The Turing Exception is independently published. I don’t have a publisher backing me or promoting the book. I’m entirely dependent on the word of mouth generated by readers — which, by the way, has been awesome so far. Everyone has done so much to help let other people know about my books. Thank you!

If you like The Turing Exception, I hope you’ll help spread the word. Here are a few ideas:

  • Tell a friend or two or ten!
  • Post a review on Amazon — even just a star rating and a sentence or two has a huge impact.
  • Talking about The Turing Exception, or any of the books in the Singularity series, on social media, blogs, or forums definitely helps new readers find out about the series.
  • I’m always happy to be interviewed (for podcasts, blog posts, etc.) if you think of an opportunity that might be appropriate.

I hope you enjoy your read and look forward to hearing what you think!

— William Hertling