What if we can take Elon Musk’s science fiction high-speed underground vision one step further, and make it work for everyone?

Have you heard about Elon Musk’s idea for an underground system of tunnels that would move cars at superhigh speeds?

Of course you have.

The idea generated a wave of hype for Musk’s brand, but what is this “underground car” concept, really?

Silicon Valley often cannibalizes and reinvents existing services, usually involving an app, in order to turn a profit. In this case, Elon Musk has set his eyes on “disrupting” public transportation using his tech-celebrity cult guru status and the Tesla brand.

His “underground car” concept is a subway for private transportation, combined with the idea of a bus stop where cars arrive to be transported underground (a “car stop”).

Do you notice the weird part of that idea, though?

Yes. The exact reason for a subway is that many people don’t have access to cars. Subways and buses exist for everyone to use, which benefits all of society at an affordable price.

Elon Musk wants to sell more cars. He also probably wouldn’t mind owning an entire private subway system. Beyond hyping his brand now, it makes good future business sense. Public transportation is also “suboptimal” to say the least, so maybe Musk could “disrupt” it and do it better.

What if there could be a public option that works for everyone, and doesn’t require digging a whole new subway just for cars?

Think about it: there are already bus stops in many urban areas around the world. There are also subways in many major cities from São Paulo to Seoul. What if we could create a compelling vision of a future where the two — bus and subway — came together?

On a busy rush hour city street, a bus-sized pod sits at the curb. The pod, however, has no tires (or maybe it does) and sits atop a platform. At scheduled intervals, the platform descends into a city subway tunnel, and is propelled inside a vacuum-sealed tube (or a regular subway track) to the next stop. Behind and ahead of the pod, a regular subway train also runs its route, along with other transport pods.

When the pod reaches the next pod-stop, it slides into the rectangular lift-space and is elevated to the curb, streetside, unloading passengers and making itself available to a new group of riders.

In this idea, you leverage existing subway tunnels to create a public transportation subsystem that’s a hybrid of bus and subway. It can

  • reduce traffic congestion and pollution
  • be mostly automated to fit into subway schedules, and
  • benefits everyone rather than only people who have private cars.

Revenue generated by this system can be used to improve other aspects of public infrastructure — bridges, roads, schools, a functional universal healthcare system, or even funding basic income for when AI and automation overtakes most human jobs.

This idea could change the world. And we — the science fiction writers, artists, tinkerers, hackers and future-fascinated engineers — could be the ones to build the vision so that society can imagine it as real and demand that it be created.

Learn More

1. The Boring Company. (28 Apr 2017). Tunnels. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5V_VzRrSBI.

2. Etherington, Darrell. (28 Apr 2017). Watch how Elon Musk’s Boring Company tunnels will move cars faster. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/28/watch-how-elon-musks-boring-company-tunnels-will-move-cars-faster/.

3. Oremus, Will. (2017 June 19). Lyft Isn’t Reinventing City Buses. It’s Undermining Them. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2017/06/19/no_lyft_didn_t_accidentally_reinvent_the_city_bus.html.

4. Friedman, Ann. (26 June 2017). Lyft Shuttle: A bus, but without all those pesky poor people. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-lyft-shuttle-bus-perspec-20170626-story.html.

5. Pereira, Alyssa. (19 June 2017). Critics call out Lyft for reinventing the bus with its new ‘Shuttle’ feature. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com/technology/article/Critics-call-out-Lyft-for-reinventing-the-bus-11230357.php.

6. Drum, Kevin. (17 Jul 2017). Mass Unemployment Will Start Around 2025. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/07/mass-unemployment-will-start-around-2025/.


Is Cyberpunk Still Fresh and New, or Lovably Obsolete? William Gibson Answered This Question Himself. The Next Steps Are Up To Us.

Take this as a dare: dare to mention that cyberpunk is an “ancient aesthetic” in conversation with certain science fiction lovers. Predictably, someone will take umbrage at the idea, presumably for violating one of their sacred sci-fi cows.

William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” itself, and situated many of his concepts within it. Author Bruce Bethke invented the term “cyberpunk”, but even he concedes that Gibson largely invented the genre [1] [2]:

How did I actually create the word? The way any new word comes into being, I guess: through synthesis. I took a handful of roots –cyber, techno, et al– mixed them up with a bunch of terms for socially misdirected youth, and tried out the various combinations until one just plain sounded right.

IMPORTANT POINT! I never claimed to have invented cyberpunk fiction! That honor belongs primarily to William Gibson, whose 1984 novel, Neuromancer, was the real defining work of “The Movement.” (At the time, Mike Swanwick argued that the movement writers should properly be termed neuromantics, since so much of what they were doing was clearly Imitation Neuromancer.)

Then again, Gibson shouldn’t get sole credit either. Pat Cadigan (“Pretty Boy Crossover”), Rudy Rucker (Software), W.T. Quick (Dreams of Flesh and Sand), Greg Bear (Blood Music), Walter Jon Williams (Hardwired), Michael Swanwick (Vacuum Flowers)…the list of early ’80s writers who made important contributions towards defining the trope defies my ability to remember their names. Nor was it an immaculate conception: John Brunner (Shockwave Rider), Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), and perhaps even Alfred Bester (The Stars My Destination) all were important antecedents of the thing that became known as cyberpunk fiction.

You can also download AltSciFi’s mirror of Bruce Bethke’s 2001 cyberpunk novel, available as shareware (click here).

It seems only natural, then, to commit further sacrilege and open the belly of this beast for everyone to see. This gives rise to the question:

Is cyberpunk still fresh and new, or has it become a lovably obsolete relic that still holds some relevance, if only those who care to find it?

The obviously conciliatory middle-of-the-road answer is “cyberpunk is in a state of continual renewal.” In truth, you can only reboot an aesthetic with a new face but so many times before it morphs into something else entirely. Or, until it burrows so deeply into obscure in-tribe self-references that no one but die-hard members care about or even notice at all.

For context, consider William Gibson’s own perspective. He has described cyberpunk as a byproduct of a simpler time. His answer may be a definitive one, but for the few artists and creators here, we may be the ones to take his ideas in a different direction. The question is whether we can still truly call that direction “cyberpunk”. Maybe we’re verging into something else. Something new. Something made of possible futures rather than infinite regressions to an imaginary future-past.

From William Gibson: I never imagined Facebook:

You’re considered a founder of the cyberpunk genre, which tends to feature digital cowboys — independent operators working on the frontiers of technology. Is the counterculture ethos of cyberpunk still relevant in an era when the best hackers seem to be working for the Chinese and U.S. governments, and our most famous digital outlaw, Edward Snowden, is under the protection of Vladimir Putin?

It’s seemed to me for quite a while now that the most viable use for the term “cyberpunk” is in describing artifacts of popular culture. You can say, “Did you see this movie? No? Well, it’s really cyberpunk.” Or, “Did you see the cyberpunk pants she was wearing last night?”

People know what you’re talking about, but it doesn’t work so well describing human roles in the world today. We’re more complicated. I think one of the things I did in my early fiction, more or less for effect, was to depict worlds where there didn’t really seem to be much government. In “Neuromancer,” for example, there’s no government really on the case of these rogue AI experiments that are being done by billionaires in orbit. If I had been depicting a world in which there were governments and law enforcement, I would have depicted hackers on both sides of the fence.

In “Neuromancer,” I don’t think there’s any evidence of anybody who has any parents. It’s kind of a very adolescent book that way.


So what do you think is a better way to phrase that question today? Or what would have been a better way to phrase it in 1993?

I think you would end with something like “or is this just the new normal?”

Is there anything about “the new normal” in particular that surprises you? What about the Internet today would you have been least likely to foresee?

It’s incredible, the ubiquity. I definitely didn’t foresee the extent to which we would all be connected almost all of the time without needing to be plugged in.

That makes me think of “Neuromancer,” in which the characters are always having to track down a physical jack, which they then use to plug themselves into this hyper-futuristic Internet.

Yes. It’s funny, when the book was first published, when it was just out — and it was not a big deal the first little while it was out, it was just another paperback original — I went to a science fiction convention. There were guys there who were, by the standards of 1984, far more computer-literate than I was. And they very cheerfully told me that I got it completely wrong, and I knew nothing. They kept saying over and over, “There’s never going to be enough bandwidth, you don’t understand. This could never happen.”

So, you know, here I am, this many years later with this little tiny flat thing in my hand that’s got more bandwidth than those guys thought was possible for a personal device to ever have, and the book is still resonant for at least some new readers, even though it’s increasingly hung with the inevitable obsolescence of having been first published in 1984. Now it’s not really in the pale, but in the broader outline.

The headline for this article ends with “the next steps are up to us.” It seems clear that Gibson himself has already fully moved on from cyberpunk to other aspects of science fiction. If cyberpunk is to continue, it may evolve into a new form that requires its own niche separate from that which came before.

AltSciFi.Zine: Issue Zero

+ World Will Not End Next Month, NASA Says

An Internet rumor that a large space rock is going to slam into Earth next month gained enough traction that NASA on Wednesday put out a statement denying that the world is about to end.

As the apocalypse story has it, the asteroid impact would occur between Sept. 15 and Sept. 28 near Puerto Rico. […]

+ Dismaland: inside Banksy’s dystopian playground. Clandestine street artist Banksy opens a theme park like no other. Inside a derelict lido in Weston-super-Mare, Dismaland features migrant boats, a dead princess and Banksy’s trademark dark humour. [5m 50s]

+ Why decriminalising sex work is a good idea

ON AUGUST 11th Amnesty International, a human rights charity, announced its support for decriminalising prostitution between consenting adults. Laws over prostitution differ by country: in Britain the sale of sex is legal, but pimping and brothels are not, while in America it is illegal in all states but Nevada.

Increasingly, however, human rights campaigners are calling for it to be decriminalised, as it is in several European countries. Amnesty’s recommendation follows on from similar ones made by the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS. Is decriminalising sex work a good idea or not? […]

+Frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t seen a whitewashed, liberal version of NWA’s Fuck tha Police called “Fix the Police.”

+Fix the police, comin’ straight from the Senate house, Legislature’s gonna bring brutality down Pass some laws, so police know…

+ Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data. Study of census results in England and Wales since 1871 finds rise of machines has been a job creator rather than making working humans obsolete. […]

+ Temporary and part-time jobs surge promotes inequality, says OECD. In the UK, non-standard work including zero-hours contracts accounted for all net jobs growth since 1995. […]


+ A Beginners Guide to Docker and Containers

This guide is designed to get you up to speed on Docker. It is going to cover a lot of ground. We will show you how to build your own containers and a whole stack from scratch. This is the best way for users to understand how Docker works.

Containers depend on namespaces in the Linux kernel. Container managers like LXC, Docker and Nspawn combine namespaces with chroots to provide end user containers. We have a short guide on How Linux Containers Work here.

The idea behind Docker is to reduce the container as much as possible to a single process and then manage all these single app containers with Docker. […]

+ Russia And China Have A Cyber Nonaggression Pact

The treaty, which some have dubbed a “nonaggression pact” for cyberspace, details cooperative measures both governments pledge to undertake, including exchange of information and increased scientific and academic cooperation. With this, Russia and China continue to advance their vision of “information security,” a view of security concerns in cyberspace that is markedly different from Western approaches of “cybersecurity.” […]

+ Oviposters: There’s A Sex Toy That Deposits Alien Eggs Inside Your Body… If You’re Into That. If you’ve ever dreamt of hatching an alien egg made of gelatin from one of your body’s orifices, worry not, friend. You’re (actually) not alone. […]

+ World’s Biggest Data Breaches

Ashley Madison hack just one in a series of terrible data breaches this year. Selected losses greater than 30,000 records:

+ Engaging Newbies In Email Encryption and Network Privacy

All six parts of my series introducing beginners to PGP encryption and network privacy are now freely available. I hope it’s useful for Slashdot readers to share with their less-technical acquaintances. There’s an introduction to PGP, a guide to email encryption on the desktop, smartphone and in the browser, an introduction to the emerging key sharing and authentication startup, Keybase.io, and an intro to VPNs. There’s a lot more work for us to do in the ease of use of communications privacy but this helps people get started more with what’s available today. […]

+ #bombsoverstl
+ Now is always a good time for new passwords.


+ Update: Other people’s sex lives still none of your business.

+ A light-weight forensic analysis of the AshleyMadison Hack

Ashley Madison(AM) got hacked, it was first announced about a month ago and the attackers claimed they’d drop the full monty of user data if the AM website did not cease operations. The AM parent company Avid Life Media(ALM) did not cease business operations for the site and true to their word it seems the attackers have leaked everything they promised on August 18th 2015. […]



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+ The End of the Internet Dream

In the next 20 years, we will see amazing advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Software programs are going to be deciding whether a car runs people over, or drives off a bridge. Software programs are going to decide who gets a loan, and who gets a job. If intellectual property law will protect these programs from serious study, then the public will have no idea how these decisions are being made. Professor Frank Pasquale has called this the Black Box Society. Take secrecy and the profit motive, add a billion pieces of data, and shake.

In a Black Box Society, how can we ensure that the outcome is in the public interest? […]

+ 九龍城寨「Kowloon Walled City」reborn in 川崎市「Kawasaki (Japan)」.
+ Mars is Not Just a Red Planet

If there’s one thing about space that anyone is likely to know, it is that Mars is red. Redness, in fact, is the defining quality of the fourth planet from the sun. Glimpsed from afar, through the telescopes of the 19th century or the Hubble Space Telescope, Mars looks red.

But what about on the ground? If you, a human, were to stand on Mars and kick a toe into the soil, what would the dust around your ankles look like? […]

+ Top Secret Rosies (2010). When “computers” wore high heels, in 1942: mathematicians who helped win WWII. [32m 30s]

+ HORNET: A Better, Faster TOR

TOR, the Onion Router, is the choice of dissidents and journalists alike. It anonymizes Web traffic by obfuscating the source and the destination through a mesh of intermediaries.

Unfortunately, anonymity comes at a high computational price. TOR is slow.

Created in 2004 by the US Navy Research Lab, Tor was designed among other reasons to help people in oppressive countries gain access to the Internet.

Recently, it has been speculated that law enforcement have found ways to decrypt routing information regarding source and destinations of TOR requests. This includes controlling some of the nodes. […]

+ When they finally descend
from pale starlight repose in the sky
who will be the playful winged ones

if not angels here to save us?

+ They came hard against the wind
Screaming down to Earth
Wicked machines who knew
our greatest weakness.

+ Data-Crunching Is Coming to Help Your Boss Manage Your Time

The programs foster connections and sometimes increase productivity among employees who are geographically dispersed and often working from home. But as work force management becomes a factor in offices everywhere, questions are piling up. How much can bosses increase intensity? How does data, which bestows new powers of vision and understanding, redefine who is valuable? And with half of salaried workers saying they work 50 or more hours a week, when does working very hard become working way too much? […]

+ How Hackers Steal Data From Websites

With millions of Americans’ personal information becoming compromised by recent high-profile data breaches, many people are wondering just how anonymous hackers target and infiltrate these supposedly secure systems. Here is a step-by-step explanation of how your data can be stolen. […]

+ From Carbon to Silicon

The next step is to take this model to its logical conclusion: Move these tasks from humans to machines and dramatically improve speed, correctness, transparency and cost of work.

As software systems continue to cannibalise human tasks, we will need to find more meaningful tasks for the human workforce in the software industry. […]

+ Welcome to our newer, brighter future. Welcome to hypercapitalism. Now, run.

+ Any time someone resorts to pseudo-Darwinistic “evolutionary” ideas to rationalize a predatory socioeconomic system, skepticism is necessary.

+ Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace

The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions. […]

+ P.S. More amazing was a chorus of monstrous cheers by those who empower the dystopia that Bezos himself later disavowed.

+ Minimum-wage offensive could speed arrival of robot-powered restaurants

Many chains are already at work looking for ingenious ways to take humans out of the picture, threatening workers in an industry that employs 2.4 million wait staffers, nearly 3 million cooks and food preparers and many of the nation’s 3.3 million cashiers. […]

+ Geometric Tattoos by Dr. Woo.
The @rad1obadge from #cccamp15
+ Robots to attend school in Australia

MEBOURNE: Children in two South Australian schools will soon have new clasroom companions – robots.

For the first time in Australia, research is being conducted into how robots can be effectively implemented into primary and secondary school curriculums to improve classroom learning. […]

The Future, as Foretold in the Past
+ Good science communication means never calling them “retard” – even if you’re Nassim Taleb

…even when they agree with you, if you’ve turned the conversation into a battle you’re going to attract people who want to fight rather than think. Science communication should be about starting conversations and answering questions, not battlefield tactics for shutting down the opposition. […]

+ Pentesting an Active Directory infrastructure

We will see in this post some steps of a pentest against an ADDS domain. This pentest focuses only on the Microsoft System and does not take into account Antivirus, Firewall, IDS and IPS protections. The parts we describe in detail are scanning, exploitation and maintaining access. The pentest is performed with BackTrack 5 R3, you can download it here. The tools we use are Nmap, Nessus, Metasploit (the hacker’s framework, exploits are written in ruby), John the Ripper and Powershell. The pentest’s goal is to retrieve domain administrator credentials and maintain the access on the ADDS domain discretly. […]

+ Persistent AppCache Injections

Make plain-HTTP MiTM attacks persistent by leveraging the HTML5 AppCache offline functionality. Result: Persistent JavaScript running on the target browser whenever he visits previously injected websites, will not be cleared by reload. Can also be used as an intrusion-less persistent Strategic Web Compromise (SWC) to facilitate reconnaisance and exploitation of selected targets over time. The actual attack does not rely on caching and is described in attack. […]

+ I Know Everything About You! The Rise of the Intelligent Personal Assistant

Intelligent Personal Assistants (IPAs) — Siri, Cortana, Google Now — send a recording of what you’ve said to a data center where the application actually resides. IPAs have complete access to your electronic life and an ability to undertake tasks autonomously; these abilities are not within your immediate control. […]

+ Predator: Dark Ages (2015), by James Bushe. Starring Adrian Bouchet, Amed Hashimi, and Sabine Crossen. [27m 18s]

+ I find it fascinating that many people who are outraged by WalMart’s practices, and mock those who shop there, are in love with Amazon.

+ If “All Lives Matter,” then why don’t we have Universal Healthcare? And why are prisons privatized? And why are there still homeless people?

+ And why is the concept of basic income still squarely situated in the realm of utopian science fiction?

+ When Curtains Block Justice

Between October and June, bedrooms of over 5000 crime victims lacked even minimal video surveillance — despite judicial warrants to turn over any video surveillance.

Curtains significantly limit our capacity to investigate these crimes and severely undermines our efficiency in the fight against terrorism. Why should we permit criminal activity to thrive behind drawn curtains, unavailable to law enforcement? To investigate these cases without bedroom video surveillance is to proceed with one hand tied behind our backs. […]

+ Rudy Lewis, born 1939. Self portrait reflected in shop window, Nevada, USA, 1980. […]
+ Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The face of Anonymous. By Gabriella Coleman. + And a friendly reminder you can download a copy here (click here).

+ Naming a job title for crypto engineers “Paranoid Cryptography Engineer” is like recruiting “Flamboyant Fashion Designers” to make clothes.

+ Block these on your edge router to prevent Win10 from phoning home your data. http://pastebin.com/RZW74Npk

The Future of Silicon Silk Promises Beauty Deeper Than Human Skin

Tattoos will soon be as electric and alive
as those in whose skin they are permanently etched.

Tattooed woman.
The title character of Ray Bradbury’s book The Illustrated Man is covered with moving, shifting tattoos. If you look at them, they will tell you a story. (+ source)

By building thin, flexible silicon electronics on silk substrates, researchers have made electronics that almost completely dissolve inside the body.

So far the research group has demonstrated arrays of transistors made on thin films of silk. While electronics must usually be encased to protect them from the body, these electronics don’t need protection, and the silk means the electronics conform to biological tissue. The silk melts away over time and the thin silicon circuits left behind don’t cause irritation because they are just nanometers thick.

Read the entire article here (click here).

Who Is Eating What, If Software Ultimately Eats All?

Software Is Made By People.
The World Is Made Of People.
Software Is Eating The World.

Who Is Eating What?

The easy answer, according to Internet lore, is most likely “soylent green”.

Image of pea-soup green liquid being poured into a bowl. Caption: 'National health care is people serving people.' Meme: Keep calm: Tuesday is Soylent Green Day.
Soylent Green: National health care is people serving people. Keep calm! Tuesday is Soylent Green day.

Although the syllogism above is intended as a joke, real implications have arrived in ways that most people failed to anticipate. Even prescient minds like the one residing in Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen’s egg-shaped cranium may not have foreseen what software could one day evolve to be.

Judging from their behavior, most non-techie people still seem mostly unaware that the digital world (and therefore, the real world as well) is rapidly shifting beneath their feet.

The speed of change is so quick and (resisting the buzzword “disruptive”) unprecedented that many software engineers themselves have been taken by surprise. These trends have the relatively closed world of programmers and systems designers questioning their most closely-guarded values. Those who were there in the early days are now taking a hard look at how things have changed since the inception of the Internet as a popular medium.

Science fiction’s dystopian fantasies are no longer far-fetched. In fact, we see manifestations of this in systems as widely accepted as Facebook — and in programmers’ public collaboration tools like Github and Sourceforge.

If software is eating the world, a science fiction writer or artist would do well to consider the impact of software in their future-oriented stories. We may not be able to predict the next leap in telecommunications, but be we can extrapolate privacy concerns and their likely outcomes if present-day events continue along current lines.

Comments below are derived from this conversation (click here).

Programmers speak on the beginnings of a not-so-brave new world order

I’ve been a little uneasy about the knee-jerk tendency to resort to GitHub for everything, myself. If it were part of a Mozilla-like foundation, maybe, but it’s someone’s for-profit company; who knows how they will change in the future? The history of the consumer web is rife with companies that sell out their ostensible core principles, and, more importantly, their users’ data when the business tide turns against them.

I agree with the author that GitHub cannot be trusted. They already have been removing repositories because of political reasons.

(Ed. Note: “C plus equality”… A satirical feminist programming language, or as another user phrased it, “Pages and pages of barely coherent ranting against straw feminism, some of it in the form of pseudo code.”

See also: this subthread (click here) for details.)

I keep thinking about how my generation fought for “Information wants to be free”. However, I really meant for the people in power to share their information. This generation seems to think it means “give all my information to the people in power for free”. I was hoping for decentralisation, instead we got even more centralisation. Not sure how this happened.

GitHub is actually not the one that bothers me the most. I’ve got a couple of personal projects running there. But gmail creeps me the fuck out. I’ve got 8 years worth of mail on a personal server. I’m also Facebook-averse.

I am not so worried about access so much as about the unknown.

Example – you’ve always been able to put pictures on Facebook. But who would have guessed that they’d start running automated facial recognition on each and every one, without asking first? Lots of people are not okay with this, but your recourse is limited once you’re attached to the ecosystem. And it came very much out of left field one day.

I don’t know what kind of nefarious stuff is possible with github, but to me, that “I don’t know,” and the implicit trust you have to give this corporation in order to use the service is exactly the problem. Maybe there is something that works against your interests buried in the TOS that has no application yet, but will allow them to do things with your code (or maybe not your code – your name? brand? reputation? something else?) at some point in the future.

This isn’t to say I avoid it completely. But if I were in charge of a really big code project, I would certainly have to make a considered decision first.

Why am I not using GitHub?

Simple: The code I work on is proprietary and copyrighted, and storing it on someone else’s servers is like sticking our chin out asking to get popped one.

“There is no cloud, only other people’s computers.”