Larry Ellison Sinks Off New Zealand Coast

Dec. 1, 2151
AUCKLAND–Eccentric software trillionaire Larry Ellison sank earlier today in deep waters off the New Zealand coast during practice sprints for this year’s America’s Cup. Safety officials immediately organized a search, but hold out little hope of discovering and raising Ellison in time to avoid irreparable damage. “The seas are just too rough to mount a sufficiently rapid recovery operation,” explained Royal New Zealand Coastguard spokesperson Greta Oz. “From what I understand, many of his vital systems cannot withstand more than a few hours of submersion at that pressure. We have been transmitting warnings about severe seas for the past week, but Mr. Ellison chose not to heed them.”

Ellison has been a controversial figure in the sailing world ever since his first bid six years ago to become the first human/yacht hybrid to compete in the prestigious America’s Cup. “Larry has always been a pioneer,” points out America’s Cup Executive Director Harry Shaboul. “Some of us thought he was going too far. But, I guess, it eventually had to happen. By getting acceptance from the Board, Larry has paved the way for competition on equal footing between cyborg systems and traditional human crews.”

Ellison has been living as a yacht for the past seven years. In the spring of 2143, after a series of groundbreaking surgeries spanning several months, Ellison embarked upon his maiden voyage along the California coast. Ellison’s organic body, encased in Lucite, suspended in an oxygen-rich gel bath, and wired into the adaptive network that navigates and maintains the ship, was, upon his instruction, mounted as a figurehead on the yacht’s cutwater. “The view is incredible,” exclaimed Ellison at a press conference shortly after his launch. “I feel at one with the ship, at one with the sea.”

“Larry didn’t make it easy on us,” noted Dr. Frieda Umphal, Ellison’s lead medical expert. “He insisted that he be visible as the figurehead, and that he be wearing one of his trademark suits. Working with his tailors we managed to do it for him, to get a suit designed that satisfied his wishes but that didn’t interfere with the possibly indefinite artificial support of his body.”

Through an interface with on-board navigational equipment and servo-mechanical sail and rudder control systems, Ellison was able to sail without a crew. Though satellite arrays kept him connected to world networks, he often enjoyed the more intimate contact he could have with passengers. “It’s a unique feeling, to be able to carry someone, a friend, on your back, or in your body, across the waves,” explained Ellison in a rare interview last year. “I’m often reminded of the story of Jonah and the whale. There’s something divine about the experience, something sacred.”

Reached at his mountain retreat, long-time Ellison friend and rival Steve Jobs expressed his concern over Ellison’s disappearance: “This is tragic. I tried to warn him about this yacht business. I mean, I thought he was going too far when he had that gene treatment to become ‘Japanese.’ Still, he’ll be missed.”

Others have suggested that the loss was avoidable. “There was a flaw in Larry’s design,” explained the leader of his land-based crew. “But it was typically Larry: not afraid of risks. He insisted on storing all of his functions and routines on a central server on board. It helped him ‘identify’ with his new body he said. We tried to encourage him to consider a more distributed model, but he wouldn’t listen. ‘I don’t want copies of myself spread all over the network where any bozo can tinker with them,’ he said. ‘It’s stupid and it’s inefficient. If people want to interact with me they can do it through thin clients.'”

“We’re all very concerned,” notes Dr. Umphal. “And we’re right to be concerned. But it’s not hopeless. His ego was designed to serve as a flotation device.”

Researchers Seek Treatment for Mad Soybean Disease

Aug. 19, 2058
NEW YORK–Officials for the World Health Organization announced today the funding of a special initiative dedicated to discovering improved treatment and diagnosis of Bovine-Derived Tofuiform Encephalopathy (BDTE), more commonly known as Mad Soybean Disease. “Though confirmed cases of BDTE have not been many in number, their global distribution, coupled with the widespread consumption of bovine-derived soy products, is a matter for prudent concern,” explained WHO spokesperson Wilfred Inkling.

The disease is closely associated with the consumption of bovine-derived tofu. Prior to widely publicized recent cases of BDTE, few consumers realized that some 30% of tofu sold worldwide was at least in part bovine-derived. “The tofu industry doesn’t want to talk about bovine-derived tofu because they know the market will be suspicious,” claims Haril Paltry, executive director of transgenics watchdog group Generation One. “And we should be suspicious. The public needs to know about how this stuff is produced.”

Bovine-derived tofu is harvested from a proprietary, transgenic Soy Cow developed and patented by Soystock inc., a soy industry collaborative standards and research corporation. A full-grown Soy Cow resembles a traditional cow whose flesh is composed of food-grade tofu. The tofu is harvested three to four times each season using techniques derived from the traditional shearing of wool. A freshly-shorn Soy Cow begins to re-grow tofu-flesh on its lean, grey-houndish frame within hours. During its ten-year lifespan, the typical Soy Cow will produce more than 32 tons of tofu.

“People naturally react negatively to unfamiliar innovations,” points out lead Soystock researcher Phillipa Reade. “I think the public is ready for this. We haven’t been advertising the Soy Cow, but we haven’t made it a secret either. The control we have over the product through control of the Soy Cow genome is phenomenal. We’ve been able to very closely link Soy Cow behaviors with desirable product qualities. The firmness of the tofu, for instance, is tied to the exercise regime of the stock animals.”[p]
Reade is more circumspect when questioned about BDTE: “BDTE is a serious concern, but I don’t think all of the evidence is in yet. People tend to jump to the conclusion that it is related to Soy Cow tofu when it may be a consequence of engineering of traditionally grown soy, or even of centuries of traditional soy husbandry. We know much more about the Soy Cow genome because we planned every nucleotide in it. We know much less about traditional soy.”

BDTE’s symptoms include the rapid development of tofu-like plaques in the spine and in the frontal lobes of the brain, causing dementia, amnesia, uncontrollable body tremors, periodic seizures, and, ultimately, brain death. To date, few treatments have been effective. Public domain drugs for treatment of BSE-1, BDE, and BSE-211 have produced noticeable, but temporary relief of some symptoms.

“We don’t yet fully understand BDTE’s vectors,” notes WHO’s Inkling. “Because of the lengthy incubation period–as long as 15 years in some cases–we have determined that research dollars should be allocated now, rather than later. If preliminary investigation indicates that BDTE causative agents are relatively uncommon in the population, then we’ll re-evaluate our decision. Until then, however, a dedicated research initiative is the only humane response.”

Microsoft Announces Handguns with Web Access

June 16, 2004
PHOENIX–Microsoft today unveiled its latest effort to ensure that the Web is accessible “everywhere through everything” and that versions of its Windows operating system become “ubiquitous and necessary, like the air we breathe.” Speaking to a skeptical audience at CUEC (Conference on Ubiquitous and Environmental Computing), CEO Steve Ballmer revealed that Microsoft has acquired rights to the legendary Colt brand and has a custom version of Windows for Handguns currently in beta testing.

Brandishing a prototype “e.Colt,” Ballmer extolled the virtues and conveniences of “wired” firearms: “Now, whenever I have my gun out, I can also check my stock quotes. Bill can still dash off an e-mail to me, and I’ll get it, even if I’m out searching for prowlers in the backyard in my PJs.”

The e.Colt is built around a fully-functional 9mm semi-automatic frame. The grip includes a small, 256-color touchscreen and stowable stylus. All memory, computing and storage functions are handled by a 1 GB CRAM array and low-power Intel Cranium processor. A coiled, under-barrel multi-function antenna permits connection with RF, WAP, IGI, and satellite networks. Running on a custom, embedded version of Windows known as Windows HG, and utilizing full Bluetooth functionality, the e.Colt enables users to engage in most of the most popular Web functions, including browsing with full XML support, e-mail, and voice and data telephony.

Microsoft’s business strategy for the e.Colt includes producing and selling the gun itself, licensing OEM design and manufacture of peripherals, and licensing Windows HG to others in the firearms and munitions industry. “The hardware itself is really cool,” exclaimed Ballmer. “I mean, wow! But we’ve always been more of a software company than a hardware company. The hope is that the industry will pick up on this and run with it. At Microsoft we just want what’s best for the consumer: innovation, and that includes innovation in handguns.”

Ballmer also demonstrated the Kodak Gun-Cam, one of the many peripherals in the works. The small camera plugs into the e.Colt’s USB port and gathers real-time footage through a patented down-the-sights view. “There’s lots of important uses for this,” noted Ballmer. “With Windows HG’s remote firing capability and personal server functionality, you could set your gun up somewhere, then, from anywhere in the world, keep track of what it’s aiming at and, when you’re ready, fire. We expect something like this to be really big for rifle manufacturers interested in building the remote hunting market.”

Remote firing is only one of several “remote” functions enabled by Windows HG. The OS includes a web-configurable and web-accessible gun lock and safety system that makes use of 1,024 bit encrypted keys. “We’re very concerned about gun safety,” explained Ballmer. “In HG we’ve got a key-escrow system to help law-enforcement curtail inappropriate gun use. We keep an updated copy of each of the safety keys on one of our super-safe, super-secure servers. If a cop or somebody has met the proper legal standard and has the right paperwork, we can turn over the key and they can lock-up the gun.”

Ballmer also pointed out the potential usefulness of remote firing and lock-up control for co-ordination of firing in small groups or squads: “Because of Bluetooth, groups of gun-owners can now network their guns together and do things like appoint a squad leader with power to issue a ‘hold fire’ command which would instantly flip the safety on all of the guns in the group.”[p]
Members of the audience at CUEC remained skeptical: “We’re glad when somebody with resources like Microsoft dedicates them to ubiquitous or environmental computing initiatives,” explained one attendee. “The enthusiasm helps draw attention to the field. At the same time, though, their specific plans don’t seem to be in the right spirit. They just don’t get it.”

Fact-Checking Servers to Reduce Libel Risk

Jul 4, 2033
PALO ALTO–In December, three of the top five U.S. ISPs plan to install new software to reduce the risk that their customers will be exposed to libel and gossip liability for content that they post. The software, developed by Black Hole Skunkworks, a joint venture of Stanford University and a consortium of newspaper and publishing multi-nationals, screens all user-generated content, alerting posters to possible legal liability for dissemination of libelous or gossipicuous information.

U.S. Supreme Court validation last year of the Responsible Network Speech Act has given the green light to a series of high-profile “personal liability” and “gossip” suits against posters with deep pockets. In Hanks v. Oinks a Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruled that traditional First Amendment protections permitting publication of potentially libelous information by members of the press did not apply to individual on-line posters. Three months later, upholding a $19 million judgment of liability for “re-publishing, re-posting, or disseminating the libelous statement of another,” the Supreme Court, on a narrow 5-4 margin, affirmed for the first time that civil liability for “gossip” did not violate Constitutional principles.

“The Court had to settle the issue one way or another,” explains Columbia Law Professor Egger Shriev. “The openness of electronic media has created unprecedented opportunities for individuals to reach audiences previously only reachable by the traditional press. Most of us expected the Court to explicitly extend press protection to individuals, but the influence of the strict textualists was too great.”

The fact-checking software developed by Black Hole, according to company promotional materials, offers posters “protection from liability for inadvertently libelous or gossipicuous posts.” The software processes all of a user’s uploaded data through a parser that identifies the “propositional content” of the posts, which is then encoded in a low-profile, “Eigen-assertion” stored on the local client. A peer-to-peer query then searches for clients who have posted matching assertions. User-configurable lists determine which matching sources the user trusts for verification. Default configuration permits assertions to be confirmed by articles published by newspaper and magazines that have partnered with Black Hole.

Posts that could be confirmed by such major publications, however, have not been at the heart of recent court cases. The Oinks case, for example, dealt with a post on a semi-public discussion board in which a Peoria man described his neighbor as “a stinky, rude, bum” and a “mouth-breather.” Such posts are unlikely to be confirmable by citation of the traditional press. Black Hole addresses this problem by focusing its peer-to-peer query on sources judged to be likely to confirm the assertion, and then returns a weighted evaluation of the liability risk. “If Oinks had run our software, the query would have looked, for instance, for confirming assertions made by other neighbors, by Hanks’ family members and co-workers, ” explains CEO Pauline Snipe. “And, I feel pretty confident saying this, it would have warned him not to make the post.”

Free-speech advocacy groups frustrated by the recent run of court rulings consider the announced software a mixed blessing. “We’re happy this software exists in this difficult speech climate,” notes ACLU spokesperson Jack Jack. “To the extent that it gives individuals the confidence to speak, it should do something to ameliorate the chilling effect of the Act and the Court’s endorsement of it. On the other hand, to the extent that it makes things easier for people, it makes it harder for us to mobilize opinion against the seriously wrong-headed direction U.S. law has taken.”

“This is really just a ploy by traditional press and media to maintain their monopoly on dissemination of information,” points out media watchdog group EyeSpy spokesperson Henriette Oll. “Who do you think lobbied for the Responsible Speech Act? The same companies that have partnered with and invested in Black Hole. By ensuring that individuals would be held to a stricter standard than they would, the corporate run ‘Press’ was tightening their grip on information. And now they want to ‘protect’ us by selling us software that tells us not to say anything that isn’t confirmed by something they’ve already said? It’s about time we realized that the corporate Press doesn’t even give a shit about its own freedom, let alone ours.”