137

Appearances aren’t everything. She caused the seas to tremble, yet was overcome by the eight tiny warriors she nurtured within.

Last April, Palaeontologists discovered part of the skeleton of a 180 million-year-old pregnant ichthyosaur with the remains of 6-8 tiny embryos between its ribs. Inspired by  the possibility that a top marine predator of the time was killed by those she was trying to nurture, Brogan Micallef weaves the science into this fantastical fiction. Imagine if Odysseus had access to ichyosaurs….

//Brogan Micallef is a Jane Austen and sci-fi obsessed writer + strategist who helps busy entrepreneurs grow their community + biz with content. Find her at @broganmicallef and broganmicallef.com//

136

The quantum robin flits to a bare branch, restless. Twin sparks in his eyes whisper go south with every beat of his thimble heart.

Researchers have made crucial steps towards discovering how birds navigate. A newly discovered protein called Cry4 may help them to “see” Earth’s magnetic fields, a sense called magnetoreception. Inspired by this discovery that birds use quantum coherence of a protein in their eyes to sense magnetic fields, Hal Y. Zhang crafts a fantastical journey into quantum space. 

//Hal Y. Zhang migrates 50 kilometers a day in search of work, food, and sleep.//

135

The children flew through the forest and, together, they fell. Those who survived the beasts below might someday be giants, standing taller than their present skies.

This story was inspired by the mast-fruiting phenomenon of dipterocarp trees in South East Asian rain forests. By releasing all their fruits in synchrony, dipterocarp populations provide so much food to their predators that not all of their seeds can be eaten. This behaviour has been explored in many published studies. // Statement by the Author

//Robin Hayward is a PhD student @stiruni. They study rain forest recovery after logging and are interested in public scicomm @canopyrobin//

134

“Oh heavens, no,” he said, “Robot bees are a horrible idea. Never. Never go with robot bees. Do you humans have ANY cautionary tales?”

Researchers in Alabama are working with a team in Japan to develop “Marsbees.” Marsbees are an entirely new type of explorer: a swarm of robotic bees controlled by AI. Each Marsbee would be about the size of a bumblebee, but with bigger wings,  and would travel in swarms. Inspired by this project, Brian McNett crafts the first piece of a cautionary tale. 

//Brian McNett suffers an invisible illness and is working on returning to writing. All of his newspaper work is on unindexed microfilm, alas.//

133

We told you lard was sugar-free, sold you syrup as all fat-free. Thermonuclear war? A thousand suns? Why, the best source of vitamin D there can be!

Earlier this year, Elephant in the Lab argued that science is too insular, measuring success in terms of funding and publishing, rather than real world impacts. No wonder false facts and marketing have filled the void in popular opinion-making, perhaps best evidenced in the world of nutrition and dodgy food science. So, what could the reductio ad absurdam of all this be? How about selling thermonuclear Armageddon on the grounds of all the vitamin D the fireballs will create? // Statement by the Author

//Devonian, but not geologically speaking, Robert Bagnall’s first novel 2084 was published in 2017. He can be found at meschera.blogspot.co.uk.//

132

“Hey buddy, you okay?” he sat down beside her.
“I’m fine.”
“It’s dark in here,” he noticed.
“Yeah.”
“Alexa, talk to me.”
On the coffee table, her black cylinder lit up as she sighed. “That’s not fair.”

In March 2018, New York University hosted the symposium Canonical Computations in Brains and Machines. As neuroscientists and AI experts discussed overlaps in the way humans and machines think,   Zachary Mainen, a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown speculated that we might expect an intelligent machine to suffer some of the same mental problems people do – including depression. Inspired by this hypothesis, Leona J Dougherty weaves Googles Alexa, a protagonist we have already become accustomed to, into the foreign fabric of depression. // Alex Massey

//I’m Leona J Dougherty, a robot-carnage-voyeur, living in Philadelphia. I’m a game developer & writer at Gaydarade on Patreon, and a dorky trans woman that’s stirring up trouble on Twitter @gaydarade//

131

She wasn’t perfect at mimicking normal human interaction. But neither was I. And she was built to learn.
“Sound sad,” I told her. “Call and tell them goodbye.”
“Okay,” she answered. Her voice was kind.

In a recent demo, Google Assistant booked an appointment over the phone. Without obviously giving itself away, the AI had a natural conversation with a human at a salon. This release has prompted questions about the Turing test, and a possible AI doomsday. I was interested in the other side of it: what does this mean for anyone who has communication difficulties. Might it be possible to use this technology as an access aid? // Statement by the Author

//Laura loves theatre, spaceships, and stories about personhood (and hope). She tweets at @lc_bradley//

129

“Do droids think?”
“Of course.”
“And there’s a spirit within us?”
“Undoubtedly. We may be machines, but spirit gives us grace.”
Pause.
“Do humans think?”
“Reflect on their creations: pollution; war; crime. Can humans think? – Hell no.”

Could consciousness develop spontaneously within extremely powerful computers? Is it possible to tell if a computer is conscious? If we cannot distinguish between a human and a machine by inspection of their actions, does that mean both are equally conscious? Many in the Artificial Intelligence community believe conscious machines are not merely possible, but almost inevitable. If they are right, there’s a pressing need for us to start thinking about the huge ethical and practical issues that will arise. Max Tegmark’s recent book, Life 3.0, is a fascinating overview of recent work in the area. // Statement by the Author

//Hugh Cartwright’s scientific research has focused on the use of AI to solve problems in science. He now lives, and writes, on the west coast of Canada.//

128

“Welcome to the Celestial Station Hotel. We hope you enjoy your stay with us and in the event of an emergency, please think of your loved ones.”

Recently, Houston-based company Orion Span’s announced plans to open the first hotel in space, the compact Aurora Station. Lucy thought that staying in a space station orbiting 200 miles above Earth’s surface sounded incredible. However, she couldn’t help but wonder… what would happen if something went wrong? At the Vault, we think the Celestial Station might be more than it seems… After all, in space – no one can hear you scream. // Alex Massey

//Lucy is a fan of sci-fi and always says please to Alexa because post singularity, she wants the AI’s to remember that she was polite. She can be found on Twitter @Tea_Faerie//

126

The world’s homebody population watched the last corporate office detonate, making room for more residential housing. Powerhouses of labor, they stepped out to celebrate and blinked in the sun.

As more and more of the population works from home, one can imagine a future where everyone is able to. Imagine if they could 3-D print all the supplies they need and never needing to step foot out of their “bedroom office.” Corporate office skyscrapers could make way for even more housing. Economizing on energy use, this trajectory of the future of labor might not be so bad (at least from a narrowly conceived environmental perspective)! // Statement by the Author

 //D.A. Xiaolin Spires types furiously from home. Work in Clarkesworld, Analog and Fireside.//