Our third place winner – S. Gill Williamson

Today, I’ll be sharing with you the short story awarded third prize in our contest. The story, “The Avatars Remember Nothing” was written by S. Gill Williamson. Gill is a Professor Emeritus in Computer Science and Engineering at University of California, San Diego. His research areas included combinatorial algorithms, design and analysis of algorithms, and algebraic combinatorics. He has published seven nonfiction books for mathematics and computer science,  and one novella, The Observers (2009).

Here is a short interview with Gill.

Susan Elliott Sim (SES): What got you into writing science fiction?

S. Gill Williamson (SGW): In 2002, I was designing a course for a freshman-seminar series on the future of computers and robotics. My idea was to write an essay (nonfiction) for the students to read to get the discussion started.   After spending six months without producing something that satisfied me, I decided to switch to fiction.  This turned out to be horribly difficult for me as it is so different from writing mathematics, etc.  The end result, The Observers, was finished after I retired and way too late for the freshman course.

SES: Where did you get the idea for “The Avatars Remember Nothing”?

SGW: This short story gives an example of how the human race could spawn a separate, non biological, highly intelligent life form with it’s own purposeful goals.  The key to this happening is the creation of sentient virtual beings embedded in virtual worlds of our creation.  Such a technology is a certainty within the next 100 years.  The problem addressed in the short story is how sentient virtual copies of humans, including virtual copies of deceased ancestors, could escape the computer and become physical beings in our world.  Such a civilization is called a “synthetic civilization” by SETI researches (e.g.,  Seth Shostak) and may, due to their longevity (lifetime, L, essentially infinite in the Drake equation), be the most common type of advanced civilization in the universe. They may also be very hard to contact. My primary purpose in writing this short story was to give a scientifically accurate and fun example of how our culture might generate such a civilization.

My secondary purpose in writing the short story was to partially answer a question about The Observers posed by several readers:  how did the Observers come to be and why did they destroy their biological creators two billion years ago?

SES: What do you hope to achieve with your fiction? And with your writing in general.

SGW: I hope my fiction writing will encourage readers to think about the issues I raise on their own and give me their feedback.  I have received many interesting comments, some of which are included at the end of The Observers in the Author’s Notes section.  I have tried to encourage reader participation by using understated humor and mild satire. Almost all of my characters, including the aliens,  have basically benign goals to which they are devoted.  They all would prefer to be left alone to do their thing, but such is not to be ….

The purpose of my writing in general is to generate thought and discussion.  I am a firm believer in the Creative Commons.  All of my nonfiction (but one, I’m working on that) is freely available on my website and modularized there for easy download and usage.  Both The Observers and The Avatars Remember Nothingare there for free download.  The Observers is a large pdf file. Some readers prefer a more compact format which can be purchased online (e.g., Amazon).

What happened to the freshman course never taught?  It is online also: http://cseweb.ucsd.edu/~gill/SynIntSite/

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