Virtually New Zealand

The 78th World Science Fiction Convention was meant to be in New Zealand this year (WorldCon really is a World convention, since it is held in a different city each other), but due to Covid that wasn’t going to be possible. So rather than cancel it, it was decided to go online. So CoNZealand has become the world’s first online WorldCon.

We weren’t originally planning on travelling half way around the world to go to a con, but since it was online, it actually became a lot easier to attend. Having finished the first ‘day’ (it’s now early afternoon here, and most people in New Zealand have gone to bed), I’m writing up a few notes on how it’s going.

As the primary means of communication, Discord is being used. Good work has been done in organising the Discord server into various channels, such as channels for each programme ‘room’, a bar, gaming channels and other subjects. There’s been a lot of effort to make sure that everyone knows how to use the technology, with training sessions in the weeks running up to the event.

Last night, there was some good chatter with people in the various channels, and this morning several video chats with SF fans from around the world. It doesn’t have the same feel as being actually at a convention surrounded by real people all talking about SF, for an introvert like me it’s been easier to talk to people I don’t know in a chat room than in a real bar.

Programme events themselves have been done using Zoom – and so far it’s been mixed in terms of people being used to the technology and having a good enough connection to be able to stay online once the event has started.

Since the program events from from about 22:00 UK time, to 1100 UK time, I missed the ones in the middle due to needing sleep, but I’ve managed to attend three so far. In each, there was side channel chatter going on in the chat room, which is something that’s not normally possible, and people having to type up their questions first meant that the more interesting questions tended to get answered rather than those from the person with the longest arm (and I say that as someone with a long arm).

Finally, the sessions are being recorded so they can be watched later – no more having to select one out of several interesting options to go to (or more probably, the one with the shortest queue). I was hoping to catch up on the ones that I’d missed during the day, but so far only the Opening Ceremonies are available. Hopefully the rest will be up soon. In the mean time, I can go and browse the art show.

Future Laws

Law changes when the world changes. When you can duplicate a person, who owns the house? Which one is married to the spouse? How do you define property when physical objects are almost worthless but computing power is in short supply?

An interesting panel discussion, which actually had several lawyers on it – it generally helps when there are people on the panel who know what they’re talking about. Most of the discussion centred around how to apply laws between country borders, and whether legal systems should try and come up with new laws before the technology exists to exploit them, or whether they should be reactionary.

Cyborgs and Society

Brain-machine interfaces are currently in early clinical trials, and they’ve proven the ability to let a human brain control a robotic limb. Sometime in the coming years, this technology will move from the laboratory to the public. How might society respond to the option of becoming a cyborg, and the presence of cyborgs among us?

Probably the best of the three for me, with discussion on not only public perception of cybernetics and the definition of a cyborg, but also who gets to pay for them. If a job requires cybernetics, does the company have to keep on paying for maintenance?

Are we living in a simulation?

It isn’t just The Matrix. Philosophers and scientists have been speculating: are we living in the “real” universe or a simulation? If it is a simulation … is it possible to ever know?

This one was more philosophy than maths and physics, but relatively interesting discussion on whether we’d want to break out of a simulation if we could, and whether those who ran the simulation would have a code of ethics.

Samuel Penn

Samuel Penn