Tal M. Klein is joining us today with his novel The Punch Escrow. Here’s the publisher’s description:
It’s the year 2147. Advancements in nanotechnology have enabled us to control aging. We’ve genetically engineered mosquitoes to feast on carbon fumes instead of blood, ending air pollution. And teleportation has become the ideal mode of transportation, offered exclusively by International Transport—a secretive firm headquartered in New York City. Their slogan: Departure, Arrival… Delight!
Joel Byram is an average twenty-second century guy. He spends his days training artificial-intelligence engines to act more human, jamming out to 1980’s new wave music and trying to salvage his deteriorating marriage. He’s pretty much an everyday guy with everyday problems—until he’s accidentally duplicated while teleporting. Now Joel must outsmart the shadowy organization that controls teleportation, outrun the religious sect out to destroy it, and find a way to get back to the woman he loves in a world that now has two of him.
What’s Tal’s favorite bit?
TAL M. KLEIN
My favorite bits in The Punch Escrow are my protagonist’s day job and how he gets compensated for it. Joel Byram is a salter. No, this doesn’t mean he spends his days harvesting salt from ancient water beds. In the mid-22nd century, an age where almost all things are connected and semi-sentient, salters spent their days enriching the cognitive algorithms of artificially intelligent things — making them more human-like. A salter’s workday consists of engaging with various apps in uniquely human ways that can’t be synthesized. Every time the salter’s gambit isn’t anticipated by an app, that app gets “smarter” by adding the unanticipated random logic set to its code, and the salter gets paid. If it sounds like people in the future making a good living by being smartasses to apps, you’re pretty much right on the money. In Joel’s field success is gamified. One rises through the ranks based on the quality of their accepted salts. The Mine, where Joel works, keeps track of salt acceptance ratios on a public leaderboard. The better one’s ratio, the more desirable they are, and the more money they make.
Speaking of money, I don’t think we can change the way people work without evolving the way they get paid. In The Punch Escrow we get to see one plausible outcome for the evolution of currency. Chits are the elastic global block-chain cryptocurrencies that underpin The Punch Escrow’s global economy. I’m attracted to cryptocurrencies because they’re democratized. I believe this makes them less likely to fail and more likely to be secure. I think their adoption could make most current forms of financial crime obsolete. The value of a chit isn’t fixed, it’s an algorithm. For example, a local municipality’s food chits might be valued at 0.8x (or 80 percent) of the standard chit rate in order to discount for local economic conditions and keep everyone fed. The idea being that the “price” of something in The Punch Escrow’s version of the future is moving target based on real-time demand, the wealth of the procurer, and the percentage of the procurer’s wealth that the procurement transaction represented. I believe such an algorithm may be the key to ensuring nobody could manipulate the market beyond its natural elasticity.
I like the ideas of salting and chits not only because they paint a non-dystopian future in which computers and people have healthy, symbiotic relationships, but also because they open the door to the notion that employment and commerce can continue to thrive in a world of autonomic intelligent things.
I constantly hear worries of people concerned about the impact of automation on jobs; robots in factories, self-driving vehicles, those sorts of things. I don’t mean to discount those concerns, nor the caveats of Neo-Luddites. I just happen to be a pragmatist. There’s a romantic quality to the notion of destroying computers, machines, and weapons. But that’s not going to happen because progress follows the path of least resistance. Therefore, in the future I imagined for The Punch Escrow, society continues to progress at its current technological pace forward. Human labor evolves in lockstep with the technology it spawns, thus as old jobs and business models become redundant and extinct, new jobs come to market. I choose to believe we don’t paint ourselves in a corner. The future isn’t a utopia or a dystopia, it’s a place where we live and work differently than we do today.
Tal M. Klein was born in Israel, grew up in New York, and currently lives in Detroit with his wife and two daughters. When his daughter Iris was five years old, she wrote a book called I’m a Bunch of Dinosaurs that went on to become one of the most successful children’s book projects on Kickstarter —something that Tal explained to Iris by telling her, “your book made lots of kids happy.” Iris then asked Tal, “Daddy, why don’t you write book that makes lots of grownups happy?” Tal mulled this over for a few years, and eventually wrote his first book, The Punch Escrow. It won the Inkshares Geek & Sundry Hard Science Fiction Publishing contest, and will be the first book published on Inkshares’ Geek & Sundry imprint.