Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ideeeeuhz!

Writers don't have to worry about other people stealing their ideas. There are several reasons for this. First, an idea is such a tiny grain of a thing that by the time it's a book, it's like the author's severed hand, with his or her fingerprints all over it. Ugh. Like that last sentence. What I mean is, books are so personal, no one else can write my books. Even if we start with the exact same idea, the books will turn out completely unique.

The second reason might only apply to me. My ideas all sound so stupid, no one would even want to steal them. And I'm talking about the really good ones that I actually get excited about. I have hundreds of weird ideas for stories, but in the last couple of years, I've only had four that I got excited about. The first one is the book I'm working on, plus vague ideas about two possible sequels. Then there's the brilliant idea that came to me at work a couple weeks ago.

Wanna hear it? Invisible people driving cars. AWESOME!

Yeah, my wife reacted the same way I imagine you are. "Huh?"

Yeah, it is a weird idea. Maybe even stupid. That's all it was: invisible people driving cars. No plot, no characters to speak of, and not even a good premise, but I knew instantly that I was onto something. You see, I work at a company that makes autonomous vehicles--driverless cars. For several years I've thought there has to be a good story in that somewhere. I'm an insider in a world where we play video games with real cars, for cryin' out loud. I've thought of terrorist plots, rampaging robotic vehicles, and, uh, that was about it. Nothing about cars driving themselves excited me.

Part of the problem might be that these driverless cars are pretty stupid. The other day I filmed a Toyota Highlander navigating autonomously through an obstacle course of plastic barrels. It made it, alright. It was freakin' awesome to all of us who know how hard it is to get a computer to do stuff like that. To anyone else, it would look like the driver was half-blind. (Sneak up to a barrel, turn real sharp, crawl carefully past it, creep to the next one, etc.) Considering the computer's eyes were a laser scanner, it really was half blind. I've no doubt the state of that art will continue to advance, but right now even a terrified sixteen-year-old is a better driver than any computer--on the open road. There are many applications where a computer is a better driver: agriculture, mining, endurance testing, for example. But for scouting new territory or navigating city streets, computers just aren't ready. It's too bad, really, because it would be nice if we could send vehicles into really dangerous situations (like war) without risking human lives. We do it in the air all the time. It's trickier on the ground.

What if a company suddenly introduced unmanned ground vehicles that did everything a human driver can do? It would completely change the field. They'd be invaluable tools for urban warfare. Just tell em what to do, and off they go, fearless.

There's currently only one way to make a vehicle that does all that: invisible people. The vehicles aren't really unmanned, of course, but everyone thinks they are. They'd be a guilt-free class of suicide bombers for our side of the "war on terror," and offer huge possibilities for human drama.

This is where it gets hard to explain the potential I see in this idea. I've worked out enough of the details to have the beginnings of a story in my head. The thing about novels is it takes tens of thousands of words to tell them. If it didn't, they'd be short stories. Or blog entries.

4 comments:

  1. It sounds like a great idea, honey. I'm sure it will be an interesting book. I thought your last book was a crazy idea too, but it turned out to be really good. So, I'm not jumping to any conclusions.......

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  2. Hey Benji!!! I think it sounds totally awesome, maybe a little weird, but in a positive way...You're fun to listen to, which can get you quite a ways :)

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  3. Nice! I guess the question is, is it easier to make computers act like humans or to make humans invisible? Whoever does either one first wins, right? Maybe it's like a tree falling in the wood with no one around. If an invisible person dies, will anyone notice? I'm looking forward to hearing/reading more about this idea!

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  4. @Al: I think I'm just going to hide the people, making them functionally, if not literally, invisible. The more I think about this, the more I like it.

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