Tue
Jul 27 2010 3:51pm
Word to the Wired: Personal Advice, Science Fiction Style

We live in the future, which means that many of the problems that baffled our ancestors have been solved. Need to get somewhere in a hurry? Try teleportation! Running out of bookshelf space? Try an e-reader! Dying of the plague? Try antibiotics!

But love is a mystery no machine can make sense of and artificial intelligence can’t replace a good heart-to-heart chat; some problems will never be solved by science or advanced technology. Where can the modern citizen of the universe turn when facing a personal problem? “Word to the Wired” will resolve all your futuristic dilemmas, from time travel troubles to alien relations.

I traveled back in time and accidentally killed my own grandfather! What should I do?

First: calm down. Current time travel theory suggests that you’ve just created an alternate future—you’re not going to disappear, create a universe-destroying paradox, or anything like that, so you have some time to plot out your strategy.

If you return to your present, you will officially no longer exist. This is convenient for a superhero, spy, or otherwise-incognito type. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get a job if you don’t officially exist, and without one how are you going to pay for all your gadgets?

You might decide just to live through your past and into the future, meaning that—unlike most time travelers!—you will have no idea what’s to come, since you cannot predict how you’ve affected the future. This is not a bad way to go; instead of being the creepy clairvoyant who keeps predicting disasters, you will be a fully-engaged member of human society, with the neat bar trick of being able to quickly pick up new technology. See if you can find a representative of a temporalocal time traveler’s organization to provide you with fake identification documents, depending on the time period (this will be less important if your grandfather lived in ancient Rome).

Alternately, consider tracking down your grandmother and impregnating her (consensually, of course).[1] Sure, it’s incest, but remember that she's probably still young and hot, and you do share approximately 25% of your grandfather's genetic material.

[1] There is some anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of this technique; see, for example, well-known historical scholar Robert Heinlein's famous “—All You Zombies—.”

There’s this girl in my class that I like, but I think she’s a different species (I’m human). Can we still have a real relationship? Do we even have the same genitals?

Now that the outdated laws prohibiting interspecies sexual relations have been repealed, there’s one definite advantage to this situation: the safest sex since abstinence. No matter how much extraterrestrial species resemble Terran humans, every single one is sufficiently genetically different from Homo sapiens that reproduction is impossible. Even better, no diseases have yet been recorded that can be transmitted from sexual contact between sentient species. (Keep away from non-human Terran species, though.)

As for whether you’ll be able to connect on a physical level as you have on an emotional level, it shouldn’t be too difficult. (And, by the way, don’t assume that “girl” is a girl until you know for sure how her species divides up its sexes.) You’ve got everything from the Ndalill, who resemble Terran humans down to the smallest detail except for the antennae and that green tint to their skin, to the Ovvunutopians, whose limbs are retractable, leaving them looking more like a large beach ball. But they all still want to be held. Our genetic makeup may be different, but almost every species still desires some kind of physical stimulation, and patience and humor will always lead to good results.

On the off chance that you’ve fallen for one of the (admittedly rare) species who have telepathic sex, though, Gods help you.

I have always been in the habit of tipping my doorman at the New Year. However, this past year, our building installed comprehensive AI. Do I tip my robot doorman?

As of this writing, robots haven’t achieved the right to possess property or money, so a cash tip would seem inappropriate. (A number of groups agitating for suffrage for bio-mechanically engineered persons would say that this state of affairs won’t last for long, and you’ll be able to return to your past habits. Nonetheless, for now, it may have trouble spending your gift.) Also, given the ease and inexpensive nature of interstellar importation, remember that the year on your robo-doorman’s planet of origin may be of a different length, so it would be polite to first inquire about local customs.

That said, a personal and practical gift never goes amiss. Since frequently opening doors can put a lot of stress on a poorly-oiled metal joint, you might consider oil. My personal robot assistant prefers a combination of motor oil and essential oils for aromatherapy, both of which help it relax after a long day.

Need guidance of a speculative nature? Leave your questions in the comments and they may be answered in a future column!

Art by Kim Nguyen


Ellen B. Wright lives in New York, where she works in publishing and takes an excessive number of pictures. She thinks we ought to start looking into preserving Miss Manners’ head, brains, and/or genes, whichever seems most scientifically feasible, because we’re really going to need her in the future.

Kim Nguyen is a DC-based graphic designer fresh out of university. In her free time, she rock climbs and shoots zombies.

19 comments
Dave Goldberg
1. Dave Goldberg
Dear Ellen,

I would like to combine questions number 1 and 3. Suppose my robot doorman is from a future (e.g. Terminator) during an epoch in which they can own property. Would it be appropriate to put a cash gift in a custodial account until such time as he/she (depending on whether it's a manbot or a fembot) is accorded proper legal rights? And when will that be?
Nick Rogers
2. BookGoblin
LOVED this.

I wonder more about what happens when the bio-mechanically engineered people achieve independence under the law and want to find love. Is dating a robo-taxi cute, or is that some kind of weird stalking?
Daniel Goss
3. Beren
Dear Ellen,

I've been dating this girl for a while, and yesterday through an extraordinary run of bad luck and worse decisions, I accidentally blew up her home planet. It was totally an accident, my dad should never have installed the death-ray switch under a desk where a careless knee can hit it, but whatever. My question is, does the fact that she was one of the few off-world at the time of its destruction make her more likely to answer yes when I ask her to 'marry' me, or less?
Thanks!
-I wasn't my fault!
Morgan Crawford
4. Jenesis
Dear Ellen B. Wright,

I am considering visiting the planet locally named Earth. In your opinion, how am I likely to be received? Most importantly, will I run into 'scientists' interested in experimentation? I understand there has been an unfortunate history in this regard.
Thank you
Joshua Starr
5. JStarr
Dear Ellen,

I'm a clone, and my father/DNA-twin is such a jerk. How can I keep from growing up to be as annoying as he is?

-Kid Longs for Originality, Not Exact Duplication
Dave Goldberg
7. Meagan Spooner
This is absolutely hilarious! I hope we see this again.
José Schenkel
8. Joosche
Hi Ellen,

Certain time ago a group of strangers gave me the option to save world from some random evil, saying that I was the chosen one. The other option was to continue my life with no memories of this decision. I preferred to do nothing, but they were mean and lied to me. I still remember my choice. How can I erase this memory and go back to my cartoons?
Dave Goldberg
9. Dr. Thanatos
Dear Ellen,

I recently discovered that the young lady I saved from torture by an evil overlord is my sister and that said overlord is our father. He recently cut off my hand during a heated family conference.

Here's my question:

Would it be inappropriate to ask him to give her away at our wedding?

Thanks,
L.S.
Dave Goldberg
10. Dovile
Dear Ellen,

I've eaten one genetically modified potato too much, and now my skin turned green, but I still can't stop eating them.
What's happening to me and what should I do?! Help me!

-Anonymous & very green
Dave Goldberg
11. mr. know it all
I'm on an interplanetary expedition and yesterday a hostile alien life-form killed everyone in my landing party except for a hot scientist. The dead include her husband, whom no one liked, even her. How soon can I start hitting on her?
Dave Goldberg
12. Dr. Baltar
I sometimes hear, uh, a voice in my head. I recently had a doctor give me a clean bill of health, and I'm almost entirely certain there's no microchip or anything in there sending me messages from a genocidal race of machines. Not that I've given them any reason to! Of course not. Perhaps most importantly, though, it seems like most of the advice I get from the voice is actually rather useful. Tell me: should I keep doing whatever it tells me?
Gabriele Campbell
13. G-Campbell
Dovile, try eating some Dutch tomatoes. All that water in those should wash the green out of your skin.
Dave Goldberg
14. Dr. Thanatos
Dear Ellen,

I travel a lot with a friend but I can't sort out my feelings for him. He's funny, crazy, and very smart but can be very intense and prone to rapid mood changes. It's almost like being with 11 people at the same time.

My question: how should I respond when he says he wants to play doctor?

thanks,
Amy
Dave Goldberg
15. Joshua Bosworth
Awesome!

Dear Ellen,

I recently upgraded my old organic senses with EARs (Enhanced Aural Receptors) and EYEs (Enhanced eYeball donglEs). Ever since I became a cyborg, I've had all sorts of social issues: My co worker insists that I have to obey any orders he gives me and keeps ranting about Rule II. It makes me so angry I just want to hit him, but I can't without violating Rule I!
I can still pass a Turing test, if you prink me, I still bleed! Am I still morally or legally subject to the Laws of Robotics? Help!

Tin Man
Dave Goldberg
16. jenfullmoon
So I'm dating this dude who claims to be a time traveler and he came back in time to save me from uh, something or other he won't tell me. How do I know if he's right or crazy? My shrink's not being very helpful about this...
Dave Goldberg
17. Dr. Thanatos
Jenfullmoon,

Is he the little skinny guy with a moustache and a british accent, or the big muscular guy who wants to know if you are Sarah Connor?

I think it might make a difference...
Dave Goldberg
18. paul with the herpes
1. wrong. travel to the future does not exist because the events of tomorrow is affected by the present and therefore unrealized, hence not finite. even if an alternate reality is created there is possibly no way for someone to go to the future unless it has been pre-created.

2. wrong again. if aliens did exist, we would be dead by now. that is unless aliens are actually products of the human future which would essentially make procreation possible.

3. haven't you heard of the sex robot? Google it.
Dave Goldberg
19. JT Banks
Dear Ellen,

I recently learned that my daughter's husband-to-be is a changeling. I've never seen him in his Ursus (bear) form, but he's a delightful young man. The problem is, she and her father are very allergic to fur. Will this be a problem for her or us when they visit?

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