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About Us

(The story of Misfit Press is inextricably linked to the story of Misfit Incorporated, which is inextricably linked to the story of AJ and Melissa Leon. These fascinating stories have been told at length on many other occasions – in newspapers, on TEDx stages, during numerous interviews and chance meetings in wine bars. If you want to explore the weird and wonderful company that is Misfit Incorporated, peruse our site. For the full backstory, check out this video interview.)

Misfit Press itself was established in 2014, with the publication of AJ Leon’s The Life & Times of a Remarkable Misfit. The little-known backstory to The Life & Times is that it was originally slated to be published by a major American publisher, who headhunted AJ after noticing the popularity of his blog, The Pursuit of Everything. About a third of the way through the writing of the book, AJ began to get twitchy about the compromises involved in traditional publishing: uncompromising editorial pressure, a lack of say on issues such as design and artwork. Not long later, AJ bailed on the contract, and decided to publish the book himself. The Misfit team created and ran a Kickstarter, aimed at raising $15,000 to cover publishing costs. By the time the fundraising had run its course, pledges totalled more than treble that amount. With the excess funds, AJ and Misfit decided to go one better than just publishing a book, and also founded a publishing house.

Since its founding, Misfit Press has steadily flourished. In 2015, we took under our wing Wolftree, the finest arts journal in the American Midwest; we released our 2015 Anthology, featuring the finest creative work we encountered over the preceding year; and The Life & Times of a Remarkable Misfit continued to find readers across the globe. In 2016 we published Destination Shakespeare, the debut poetry collection from esteemed Shakespeare academic Paul Edmondson; and we have more Shakespeare-related publications in the works for 2017, including Shakespeare On The Road, a tale of a Shakespearian adventure across the US.

Last  year was a big growth period for the Press, and there is lots more on the way for 2017. As you’ll see from our Forthcoming Publications section, over the next twelve months we will be publishing Saya Sayama: Three Years in Myanmar by incredible photojournalist Spike Johnson, a photonarrative account documenting a unique moment in Myanmar’s history: the violent shift from General Ne Win’s fifty-year dictatorship to the country’s first steps towards democracy. Also imminent is Tangentially Reading, featuring some of the most insightful, shocking, touching, and hilarious moments from the first 200 episodes of Christopher Ryan’s much-loved podcast, Tangentially Speaking.

These are exciting times at Misfit Press. To keep up to date with everything that’s going on, follow us at our blogFacebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. Into the future, we will always continue to work in the fashion we do right now: with authors we like, on projects that matter, in a way that leaves writer, reader and everyone in-between satisfied. We will also never renege on our One-for-One pledge; for every publication we ever sell, a child in India will receive money towards prescription eyeglasses, via the Misfit Foundation.

w: Matt

Is deep space home to artificial intelligence, not aliens?

Is deep space home to artificial intelligence, not aliens? L

ast week, I had my most unnerving reading experience of the year. Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, by James Barrat, was published in 2013. As you might have guessed from the cheery title, the book proposes that the invention of artificial intelligence (or “superintelligence”) will not herald the futurist utopia described by Ray Kurzweil and other futurists. Instead, Barrat explores “the plausibility of losing control of our future to machines that won’t necessarily hate us, but that will develop unexpected behaviors as they attain high levels of intelligence that we cannot ourselves reach, behaviors that probably won’t be compatible with our survival.”

Uplifting stuff! Of a piece with the popular Superintelligence (2014) by Nick Bostrom – the book which is apparently the motivation for Elon Musk’s fear of AI – Our Final Invention (2014) is a sobering read. There lots of debate over what the prospect of AI means for humankind, with projections ranging from extinction to utopia. The arguments made in Our Final Invention are too vast to be condensed here, but I thought I’d share one of the book’s quirkier nuggets. Namely, that it might make logical sense to search deep space not for other biological life forms – that is, aliens – but for superintelligence. As Barrat explains…


I

n 1974, Cornell University broadcast the “Arecibo message” to commemorate the renovation of the Arecibo radio telescope. Designed by SETI’s founder Francis Drake, astronomer Carl Sagan, and others, the message contained information about human DNA, the population of Earth, and our location. The radio broadcast was aimed at star cluster MI3, some 25,000 light-years away. Radio waves travel at the speed of light, so the Arecibo message won’t get there for 25,000 years, and even then it won’t get there. That’s because M13 will have moved from its 1974 location, relative to Earth…

Still, other star systems might be more profitable targets for radio telescope probes. And what intelligence they detect might not be biological.

This assertion came from SETI (which stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Headquartered in Mountain View, California, just a few blocks from Google, the now fifty-year-old organization tries to detect signs of alien intelligence coming from as far away as 100 trillion miles. To catch alien radio transmissions, they’ve planted forty-two giant dish-shaped radio telescopes three hundred miles north of San Francisco. SETI listens for signals—it doesn’t send them—and in a half century they’ve heard nothing from ET.

But they’ve established a vexing certainty relevant to the unimpeded spread of ASI: our galaxy is sparsely populated, and nobody knows why. SETI chief astronomer Dr. Seth Shostak has taken a bold stance on what exactly we might find, if we ever find anything. It’ll include artificial, not biological, intelligence.

He told me, “What we’re looking for out there is an evolutionary moving target. Our technological advances have taught us that nothing stays still for long. Radio waves, which is what we’re listening for, are made by biological entities. The window between when you make yourself visible with radio waves and when you start building machines much better than yourselves, thinking machines, that’s a few centuries. No more than that. So you’ve invented your successors.”

In other words there’s a relatively brief time period between the technological milestones of developing radio and developing advanced AI for any intelligent life. Once you’ve developed advanced AI, it takes over the planet or merges with the radio-makers. After that, no more need for radio.

Most of SETI’s radio telescopes are aimed at the “Goldilocks zones” of stars close to earth. That zone is close enough to the star to support liquid on its surface which isn’t frozen or boiling. It must be “just right” for life, hence the term from the story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

Shostak argues that SETI should point some of its receivers toward corners of the galaxy that would be inviting to artificial rather than biological alien intelligence, a “Goldilocks zone” for AI. These would be areas dense with energy—young stars, neutron stars, and black holes.

“I think we could spend at least a few percent of our time looking in the directions that are maybe not the most attractive in terms of biological intelligence but maybe where sentient machines are hanging out. Machines have different needs. They have no obvious limits to the length of their existence, and consequently could easily dominate the intelligence of the cosmos. Since they can evolve on timescales far, far shorter than biological evolution, it could very well be that the first machines on the scene thoroughly dominate the intelligence in the galaxy. It’s a ‘winner take all’ scenario.”

Shostak has made a connection between contemporary computer clouds, like those owned by Google, Amazon, and Rackspace Inc., and the kinds of high-energy, super-cold environments superintelligent machines will need. One frigid example is Bok globules—dark clouds of dust and gas where the temperature is about 441 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, almost two hundred degrees colder than most interstellar space. Like Google’s cloud computing arrays of today, hot-running thinking machines of the future might need to stay cool, or risk meltdown.

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MattMatt is Chief Editor at Misfit Press. Alongside overseeing all activity at the Press, he is in the latter stages of a PhD, working on a thesis examining the intersections between literature, neuroscience and the philosophy of consciousness. Soccer, snowboarding, prog metal, Dostoevsky, a good Chianti and strangers' dogs all rank amongst his favourite things.

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