My name is James Justin. I go by the by the handle Azpod, which I've used since I was president of the Flying Buffalo International Limited war gaming club in high school waaaaay back in 1991. At the time, I was hardly a Christian and my club name was simply "Death." Needless to say, the student council bristled at the concept of a club president entering "Death" in that year's club registry so they told me to change it. I changed it to Azpod, which was an acronym meaning AZtec Priest Of Death-- a particularly brutal villain in a series of stories I'd written in my freshman year. Since they had no clue what "Azpod" meant, they let me use it.
After I left high school and accepted Christ, the meaning of the acronym no longer fit my personality. However, I found that Azpod is a very unique handle (a useful thing in the Internet age), so I kept it. For many years, even after the dot-com bubble burst, every reference to Azpod on search engines directly or indirectly pointed to me. Only recently has that changed, but even now a vast majority of hits for Azpod still point to me.
Since then, I have earned a Computer Science degree and in 1996 one of my many lifelong dreams came true: I became a professional game programmer. Although a majority of my industry experience has been gameplay programming, my true passion is artificial intelligence. If you're curious about what games I worked on, you can check out my MobyGames profile or read the programming section below.
For those who care about such things, I am 5'9". I was a slender 127 pounds in college, but my waistline has been under assault ever since I started to sit behind a desk for a living. So now at the age of 34, I weigh about 210 pounds. I also used to have blond hair, but it's darkened to a light brown since my youth. I also have an X-Men's Rouge-style gray lock that appeared shortly after I turned 30. Aside from that, my hair still has very little gray in it. It is very long, alternating from waist-length to the middle of my back depending on how long it's been since I've cut it. I used to wear it loose, but since having a kid who loves to grab anything he can get his hands on, I've taken to wearing it in a ponytail. I have dark blue eyes and I almost always wear black.
I have a son, Xyzik who is now 4 years old and is so intelligent it's scary. Like most 4 year olds, he loves to play and explore. But he also ponders very deep philosophical topics that I didn't ponder until I was nearly a teenager! He's recently discovered the joy of Japanese anime, so he often pretends to do kung-fu with the only sparring partner insane enough to voluntarily be beaten up by a 4 year old: me. One of the joys of fatherhood.
I've often been described as a living paradox. I'm a Christian who used to be heavily involved with the occult. So I have some pretty strong beliefs, especially about the supernatural, since I've experienced many such things firsthand. But I'm hardly a stereotypical fundamentalist Christian. I love almost all aspects of science and engineering, especially artificial intelligence and astrobiology. I also enjoy playing Dungeons & Dragons as well as reading and writing fantasy and science fiction.
Needless to say, I'm generally the odd person out in almost any gathering. Most of my social time is spent with members of the local SCA medieval reenactment group, since the SCA seems to be largely populated by other living paradoxes!
Artificial intelligence has been an obsession of mine ever since I was 12. At that time, I was interested in space exploration, in particular unmanned exploration to other star systems. Since it was obvious that faster than light travel was likely to remain in the realm of science fiction for the foreseeable future, I pondered how future probes could cope with the myriad of unforeseen problems that would arise when traveling through deep space over long periods of time. Obviously some sort of advanced AI system would be needed. But how would one build such a system?
It was a puzzle that would prove to not be easily solved. Using skills I'd developed while writing crude video games since I was 10, I started to probe the idea of machines that could learn and adapt. Over the next several years, space exploration fell away as my driving obsession, and game programming became my primary hobby. When I was 16, I released a simple text-based nuclear war strategy game called Nuke the World as freeware on the PC. The game was designed to use basic AI to adapt its strategy in response to the actions of the human players. It used a learning algorithm to find patterns and better anticipate what a player's likely next move would be. The principle worked well, and I even used the algorithm from Nuke the World in a later game I worked on as a professional game programmer.
After high school, I attended the University of California at Riverside, with a major in Computer Science. While I was quite skilled at writing and enjoyed it quite a bit, I knew it was much more likely that I could make money as a programmer than as an aspiring novelist. But more than that, I wanted to see what the status was of academic AI research. To my shock and surprise, my learned that most of the actual science behind AI had already been done. Neural nets were understood and were being used to do simple shape and object recognition as well as other tasks. Expert systems were able to handle the often confusing and contradictory flood of information that one would expect any AI to cope with. And robotics was a field that was already decently mature in its own right.
I came to understand that the reason we don't have androids in every household is not that we don't know how one could work. It's an engineering problem now. Human senses process incredible amounts of data each second. Human memories are stored as fragments, each tied by reference to each other. A certain smell, for instance, will bring to mind the face of a long lost relative. The computational power required to mimic human memory alone is staggering. Then you have the problem of fitting that much processing horsepower into a machine not much larger than a human body. It's an engineering problem that can be solved and almost certainly will be, but it will take time. Lots of time.
So I chose to not pursue academic research into AI. Instead, I focused my remaining years in college to develop the skills I'd need to break into the game industry. I took classes in 3D programming, game theory, as well as several creative writing courses. When I graduated college in 1996, I got my lucky break and started at Interplay Productions, working on Starfleet Academy.
But the game industry is volatile. Since then, I've worked at Midway Games on NFL Blitz, NFL Blitz 2000 and Kurt Warner's Arena Football Unleashed. Then I moved on to Insomniac Games, where I had the pleasure to work on Spyro: Year of the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank.
By then, I'd fallen in love gotten married. But my then wife and I wanted to have children, and living in Los Angeles wasn't something that we wanted our children to have to endure. So we moved one more time to Madison, Wisconsin, where I took a position as a gameplay programmer at Raven Software. Since then, I've worked on X-Men: Legends, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse, Marvel Ultimate Alliance and the unnamed title I'm working on now.
But all these games, all the moving and settling down to become a family man hasn't dulled my dream of seeing androids working, playing and living alongside humans in my lifetime. Continuing in the tradition that I'd established as a teenager, I've continued to work on small games on the side as technology testbeds. The LRS Project is an example of this. Starting with the simple multi-user dungeon Illogica LRS 1.0 and continuing with Illogica LRS: 21st Century and Beyond, I'm still building platforms to experiment with and to test AI technology. Although I'm not likely to be building androids anytime soon, I hope to be able to use what I learn to help others strive to reach that elusive goal.
You can learn more about the LRS Project by following This Link!
I'm no stranger to the spiritual world. Although I was raised in an agnostic household, I became curious about the supernatural realm when I was 10. That curiosity led me to dabble with the concept of spirits and psychic activity. That dabbling led me very deep into the occult by the time I was a teenager. Because of that, I insulted one of my good Christian friends badly enough that our friendship ended. That showed me that right and wrong aren't just subjective things-- that there are some things that are always right, and others that are always wrong.
The realization that I was a sinner is what eventually led me to Jesus. The complete story of my walk through the occult and my salvation can be found by following This Link!
I believe very strongly that the Bible is true and reliable. But I also believe that humans tend to be false and unreliable. Thus, I completely reject any religious teaching that is not clearly stated in the Bible. This includes many teachings made by both conservative and liberal churches. A guideline I use for my walk with Christ is moderation, something taught in the Bible but rarely observed by many Christians today. Thus, there are a lot of unbiblical human teachings that have found their way into churches. As a result, I've a hard time finding fellowship. Thankfully, I have recently found a church that shares my core beliefs and is a Bible-teaching church.
Also, I don't care to cram my beliefs down other people's throats. I believe that when Jesus said let your light shine among men, it means to let people know that you are a Christian, and let them see how your life is lived. All Christians are God representatives, regardless of our actions. So someone who is telling everyone that they are going to Hell but who isn't showing God's love is doing a great deal of harm. After all, why would anyone want to convert if converting means turning into a mean, hateful person?
So rather, I do my best to live a Christian life and to share my faith by my actions and by expressing God's love. As a result, I have both Christian and non-Christian friends, and are always happy to have more.
My faith also gives me a rather unique outlook on the concept of artificial
intelligence. If the Christian God does exist, and if the Bible is true, then
the existence of AI raises some interesting questions. Could an AI have a soul?
If an AI broke a commandment, would it be sinning? Is it a sin to even try to
build a self-aware machine? Can AIs experience an afterlife? Could an AI accept
Jesus and be able to enjoy salvation? Could such an AI be filled with the Holy
Spirit? While I don't have an answer to all of these questions, much less the
many thousands of other questions that likely exist, I discuss some of
these issues in my Philosophy of A.I. and my
A.I. and Religion pages.
I also read and write science fiction and fantasy as a hobby. While I would like to someday become a professional novelist, that's something that I've chosen to pursue as a profession after I retire from programming. Since that isn't likely to happen for a few decades yet, I'm keeping my skills sharp by writing as a hobby.
I also enjoy reading fiction, and am a big proponent of self-published and online fiction. There are a lot of great writers out there that are unknown simply because no mainstream publisher is willing to take the risk on an author who isn't already famous. I've compiled some of my writings, and links to writings from other people. If you would like to read them, then just follow This Link!
As if I don't have enough to be interested in, I have plenty of other hobbies that help keep me occupied. Currently, chief among them is the SCA, which is a medieval recreation society. Although I don't (yet) strap on the full armor and fight in the many battles that are done in events throughout the year, I do shoot archery as well as participate in thrown weapons. In the past, I've also done homebrewing of cider.
I'm also interested in Astrobiology, the study of life throughout the Universe. I believe that extra-terrestrial intelligent life, if it exists, if likely so rare and so far away that humans will never encounter them. But I hope I'm wrong about that! That said, I do believe that microbial and possibly simple plant and animal life may be widespread throughout the Universe. Thus, I keep tabs with the latest discoveries in the field. But this isn't a field I've has chosen to pursue myself. I already have enough to keep me occupied for 10 lifetimes!
Likewise, I'm a big proponent of commercialization of space travel, as well as colonizing every surface on the Solar System that we can manage to stick a human on. The Earth is a wonderful planet, but history has shown quite clearly that when a civilization stops exploring and expanding their horizons, it decays and collapses from within. Some of the signs of that decay are already manifesting in the selfish yet lazy attitude that many people in the industrialized world have. Society cannot support those who are unwilling to support themselves. And if we divert resources away from science and exploration to try to build a global welfare system, then humanity will never leave this planet. If that happens, we will deserve everything that happens to us when our bloated society collapses.
I hope you've enjoyed reading a bit about my strange life. Follow the links on this page or on the sidebar to your left if you would like to learn more!
My MySpace Profile | My Experiences With the Supernatural