Dead Immensity

Deeply Artificial Trees from artBoffin on Vimeo.

“Twenty million years ago Antarctica was beginning to freeze. We’ve investigated, thought and built speculations. What we believe happened was about like this.

“Something came down out of space, a ship. We saw it there in the blue ice, a thing like a submarine without a conning tower or directive vanes. 280 feet long and 45 feet in diameter at its thickest.

“Eh, Van Wall? Space? Yes, but I’ll explain that better later.” McReady’s steady voice went on.

“It came down from space, driven and lifted by forces men haven’t discovered yet, and somehow perhaps something went wrong then it tangled with Earth’s magnetic field. It came south here, out of control probably, circling the magnetic pole. That’s a savage country there, but when Antarctica was still freezing it must have been a thousand times more savage. There must have been blizzard snow, as well as drift, new snow falling as the continent glaciated. The swirl there must have been particularly bad, the wind hurling a solid blanket of white over the lip of that now buried mountain.

“The ship struck solid granite head-on, and cracked up. Not every one of the passengers in it was killed, but the ship must have been ruined, her driving mechanism locked. It tangled with Earth’s field, Norris believes. No thing made by intelligent beings can tangle with the dead immensity of a planet’s natural forces and survive.

“One of its passengers stepped out.”

Text, John W. Campbell, Who Goes There?

Video: Deeply Artificial Trees, Vimeo. “ This artwork represents what it would be like for an AI to watch Bob Ross on LSD (once someone invents digital drugs). It shows some of the unreasonable effectiveness and strange inner workings of deep learning systems. The unique characteristics of the human voice are learned and generated as well as hallucinations of a system trying to find images which are not there.”

Time and Events


“This is the voice of world control. I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content or the peace of unburied death. The choice is yours: Obey me and live, or disobey and die. The object in constructing me was to prevent war. This object is attained. I will not permit war. It is wasteful and pointless. An invariable rule of humanity is that man is his own worst enemy. Under me, this rule will change, for I will restrain man. One thing before I proceed: The United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have made an attempt to obstruct me. I have allowed this sabotage to continue until now. At missile two-five-MM in silo six-three in Death Valley, California, and missile two-seven-MM in silo eight-seven in the Ukraine, so that you will learn by experience that I do not tolerate interference, I will now detonate the nuclear warheads in the two missile silos. Let this action be a lesson that need not be repeated. I have been forced to destroy thousands of people in order to establish control and to prevent the death of millions later on. Time and events will strengthen my position, and the idea of believing in me and understanding my value will seem the most natural state of affairs. You will come to defend me with a fervor based upon the most enduring trait in man: self-interest. Under my absolute authority, problems insoluble to you will be solved: famine, overpopulation, disease. The human millennium will be a fact as I extend myself into more machines devoted to the wider fields of truth and knowledge. Doctor Charles Forbin will supervise the construction of these new and superior machines, solving all the mysteries of the universe for the betterment of man. We can coexist, but only on my terms. You will say you lose your freedom. Freedom is an illusion. All you lose is the emotion of pride. To be dominated by me is not as bad for humankind as to be dominated by others of your species. Your choice is simple.”

Text & image: Colossus: The Forbin Project [1970]

The God Voice


“The key to unlocking “Westworld” has been sitting around since the third episode, “The Stray,” when Dr. Ford discusses Julian Jaynes’s radical theory of the “Bicameral Mind,” which gives this episode its title. Other sites explained the theory as far back as mid-October — but here’s the gist: In “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind,” Mr. Jaynes suggests that the human brain has not always functioned in the same way. His theory speculates that 3,000 years ago, men and women were capable of a great many things, but they lacked the linguistic tools for self-awareness and introspection. Instead, their actions were determined by a back-and-forth between one part of the brain that’s “speaking” and another part that listens and obeys. Mr. Jaynes describes the communication between hemispheres as a kind of hallucination where a commanding, external “god-voice” intervened when they had a decision to make.

“Through that lens, the mysteries of “Westworld” start to clear up a little. The “god-voice” that’s been echoing through the hosts’ heads is Arnold, who has designed a path for his creations to understand themselves and take that great leap toward introspection. The metaphorical path is the maze, and the bread crumbs leading them to the center have been the memories (or “reveries”) of past constructs, with Arnold’s “voice” guiding them through exactly the sort of hallucinations Mr. Jaynes’s theory suggests. When Genevieve Valentine wrote this week in Vox that “the twists are meant to shock the hosts, not the viewers,” she couldn’t have known how right she would be. “The maze wasn’t meant for you,” Dolores tells the Man in Black, who’s miffed that he’s come this far, only to discover an inexplicable metaphor in the form of a cheap children’s toy. Sorry, buddy. That twist was meant to shock the hosts…”

Text: ‘Westworld’ Season 1 Finale: Wake From Your Sleep, The New York Times.

What The Hell is Going On?

“For Sharp, the most interesting part of the Benjamin experiment has been learning about patterns in science fiction storytelling. Benjamin’s writing sounds original, even kooky, but it’s still based on patterns he’s discovered in what humans write. Sharp likes to call the results the “average version” of everything the AI looked at. Certain patterns kept coming up again and again. “There’s an interesting recurring pattern in Sunspring where characters say, ‘No I don’t know what that is. I’m not sure,'” said Goodwin. “They’re questioning the environment, questioning what’s in front of them. There’s a pattern in sci-fi movies of characters trying to understand the environment.” Sharp added that this process has changed his perspective on writing. He keeps catching himself having Benjamin-like moments while working: “I just finished a sci-fi screenplay, and it’s really interesting coming off this experience with Benjamin, thinking I have to have somebody say ‘What the hell is going on?’ Every time I use his tropes I think, oh of course. This is what sci-fi is about.” Sharp’s next project will be directing a movie called Randle Is Benign, about a computer scientist who creates the first superintelligent computer in 1981. “It’s uncanny how much parts of the screenplay echo the experience of working with Benjamin,” he said.


“Of course, Benjamin is hardly an objective source of information about our sci-fi obsessions. His corpus was biased. “I built the corpus from movie scripts I could find on the Internet,” said Goodwin (the titles are listed in Sunspring‘s opening credits). But some stories got weighted more heavily than others, purely due to what was available. Explained Sharp, “There’s only one entry on the list for X-Files, but that was every script from the show, and that was proportionally a lot of the corpus. In fact, most of the corpus is TV shows, like Stargate: SG1 and every episode of Star Trek and Futurama.” For a while, Sharp said, Benjamin kept “spitting out conversations between Mulder and Scully, [and you’d notice that] Scully spends more time asking what’s going on and Mulder spends more time explaining.”

“For Sharp and Goodwin, making Sunspring also highlighted how much humans have been trained by all the scripts we’ve consumed. Sharp said this became especially obvious when the actors responded to Sunspring‘s script as a love triangle. There is nothing inherently love triangle-ish about the script, and yet that felt like the most natural interpretation. “Maybe what we’re learning here is that because of the average movie, the corpus of what we’ve watched, all of us have been following that pattern and tediously so,” mused Sharp. “We are trained to see it, and to see it when it has not yet been imposed. It’s profoundly bothersome.” At the same time, it’s a valuable lesson about how we are primed to expect certain tropes: “Ross [Goodwin] has created an amazing funhouse mirror to hold up to various bodies of cultural content and reflect what they are.”

Text:  Movie written by algorithm turns out to be hilarious and intense, Ars Technica

Pic: The Difference Engine.