Pioneer Phase II: A Robot Deployment

Pioneer Phase II: A Robot Deployment

Shaa had worked for the Space Agency for over half her life time. After all these years she still had hopes of qualifying for a position at one of their colonies off Earth. She had had her hopes on Teta-Zeta. Now she had lost her job at the Space agency, and with it any opportunity she ever had left to leave for the colonies.

Shaa never bothered turning on the lights of her apartment when she got home from work that day. She looked out outside her window from the darkness of her studio apartment. The conversation with her supervisor still playing in her head.

The sun was setting. The city was covered by a thick yellow fog. The glow of neon from the buildings illuminated the streets below through the acid mist. A single auto flew across her window, disappearing into the smog. She could see the outline of the city Wall far in the distance. Behind the wall the slums. 

She took a last look and walked into her kitchen. She had made the plan on her way home seated on the noisy subway car. She took out the bag of pink pills from a pocket inside her coat. She had bought them from a shady vendor in the Memory Market. She opened doors looking for a bottle of something–anything–to drink the pills with. Finally she found an opened bottle of Soju.

She looked at the yellow pills and she poured a handful in her palm, paused, and decided to empty the whole bag. She was reaching for the bottle when she heard a noise behind her. She turned to see two glowing eyes in the shadows of her living room.

“Giving up so easily, Shaa?” said the robot.

Neon Under a Starry Night

Neon Under a Starry Night

My father was never present while I was growing up. I remember thinking how not even his death could separate us any more than we already were. How wrong I was.

As a kid, what I wanted most was some my father’s attention. Not even affection. Just attention. He barely spent any time with me. Once–I was twelve–, he took me aside, and sat me down. We were going to have a chat. Or so I had hoped. Instead he told me my mother had left us–not him–us. And that it was the two of us alone from there on. I didn’t know then he meant each one of us. Alone.

It was only weeks later that I found out my mother had died. Our house robot told me. Thanks dad. If he barely spent time with me before, after my mother passed away he almost disappeared into his studio. Because, you see, my dad was a writer and he really didn’t have it in him to be father. It’s not me who says so. He told me that much himself.

If you asked me what memory I remember best about my father, that would be the double doors of his office behind which he locked himself up. I spent hours alone while was working. Doors close shut. Me, playing outside. Waiting for him to come out.

He was always writing. Or “creating” like he liked to call it. “I’m creating worlds you couldn’t imagine, Arturo.” He like to say things like that. That and “Don’t bother me.” Yeah, that one was another of his favorites. I’m sure he would have said that line the day when I knocked on his door, had he not been already dead.

Source Code to the Soul

Source Code to the Soul

“Albert! We know it’s you in there. Open the door!”

Albert didn’t hear the knocking. He was too busy climbing out of his kitchen window, down into the alley behind his apartment complex.The had seen the couple at his door through the video feed and he was certain they were cops. Their clothes, their casual way of walking, their oversized coats. Cops from Central. No doubt.

Why did they always find him? Why did he always had to be running away? 

He slipped off when he heard the cops break in through the door. He fell ten feet off the ground heads first. He heard a crack when his nose hit the ground. Voices above were calling his name. He took off running towards the main street. Once there he slowed down to avoid calling any attention to him. He put a hand to his nose. It was bleeding.

An empty police car was parked in the corner of his block. They would be after him soon. He had to get away. He walked towards the closest metro entrance. He waved his hand at the gate. Instead of a green circle, the holo-display in front of him, showed a big red X. 

“> 345G743. DEACTIVATED.”

Nick Cave On the Limitations of Mechanical Artists

Nick Cave On the Limitations of Mechanical Artists

When I came across this article by Nick Cave on whether AI will ever be able to write a great song, I was ready to refute anything he had to say. I have so frequently read about how machines will never measure to humans talent for the arts, and I imagined that he was going to explain why machines will never measure up to the human spirit.

But then I read this:

“I don’t feel that when we listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit it is only the song that we are listening to. It feels to me, that what we are actually listening to is a withdrawn and alienated young man’s journey out of the small American town of Aberdeen – a young man who by any measure was a walking bundle of dysfunction and human limitation – a young man who had the temerity to howl his particular pain into a microphone and in doing so, by way of the heavens, reach into the hearts of a generation.”

Nick Cave

And that, for the first time, made me think. An AI will be able to copy and create a myriad of things. I see no limit as to what an AI could possibly do. But it is very unlikely that a robot will experience first hand the suffering that comes from experiences that are exclusively human. I am sure an AI can have tremendous empathy, but the art that comes from empathy is not the art that comes from experience.

That’s not to say that a robot won’t be able to experience deep emotions, but those will be of an entirely different nature.

So I agree with Nick that the motivation behind art can’t be copied. However, I’m also certain that there is just as much formula in songwriting today as there is true emotion, and robots will create, and have us believe their creations are real.

Just like humans do.

A Few Storytelling Tricks I Learnt From Netflix’s Bird Box

A Few Storytelling Tricks I Learnt From Netflix's Bird Box

#1. Start with a bang

Look, we have no time to waste. They say millennials have no attention span, but I think that’s applicable to all of us. Bird Box doesn’t waste a minute to start the action. As the movie opens the apocalyptic disaster gets rolling.

A Few Storytelling Tricks I Learnt From Netflix's Bird Box

#2. Weave in a mystery

If you want an simple (not easy) way to carry your audience along, you can always thrown in a big mystery. This is the trick/formula of thrillers, horror, some adventure and definitely mystery movies and books. In Bird Box, everybody starts killing themselves and we have no idea why. Answering that question becomes the goal of the movie (and surviving it too, of course), and is the engine for our attention.

A Few Storytelling Tricks I Learnt From Netflix's Bird Box

#3. Survival is a great motivation

In creative writing classes they tell you to give your main character a goal. What is it that they want? Make it clear and have the hero fight to get it. Well, let me tell you survival is the #1 motivator for anybody. If your hero is fighting for their life against an antagonist force (monsters, earthquakes, terrorists, etc), you have found the best . They say fear is a powerful motivator, and fear of death is probably the very best.

A Few Storytelling Tricks I Learnt From Netflix's Bird Box

#4. Drop clues

This trick is specially useful if you don’t want (or can’t) resolve your mystery by the end of the story. I won’t spoil the movie, but the ending is not clear, and the cause of the disaster is never fully explained. In order to avoid disappointing their audiences because of an unresolved conflict, Bird Box drops some hints as to what is the answer. There are two characters who speculate and explain what is causing all the deaths. These explanations, although unconfirmed, are consistent with the story and provide a sense of closure. This is great for movies that don’t want to show the “monster” or stories that have such a convoluted mystery that there is no plausible explanation and therefore is better to leave unexplained.

A Few Storytelling Tricks I Learnt From Netflix's Bird Box

The Empath

The Empath

What’s an empath you ask? An empath is a robot build to understand and emulate human emotions. They are familiar with human psychology, read facial expressions, and communicate with a high degree of emotional intelligence.

In other words, empaths are perfect crisis negotiators. And that’s exactly what we needed that night to handle the bomb threat. 

The Tower had been cordoned off and all humans evacuated from the levels right above and below 345. The area was buzzing with trooper robots when my sergeant and I arrived.

“What’s the situation?” asked the sergeant.

Obsessions & Habits

I have known for a while that I have a unique ability to focus on my task at hand. Given one well defined goal, I am very capable of planning and working towards it, even if it requires hard work and a long timeline. I have always thought of me as somebody with an ability to focus/stamina and patience. Some might say I turn my interests into obsessions.

When I started getting into meditation, I read books, scientific articles and went on a 10-day meditation retreat. When I started getting into exercising, I got a gym membership, read books about nutrition, researched routines, hired a personal coach, and participated in a Spartan race. Same thing with my career, learning a second language, etc. I research, I read, I create a plan of action, and I carry it out.

What I have struggled with, however, is tackling more than one goal at a time. When I decide to get into something new, I have a hard time focusing on anything else. I have such a laser focus, that I put all my energies towards this one thing to the detriment of everything else (work, social life, eating, sleeping, etc).

I’ve noticed something similar at work. I can take on one great project and—for the most part—overdeliver, but I struggle when I have two or three different big things to work on. Interestingly enough, when my job gets really busy, things get easier, because in those circumstances, I have one goal: making sure that nothing is completely abandoned and everything gets done at the end.

Recently I had a new realization. Habits are an effective way to manage multiple things at once. Setting up a system of repeatable routines allows me to accomplish multiple things at once, by just focusing on one: following the plan.

I give 110% of myself to succeed, and I can only do it by means of becoming obsessed with whatever my goal is. Habits and repetition is how I transform my obsessions into action.

Animal in the Flesh

“I’ve never seen an animal,” said the robot.

“Yes you have. Cockroaches are animals,” said Joe.

“I’ve never seen an animal that wasn’t a bug.”

“There is very little difference between a dog and a cockroach. Believe me. Dogs are basically big cockroaches.”

Trax had heard of the dogs. The most popular of the animals before the bug. Dogs had fur. Trax did not know what fur felt like. Since arriving in the slums, Trax had learnt that the only creatures that lived outside of the city walls were exiled citizens, refugees like Joe, and the cockroaches. So many cockroaches. 

“I’ve never seen a dog,” said the robot.

“Well, I guess that’s all gonna change today.”

Heart of a Robot

Kai run through the corridors of the ship. Her path was illuminated by the red blinking lights of emergency. She had been in her personal pod when she heard the alarms that warned of imminent impact. Before she had had time to secure herself the collision had sent her off across her cabin. She was unharmed but scared, and she was swearing loudly to herself. She was running to met the captain and determine the gravity of their situation.

Zeta was already in the control room when Kai arrived. She was leaning over the glass dome in the center of the deck. The two women were the only tripulation of their cargo ship.

“What was that?” asked Kai.

“Looks like we have crashed into a size C asteroid,” said Zeta with a calm voice.

“Oh, shit, shit, shit!”

On the Repetition of Rap

On the Repetition of Rap
Black Hippy

Repetition triggers our “there’s a puzzle here” sense; things accrete in significance as they echo.

Jayson Greene

Somebody finally wrote about what repetition of words (rap, in this case) does to our brain. Via Jayson Greene at Pitchfork:

As humans, we are hardwired to crave this kind of repetition, especially when it varies slightly each time: Technically speaking, we seize upon similar clumps of raw sensory data in a process called feature extraction and then bundle them together in a process called perceptual binding. When we recognize a powerful phrase dancing from place to place in a rapper’s catalog—the same each time but in a different context—we are pleased on a subliminal level, in part because we are recognizing our own hard work. The pattern may have been there already, but we discovered it. When a rapper repeats a phrase for the thousandth time, it stirs all three zones of memory at once: echoic, which is parrot-level memory; short-term; and long-term. This is a profound sensation, and the artist who triggers it for us ends up looking pretty powerful by association.

[…]

Rap music does this to people. Constantly scribbling over itself, scuffing out the marks made before, it is an inherently repetitive art, and thus a Petri dish for cultivating obsession. Repetition and obsession are intricately linked, and when I try to prize them apart I start to feel dizzy.

Jayson Greene, Word Is Bond: Black Hippy and the Power of Repetition