Virtual Legacy

The Elder Care Center, or ECC, was a white building designed to resemble a greenhouse. The recreational pavilion had a dome for a ceiling. The walls nd the curved ceiling were made out of glass. From behind the windows, the residents of the nursing home could see the jungle of Baakarmasara. At the far back of the dome, seated at the closest table to the window, was Izaya. 

“You have a visitor, Izaya.” One of the robot nurses had approached him. “The rendering has been finalized and the simulation has been completed. It is ready.”

“Who is it this time? Who are you entertaining me with? I hope it’s not Poe again? I can’t stand his dark humor,” said Izaya without looking at the robot.

Blood of a Runaway

The landscape was nothing but a big pile of rubble that appeared to be slowly sinking in mud. It appeared to be sinking in the Mud, but never quite.

Inside the police car, Chapman pulled up the collar of his field jacket. He put a mask over his head and pulled the straps tight. It was a full face mask with air filters on either side.

“I hate this.” Chapman said. His frustrated scream came through the external speaker with a metallic quality. Chapman smoothed out his hair underneath the mask.

Stephen King Says It’s OK Not To Plot

In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.

You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer — my answer, anyway — is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can — I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course).

–Stephen King, On Writing

I’ve been reading On Writing for the second time, and it’s been refreshing to hear a defense for unplanned, unplotted stories. King talks about writing stories as uncovering fosiles. The story is already there you just need to materialize it.

It made me think of the relationship between outlining and the conscious brain.

  • Conscious writing → non fiction
  • Writing from the subconscious → fiction

Seems like the advice from King is simply: Never plot.

On the Value of a $450K Piece of Digital Art

On the Value of a 0K Piece of Digital Art

There’s this controversy about technologists scamming their way into the Art World™ and selling a $430K digital art piece at Christie’s. The debate comes from the muddy details behind the “AI” technology and what some call “borrowed code”.

One of the members of the Obvious collective behind the stunt explains it like this:

Right now it’s like a computer program that can do something that we find impressive, but it is not really that impressive in the end, because if you think it’s some kind of robot with a human-like mind, okay, it’s really, really impressive, but it’s not.

So it turns out that they didn’t build an Artificial Intelligent Artist. So what?

The confusion is more interesting than the price tag.

What is the nature of “provenance” when we are talking about art made by machines (call it AI, robots or plain code). In “classic arts” it is expected of an artist to first study the masters, then copy them, and finally, if the artist is talented enough, to create art that goes beyond the derivative. The question arises in the world of digital art. What is derivative and what isn’t? Is using somebody else’s code akin to plagiarism? Or are those just artistic influences?

In his article, Jason Bailey inquiries about the responsibility of the digital artist to not only acknowledge their influences, but also to share the profits with the original coders.

The idea behind the Belamy project borrowed heavily from one of Robbie Barrat’s earlier projects that uses historical portraits to train a GAN to generate AI art. […] Maybe you are thinking that that’s a pretty broad project idea. Shouldn’t other artists be able to explore that, as well? Sure, but Obvious also admits to using the exact same scraper for getting the portraits from the exact same website, Wikiart. And who wrote the scraper that Obvious used? Robbie Barrat.
[…]
[Obvious] used code, project ideas, and algorithms written by other developers and artists because it was a quick and inexpensive way to get started. Most people start by learning from other people’s code (they just typically stop short of selling the results at Christie’s).

“Is Digital Art?” might become 21st Century’s version of the eternal debate around “what is Art?”

A Freudian analysis of Humans and Machines in classic films

A Freudian analysis of Humans and Machines in classic films

After reading The Movies on Your Mind (Harvey R. Greenberg, 1975), I’m still not sure what the goal of this book was. The theme is clear, but the goal not so much.

My favorite takeaway is that humans have always rejected our creations when they seem to threaten our dominance. The movies the book analyzes that focus on machines and technology are way more interesting that those that focus on the tired Oedipus complex. If you’d like to hear the Freudian analysis, it would seem that this rejection is a reaction against the perceived threat that such creations pose.

In other words, we are all afraid of being replaced by a better or improved version of ourselves. We are afraid of becoming obsolete. We are afraid of death.

The book draws parallels between Frankenstein‘s monster (the original Robot), 2001‘s HAL, the machine from Metropolis, and Colossus from 1970’s The Forbin Project. Each movie reinforces the confrontational relationship between humans and machines.

Unfortunately The Movies on Your Mind is one of those old books written in that academic style characteristic of cumbersome vocabulary and long descriptions that lack personal insights.

All in all, I do love reading how old authors understood our relationships with machines.

The Myth of the Beast

The official records called them “vertebrates”, but in 3018 everyone knew them as “beasts”. These were birds, fish, reptiles, and Alyx favorites, mammals. Alyx was a record keeper, and had read all the books and all the records in existence. And the story that had always fascinated her most was known as the Myth of the Beast.

In the Quiet Dead of Space

The day our spaceship arrived to Proxima Centauri, my wife and I were hiking the meadows of the Azores.

Alone, my wife and I had been traveling in the void of space for 20 years. She was the most wonderful woman I had ever met and I was truly in love with her after all these years.

And during this time, the holographic simulation room our only escape. Here in the the holodeck anything was possible.Here we could experience any location on Earth. And we explored them all. We liked to get lost in the illusions of the places we visited.

A Solo Cocktail at the Headless Horse

The evening that my boyfriend threatened with breaking up over my excessive drinking, I did what any other sane man would do. I went to my local bar to talk to my therapist. Over a drink.

I wasn’t intentionally ignoring my boyfriend. It so happens that The Headless Horse is the bar is where my psychologist works. The customers here come to get professional mental help and life advice. All the bartenders are robots who are both licensed shrinks and skillful mixologists.

Man vs. Machine

David Apatoff from the blog Illustration Art talks about one of my favorite topics in his essay for Phil Hale‘s book Let’s Kill Johnny Badhair: the conflict between man and machine, between natural and artificial, between creator and creation…

The clash between man and machine has inspired many legends, from John Henry’s race against the steam drill to John Connor’s struggle with Skynet. You might say it has become a central metaphor for our time. Like all great metaphors, the clash between man and machine offers both strength and flexibility. Its imagery is strong and clear while its message is flexible and ambiguous, permitting a wide variety of interpretations. For example, a clash between man and a machine might represent humanity’s clash with modernity, but it might also symbolize sterile efficiency against organic imagination. We might reflect on it as a statement on the endurance of the human will when flesh is pitted against metal; or the value of a soul in a conflict with the soulless; or the conflict between order and disarray.

—David Apatoff, Comic-Con 2016: Phil Hale

Man vs. Machine

Art by Phil Hale, from his book “Let’s Kill Johnny Badhair”.

Ernest Hemingway on the Daily Practice of Writing

You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.
—Ernest Hemingway

Here is an interview conducted by George Plimpton on 1954:

[Hemingway] keeps track of his daily progress—“so as not to kid myself”—on a large chart made out of the side of a cardboard packing case and set up against the wall under the nose of a mounted gazelle head. The numbers on the chart showing the daily output of words differ from 450, 575, 462, 1250, back to 512, the higher figures on days Hemingway puts in extra work so he won’t feel guilty spending the following day fishing on the Gulf Stream.

— George Plimpton for the Paris Review, issue 18, Spring 1958

And here is Hemingway’s daily practice in his own words:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction No. 21