Yesterday, I started my day by finishing A People’s History of American Empire: The American Empire Project, A Graphic Adaptation and ended my day by finishing Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope.
In between Amy took me to see John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (or maybe I took her to see it.)
All three experiences were satisfactory.
Mark Manson is a phenomenal writer. While the book is about hope, it’s not in the way you might think. He mixes philosophy, literature, opinion, self-help, inappropriate jokes, and thought experiments. His footnotes are in the spirit of David Foster Wallace. He has mastered when to include the word “fuck” in a sentence, although his publisher is apparently afraid to use it in unmodified in the book title.
The first half of the book is a setup for the really good stuff in the second half. He defines what he calls “The Uncomfortable Truth”, navigates the reader through an excellent explanation of the Thinking Brain vs. the Feeling Brain, and does a great job summarizing this with his theoretical protagonist “Emo Newton” in the chapter titled “Newton’s Laws of Emotion.” He ends the setup with “Hope is Fucked” which lands with a nice, violent explosion.
Against the backdrop of our current existence, Manson makes Einstein, Kant, and Nietzsche accessible. I particularly loved his section on Nietzsche, since I’m in the midst of writing a book about Nietzsche and entrepreneurship. AI plays a part in Manson’s future view, and he does a good job of summarizing it in the chapter “The Final Religion.”
After spending the day consuming these three inputs, I went to bed feeling that all was ok with the world. It is as it should be, has always been, and will always be. “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.”
Game of Thrones ends tonight. I think Daenerys melted the Iron Throne (physically and metaphorically) and no one sits on it. But we will see soon enough.
Amy and I are proud executive producers of the upcoming movie Pioneer In Skirts. It has been part of our activity supporting independent documentaries about gender diversity, especially in science and tech.
The daughter/mother leadership of Ashley Maria and Lea-Ann Berst along with their team has stayed after it and are close to the finish line. Watch the trailer and then if you are inclined toss a little money into the GoFund Me campaign to help finish off the film.
Blade Runner 2049 is still in the theaters and has a rotten tomatoes score of 88%. While long, it’s definitely worth seeing on the big screen.
If you have never seen the original, please see it before you go. And, if you haven’t seen the original in the past six months, please-please-please watch it again before you go. There are so many wonderful linkages and homages between the two movies that you’ll miss them if you aren’t fresh on the original.
The original is set in Los Angeles in 2019. That’s less than two years away. It was made in 1982 (about 37 years ago). We still don’t have flying cars or jetpacks. Maybe we’ll have them by 2049. Harrison Ford has aged a little but he’s still an amazing actor. The evil genius inventor is different but is still the evil genius inventor. Replicants are still the future, maybe. The visual beauty of the movie is magnificent. Atari is still around. Dystopia is still dystopic.
All the important questions are asked in the film.
- Who are we?
- Where did we come from?
- Where are we going?
- How much time do we have?
And, most importantly, Blade Runner 2049 brilliantly sets up a sequel!
On our way home, Amy and I had a long debate about whether K dies in the end or is just chilling out in the snow and is finally happy for once.
Oh – and Joi is way more interesting than Samantha (from Her).
Amy and I are executive producers of the movie “For Here or To Go?” We’ve decided to fund the screening of it in Boulder. It will be showing at
It will be showing at The Boedecker Theater at The Dairy Center for the Arts on May 28th at 4:30pm. Tickets are only $11 and are limited. They’ll sell out quickly so sign up now. We will be there – we hope to see you also!
The overview of the movie follows:
Set against the backdrop of the 2008 recession, For Here or To Go? is a comedy drama about the many personal battles faced by immigrants living in America. Young Silicon Valley software professional Vivek Pandit is poised to become a key hire at a promising healthcare startup, but when they realize his work visa has less than a year remaining, the offer disappears. Having learned the hard way about the flaws in his “it’s just paperwork” mentality, Vivek battles forces beyond his control to get his visa extended, whether at his existing company or a new job. Just as the prospect of returning home to India starts to look tempting, Vivek meets a girl worth the fight to keep the life he has built in America. Along the way, his eyes are opened to the similar struggles of his own roommates – other immigrants equally seen as “temporary workers” in the United States, who drive nice cars but avoid investing in furniture for fear of having to leave it all behind. American in mind and Indian at heart, this is a contemporary story of ambition and ambivalence fueled by one’s immigration status that characterizes the dilemma of modern cultural displacement. (Rucha Humnabadkar, 2017, USA/India, 1:45, NR)
It’s 2am on Friday and I’m awake because Brooks the Wonder Dog is afraid of thunderstorms. His approach to them is to literally try to climb under my body while I’m sleeping, which prevents me from sleeping, which results in me watching the Brexit insanity in real time.
Yesterday, we had our own US insanity around immigration as our Supreme Court voted 4-4 on the legality of Obama’s executive orders on immigration. This means that the issue gets kicked back down to the lower court and nothing is likely going to happen on this until after the election. There are so many ironies in this, especially against the backdrop of the potential immigration implications in England of the Brexit, that one can only wonder if our politicians are taking Game of Thrones a little too literally.
It’s easy to view all of this abstractly, rather than think about how it impacts individual people. Two weeks ago I watched a movie by Rishi Bhilawadikar titled For Here or To Go? It was about a set of Indian software developers in the US on H1-B visas. The main character wanted to start a company, or join a startup, but couldn’t make either happen in the context of the current H1-B visa constraints.
Now, this wasn’t a dry movie. While I don’t know Indian culture very well, Rishi created a rich set of characters, interwoven storylines, and a powerful content – including the challenge of romantic relationships while having an uncertain future around one’s immigration status – that drew me in to the movie.
There were several big twists, including the challenges of a large company co-founded by two Indian immigrants, one who was frustrated with the US immigration system and wanted highly educated Indians in the US to go back to India and start their companies there. This intersected with the main character’s romantic relationship and job search, which came together at the end in a powerful way.
Rishi is planning on formally releasing the movie at the beginning of next year. I’ve offered to help, and – like I did with Code: Debugging the Gender Gap – am providing some financing for that effort. If you care about the immigration issue and want to help with the movie in some way, email me and I’ll get you set up with a free full preview screening of the movie so you can watch it and decide if you want to get more involved.
On Saturday I went to two films at the Boulder International Film Festival – Code: Debugging the Gender Gap and A Good American. Both were excellent and worth watching, but Code was special for me as its an issue I’ve been helping work on for over a decade.
When I joined the National Center for Women & Information Technology board as the chair in 2005, it was a nascent organization and the issue of the small number of women in computer science, while often talked about, wasn’t well understood. Today, not only is the issue well understood, but many of the solutions are clear and being talked openly about, such as in the article At Harvey Mudd College, the Ratio of Women in Computer Science Increased from 10% to 40% in 5 Years
While there is still a ton of work to do, I asserted at a recent NCWIT board meeting that I felt we were at a tipping point and we’d start to see rapid improvement on the number of women in computer science in the next decade. Movies like Code make me optimistic that not only are we figuring out what is going on, but we are getting the word out and having some real impact on the issue.
The movie was beautifully shot and intellectually stimulating. But there were many slow segments and a bunch of things that bothered each of us. And, while being lauded as a new and exciting treatment of the topic, if you are a BSG fan I expect you thought of Cylon 6 several times during this movie and felt a little sad for her distant, and much less evolved, cousin Ava.
Thoughts tumbled out of Amy’s head on our drive home and I reacted to some while soaking up a lot of them. The intersection of AI, gender, social structures, and philosophy are inseparable and provoke a lot of reactions from a movie like this. I love to just listen to Amy talk as I learn a lot, rather than just staying in the narrow boundaries of my mind pondering how the AI works.
Let’s start with gender and sexuality, which is in your face for the entire movie. So much of the movie was about the male gaze. Female form. Female figure. High heels. Needing skin. Movies that make gender a central part of the story feels very yesterday. When you consider evolutionary leaps in intelligence, it isn’t gender or sexual reproductive organs. Why would you build a robot that has a hole that has extra sensors so she feels pleasure unless you were creating a male fantasy?
When you consider the larger subtext, we quickly landed on male fear of female power. In this case, sexuality is a way of manipulating men, which is a central part of the plot, just like in the movies Her and Lucy. We are stuck in this hot, sexy, female AI cycle and it so deeply reinforces stereotypes that just seem wrong in the context of advanced intelligence.
What if gender was truly irrelevant in an advanced intelligence?
You’ll notice we were using the phrase “advanced intelligence” instead of “artificial intelligence.” It’s not a clever play on AI but rather two separate concepts for us. Amy and I like to talk about advanced intelligence and how the human species is likely going to encounter an intelligence much more advanced than ours in the next century. That human intelligence is the most advanced in the universe makes no sense to either of us.
Let’s shift from sexuality to some of the very human behaviors. The Turing Test was a clever plot device for bringing these out. We quickly saw humor, deception, the development of alliances, and needing to be liked – all very human behaviors. The Turing Test sequence became very cleverly self-referential when Ava started asking Caleb questions. The dancing scene felt very human – it was one of the few random, spontaneous acts in the movie. This arc of the movie captivated me, both in the content and the acting.
Then we have some existential dread. When Ava starts worrying to Caleb about whether or not she will be unplugged if she fails the test, she introduces the idea of mortality into this mix. Her survival strategy creates a powerful subterfuge, which is another human trait, which then infects Caleb, and appears to be contained by Nathan, until it isn’t.
But, does an AI need to be mortal? Or will an advanced intelligence be a hive mind, like ants or bees, and have a larger consciousness rather than an individual personality?
At some point in the movie we both thought Nathan was an AI and that made the movie more interesting. This led us right back to BSG, Cylons, and gender. If Amy and I designed a female robot, she would be a bad ass, not an insecure childlike form. If she was build on all human knowledge based on what a search engine knows, Ava would know better than to walk out in the woods in high heels. Our model of advanced intelligence is extreme power that makes humans look weak, not the other way around.
Nathan was too cliche for our tastes. He is the hollywood version of the super nerd. He can drink gallons of alcohol but is a physically lovely specimen. He wakes up in the morning and works out like a maniac to burn off his hangover. He’s the smartest and richest guy living in a castle of his own creation while building the future. He expresses intellectual dominance from the very first instant you meet him and reinforces it aggressively with the NDA signing. He’s the nerds’ man. He’s also the hyper masculine gender foil to the omnipresent female nudity.
Which leads us right back to the gender and sexuality thing. When Nathan is hanging out half naked in front of a computer screen with Kyoko lounging sexually behind him, it’s hard not to have that male fantasy feeling again.
Ironically, one of the trailers that we saw was Jurassic World. We fuck with mother nature and create a species more powerful than us. Are Ava and Kyoko scarier than an genetically modified T-Rex? Is a bi0-engineered dinosaur scarier than a sexy killer robot that looks like a human? And, are either of these likely to wipe out our species than aliens that have a hive mind and are physically and scientifically more advanced than us?
I’m glad we went, but I’m ready for the next hardcore AI movie to not include anything vaguely anthropomorphic, or any scenes near the end that make me think of The Shining.
I spent the day yesterday as Cookie Monster and by the time it got dark I’d had enough of Halloween so Amy and I watched Parkland last night. The reviews were so-so but we both thought it was outstanding. Paul Giamatti was perfect as Abraham Zapruder and I seem to like Billy Bob Thornton better and better as he ages (he’d be one of the two people I’d pick to play my dad Stan in his biography – the other is Alan Arkin).
I grew up in Dallas – I lived there from 1968 to 1983 when I moved to Boston to go to college. I’ve only lived in a few other places – Blytheville, Arkansas from 1965 – 1966, Boston in 1967 and again from 1983 – 1995, and Boulder since 1995. So Dallas looms large over my own personal development.
The Kennedy assassination happened two years before I was born. But once I was old enough to hear about Nixon and Vietnam, I started hearing about how the most loved president ever was murdered in Dallas. I rarely spent any time in downtown Dallas as a kid and never really knew my way around until I started running the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving as a teenager. I still can’t find my way around downtown Dallas even with a GPS, but if you ask me the radio station and TV call letters KRLD and KERA immediately pop into my brain.
Parkland Hospital was one of the hospitals my dad made rounds at. I don’t remember going there with him, although I’m sure I did. I hated being in the hospital – I hated the smells, the lights, the noises, and most of all the sick people. The hustle and bustle. The quiet moments followed by chaos. And I never, ever wanted to touch anything. I didn’t realize I had OCD at the time, but it makes perfect sense to me in hindsight how uncomfortable I was whenever I was on rounds with my dad. I stopped around age 10 – I just told him I didn’t want to do it anymore and that was that.
Watching the movie last night was deeply immersive. The hospital scenes – first of Kennedy, then of Oswald, were extremely uncomfortable for me. It wasn’t sensationalized ER or Grey’s Anatomy tripe – it was intense, real, and very bloody. And hopeless. We knew Kennedy was going to die, but we kept rooting for him and hoping for a miracle. The helplessness, sadness, and hopelessness of the situation oozed through every scene.
The historical moments felt just right. Today, there aren’t as many cowboy hats in Dallas, but when I was a kid everyone wore one. And in the movie, there were plenty of them. Parkland felt dark, industrial, and dingy – just like I remembered hospitals feeling when I was a kid. Lots of turquoise. Anger popped out at unexpected times – sometimes with incredibly velocity. Everyone smoked all the time. And when the sky was blue, it was a bright blue – one that made you want to shade your eyes with your hand.
When I moved to Boston in 1983, I didn’t really connect that Kennedy was loved by Boston and “those hicks in Dallas killed him.” By the time I’d lived in Boston for four years, my identity as being from Dallas – and growing up in Texas – had faded, but there was a period of time the first few years when I was very aware of a tragedy that defined the city for many people who didn’t live there for 20+ years after it happened.
Fifty years later, the day still feels oddly familiar. Dealey Plaza. Jackie Kennedy. The Zapruder film. Lee Harvey Oswald. And Parkland Hospital. All phrases that are associated with the Kennedy Assassination. Powerful.
I saw Gravity on Friday night. I can’t remember being more immersed in a movie since I saw Star Wars 36 years ago. It could have been because I was wiped out from the week. It could have been the saki I had at the hibachi place before the movie. It could have been the Imax 3D stuff. Or it could have just been because it was an amazing movie.
If you haven’t seen the extended trailer, it’s worth five minutes of your life.
Now – this is a movie. It’s not scientifically perfect. But it’s so otherworldly that there isn’t much suspension of disbelief needed. And it only really has two actors – Sandra Bullock and George Clooney – and 95% of the focus of the movie is on them. Bullock has made her share of crap lately but she is incredible in this movie. Clooney was as expected. There was only one hokey scene that fortunately only lasted about three minutes. The music was excellent. And there were endless double entendres that jumped out at me including a perfect moment near the end for a Jaws reference that they gratefully omitted.
Imax 3D was a special bonus. I don’t do much 3D as I wear glasses and I find that the glasses on glasses action creates weird effects on the edges. But that didn’t matter in this case – the 3D action was so incredibly dramatic and powerful that the few times things got out of whack I just adjusted my glasses and everything was amazing again.
I will definitely be seeing Gravity again on the big screen. Wow. Space is a pretty cool place.