Posting my final essay, since DAVID requested that I do so.
The Wachowski Brothers' film The Matrix takes an optimistic view of human ingenuity if nothing else, taking place in a future setting where AI has advanced to the point where it's overtaken the planet and reduced the human race to an efficient power source. Realistically this is a highly implausible scenario that only makes sense when extreme artistic liberties are taken when defining artificial intelligence, but the way in which the actual Matrix operates could theoretically be possible for the most part. Graphics technology is already at the point where a simulated environment running at sixty frames per second could easily be mistaken as reality at first glance. The computational requirements for producing the world are understood well enough that they can't be considered the difficult part of replicating The Matrix, the trouble comes when dealing with the metaphysical issues of creating a seamless human interface. The cybernetic implants seen in the film look like a mix between Star Trek's Borg and an H.R. Giger painting, but the concept of having what's essentially a big metal USB cord jammed directly into the back of our skulls is a bit more brutish than what might really be necessary for complete immersion in the virtual world. We already have prosthetic limbs which are capable of receiving the electric signals intended for the real arm, so the development of this technology might lead to the possibility of controlling an entirely prosthetic, simulated human being. Millions of people already immerse themselves in video games as a kind of fantastic alter-ego, and if we eventually figure out a way to completely close the gap between reality and simulation there's little doubt that we'll create with it our own personalized version of the Matrix which better suits our own purposes.
A test devised by Alan Turing is a good basis for skepticism when considering the plausibility of AI evolving and enslaving humanity. The artificial intelligence we have today is no doubt impressive, but it's not something which could actually be considered real thought. The machines in The Matrix have somehow designed and built their own massive supercomputer to run the program of the Matrix indefinitely along with towering harvester bots, sentry drones with tentacles, and all kinds of other high tech stuff that would never be able to spawn from artificial intelligence. One of the most convincing attempts at passing the Turing Test to date was an instant messenger chat bot named SmarterChild. Users could send SmarterChild messages and it would respond to basic conversation in a relatively coherent manner for the most part. It was also a great example of the limitations of the technology, as any sort of extended conversation would eventually cause it to start repeating phrases and spouting indecipherable gibberish. The limitation of creating anything like the AI present in the film is that by definition computers are never going to be able to think. They are at their most basic level a machine which is only capable of input-output functions, and all the attempts to program a robot to converse with a human are only following an established set of parameters. The concept of a system of artificial intelligence moving beyond a role of data retrieval is antithetical to purpose to begin with.
This limitation does nothing to hinder the integration of human beings into a simulation resembling The Matrix, it simply means that it will be of our own volition rather than something forced upon us by our fictional robot overlords. The ability to render something closely resembling the real world has already been possible for about a decade, at least in terms of pre-rendered graphics. A movie like Cars 2 is procuced entirely from computations worked out at Pixar's massive render farm, but the usage of new special effects clearly demonstrates how close we've come to erasing the line between artifice and reality even if it does require a 200 million dollar budget. The more modest home computer is much less powerful, but can still utilize the same effects on more restrained settings and produce a real-time environment which is close to indistinguishable from reality in its own way. Graphics card technology generally progresses along with updates to Microsoft's DirectX programming interface, and each update tends to bring with it a few new tricks
which can be utilized in graphics engines to make the simulated world seem more realistic.
Demonstrations of the new graphics engines make it clear how important lighting and shadows are when attempting to successfully imitate real life. Some of the issues with lighting have been worked out for the most part with the advent of a process called ray tracing, which applies a computational model for the source of light and then fires clusters of light rays which can then interact with surfaces and transparent materials accordingly. This is closer to the way real light actually behaves, and produces a more convincing final effect especially when mixed with ambient shadow technology. One of the main theoretical issues with trying to successfully model reality is that you have to deal with a seemingly infinite amount of data. The way to render a chair in a video game is to take a series of polygons, stick them together in a way which resembles a chair, them map a chair texture to that model. This is entirely different from what actually constitutes a chair in real life, where one would have to account for the individual pieces of wood, followed by the chemical bonds in that wood, the interactions between all the individual atoms in that chair, and so on for as far down as our current understanding of molecular physics can take us. The most recent line of graphics cards also have their own special fix for the issue of modeling reality with a process called dynamic tesselation. This at least deals with the issue of modeling something out of polygons by taking those polygons and breaking them down further to better adhere to the ideal shape of the object. Attempts to make this chair real could then be furthered by applying high resolution textures to the chair to make it as close to real as the human eye can detect, and then apply a new physics technology called PhysX to it to imitate real wood splintering.
This is all just based on the technology that's already available, and what makes these techniques special is that they're all limitless as far as computational boundaries are concerned. Ray tracing can be done with any amount of light beams and will yield better results the more rays are sent out, tesselation can divide the polygons over and over to produce a more detailed model each time, and PhysX can offer varying degrees of realistic physics depending on how much
computational power the computer can realistically handle. There comes a point of diminishing returns as far as how convincing a scenario appears to the naked eye, and any Matrix, either built by man or machine, would logically choose this point to stop adding complexity beyond what can actually be percieved. The infinite nature of the Universe can be ignored for the most part as far as a realistic simulation goes, since every new rendering trick carries with it a point where we could say that no visible distinction exists between the real thing and the simulation. At that point we can simply label it as "highest setting" and move on to the most efficient possible usage of graphics cards to process things like realistic water physics, anti-aliasing, Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, and depth-of-field. Assuming a reasonable price for a home desktop computer today is around $1000, we're at the point where it's feasible that anyone with that kind of expendable income can build their own system which will come close to utilizing the previously listed effects to their full potential. The most graphically intensive game on the market is arguably Crysis 2, which runs off a new graphical engine known as CryEngine 3 and includes just about every known special effect to date. As was the case with the first Crysis, at the time of its release there wasn't actually the technology available to play it at anything near highest settings, but if Moore's Law continues to prove true it should be possible in about two years for any common person to turn them all to the highest available value for the standard price of a home computer and have their own Matrix-grade synthetic world which they can navigate in real-time.
The problem with making a direct connection to The Matrix is the issue of of the interaction with this newly created world. Video games are a far shot from being able to actually transport a human being into them, which is a feat that will most likely remain impossible on account of an inherent problem with the idea of transferring a human conscsiousness from the brain to an electronic device. It's similar to the problem raised with the idea of a teleportation chamber. You could theoretically transport all the atoms which constitute a person from one place to another through the wonders of some yet-undiscovered technology, but it's hard to say that what comes out
the other side is really going to be the same person. Even in a world where neuroscience had advanced to the point where we could fully understand the processes which power the human brain, there would be no way to actually take that consciousness out of the person and move it into a virtual world since that consciousness is directly connected to the brain matter. Even if the process was somehow successful, the result would rightly be classified as an act of killing the subject and then uploading an exact replica program of their personality to the virtual world.
It's for this reason that The Matrix might be conceptually impossible, but it's still easy enough to see how we might get close when considering interface technology. Though video games are a good parallel to draw in terms of the visual representation of the world, they are entirely different as far as a realistic representation of reality goes. They focus more on completing arbitrary objectives than attempting to recreate real life, since our input devices don't allow for any sort of real physical presence in the virtual worlds. We only control the characters through predefined commands such as "run forward" or "examine object," whereas the ability for actors in the film to directly interface with the Matrix and download information directly into their brains demonstrates a kind of linkage with technology that isn't within the realms of what should ever be possible. This limitation only applies to direct, two-way interaction between the human mind and technology, and doesn't rule out the possibility that we could still issue commands by thought to an artificial representation of ourselves within the virtual world. Our of our voluntary bodily functions could be seen as another set of predefined commands as well, and recent advances in prosthetic limb technology and demonstrations of signal capturing show that a direct interaction with the virtual world is at least possible even if full projection isn't.
Scientists working with the limbs have effectively worked to decode the signals that the brain sends to the muscles and apply them to robotic constructs instead with great success, but perhaps more interesting is that researchers at Duke University are also working on technology which would allow the transfer of sensory information back into the brain such as feel and
temperature. This means that we could also recieve tactile feedback from the actions our characters performed in these virtual worlds, and feel a direct connection with the artifice even if we're still well aware that we're sitting on a couch at home. The final barrier would seemingly be a way of capturing the motion signals sent by the brain before they can make it to the body and redirecting them directly as inputs to the virtual character, which would work out the problem of having to move through space in a way which corresponds to the character. Ideally we could make it so we told our arm to move, and our characters arm moved in the simulation while we remained perfectly stationary in the real world.
Ultimately, we're well on our way to completing the goal of producing our own Matrix, and a good deal of early video games could be considered early prototypes for the final model. The imitation of image is already well enough understood and feasible with current technology, though there are few games which can actually take full advantage of the limits of our graphical technology. The Matrix as a film could essentially be summarized as a bunch of robots forcing everyone in the world to spend all their time playing one giant MMORPG in the same vein as World of Warcraft, only the interaction between the representative body and the human is absolute and the world is modeled around human civilization before the great collapse instead of one in which goblins run around throwing fireballs at one another. If computational advances continue at their current rate as they have over the past half a century and the barriers between interaction with a human and a computer can be pushed to their theoretical limit, we could end up with some sort of at-will Matrix of our own, entered by attaching a device which redirects and recodes our own attempts to speak and move through space as their corresponding actions in the simulation. After that it would simply be a matter of running a video feed from the computer to some sort of wrap-around visor with a monitor on the inside, and we could explore and look through our entirely artificial worlds at will while sitting completely motionless and unresponsive in our homes.
24 Hour Restaurant Battle is now in serious competition with Chopped for worst food show ever made. You've outdone yourself, Scott.
Even on my personal NG blog that nobody reads, that all the heads off BP should be rounded up and publicly executed by firing squad. It should be recorded with one of those high-speed cameras they use to show bullets flying through playing cards. I want to be able to see the consciousness leaving their skulls as it happens.
In addition to UCSC and CSUCI. Still waiting on UCLA, which will send their results back later this month. DECISIONS DECISIONS.
Edit: Didn't get into UCLA. Guess I have to make the choice soon.
Double Edit: NOW WITH SOUNDTRACK. I ALWAYS WANTED A MYSPACE!
That I wrote for my American Lit class, about Allen Ginsberg's Howl.
William Wordsworth's definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" is more evident in Allen Ginsberg's Howl than just about any other poem (Wordsworth). Divided into three distinctive sections as well as an additional footnote, the poem utilizes a writing style based on self-symmetry to act as the framework for this overflow. The progression from one section to the next gives an impression of a crumbling society, brought to its knees through years of excessive lifestyle choices. Though the individual sections don't have official titles of their own, they could be assigned the titles of Life, Moloch, Rockland, and Holy respectively. The decision to include the footnote as separate from the original work is questionable, since its very existence has the potential to change the entire reading of the poem. If the reader skips the footnote, the poem is noticeably more straightforward than otherwise, cataloging a steady decent into the all-encompassing destroyer government. The poem would be singular in its expression, ending with the madness of the third section where the only hope of escape is to ignore the walls of the asylum and use delusion as a gateway to personal freedom. With the footnote included, Ginsberg seems to be offering a possible refutation to the negativity of the previous three sections, where both good and bad perception melt into a singular divinity with no subject or activity being left exempt. Besides the attempt at redemption in the footnote, Howl demonstrates the strong contrast between popular culture and counterculture, and serves as a portrait of American youth desperately trying the escape their inevitable assimilation into the machinery present in Moloch.
Ginsberg's poem is expressive enough that it was labeled as obscene when it was published in 1957. America had steadily let itself become boring enough as a culture that the following decade would feel the need to establish a new link with their own humanity, so the obscenity trial isn't overly surprising. The average working-class family would be shocked to read lines like:
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Carribean love. (Ginsberg, 36-37)
The legal trouble experienced by Ginsberg could be looked at as a case of having his work critiqued by the wrong sort of audience. There was a clear demographic of people who have since been labeled as the "beat" generation, a term coined to describe authors like Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs in addition to Ginsberg himself. Ginsberg's publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, predicted early on that there would be a public backlash to the release of Howl. Hoping to avoid it, he send the first manuscripts to England for publication, though they would inevitably be led back to San Fransisco. The constitutional right to free expression apparently only lasts as long as the general population agrees with what's being said, so there are sufficient legal grounds to sue an author for writing explicitly about sodomy, and there's still a heavy presence of censorship and regulation fifty years later. Though this has been the country's grim reality for as long as there have been reactionary commoners to get offended by swear words, Ginsberg ultimately triumphed in the court case. John McChesney, after a 2006 interview with the publisher, summarized the reaction had by Ginsberg after the arrests, writing, "Not long after it arrived in San Francisco, police arrested a bookseller at City Lights -- the iconic book store -- and charged publisher Ferlinghetti with obscenity. The ensuing trial delighted Ginsberg, who knew it would only enhance the poem's reputation" (McChesney). Ginsberg's prediction turned out to be correct, and the poem now has the distinction of being the most significant and popular poem published during the era. Its significance was even recognized by judge Clayton Horn who was presiding over the obscenity trial, saying that the poem was not written with the intent to be obscene, and that it was a work of "redeeming social importance."
The importance comes from a frantic attempt to do justice to the wealth of life that Ginsberg had witnessed and experienced for himself over the past two decades. He had been working as a corporate advertiser, when his therapist Dr. Philip Hicks suggested to him that he ought to quit his job and pursue poetry as a full-time career. Influenced by the jazz-oriented writing style of Jack Kerouac, he wrote the first and third sections of the poem in his first drafts. Howl begins by dedicating the poem to Carl Solomon, a man who he had previously met with sympathy at a New York State mental institution. Ginsberg addresses Solomon by name numerous times in Howl, dedicating the entire third section to the image of the asylum, as well as glorifying Solomon's own exploits in the first section with the line:
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy. (Ginsberg, 66)
This praise of insanity and despair is a constant theme in Howl. Madness is described in a manner indicating a kind of reverence by Ginsberg. Insane rantings and behaviors are powerful expressions of human emotion, and their perceived incoherence is secondary to the passion present within them. The first section is exclusively dedicated to this praise, relying on its repetitive style to paint a picture of tale after tale in rapid succession. Though some of the characters, mainly personal friends and acquaintances of Ginsberg, are referred to by name, the rest are told from the perspective of a narrator recounting the lives of the anonymous "who." Neal Cassady and Lucien Carr get their shoutouts, but the section is more indicative of the whole of counterculture than specific individuals. It's intended to speak to any struggling poet or drug addict that happens to be reading, which resulted in its intense popularity following its publication. With the broad spectrum of characters and experiences, average counterculture residents felt a personal connection to the poem and made it a habit to carry the poem wherever they went. It was an accurate representation of their time by someone who had actually lived it, and set the tone for the burst of energy that was to follow with the birth of the hippy movement.
However, this energy is immediately threatened by the section of Howl that follows the first. The lively accounts of anonymous characters are worked into the unwavering ferocity of what Ginsberg refers to as "Moloch." The Norton Anthology makes a footnote of Moloch, defining him as "the Canaanite fire god, whose worship was marked by parents' burning their children as proprietary sacrifice." It is an allusion to the Leviticus quote, "And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech" (Leviticus 18:21). Though significantly shorter than the previous section, it immediately stands as a stark contrast to the spirit that would go on to fuel the 60's. Ginsberg begins the section with the lines:
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks! (Ginsberg, 79-80)
The image of the dominant society painted by Ginsberg is like the literary equivalent of a Zdzislaw Beksinski painting. The landscape is the stuff of nightmares: a thoughtless machine driven to consume by inhuman humanity. Countless armies of people who have lost themselves in the ceaseless automation of the political structure, and have become little more than half-sentient flesh dolls existing only to further the progression of the beast.
The choice to call it Moloch is representative of an opinion held by offspring that has long been a prevalent aspect of youth psychology. They have been thrown into the world by the thoughtless copulation of their parents without any say in the matter, and are now left without much direction to find their way through life the best they can. If they happen to be fortunate enough to be born in America, they are thus subject to all the common expectations unique to an iconic American lifestyle. An anonymous bit of graffiti in the UK summed up the sentiment adequately, stating:
go to work, send your kids to school
follow fashion, act normal
walk on the pavements, watch T.V.
save for your old age, obey the law
Repeat after me: I am free. (Anonymous)
Though written on a wall in the wrong country, the attitude is easily applicable to our own. Power moves forward in a predictable fashion without any sign of stopping, and just about everyone that's subjected to it ends up dull and hateful as a result. The "unattainable dollars" that Ginsberg references are representative of the false American Dream that's long been the image of success. The vision of working from poverty to affluence powered exclusively by personal merit, but it has been nothing more than a dream for as long as the concept has been around. George Carlin commented on the term, saying that it's called the American Dream "because you have to be asleep to believe it" (Carlin). The reality is that the class system will continue to exist as it always has throughout human history, and anyone not privileged enough to be part of the ruling class gets to suffer. Children suffer from it, the army, and the elderly. Moloch is no person with sympathy or feelings of any kind, just an emotionless force of human construction that will chew through anything that gets in its way.
Ginsberg condemns the role of American imperialism with the description of Moloch as well, using issues that have only intensified since the poem was first written:
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running
money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!...
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! (Ginsberg, 83-85)
We are considered as subjects of the great machine, swept up in its greed rather than making a conscious decision to dedicate our lives to further it. Military strength continues the forceful expansion while automated political and financial systems serve as the support. The need for consumption and the preservation of a comfortable by ultimately doomed lifestyle effortlessly assimilate anyone under its gaze into the rank and file. It is the ultimate antithesis to the first section of Howl, where any attempt at individuality is snuffed out in order to keep up the quota of misery.
Ginsberg didn't know how right he was at the time he was writing it. In terms of averages, people seem less alive today than ever before. Humanity is now mostly incapable of functioning without the aid of electronics, and have become so reliant on television that we don't seem to know what to do with ourselves whenever there's a temporary blackout. People walking the college halls are so insecure about themselves that they'll resort to pretending to check messages on their cell phones just to make it appear that they have something going on in their lives. There are countless American families that spend all day working meaningless jobs that they hate, tolerating the longer hours and poor work conditions just so that they'll be able to come home and zone out for a few hours by staring at the entertainment box for a few hours. If we looked at the current rates of television viewing by the as a static figure, the average American citizen would spend nine solid years of an average 65-year lifespan watching television (csun.edu). Productivity and active interest in the surrounding world are chores, and the tedium of everyday life only serves to make those living it more bitter and depressed as time goes on. Charles Bukowski described this slow death as a nation of people whose minds are "full of cotton," writing:
"What is terrible is not death but the lives people live or don't live up until their death. They don't honor their own lives, they piss on their lives. They shit them away. Dumb fuckers. They concentrate too much on fucking, movies, money, family, fucking. Their minds are full of cotton. They swallow God without thinking, they swallow country without thinking. Soon they forget how to think, they let others think for them. Their brains are stuffed with cotton. They look ugly, they talk ugly, they walk ugly. Play them the great music of the centuries and they can't hear it. Most people's deaths are a sham. There's nothing left to die." (Bukowski)
After the destruction presented by Moloch, Ginsberg moves to the third section of Howl, where he speaks of his connection to Carl Solomon in the psychiatric ward. It is the realm of people who have been defeated by life, and are locked away from those on the outside as a result. The writing style becomes even more repetitive than the previous descriptions of Moloch or the anonymous "who." After an initial exclamation of "Carl Solomon! I'm with you in Rockland," every line begins with "I'm with you in Rockland." Solomon has gone insane, and Ginsberg is right in there with him. The forceful ways of Moloch have driven them both there, but there is a curious sort of optimism present in the way Ginsberg describes the place. Although they have been institutionalized, in a place where "the faculties of the skull no longer admit the worms of the senses," there is a kind of distant hope left over in the form of private delusion. Human spirit overtakes solitude, establishing a preference for its own created reality over what's present in the physical world. Ginsberg writes about the eventual freedom from insanity:
I'm with you in Rockland
where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls' airplanes roaring over the roof they've come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself imaginary walls collapse O skinny legions run outside O starry-spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is here O victory forger your underwear we're free. (Ginsberg, 127-129)
Freedom is established through seclusion and a shattered mind. Assuming the poem had finished here, there would be a final image of the psychopath rocking back and forth in his padded cell, smiling as he journeys the countryside within the confines of his own mind. A final escape, of sorts.
The only real redemption to be found after the second and third sections is the unexpected praise that comes in the footnote. It begins by saying "Holy!" fifteen times, and goes on to say that everything in the world is holy. Even the nightmarish troubles brought about by the destruction of Moloch are part of something holy. This could be looked at as a final analysis of the world reminiscent of the philosophy of Alan Watts. Watts theorized that a lot of the personal troubles we experience in life are brought about by a false assumption about the world around us that's created by our very language. We have the habit of separating ourselves from the external world through the means of our ego, which is a false distinction. The entire universe should instead be looked at as some form of supernatural event that exists in a state of constant motion, and we are all elements of it. There should be no separate concept of "me," and no identification of a person as a noun. Instead we are all processes of the universe. We are verbs, just another instance of the divine life that can be located at any point in space, and has been going on since the Big Bang initially set the wheels in motion (Watts).
Though he refutes his own dominant message throughout the course of Howl, it is a resolution based on symbolism rather than a concrete solution steeped in reality. By focusing on the rapid introduction of unnamed individuals, he establishes the setup before the fall. Their chaotic and frantic lifestyles fly in the face of the popular opinion of the country, and so the energy they present exists almost solely to be destroyed. The omnipresent troubles in our country can only be solved through means of either absolute insanity or convincing ourselves through means of philosophy that there was never a problem to begin with. With the description of popular culture as one of the most oppressive figures in literary history, Ginsberg's optimism is perhaps reserved only for the counterculture that he sought to glorify. All the power and energy of life is still present in the form of the anonymous "who," and it's merely a battle to see whether or not the human spirit can manage to struggle through the trials of Moloch without ending up in a mental institution.
PRETTY SWEET, HUH. Good thing there's a revision option, because I probably fucked it up. Also why the hell can't you indent on Newgrounds?
Admission status: Accepted.
Still waiting for CSUCI, UCLA and UCSB to send out admission letters, but at least if they all go through I have a good option now. OH BOY ACADEMIA IS SO EXCITING.
WHERE ARE THEY? ALSO WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FOOD?
Sent: 09/17/09 03:15
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Summary: Hey what's up bro
Review: I haven't watched any of your movies in probably over two years but it's good to see you're still a talentless retard who can't animate worth a damn and only gets popular by appealing to people who shop at Hot Topic to be rebellious.
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Thanks M-Bot I'll try to be more constructive next time.