Perhaps the greatest injustice society commits is in creating these images of "normality" that are unobtainable and exclusive. We create these fetishes of "lifestyle" promoting Photoshopped bodies, wealthy excess, and gender roles. There's a misogynistic mindset of women as brainless sex icons, revered for their aesthetic appeal rather than their mental acuity. There too is this misandrist mindset that men should be "James Bond" archetypes, revered for their genius and heroism rather than their emotional breadth. Therein lies this chasm between the blue and pink which so many of us precariously straddle, and often try to hide from for fear of being ostracized. I myself have been found in the awkward position of feeling as if I don't belong in this modern generation's definition of romance and masculinity... and I think that there are many of us out there who would feel the same way...
I think men are often the far more romantic, because it’s all we have. As a man, you’re raised by society trained in self-loathing, as a superior brute but an inferior person. You’re conditioned that you’re supposed to be rugged, courageous, detached, and suave-- A perfect machine. You’re told how to treat a woman, and that they are more beautiful than you will ever be. You’re made to feel less than: ugly and with a need to prove yourself. You’re meant to be the knight in shining armor who runs gallivanting off, slays a dragon, and returns to sweep the princess off her feet on a white stallion. These expectations make us vulnerable, because most of us are not that. We are just children who grow taller and more afraid to open up, with feelings bottled up inside trusted to so few. It hurts. We need to be needed. We need someone we can trust absolutely to care about us, someone who will accept this weakness truly and fill the void. Someone who gives us their love and support for the strength to be the man we want to be. I’m no knight, this I well know. I’m the artisan in his shadow, dreaming of romance. But I don’t see why this should make me any less human, any less desiring, or any less deserving…
This in mind, however, every action hero you see tearing through the ceaseless onslaught of foreign hoards, every celebrity you see staring condescendingly at you from the perch of glossy magazine covers, every athlete making a fortune with each passing second sprinting headlong into concussions, is idolized for being this hulking gladiator of a figure. They become a striking visage of confidence that has no footing in reality. In truth, we are all so very wound-able. As much as individually we can all envision ourselves as the hero of our own lives; we can dream ourselves brandishing a shining Walther pistol in one hand and grasping the palm of a gorgeous woman in the other as we dash valiantly and miraculously through the oncoming hail of bullets... none of that is real, and presented such a scenario in the realms of reality we would be no such thing. Our personal "Hero's Journey" is marked not by medals of honor and purple hearts won in the decisive moments of righteous wars, but rather in surviving the stresses of a mundane life and finding inner peace and happiness. I can dream a dream of an anonymous angel, and held in her hands are the two halves of my heart, she being the other half of my soul cleft from me at birth. I can imagine myself in a Welkin of perfection, where our love burns brighter than any star, and in the glimmer of her sapphire eyes shines her returned affections...but the true test of a man is not in finding this Eden, but rather in realizing that we shall meet no perfect people, only imperfect people we see perfectly. You need not find someone to complete you, only someone who accepts you completely.
Be who you want to be, and not who is expected of you, because we each live but a brief century on this Earth, and in the end it has to mean something to you and you alone. No one will live your life for you, and so these memories are yours and yours alone to cherish and create... and if there is a heaven it will be in the legacy you leave behind, in people whose hearts you touched and how they will remember you... So think now: In the end, who will tell the story of your life?
With recent news revealing the interest of large corporations in massive supercomputers running Artificial Intelligence, such as IBM's $1 Billion investment in its Watson A.I., and Google's acquisition of the startup DeepMind, now is as good a time as ever to discuss the implications of Moore's Law, the integration of technology into every aspect of our lives, and the possibility of a "singularity".
Currently, the greatest known "supercomputer" would have to be the human brain. As much as we have CPU's with thousands of micro-transistors performing billions of floating point operations per second (FLOPS), no software has yet gained sentience or been able to consistently emulate a human being. Programs like Cleverbot and Evie come close when scored in the Turing Test, making us question whether or not it is indeed just a bot on the other end of the screen, but even then they're just applications spitting back contextually learned phrases stolen from past user interactions. There's no "life" there, no concept of self and understanding. Such has been the form of the past decades in the evolution of software design; we've become better and better at tricking users into empathizing with simulations, but the simulations themselves are fundamentally unchanged.
The greatest example of this evolution in technological sophistication comes from the gaming industry, where real-time graphics are constantly being pushed to the limits of the current available hardware. And with this latest generation of consoles, as a society we are coming closer and closer to having full photo-realism in real-time, and that begs the question... at what point do we cross the "uncanny valley", and how will this affect our views of A.I. in the future?
To begin with, it helps to define what we're talking about here: What is the "uncanny valley", and what bearing does this have on sentient programs? The "Uncanny Valley" is a term coined by Masahiro Mori in his publication "The Uncanny Valley" in the journal Energy. It describes the phenomenon in which things that come closer and closer to appearing like a real human being become creepy at the point where the realism and surrealism conflicts; where something looks very nearly real, but noticeably enough not so to be disturbing. We can observe this effect in art and sculptures, and even more so in films and video games. According to Mori's theory, objects in motion have a steeper slope on the uncanny valley because motion adds another dimension of realism that an object can fail in your mind. Games like "LA Noir" demonstrate this effect wonderfully with animation that approaches hyper-realism, held back lackluster visuals that condemn it back into the unbelievable. The lesson to be learned from simulations like this: finding the limits of what's "creepy".
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have "Cuteness". If we learn from B grade movies and the current generation of video games what "creepy" is, and how to avoid the uncanny valley, than it helps to understand what its polar opposite is. In studies of 'darwinian aesthetics', it's been shown that things become more "cute" to us when they become rounder, smaller, and with a larger ratio of head size to body size-- features we find in our own offspring. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes perfect sense that such features as are found in our own infants would inspire a feeling of protectiveness and adoration. Artists and designers take advantage of this all the time, with children's programming often featuring much smoother lines and disproportionately drawn characters. Robots designed to interact with humans often uses more curves and appeals to this idea of "cuteness".
So... what does any of this have to do with the ethics of creating advanced Artificial Intelligences? What does cuteness or creepiness in design have to do with supercomputer boxes sitting in massive processing farms that power these entities? Well... it all comes back to Moore's Law. According to Moore's Law (named after Intel founder Gordon Moore), every two years the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles. With this progress we also see the price of chips fall at a similar rate, which explains how in a few short decades we've gone from massive radios for phones to mobile PC's that fit in our pockets. Which suggests that these massive processing farms that Google and IBM are currently investing in could conceivably end up running inside something the size of a wristwatch one day, or at the very least stream via the cloud to such devices. When it comes to the design and application of these products, we could be seriously lead astray. As much as current DARPA and Boston Dynamics projects look like clunky engine parts held together with a prayer, we are living in a generation where we could see the rise of robotics in an Isaac Asimov sense... or perhaps the rise of Skynet. And therein lies the core issue, how do we control the ethics of robotics? At what point do we draw the line between program and sentience, and at what point do we stop being in control? When the designers making the hardware "bodies" that host these entities understand the factors that make us empathize or reject an object, are we still in control of our emotions and reactions to these A.I.?
As we move forward with these Artificial Intelligences, the real question we have to ask ourselves is, how would we react to a "singularity" or the creation of a self-aware software? Independent films such as the excellent "Sync" by Corridor Digital have attempted to beg this question in way that engages the audience with a modern action plot, and the very last episode of their periodic release of the film as a series elegantly demonstrated the dilemma.
As human beings we attempt to find comfort in our lives through a sense of control. We believe in our free will and independence, and this idea that we are somehow superior to all other forms of life and have command of any situation. Honestly though, this isn't always true. We are constantly evolving and expanding our knowledge and understanding of the universe, and presented with an equivalent or superior being, I think we would feel threatened and panic. The questions we should be asking now are ones philosophers have been asking since the dawn of recorded history. "What is life?", "What is the soul?", "What is free will?", "What is learning and knowledge?", and "What does it mean to be God?". We have a responsibility to make sure we understand our place and the implications of our actions now, and how that might affect the course of the future... we already have devices and software that we carry with us everyday that can track our movements, our interests, our patterns, and they can dissect our personalities through algorithms that derive intentions from our actions.
What would it mean if all those devices suddenly understood they existed...?
The concept of human consciousness is one of infinite possibility and miraculous autonomy. Life in of itself is a wondrous thing to be marveled at and preserved as a rarity in the known universe, but sentient life, that attempts to understand the world around it, to communicate and manipulate it, is something entirely else.
As an artist, however, you do run into this wall where the line between the material and immaterial is blurred and confused, and communicating the experience of such things is woefully imprecise. Our senses- touch and taste and sight and smell and hearing- are in no way all encompassing. We see a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum, we hear a tiny band of the frequencies of noise, we react to ingested chemical compounds with a small array of taste sensations, we react to airborne chemicals with a small array of scent sensations... There is so much we are missing, and what we do get isn't necessarily real. There is no intrinsic property of matter that is "Red", or intrinsic property of "sweetness". Everything we perceive about our tiny observable portion of the universe is filtered through the reactions of our own minds, because our body translates all these signals into what we feel. And in that sense, my experience of "red" might be entirely different to yours, but we both call it red because we both learned to name the same trigger "red".
Even more complex yet is trying to convey the sensation of emotions, because they are entirely personal. They are an internalized reaction to chemicals that derive purely from your mind's interpretation of the situations presented it. Your thoughts and feelings, and indeed your entire personality is the complex product of genetics and memories whose experiences have passed onto you the collection of ideas that you combine to perform in this moment. We often act out whole endeavors in our minds before attempting to do them for real; pep talks in mirrors and rehearsing a conversation. And as much as simulation is helpful and builds confidence, it helps to realize that you're not the writer of this play we call "reality", and you cannot script time. You are merely a method actor doing improvisation with a bunch of other entities all lost in the same ship, all fantasizing the same level of "control". Ego clouds logic...
And herein lies the core issue every artist must face: how does one convey emotions? You can play with colors and perspective, proportions and shapes. You can toy with sounds and smells, textures and motion... but when you break that down into ideas, or even still into words... how flat do your attempts really fall? The shortcomings of words are in their lack of precision, and their inability to convey the true depths and nuances of emotion. In speech we compensate with gesture and inflection, tone and cadence. In writing we have no such niceties. For example; you can love your friends, you can love your family, you can love a pet, you can love a band, you can love a color, you can love your romantic partner... but to convey what you really mean and the depth you put into that word you need so many accessory adjectives and a hope that your audience can even come close to comprehending or trying to emulate the experience to reach an understanding.
To tell someone how you are feeling is difficult at best, and to describe what it means to be human is impossible...
"One thing seems to be a truth, and that is that if a person or an institution are held sacred by too many people, then they are by definition beyond criticism. And when a person or an institution becomes beyond criticism, it seems they slip inevitably towards corruption."
He is an absolute genius in his own unique and crazy way, and I do love him for it. The reason I feel perhaps constantly passionate about certain people and certain institutions, most notably the zealots who promote hate with their text, is that they feel empowered by the millions who also hold their belief... and they have this idea that they are justified therefore to force their ideas on others.
"It is your human right to hold sacred what you will. If you want to imbue earthly things with supernatural agency that is your right... But I don't think that means you should get to tell other people what they hold should sacred."
Faith is fine, if you cherish the community it builds or the feeling of security it brings you, that is fine. I like the idea of Hinduism so far as a philosophy because I see the deities that represent aspects of living, and the prayers, as a means of clearing your mind and focusing your energy on what you want. So much as I do not believe in a supernatural reason behind the Law of Attraction, there is some truth in the placebo effect, and when the mind believes in what it will, or is put under considerable stress, the human form can achieve miracles. You can become a superman in moments of stress, and sugar pills prescribed by doctors can cure pain... but this concept that the tomes of the ancient world should be held literal and binding is absurd. I was raised in a Hindu family, a family not born Hindu, but Hindu by choice. I was taught to learn and reason, and not forced to read the texts of the divines or learn about the will of a God. I was raised to read what books I wanted, to follow what passions I wanted, and to learn to be educated and logical. And given this choice I've accepted the faith so much as a building grounds for community and meditation perhaps, but not the literal interpretation of an all powerful divine.
The thing that irks me about modern faith is the trivial nature in which it is called upon, and the almost brainwashing and hypnotic nature it's taken. I enjoyed the freedoms of a thinking family, one that accepts and promotes activism, reflection, and debate... to remain an active member in society and not become complacent with wrongdoings. Children of other households, children of the other major monotheist doctrines, however, seem to lack this freedom. They were raised going to their churches, temples, and synagogues... going to Sunday schools and being taught from young age about the will of God, about his power, and to embrace his words... You're taught God before the age of reason and I feel that an injustice.
In elementary and middle school, they have you read old African folk-stories, they have you read Native American lore, they have you read the legacies of the ancient Roman and Greek gods... but they teach you that these are myths. They teach you that they are fiction of long dead civilizations, to be admired and analyzed, but not to be taken seriously. And yet, these surviving faiths- Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam... are considered politically incorrect to discuss, and to be accepted as real... despite similar roots, despite similar stories.
And there's a contradiction in the very terminology of the religious... the strict of faith call themselves "god fearing people"... and yet promote the compassion of their Lord, and praise his love and kindness... his path to salvation. And it's fine to think that, but having faith, having a religion, it's like having a penis...you can have one and be proud of it, but you shouldn't whip it out in public, you shouldn't write laws with it, you shouldn't run schools with it, and you shouldn't force it on children.
The issue I have, the very root of my contention, is the lack of education people seem to have in their faith, and that I only ever see the negative connotations of it. You get the viral videos of 5 year old boys singing how "ain't no gays gonna get into heaven", you get church groups holding bibles in one hand and their pre-school child wearing 'God Hates Fags' shirts in the other protesting Gay Pride Parades, you get fucking idiots from the Westboro Baptist Church going to protest at the funerals of soldiers and the burials of the victim children of the Sandy Hook shooting... And you get these hyped up zealots screaming about how Leviticus 20:13 says; "If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." And yet they're just picking and choosing what they wish to follow from their own volume. How about Leviticus 20:9; “Anyone who curses their father or mothers to be put to death. Because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head." Or what of Deuteronomy 21:18-21;"If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear." Why are these not what you call out about in the street and hold protest for? Your Lord told you to murder your children for their rebellion, but the intimacy of another couple you don't know takes precedence?!
It's this way the words are warped that gets underneath my skin. The Bible, if read literally, is evil. That fact is inescapable. God brings the deaths of millions, directly and indirectly. He commands the Israelites to commit genocides, to kill all life from the women and children to the cattle, but keep the virgins as their own. He defines the sexist place of a woman and gives her the labor of child birth as punishment. But that's not the point of the Bible, or any religious text. Such are meant to be allegorical descriptions of unearthly and miraculous events that should provide hope for life and after-life. And yet that's not how they are used. And that's not how they are educated to children of faith, despite how clear the words are upon self examination.
(Exodus 12:29-30; Exodus 34:11-14; 1 Samuel 15:2-3; Numbers 31:17-18; Deuteronomy 20:16-17; Samuel 23:2; 1Kings 20:28; 2Chronicles 28:6; 2Samuel 8:2; Genesis 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; Ephesians 5:22-24;1 Timothy 2:11-15; Deuteronomy 22:5)
I support the idea of human power, and the intrinsic rights of mankind. You are of course given the right to live as you desire, and to hold dear and sacred whatever you choose. But know what you are promoting, know what you are screaming about, know what you defend. And do not force it on others as law. If you don't like the idea of gay sex, here's a thought, don't have gay sex! GASP Shocking concept?! If you don't like gay sex, don't have it. That's your right, you have the right to decide that you don't like it and that you don't want it, but that does not mean you have the right to tell them what they can or cannot have. You were given the choice, you cannot then deprive them of their choice. And you can see it now, the death of the ancient bigotry, the organizations of hate falling apart. Gays are marching in their Pride Parades, I along side them. And they are gaining rights, and the internet lights up with the symbols of equality and love. If you taught children logic before you gave them god, in this new age of technology and reason, I doubt you'd have many truly hatefully religious left at all.
"Science adjusts its views based on what's observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved." - Tim Minchin.
I haven't given up on the game I've been making, and I've spent the last week completely rewriting the code. I've learned quite a bit more now for the programming, so I went and overhauled all the events as pure written code, cleaned up the syntax, made some improvements to the speed and optimization, and added some graphical features. I've been trying to work on a difficulty system which you'll see in the new "Options" menu, but as of right now I can't seem to get it working so it's purely for show. For anyone who wants to play and send feedback however, have fun!
I'd like to preface this by saying that I am in no way arguing against educating people. I support education wholeheartedly because I'd rather not live in a world of idiots. Knowledge is the cornerstone of what makes us unique as a species, and it's such a shame to squander our human potential.
That said, our current educational system really doesn't work. To make someone learn and commit things to long-term memory you have got to make them interested in the subject. No one remembers something they aren't committed to. And yet, our schools don't try to make us love what we learn, or sponsor the notion that we should be able to pick classes that get us excited to be taught. They don't treat us like we're capable of independent thought, or understanding more than our ages. I spent an entire grading period of AP Lang last semester essentially learning that red is a romantic and angry color, yellow is a rich and happy color, blue is a calm and sad color, and to find that in writing (as if I couldn't already define the emotions of colors). We're all put in the same curriculum, with the same standards and the same textbooks, learning at the same pace- no matter the outcome.
Everyone is unique, and while one student might be exceptional at math, he could be rubbish at chemistry. He could spend every period in Algebra bored into a coma with the day's work completed in 5 minutes, and yet struggle to understand the basics of stoichiometry after hours of studying the textbook. Not everyone is good at mathematics, not everyone is good at spacial reasoning, not everyone is good at art, not everyone is good at music... but everyone is good at something. We should be allowed to pursue our talents and make them into our strengths, rather than focusing on berating us for our weaknesses.
As students in school, we don't learn because we want to grow as people. There's no thirst for knowledge in what we're working on. You study by the grading period, only learning what you need to pass the next test, and remembering what you'll need for the exam. I always feel like an exception when I get into a class I enjoy, because I'll go out and try to learn even after the bell has rung and we've packed our things to move on. Things for which I have a passion, I seek all the information I can about. I've taught myself since I was in elementary school everything I can find about film making, 3D modeling, animation, editing, compositing, Photoshopping, programming, game development... and yet I'll procrastinate on my homework. I feel like I've learned more online through forums and from excellent communities such as the Nerdfighters of CrashCourse and SciShow than I have in a classroom. I've been more intrigued by mathematical concepts and theories on Numberphile and Computerphile than I have in a tedious and obvious classwork lesson. If you look, it's not hard to see the web of brilliant and open individuals sharing their gifts with the world to benefit the next generation.
Really, I think the age of traditional education is dying. With the advent of modern technology, media has become much more available and widespread as a means of self-education. I see the future of learning in a virtual environment, from people passionate about what they're teaching with tools that make the subjects accessible and engaging. It's one thing to be told lists of useless facts and formulas (that you could Google if you ever do need them again in life), it's another to be shown why and how things work, and to be able to manipulate these concepts to explore them on your own. Education shouldn't be about teaching us what to think, it should be teaching how to think; how to reason and problem solve, and think outside the box to apply creativity and ingenuity to even the most mundane task. We should learn to constantly question the world around us and how we do everything, because without the motivation to experiment and wonder we stagnate as a species. In this fashion, I would call Mr. Bean more of a genius than the valedictorian who can recite all the nations of the world from memory.
To anyone struggling in school right now, it's not your fault. You're being forced through a system that grinds down individuality and stamps out "students" into set molds barely able to function on their own in the real world. You're being made to conform to something you really might not be. It doesn't mean you're any less intelligent or worthy, it only means that their system isn't optimized for you.
This is my submission for the NHD 2014 Competition. This year's theme is "Rights and Responsibilities".
As a part of my New Media class, I'm part of a group working on creating a PSA for the Just Read Florida "Celebrate Literacy Week" competition. This year's theme is "Reading Accelerates Success", so we put together a short about a kid who is so inspired by a book on war he tries to run for political office to promote change.
My name is Jeffrey Hepburn, and I'm a young writer, graphic design artist, and aspiring filmmaker.