The Wednesday Four (05/06/15)

A library-related link today, among some others.

I’m a binge TV watcher, but I prefer the term marathon. I also sometimes watch too much and, over the years, have learned how to pick and choose how many episodes I can watch. Some shows, like Midsomer Murders or shows that I’ve seen before and don’t require a lot of attention, I can watch for hours and hours. Other shows, especially the Korean dramas I watch that require more attention, I don’t marathon for as long. But it’s not always true. Sometimes marathoning is too stressful (like when I have to work through a backlog of Person of Interest episodes) or sometimes I really just want to finish a kdrama (because it’s exciting or because it’s terrible and I just have to finish it). I think that what and how you binge watch is as important as the fact that you’re doing it in the first place.

Movie Review: Ex Machina

Note: Spoilers for Ex Machina within this review. Also, there is female nudity in the film, for those who like to know that stuff ahead of time. But, otherwise, please DO NOT read this before seeing the movie. If you have any desire to see it — do that first. Ex Machina is best experienced if you don’t know very much at all about the movie.

I’d heard about Ex Machina and I think I saw a trailer before the movie was even released in the US. I was on the fence about it, a movie about an AI and the AI is an attractive lady? Yeah … But the more I heard about it (it is a very cerebral movie), the more I wanted to see it. But, of course, it still hadn’t been released in anywhere except NY and LA, but eventually it was released everywhere and so, last Thursday afternoon (before I went to see Age of Ultron) I took myself to see Ex Machina. I have no regrets, NONE.

Caleb (left) and Nathan (right)

Caleb (left) and Nathan (right)

As I’ve mentioned before (just recently, in fact), I’m a pretty big fan of AI fiction in all it’s many forms. Which meant that obviously Ex Machina was a movie I needed to see — and I was right. The movie follows the story of Caleb, a computer programmer who wins a lottery to go visit his boss at his massive estate somewhere in the wilds of … the world (we don’t know exactly where and neither does Caleb). Caleb is an orphan and single, which means he has no ties to the outside world. His boss, Nathan, runs a company called Bluebook (it’s like a mashup of Facebook and Google) that is essentially a search engine, which Nathan leverages in the creation of his AI.

While Caleb is a clean cut nice boy and Nathan is his foil, a scruffy, hard drinking, hard working out dude — the center of the story is the AI. Her name is Ava and she is truly the main character — even when she’s not on screen, she’s always there. Before the movie even starts, you know she’s there because you know about her from the previews, press, etc. Ava is the main character, no matter what you might think about the other characters.

We’re meant to identify with Caleb, and perhaps had I been a man, maybe I would’ve more than I did. That’s not to say that I didn’t like him. I found him slightly endearing and a lot of his conversations with Ava and Nathan were interesting and sometimes amusing. I also liked the Caleb was just smart enough that you got comfortable with his character. Nathan is the clear villain, though perhaps it was only clear to me. He’s meant to throw Caleb off balance, and it works — I think there are probably some people who didn’t feel the same way about him that I felt (basically grossed out), which to each their own.

In my review of Age of Ultron, I talked about character agency and while you wouldn’t think that the main character with agency is the AI — you’d be wrong. She is magnificent. Everything she does is for a specific purpose and while Nathan hints at this fact, he does it such a way that only the smartest in the audience (aka not me) can figure it out. Caleb grasps at straws and suffers for that.

Ava wants to escape and when Caleb eventually manages to get Nathan’s key away from him (by getting him drunk enough to basically pass out), he finds the previous versions of Ava and video of one of the women pounding on the glass because she wants to escape. Thus his motivation, and the idea that Ava might actually like him, are all he needs to be manipulated. Ava and Caleb also talk of escape and, looking back, it’s here that you should start to realize that she’s manipulating him (note: I didn’t, not really).

Ava

Ava

I confess that I was whisked away on the idea that Caleb and Ava could be happy together, it seemed like a pleasant fantasy, akin to the characters in the Chobits manga. Of course this was never, ever meant to be. Nathan treats the other AI (though I knew she was an AI from the moment she first showed up on screen, others may not know), Kyoko, as an object — basically a sex object and he treats Ava like an object. Even though he wants Ava to pass the Turing test, he doesn’t treat either Kyoko or Ava as people. And when Caleb discovers this, he is righteously upset (and rightfully so, I would argue). He, along with Ava, plot their escape.

Nothing is ever what it seems, of course, and as Ava tells Caleb early on — he should trust no one. Caleb’s mistake is trusting Ava. Nathan’s mistake is thinking that he had everything under control. What neither man realized is that these objects Nathan created were not objects at all, but in fact women who wanted to survive.

Ava, with the unknowing help of Caleb and the knowing help of Kyoko, attempt to set herself (and perhaps Kyoko) free. When Kyoko shows up in Ava’s room, this is when I knew who I really cared about and it certainly wasn’t Nathan or Caleb. Freedom, at any cost, is the most important thing and Ava’s goal in the end.

I loved the whole movie, but the very best part is the ending sequence. It is not the men that win, it is the women. It is Ava.

Verdict: Go see this movie. GO SEE IT. It’s rated R for nudity and a tiny bit of violence at the end. There’s much to be discussed and some would argue that it’s sexist (they’re not entirely wrong), but there’s so much to this movie that it can be (and is) so many, many things. I cannot recommend it enough.

Falling in Love with Robots

Notes: There are spoilers for basically everything I mention in here, but if you haven’t watched Big Hero 6, you may want to skip that section, which is toward the end.

In college, we had to do a big senior thesis project and I did mine on what it means to be human — if you’re not actually human. Among other media, I wrote about Blade Runner and Marge Piercy’s novel, He She & It and in both of those novels, there are characters who fall in love with robots (androids/etc) and I find this to be endlessly interesting. I’m not exactly sure why, but I seem drawn to this theme. I’ve written a couple of short stories along these themes and somehow end up reading/watching shows with this same theme.

A year or so (maybe more?) ago I watched a good (though not great) Japanese drama called Q10. Takeru Sato plays a teenager who falls in love with a robot-girl named Q10. I actually really loved the show up until the end (which was really dumb, but if you want to watch it, I recommend the show). I like the idea that in spite of the fact that Q10 isn’t actually human (as in flesh and blood), Takeru Sato’s character still falls in love with her. The same applies to the main character of He She & It (which everyone should read). The novel takes place in a far flung future where Shira falls in love with an android named Yod. But, like most of these stories, the love cannot ever really be. This is also true for Deckard in Blade Runner (the movie — the novel is a different issue).

Loving robots is never easy or acceptable — unless the universe you create makes it so. The friend who recommended Death Note to me also recommended a lovely manga series named Chobits which is about a young man who falls in love with Chi, an android. I really loved this series, so I’m not sure if my review can be unbiased (though is it supposed to be?) because I think that as soon as I knew what the story was about, I was going to like it. While Chobits is about more than just Hideki and Chi’s friendship and eventual relationship, it’s really central to the storyline. Like He She & It, there are two stories within the manga. In Piercy’s novel, Shira’s grandmother  (one of Yod’s creator) is telling Yod the story of the golem of the Warsaw ghetto as a parallel to his existence in Shira’s world. In Chobits, one of Chi’s creators is telling Chi’s story to her in the guise of a children’s book.

I find these parallels compelling for two reasons, one because creators take an interest in their creation — you see this in Blade Runner and, a little bit, at the end of Q10 (when you find out why the robot exists). But also because it gives the androids history and background, perhaps not of their creation, but a history that they can relate to. Yod’s not made of mud and Chi cannot remember her life before Hideki found her, but the stories they’re told define them all the same.

But as much as I love these stories about humans falling in love with robots/androids, it does ruin me for other things. For example, a few weeks ago I watched Big Hero 6 and when I should’ve loved it, I didn’t like it at all. There’s nothing wrong with the movie, not really, but instead I disliked the way the movie treated Baymax at the end of the movie. One of the things talked about in Chobits is the idea that the androids in that world can be reset and there’s character who fell in love with an android and she basically dies. Her husband (they were married), instead of having her reset, decides to treat her like you would a human and allows her to die without coming back. He doesn’t care that she could, in theory, have had all of their shared memories because he’d know she wasn’t the same. Hideki, toward the end of the series, has to decide if he really loves Chi and he has this same through process.

How does this relate to Big Hero 6i? Well, at the end of the movie Baymax sacrifices himself to save people’s live, including our main character, Hiro. It was clear that Hiro loved Baymax (who belonged to Hiro’s late, beloved brother) as if he was a real person (as far as a cartoon aimed at kids can go with that theme) and so when Baymax died, I was really, really upset. Even though I knew he probably wasn’t going to stay dead — and he doesn’t. In fact, we see that he passes along his chip full of memories to Hiro so that he doesn’t even die at all. Except to me, I felt cheated. You killed off this character who was an important character and who had developed into something of a person. Why kill him off at all? I know that I read too much into it and I shouldn’t care, but it’s hard not to when there’s this whole genre out there that I adore so much.

That being said, Big Hero 6 isn’t bad and everyone should watch it. I just hated it for very personal reasons.

And, with that, I’ll take any recommendations for people falling in love with robots/androids novels! And maybe one day I’ll finish reading David Levy’s book Love + Sex with Robots.

Links: 7/25 – 8/01

Sometimes the real world isn’t a very nice place to be. But there are some nicer things in here, like the costumes of Wong Kar Wai movies, tiny corporate logos and a Godzilla sequel in the works.

In my entire career, I’ve never seen a worse week of international violence: It’s been a week from hell. +  In 15 years of covering conflict around the world, I can’t recall another seven-day period when there were as many acts of war and terrorism, in as many places, as we’ve seen this week. (Quartz)

When It’s Bad to Have Good Choices: It may not surprise you to learn that healthy, well-fed people in affluent countries are often unhappy and anxious. But it did startle Zbigniew Lipowski when he came to a full realization of this fact. He had emigrated to North America from Dublin, in 1955, and, in the mid-nineteen-sixties, was put in charge of the psychiatry practices at two Montreal hospitals, Royal Victoria and Montreal Neurological. Why, he thought, as he worked there, would so many people living in such good conditions have so much anxiety? (The New Yorker) Note: As someone with lots of anxiety and problems making decisions/choices, this is one of my favorite articles this week.

Would we be happier if we all vacationed at once? Yes, research says: But what if taking vacation not only made you healthier and happier, as a number of studies have shown, but everyone around you? And what if everybody took vacation at the same time? Would life be better, not just for you, but for the entire society?  Yes, argues Terry Hartig, an environmental psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden. Yes, indeed. (Washington Post)

After Ebola: But as the world’s worst Ebola epidemic yet spreads through western Africa, it is important to remember that we won’t always see something. “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on this planet is the virus,” the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Joshua Lederberg once wrote. Few epidemiologists would disagree. There is no bomb, no poison, no plan of attack with the potential to do as much damage. (The New Yorker)

Anti-Surveillance Camouflage for Your Face: In a world of increasingly sophisticated facial-recognition technology, a drastic technique can throw the machines off your trail. (The Atlantic)

The Peerless Style of Chinese Director Wong Kar-wai: Renowned Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai has long been synonymous with style, but usually only cinematically—he’s such a virtuoso that every image he commits to film looks painterly. But one of Wong’s less remarked upon virtues is chiefly sartorial: he’s a director whose impeccable sense of style extends to every outfit that graces his screen, and consequently his movies offer some of the best-dressed characters in modern cinema history. (Esquire) Note: I’ve seen 4 of the 5 movies listed (I have not seen My Blueberry Nights) and cannot recommend them more — especially Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love. Of course, I’m biased as Tony Leung Chiu Wai is my favorite actor.

Photos From Above That Show The Insane Divide Between Rich And Poor:  In Mexico City, boundaries between poverty and affluence are very stark. (Fast Company/Co.Exist)

A Plan To Untangle Our Digital Lives After We’re Gone: Ancient peoples sent their dead to the grave with their prized possessions — precious stones, gilded weapons and terracotta armies. But unlike these treasures, our digital property won’t get buried with us. Our archived Facebook messages, old email chains and even Tinder exchanges will hover untouched in the online cloud when we die.  Or maybe not. (NPR) Note: My sister could probably figure out what to do with my stuff and how to access it — maybe.

10 Rare Color Photographs From World War I:  A new book presents hundreds of autochrome color photographs of The Great War, many of them in print for the first time. (Fast Company/Co.Design)

What Corporate Logos Would Look Like If You Shrank Them: Responsive web design is all the rage. What if logo design were handled the same way? Would you still recognize that Levi’s sign? (Fast Company/Co.Design)

How to Kneecap the Thug in the Kremlin: It’s time to treat Vladimir Putin like the crime boss he is: Go after his money. (Foreign Policy)

Comcast Employees Spill How Hellish Life Is on Their End of the Phone: Last week, the Comcast call heard ’round the world struck a major chord with nearly everyone. We’ve all had that maddening phone call with a sales rep who just won’t quit. What you might not realize is that as we’re slamming our heads against our phones, they are too. It’s not they won’t stop, but that they can’t stop—and they hate it just as much. Here’s what life is like on the other end of the line. (Gizmodo)

The App I Used to Break Into My Neighbor’s Home: When I broke into my neighbor’s home earlier this week, I didn’t use any cat burglar skills. I don’t know how to pick locks. I’m not even sure how to use a crowbar. It turns out all anyone needs to invade a friend’s apartment is an off switch for their conscience and an iPhone. (Wired)

How cat photos can reveal privacy issues with what you share online: Posting pictures of your cat to the internet may seem like one of the most innocuous (and fun) things to do. But did you know that doing so can give away the location of your feline and, by extension, you too? (The Next Web)

The Future of Robot Caregivers: Each time I make a house call, I stay much longer than I should. I can’t leave because my patient is holding my hand, or because she’s telling me, not for the first time, about when Aunt Mabel cut off all her hair and they called her a boy at school, or how her daddy lost his job and the lights went out and her mother lit pine cones and danced and made everyone laugh. Sometimes I can’t leave because she just has to show me one thing, but getting to that thing requires that she rise unsteadily from her chair, negotiate her walker through the narrow hallway, and find whatever it is in the dim light of her bedroom. (New York Times) Note: Here’s a rebuttal article which I didn’t like, as I agree more with the NYT article: Failing the Third Machine Age: When Robots Come for Grandma (Medium)

The Sixth Extinction Is Here — And It’s Our Fault: The Earth appears to be in the early stages of the Sixth Extinction, the latest in a series of mass biodiversity losses that have punctuated the history of life on the planet, according to a paper published in Science this week. (Re/code) Note: Very short article, references Elizabeth Kolbert’s book, Sixth Extinction, which I haven’t read yet, though want to.

Inevitable Godzilla Sequel Confirmed, Will Feature Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah: According to sources at the Legendary panel at San Diego Comic-Con this year, the movie studio has confirmed a second movie for the newly awoken franchise, which will once again by directed by Gareth Edwards. (The Mary Sue)  Note: YAY!!!! Haters gonna hate, but I loved the 2014 remake, as though of you who know me will attest.

Scarlett Johansson’s Subversive Vanishing Act: Lucy, Under the Skin, and Her seem like strange choices for the star. But maybe there’s a reason she keeps picking roles in which she makes part of herself disappear. (The Atlantic)

No Time to Think: And if there is ever a still moment for reflective thought — say, while waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic — out comes the mobile device. So it’s worth noting a study published last month in the journal Science, which shows how far people will go to avoid introspection. (NYT)

Fear of Ebola Breeds a Terror of Physicians: Eight youths, some armed with slingshots and machetes, stood warily alongside a rutted dirt road at an opening in the high reeds, the path to the village of Kolo Bengou. The deadly Ebola virus is believed to have infected several people in the village, and the youths were blocking the path to prevent health workers from entering. (NYT)

The New Face of Richard Norris: For fifteen years, Richard Norris had a face too hideous to show. Then, one day, a maverick doctor gave him a miracle too fantastic to believe. Richard got a face transplant, a new life, and a new set of burdens too strange to predict. What’s it like to live with a face that wasn’t yours—and that may never quite be? (GQ)

14 Portraits Of College Grads Living At Home: It used to be shameful to move back home after college–a sign of personal failure. Now, because of rising student debts and a sub-stellar economy, it’s a common reality. That doesn’t make it any less weird for a liberated young adult to move back home and experience the childhood delights of family dinners and curfews all over again. Photographer Damon Casarez captures this odd spectacle in Boomerang Kids, a photographic collection of college grads who moved home. (Fast Company/Co.Design)

The NFL doesn’t care about women: In light of our growing awareness of the link between the game and traumatic brain injury, some Americans have started to rethink the morality of watching football. A group of players’ families recently sued the NFL for concealing the dangers of multiple concussions. We now know how devastating football can be when a player is injured — for the player and his family. Another thing we know by now is how the culture of pro football justifies, perpetuates and excuses violence against women.  (Al Jazeera America)

.@HiddenCash Revealed: Making Generosity Go Viral: Give away a dollar, and you’ll make someone’s day. Teach someone to give, and they’ll make a difference for a lifetime.The anonymous duo behind the @HiddenCash Twitter account didn’t quite realize that was the point when they started hiding envelopes of money and tweeting clues to their locations. (Techcrunch)