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Author Topic: EP223: The Uncanny Valley  (Read 35524 times)

Swamp

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on: November 05, 2009, 05:37:07 PM
EP223: The Uncanny Valley

by Nick Mamatas
Read by Kathryn Baker

The trouble with knowing everything there is to know, Stephanie Dowling decided instantly, because that’s how clever she was, was that when there was something unknown out there, she had nobody to consult.

And there was something unknown out there, nibbling away at the edge of the economy, and screwing with the Cottrell-Cockshot tatonnements sufficiently that there’d be problems. Shortages of essentials: power cells and answer boxes. Ridiculous surpluses of nonsense like chrome and diamonds. She could tell because the bride was coughing between her lines and the donkey she rode on suddenly looked ill. It would be just like … wossname … that old thing. Capitalism. Till she fixed it anyway.

Wossname?


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Ocicat

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Reply #1 on: November 05, 2009, 07:55:34 PM
This read like a bad Grant Morrison comic - lots of ideas and pretty imagery thrown out there all higgledy piggledy.  Nothing I could really follow or sink my teeth into.  Hard to follow in audio too - not the narrator's fault really, but it was hard to follow along with switches of POV and scene.  But mostly just seemed like it was trying too hard to be poetic and deep, and not focusing on telling a coherent story.  Got really old really quick.
« Last Edit: November 06, 2009, 12:13:08 AM by Ocicat »



KenK

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Reply #2 on: November 05, 2009, 10:19:32 PM
I agree with Ocicat. And for the same reasons to. The intro was not very interesting or informative either. EP gets a D- for this episode.



Gia

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Reply #3 on: November 06, 2009, 12:19:39 AM
I'm a little more than half way through and I have no idea what's going on. I get the impression that there's something a bit pretentious about it, but I can't say exactly why because, as I said, I really don't know what's happening.



Swamp

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Reply #4 on: November 06, 2009, 12:24:20 AM
The intro was not very interesting or informative either.

Heh.  Actually, it explained a lot for me.  I was previously unaware of term "uncanny valley" as reference to feeling uncomfortable when robots/AI became too humanlike.  It cleared up a lot of confusion I had around EP's flash story of the same name by Jared Axelrod. (When I first started building this episode thread, I thought there might have been a repeat of stories or some other mistake, but then I saw the authors were different.  :))

So does this represent an "uncanny valley" response in anyone?

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KenK

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Reply #5 on: November 06, 2009, 12:43:26 AM
@swamp
You have to be joking. That singing robot you linked to is not lifelike at all. It is a good replication of the human form, but once it starts to move and talk it is very clear that it isn't human. Not even close. The "uncanny valley" referred to hasn't been reached yet. 
« Last Edit: November 06, 2009, 05:01:29 AM by KenK »



Swamp

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Reply #6 on: November 06, 2009, 12:57:17 AM
@swamp
You have to joking. That singing robot you linked to is not lifelike at all. It is a good replication of the human form, but once it starts to move and talk it is very clear that it isn't human. Not even close. The "uncanny valley" referred to hasn't been reached yet. 

It was a little tongue in cheek.

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KenK

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Reply #7 on: November 06, 2009, 02:18:23 AM
It was a little tongue in cheek.

Oops! My bad.  ;D




deflective

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Reply #8 on: November 06, 2009, 03:43:26 AM
for me, this story started with two strikes against it.

first, as mentioned, stories with shifting timelines & povs are difficult to put into audio.  it really helps to have changes in tone or distinct pauses to signal scene shifts.  the last story i remember with changing povs (requiem in d-minor) had the same problem.

second, the story uses the overexposed science-run-amok trope.  this usually creates an homogenized image of humanity where some advance is universally embraced before turning horribly wrong.  it's a personal pet peeve, kinda like some people get tired of elves or vampires, mainly because it harps on the fear of change and only rarely creates a realistic situation that could result in cautionary advice.

if cavemen wrote scifi there would be a whole series of stories where Ogg uses fire to warm his cave and winds up burning down the mountain where everyone lives.  the tone and underlying message of these stories are counterproductive and they rub me the wrong way.

despite this, i enjoyed the central question (how would our subconscious react to singularity and vice versa) and the imagery used.  after a rocky start the story redeemed itself somewhat.


The "uncanny valley" referred to hasn't been reached yet.

it's a real problem in cgi.



Swamp

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Reply #9 on: November 06, 2009, 05:16:08 AM
It was a little tongue in cheek.

Oops! My bad.  ;D

No problem.  I should have put a  ;) or a  ::) next to the link.

But the uncanny valley concept was new to me.

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lunastrixae

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Reply #10 on: November 06, 2009, 05:21:09 AM
I'm a little more than half way through and I have no idea what's going on. I get the impression that there's something a bit pretentious about it, but I can't say exactly why because, as I said, I really don't know what's happening.

My thoughts exactly. I'm not the sharpest tool or dullest, but I was very lost the whole way through. I would start to think I saw the point of the story then it would crumple away the next scene. It was like a robotics engineer's acid trip while she was on a conference in San Fran.



MacArthurBug

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Reply #11 on: November 06, 2009, 06:48:48 PM
I felt like I'd taken something, then had a freak out.
When did EP come with a bad trip?

I did not enjoy this story, did not understand this story. And the reading- though good .. wasn't helping. Too friggin strange for me. Maybe if I HAD taken something I'd have "gotten" it?

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Reply #12 on: November 06, 2009, 09:58:48 PM
I'm a little more than half way through and I have no idea what's going on.

Same here.  Not easy to follow as narrated.  I think I'll opt for something else on the commute home & wait for next week.



yicheng

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Reply #13 on: November 06, 2009, 10:01:38 PM
I'm a little more than half way through and I have no idea what's going on. I get the impression that there's something a bit pretentious about it, but I can't say exactly why because, as I said, I really don't know what's happening.

^^ This.

One of the few EP's that I just really really couldn't listen through. 



Darwinist

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Reply #14 on: November 07, 2009, 02:10:30 AM

I got lost about 10 minutes in and never really recovered.   The breathy narration fit the storyline and main character but that's about the only good thing I can think of.   A big "meh" from me. 

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan


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Reply #15 on: November 07, 2009, 03:56:20 AM
I think the confusion apparent in the story is to be interpreted like this: What is being described here is a condition known as a "technological singularity." The machine intelligence is so much smarter and faster than the human mind/brain that the human end of the loop becomes uncomprehending and disengaged. That is the point that I think  deflective was making with the CGI* reference.  The human mind/brain can't provide the requested output the machine is asking for because it can't understand it and/or respond fast enough. At least that's my version of what the author was trying to do here. Kudos for the attempt although it didn't really work too well. Or maybe that was the author's point? :D  I'd love to hear other opinions about this.


*Common Gateway Interface
« Last Edit: November 08, 2009, 03:04:48 AM by KenK »



Talia

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Reply #16 on: November 07, 2009, 04:30:17 AM
I didn't have much idea what was going on here either, but I strongly suspect the story is more cohesive/comprehensible in written form, where its simpler to, if a passage is puzzling, go back and ponder over it a bit more. There were particular phrases and flashes of concepts that shone through here and there that were just outright brilliant, just really really good stuff, which makes me suspect its more a matter of the format being an ill fit than it being a wobbly story. Now I must decide if its worth tracking down in print to test my theory.

IE the intro: that one mecha-oprah who invariably went rogue explains a whole lot. In fact, its likely to blame for the state of television programming today. And the untimely cancellation of 'Firefly.'
Because mecha-oprahs are jerks.



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Reply #17 on: November 07, 2009, 06:18:07 AM
Because mecha-oprahs are jerks.

I studied Italian for two semesters last year, and the first thing that popped into my head was something like "should it be mecha-opre if it's pluralized?"

Sigh.  My brain.


I was listening to this story while playing a video game with the sound off - nothing too mentally preoccupying, just doing some grinding in Torchlight (which is pretty awesome, by the way) - and I initially assumed that I couldn't figure out what was going on because my attention wasn't on the story, but even once I stopped playing the game I was confused up until the very end, when it all sort of came together.

As I understand it, the entire story up until the end is about her, as one of the "Post Office" humans, being submerged into a false reality that is forcing her to confront and deal with her own subconscious concerns - the story was disjointed that way partly because that was how she was working through the issues, how everyone works through issues: not in a sensible, linear fashion, but jumping to and fro.  I definitely am going to go back and have another listen without distractions, probably spread throughout a day of walking to and from classes next week, but I honestly kind of liked the story itself.  I don't think it lent itself extremely well to the audio format, with all of its PoV switching, but it was still very good.

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Reply #18 on: November 07, 2009, 04:49:29 PM
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the uncanny stuff, I will know no thing;
for thou art confounding me: thy plot and thy story, they bamboozle me.

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deflective

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Reply #19 on: November 08, 2009, 01:42:16 AM
The "uncanny valley" referred to hasn't been reached yet.
it's a real problem in cgi.
The machine intelligence is so much smarter and faster than the human mind/brain that the human end of the loop becomes uncomprehending and disengaged. That is the point that deflective was making with the CGI* reference.
*Common Gateway Interface

i wish i was making a point as nuanced as that, all i really meant was that our best cgi animation currently plummets into the uncanny valley.  when commercial cgi animators try to make lifelike animation it usually turns out lurching, wooden faced automatons (polar express).  this is one of the reasons that the most successful cgi movies remain cartoonish like pixar's.

The human mind/brain can't provide the requested output the machine is asking for because it can't understand it and/or respond fast enough. At least that's my version of what the author was trying to do here. Kudos for the attempt although it didn't really work too well. Or maybe that was the author's point? :D  I'd love to hear other opinions about this.

i agree with your idea that the brain/network interface was the problem but i didn't think that the connection was malfunctioning the way you described, actually the connection was too good.  the nanotech not only picked up surface thoughts & conscious decisions but subconscious & repressed feelings as well.  since these 2500 people had godlike global power their subconscious manifested in a horribly uncontrolled fashion.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2009, 04:20:32 AM by deflective »



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Reply #20 on: November 09, 2009, 07:05:27 AM
Hmm. I'm a third the way through. Maybe I'll give it a miss ;-)


Listener

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Reply #21 on: November 10, 2009, 02:20:25 PM
The narrator's unchanging tone and speed of reading kind of made it hard to follow certain heavily-technical parts, and because of the technical aspect of the recording, sometimes I think technical words ran together. Who was it who said if you read something really technical and don't understand it, take out all the words you don't understand and it should be more comprehensible? Well, that's how I try to write SF, and reading it that way usually helps (I missed a LOT of Snow Crash and Anathem and Cryptonomicon the first time through and still really enjoyed all three books). Didn't quite help this time.

A lot of the commentary so far has been in line with what I thought about the story. There were some truly excellent images -- the stress-monkey was very cool, and I guess on reflection was foreshadowing of a monkey being on everyone's back. But at the point where the story reached convergence -- Esme's escape from Alcatraz (I'm still not sure how she got off the island) -- I got totally lost. What was up with the human biomass (Marge Piercy term, I believe, from "He, She, and It", but correct me if I'm wrong)? The sudden inclusion of steampunk and clockpunk? The giant robot that needed therapy? The version of Esme with a dildo, being carried in a wheelbarrow? (Isn't that like two EPs in two months with dildos in them? Am I the only one who noticed that?)

Using a psychiatrist as a MC to help conveniently get around explanation by having the psychiatrist think in psychiatric terms I think is becoming overused in fiction, unless of course the story is about analysis. In the beginning, this story was about that, and I really would've liked that story more -- the posthumans keeping a psychiatrist around to help them figure out why they were so affected by the murder of Stephanie Dowling, with oblique references to another force that was doing the killing of posthumans. As it is this was sort of a "Frame of Mind" (STNG episode) story where the psychiatrist has to keep breaking through POVs until she gets to the real world and can actually effect change.

I did like the fact that convergence happened in a day, and the way the author addressed the biomass just sort of accepting it as yet another news story was very cool.

I think the overall problem was that the author was telling too many stories here and leaving too much unanswered. I mentioned the one I would've liked to hear. Overall a #4 lane story -- not as good as being in the #1 lane, but not as bad as dealing with the merging traffic in #5. (Roadgeek humor.)

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Reply #22 on: November 10, 2009, 02:55:50 PM
This is the first EP story in a long time that was a chore to listen to.  The story couldn't decide what it wanted to be (an apocalypse?  A murder mystery?  a psychodrama?  a robot love story?  steampunk?  cyberpunk?  magical realism?) and everything was just smashed together and indistinguishable.  There was no plot I could follow.  The overuse of similes and metaphors started off annoying, but by the time the story got to "vaginal faces" and "giant leather phalluses" I was looking for the exits.  The main character was boring and unsympathetic, the robots failed to generate any emotional reaction at all.  The narration made me just want to curl up and go to sleep.  And what in the hell was Norm babbling on about in the outro?

I give this story an F.  If the singularity is going to be this boring, count me out.   >:(

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Reply #23 on: November 10, 2009, 03:14:55 PM
This read like a bad Grant Morrison comic - lots of ideas and pretty imagery thrown out there all higgledy piggledy.  Nothing I could really follow or sink my teeth into.  Hard to follow in audio too - not the narrator's fault really, but it was hard to follow along with switches of POV and scene.  But mostly just seemed like it was trying too hard to be poetic and deep, and not focusing on telling a coherent story.  Got really old really quick.

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Reply #24 on: November 10, 2009, 04:21:41 PM
I'm not claiming I really understood this well enough to make a coherent comment, but from what I think I understood, they should destroy the collected knowledge of the Krell and get the hell off of Altair IV.

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