Author Topic: EP686/EP377: Real Artists (Flashback Friday)  (Read 12482 times)

eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
EP686/EP377: Real Artists (Flashback Friday)
« on: January 03, 2013, 06:28:21 PM »
Escape Pod 686: Real Artists (Flashback Friday)

EP377: Real Artists

Author : Ken Liu
Narrator : Ann Leckie
Host : Alasdair Stuart Audio
Producer : Summer Brooks

---

“You’ve done well,” Creative Director Len Palladon said, looking over Sophia’s résumé.

Sophia squinted in the golden California sun that fell on her through the huge windows of the conference room. She wanted to pinch herself to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. She was here, really here, on the hallowed campus of Semaphore Pictures, in an interview with the legendary Palladon.

She licked her dry lips. “I’ve always wanted to make movies.” She choked back _for Semaphore_. She didn’t want to seem too desperate.

Palladon was in his thirties, dressed in a pair of comfortable shorts and a plain gray t-shirt whose front was covered with the drawing of a man swinging a large hammer over a railroad spike. A pioneer in computer-assisted movie making, he had been instrumental in writing the company’s earliest software and was the director of _The Mesozoic_, Semaphore’s first film.

He nodded and went on, “You won the Zoetrope screenwriting competition, earned excellent grades in both technology and liberal arts, and got great recommendations from your film studies professors. It couldn’t have been easy.”

To Sophia, he seemed a bit pale and tired, as though he had been spending all his time indoors, not out in the golden California sun. She imagined that Palladon and his animators must have been working overtime to meet a deadline: probably to finish the new film scheduled to be released this summer.

“I believe in working hard,” Sophia said. What she really wanted was to tell him that she knew what it meant to stay up all night in front of the editing workstation and wait for the rendering to complete, all for the chance to catch the first glimpse of a vision coming to life on the screen. She was ready.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!

Listen to the original episode!
« Last Edit: July 12, 2019, 03:25:04 PM by divs »

Jingo Unchained

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2013, 09:45:13 AM »
First time commenter here.  I've enjoyed Escape Pod for several years now without feeling compelled to comment - the stories have ranged from delightful to inoffensive.  But this one pushed my buttons.

The Big Idea in this story is pretty great.  The trope of creative processes being taken over by machines is a timely one, and it seems highly likely that some such technology is close to reality even now.  I can certainly see why this concept would resonate with, for example, editors of science fiction podcasts.

But the story itself disappointed me.  When significantly more than half of a short story is devoted a highly detailed "big reveal", it makes me wish the storyline was fleshed out more.  The core idea is strong enough that this story could be twice as long - longer, even - and still pay off the reader at the end.  I didn't get to spend enough time with Sophia in any other context besides her driving passion to make movies, which sort of made her seem like an automaton herself.  As a result, what must have been a crushing disappointment to her just didn't carry much weight for me.  And the sudden switch from first person to third for the detailed description of Big Semi's process made it feel like an excerpt from a technical manual.

In short, it felt like this story started with a great Big Idea, but everything else felt like an afterthought.  I kept waiting for the emotional "hook" in this story, and it never came.

statisticus

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 35
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2013, 06:39:17 PM »
I'll start the other half of the thread, then, by saying that I liked this story.  The big reveal is pretty ghastly, mind you, but horribly plausible - or at any rate, plausible enough for the story.  The idea that a computer could generate stories at random and develop them to a piece of great art by monitoring reactions and tweaking the results is a nasty one, but it sets up a horrible dilemma for the protagonist.  She knows (or strongly believes) she's not good enough to create great art on her own, but the soulless process that she finds actually making it is soul destroying, however effective it might be.  A bit like the old adage that people who like sausage should never visit a sausage factory.

Of course, sitting & thinking of it the idea put forward seems less plausible.  This sort of method is already used in many areas - what's known as a genetic algorithm, where randomly generated content is tested and artificially evolved towards a better result.  A big drawback in this case is the amount of time needed per generation.  Here, each generation would have to be a full showing of the film - say, two hours - plus analysis & reprocessing.  To evolve a finished film would surely require hundreds or thousands of generations, given the number of possible variations.  Though now I come to think of it, I suppose that isn't may not be such a stretch - if the analysis & reprocessing takes another two hours you could iterate a film through six generations in a day, 180 in a month, a thousand in six months.  Developing a film takes years; maybe this isn't so implausible.

That said, I think Sophia would be wasted as a test viewer.  She's already demonstrated that she can take the output of the computerised process and make it better; Semaphone would be more sensible to use her talents in that way, surely. 



I am a Statistician.  One false move and you're a Statistic.

benjaminjb

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1389
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #3 on: January 05, 2013, 12:55:53 AM »
Can we break this down:

1) Liked the idea; 2) Didn't like the idea
A) Liked the execution; B) Didn't like the execution

So Jingo Unchained falls in the 1B quadrant--liked the idea, but felt the story was lacking. Statisticus seems to fall into the 1A quadrant.

And now that I've said that, you can probably guess I fall somewhere closer to 2A-B. Which is really surprising, because I loved Ken Liu's "Paper Menagerie" and I've enjoyed following him on Twitter. I want more Liu. But this felt more like a think piece than a story in some ways, something like "The Lady or the Tiger?" We get the MC's arc from happy to disturbed (her dream job... isn't what she expected). But that wasn't really enough to set up much of an emotional connection for me.

Put it this way: I feel this situation would have the same impact if it were stripped of the story and just presented as a futurist thought experiment. ("In the future, movies will be assembled by iterative algorithms working on the raw data of people's attention. How do you feel about that?") Is this an effect of the story being in a non-traditional fiction magazine?

As for the idea, I'll be honest: the idea that, gasp, computers might replace people artistically doesn't bother me, especially when the situation presented is a milder form. (As in, there are still people in the construction of this film: instead of acting as cinematographers behind the camera, their role is closer to producers and editors, giving the go-ahead for various elements of the film.) I don't find this situation all that horrifying, especially since films historically are cooperative (or contentious) affairs of many people working together, which still seems to be the case here. Put it this way: if the MC is able to shape the film as one of the audience, how is that different from her shaping the film in the fan-cut she made?

Let's set up the limit-case: take an art-form that is supposed to be one person's expression and replace the person with a computer. So, let's have a story where a computer writes a sonnet. Do you feel threatened by that computer? Not really, not anymore than when another person writes a sonnet. The more sonnets that get written, the better.

Scumpup

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 102
  • ...
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #4 on: January 05, 2013, 01:22:03 PM »
The author lost me by seemingly equating art with making something beautiful.  I disagree with that premise, and gave the story no more than a polite listen.  Perhaps if it had been about something other than making movies, which are very much a mass-produced consumer product, I'd have found the main character's shock and angst more personally affecting. 

Alasdair5000

  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 1022
    • My blog
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #5 on: January 05, 2013, 03:32:59 PM »
That's a really interesting angle (As is all of this by the way). Your point about movies being a mass-produced consumer product is both good and accurate, but, for me, the cultural dialogue runs in the other direction. The movie itself is inviolate, certain. If I go see The Artist and you go see The Artist we'll both see the same film.

Our reactions though, the emotional responses the movie does or does not elicit, will be completely different.

That idea, that those emotional responses, which are definitively our own, can not only be studied and measured but fed back into the system to create something even more mass produced (And I know screen tests exist but this is a wider issue I think) is what's tragic about the piece for me.

Alasdair5000

  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 1022
    • My blog
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #6 on: January 05, 2013, 03:35:06 PM »
But your mileage may vary. Which is, I suspect, the point:)

DadOfTwins

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 6
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2013, 04:10:42 PM »
I'd say I liked it but the truth is it scared the hell out of me thinking that this is the direction we are probably heading in.  Besides that, the story was fun and I really think someone should go to PIXEL and this room.

InfiniteMonkey

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 483
  • Clearly, I need more typewriters....
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2013, 06:25:03 PM »
I liked the sly (if somewhat obvious) references to Spielberg, Lucasfilm, and especially Pixar, which masks somewhat (for me) the existential horror of having people be puppets for a film-making computer.

And I have absolutely no problem that a major studio - hell, every major studio - would do this if it could. Even the ones that had been founded by people claiming to speak for the voice of the creator.

Because, really, Big Semi is not all that different from what the Studio System in Hollywood did in the first half of the 20th Century. The only difference being that the producers still had to use people to make the actual film, and their finger on the pulse of the audience was hardly perfect. But it was pretty good.

The problem of course is that this ends up being an art form with no personal statement, rendering it enjoyable but somewhat sterile. I'm not sure what choice Sophia would make, but I'm pretty sure I would have run.

And Alasdair - always good to hear from you again! I like your exit pieces..... though, strictly speaking (sorry for the nitpicking), it's Sam Neil who first sees the dinosaurs and then turns Laura Dern's head to them. But her expression is pretty priceless as well....

benjaminjb

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1389
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2013, 07:22:59 PM »
The problem of course is that this ends up being an art form with no personal statement, rendering it enjoyable but somewhat sterile.

Here's where I differ from people who hold some sort of auteur theory of film (that film can/should be an expression of a single vision.) There are strong personal statements in films, from tiny recurring jokes (Hitchcock showing up in his films) to large themes (Spielberg and the themes of fatherhood, Joss Whedon and themes of community, etc.).

But film historically has been a cooperative affair: where's Hitchcock without his script-writers and actors and the cinematographer and catering, for god's sake. (A film production, like most armies, marches on its belly.) So Hitchcock's films already have many cooks (and sous-chefs and busboys if you want to continue the metaphor), but you wouldn't call his films sterile, would you?

The ironic thing is that the growth of certain technologies in our time make it more possible for people to be creative all by themselves: just you, your computer, a cheap HD video-camera and/or some animation program.

(Of course, that "all by themselves" hides a whole network of interpersonal connections, i.e., the people who invented that technology and that medium, the people who had a hand in shaping your own person. In other words, where's Spielberg's artistic vision of fatherhood without his parents' divorce?)

Scumpup

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 102
  • ...
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #10 on: January 05, 2013, 07:32:21 PM »
But your mileage may vary. Which is, I suspect, the point:)

The type of movies that Big Semi produces are, it seems to me from contextual clues, Big Summer Blockbuster type movies.  They are a mass-produced, mass-marketed commodity.  I consider them to be more akin to Coca Cola than to art.  Mind you, I quite enjoy a nice, cold glass of Coca Cola...Big Semi tweaking its movies through multiple iterations seems to me to be exactly the same as Coca Cola tweaking their formula through multiple iterations because they do it for the same reason: to end up with a product that appeals to the broadest possible market.  There is nothing evil or soulless about that.  It's just marketing.  The consumer gets a pleasant tasting drink or a pleasant couple hours entertainment; the producer gets money.
One of my teachers somewhere along the way voiced the opinion that once something starts being produced with the goal of pleasing an audience, rather than fulfilling some need or drive of its creator, it is no longer art.  What do you think?

Cutter McKay

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 952
  • "I was the turkey the whoooole time!"
    • Detention Block AA23
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #11 on: January 05, 2013, 07:46:52 PM »
Well, I'm with Jingo in the 1B quadrant. I found the idea of a complex, quasi-AI computer generating all the films interesting, and would be interested in reading a piece that explores this in a more social context, but found the story itself lacking, especially in the absence of a resolute ending.

As has been stated, there is little emotional tie to Sophia. We do feel her excitement as she is getting the job of her dreams, but then the story is overrun by exposition as everything about Big Semi is explained. By the end, we get a glimpse of Sophia's disappointment, then she's out the door, and then it's over. We get no resolution at all. Does she take the job or not? We don't even get a hint about what she might do because the final line is a quote from Palladon.

I think that is what's bothering me the most here. We have no idea what Sophia is going to do. This is the beginning the story in my opinion. Our protagonist is faced with the daunting choice of giving up, giving in, or fighting to prove that she, a mere human, can make a better movie than Big Semi. Obviously the only satisfying solution to us the readers would be for her to take action and be the John Henry of the modern movie industry. That would be an interesting story. We don't get that story, we get the setup.
-Josh Morrey-
http://joshmorreywriting.blogspot.com/
"Remember: You have not yet written your best work." -Tracy Hickman

Alasdair5000

  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 1022
    • My blog
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #12 on: January 06, 2013, 10:53:34 AM »
But your mileage may vary. Which is, I suspect, the point:)

The type of movies that Big Semi produces are, it seems to me from contextual clues, Big Summer Blockbuster type movies.  They are a mass-produced, mass-marketed commodity.  I consider them to be more akin to Coca Cola than to art.  Mind you, I quite enjoy a nice, cold glass of Coca Cola...Big Semi tweaking its movies through multiple iterations seems to me to be exactly the same as Coca Cola tweaking their formula through multiple iterations because they do it for the same reason: to end up with a product that appeals to the broadest possible market.  There is nothing evil or soulless about that.  It's just marketing.  The consumer gets a pleasant tasting drink or a pleasant couple hours entertainment; the producer gets money.
One of my teachers somewhere along the way voiced the opinion that once something starts being produced with the goal of pleasing an audience, rather than fulfilling some need or drive of its creator, it is no longer art.  What do you think?

I think your teacher nailed the central problem of every artistic endeavor:) The desire for recognition, one I know a lot of artists have, is by definition one that requires an external force, and it does really odd things to the creative process itself. As you say, producing art FOR an audience instantly compromises your artistic vision because you're bending it to external forces, turning it into a transaction where in return for your compromise they notice you exist and complement, or not, your work. If you choose to refuse that compromise then you have absolute artistic integrity and absolute, pure art. You also have no audience beyond one that you can attract to it, and even then you have to make your peace with the fact the work may be too inaccessible. So on the one hand, you're compromising for recognition and on the other you're risking being overlooked or recognized for all the wrong reasons. As to which is more desirable, that depends on what you want from your art. If it's fame and fortune, compromise. If it's the joy of completion, hold your color.

Of course Kickstarter does something really interesting to this, because if you look at it one way it's the return of the patronage system and therefore instantly compromises any work put through it. On the other hand, you could argue that Kickstarter and other crowdfunding projects are amongst the purest elements of contemporary arts because the vision of the artist is set out beforehand and remains unchanged by the money used to fund it.

InfiniteMonkey

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 483
  • Clearly, I need more typewriters....
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #13 on: January 06, 2013, 12:56:30 PM »

Here's where I differ from people who hold some sort of auteur theory of film (that film can/should be an expression of a single vision.) There are strong personal statements in films, from tiny recurring jokes (Hitchcock showing up in his films) to large themes (Spielberg and the themes of fatherhood, Joss Whedon and themes of community, etc.).


See, I don't think of it as either-or, but points on a continuum from a guy alone with a camera to, well, Big Semi. Of course film is (mostly) a collaborative art form, but even the number of people involved or how influential a person may be isn't quite the point - I think the point is who's leading the creative process, the creator or the consumer? Is it being made only for profit? Are you simply pandering to the audience?

Now, to be fair, Big Semi doesn't seem to be doing that quite so nakedly. But there is certainly room for improvement, which is why Sophia got recognized; her changes were more artistic.

Though I would point out her disappointment at the work environment as a clue to the author's intent.


One of my teachers somewhere along the way voiced the opinion that once something starts being produced with the goal of pleasing an audience, rather than fulfilling some need or drive of its creator, it is no longer art.  What do you think?


Oh, I'd say it's art. It's bad art, it's pandering art, it's the equivalent of paintings of children with big sad eyes or dogs playing poker, but it is art.

benjaminjb

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1389
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #14 on: January 06, 2013, 02:20:34 PM »
...I think the point is who's leading the creative process, the creator or the consumer? Is it being made only for profit? Are you simply pandering to the audience?

That's a good way to put it--creator- vs. consumer-directed work. I wrote a post about how most art is in the market (whether that market is mass or merely singular, as in patronage models, and keeping space open for rare artists like Henry Darger or Austin Tappan Wright who just write for themselves), but then I realized I was being unfair to your point: there's a difference between being "in the market" and being "market created."

However, I still feel this story is more ambiguous than horrifying: some readers here take the m.c.'s disappointment as indicating that Semaphore's films aren't real art, but committee-designed pablum. But that ignores how great Semaphore's previous films have been to the m.c.; and the distance between some dystopian "market-pandering pablum" and what we actually have here, which is Semaphore's boss assembling a team of people to work on a film. Which is what we have now for many films.

Oh, I'd say it's art. It's bad art, it's pandering art, it's the equivalent of paintings of children with big sad eyes or dogs playing poker, but it is art.

And I also I want to endorse this point you made. "Art" tends to be used as a positive description, as in "my dentist is an artist with his drill"--which clearly means that he's good with his drill, not that he's doing impressionism on my teeth.

I think most categories need definitions that allow failures in. For instance, if you read a bad s.f. novel, it's silly to say "oh, that's not s.f. then." (At the same time, we need to be able to distinguish mismatches in our reading: you wouldn't call MacBeth a bad murder mystery because we know who the killer is.) The flip side is what drives me up the wall, when critics say "oh, that book isn't s.f. because it's good." So insofar as Big Semi creates films, and films are recognized as an art form, yes, those films are art. Are they good art? That's another question.

Max e^{i pi}

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1038
  • Have towel, will travel.
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #15 on: January 06, 2013, 02:29:54 PM »
Hm...
The Big Reveal wasn't so  big with me, but then I'd experimented with Markov Chains for generating text. That's really all Big Semi is (and I really hope that there is no mathematician in the audience who will dispute that, since it is wrong in every possible sense).
Learning algorithms are nothing new, and the time will come when that will be the "creative process" for many big productions, but probably not indie films.
Also, to those of you who questioned the generation time: Sophia walked past many closed doors. Who's to say that there wasn't a movie theater behind every single one? If Big Semi can try out 20 iterations of a movie every two hours (and it really is every two hours because the computer doesn't need to rest and analyze data, it can happen in parallel) then in a 24 hour period (people can work night shifts too) you get 240 iterations. In a month 7,200 and in a year 87,600. That means that in just over a year you can go through 100,000 generations of process and produce the best movie ever, every summer.
Add to that the fact that she saw one hallway on one floor of one building in what was described as a "campus" and we're probably dealing with hundreds of millions of iterations a year.

The idea doesn't shock me at all, and I'm not frightened by it. There will always be people who will want to make their own personal art, just like the eReader didn't kill (and probably won't) print. It's just another step of our social development.

Probably the thing I liked most about this story is that until the very end, and even now, I don't know what Sophia chose. She's still a bit of a mystery to me, and her internal debate seemed to be pretty well balanced.

And finally, Alasdair.
Congratulations on the new job, and extra kudos for stepping up to the challenge. I'll bet you don't have much more spare time than Mur.
This time, I've finally figured out what bothers me about Alasdair's readings/endcaps. It's not his accent, I'm fine with that. It's his volume modulation. He speaks at different volumes in the same sentence, and it is very hard for me to track, especially when there is ambient noise (and there always is).
I may invest in some expensive noise-cancelling headphones or just skip the preamble and endcap. Please don't take it personally, Alasdair.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2013, 01:40:12 PM by Max e^{i pi} »
Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

Registered Linux user #481826 Get Counted!


Listener

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 3187
  • I place things in locations which later elude me.
    • Various and Sundry Items of Interest
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #16 on: January 07, 2013, 08:54:53 AM »
Can we break this down:

1) Liked the idea; 2) Didn't like the idea
A) Liked the execution; B) Didn't like the execution

To me this story was 1B for two reasons:

1. It seemed to take way too long to get where we were going.
2. The reveal was given in 3P omniscient, while the rest of the story was told in 3P limited. The information we got in the reveal -- which I'm guessing Palladon told Sophia while they were in the booth -- should have been delivered to the reader by Palladon, in my opinion.

I also enjoyed all the references to big movie houses.

The reveal was sickening, in a way, because this story is disturbingly prescient (Max did say he'd experimented with something similar). If Hollywood can figure out how to do what Big Semi does, they will. It'll save them money in production and make them more in theaters. Once the uncanny valley is truly bridged, it'll only be a matter of time. I've worked in the media all my life (radio, TV, online), and I know the struggles media creators go through to get their stuff out there. But by the same token, once we get to a point where we have computers like Big Semi, it'll eventually become possible for home users like me to purchase rendering software and create our own films of our fiction. I for one would LOVE to see a teleplay or screenplay of "113 Feet"...

From there it's just a short jump to "write and render your own porn", naturally, but that's another story for another time.
"Farts are a hug you can smell." -Wil Wheaton

Blog || Quote Blog ||  Written and Audio Work || Twitter: @listener42

chemistryguy

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 261
  • Serving the Detroit Metro area since 1970
    • 5000 People can't be wrong...or can they?
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #17 on: January 07, 2013, 09:07:00 AM »
The scariest aspect of all of this is short term memory modification.  Let's mess with your mind's hard drive every two hours and see where you sit after a month's time.  I don't think a non disclosure agreement is all that necessary when all of your employee's brains are turning into gray colored tapioca.

That being said, the question isn't what is art?  I'm the only one who knows the answer to that.  The problem is one of feeling played. 

Obviously this is Pixar being referenced.  If you found out tomorrow that all of their movies were products of a complex algorithm, would you be taking your copy of Wall-E back to Best Buy?  Probably not, because they don't have a return policy on previously watched media.  But besides that, it's still just a plain good movie.

You might question what it means to feel.  To be human.  Or you might have feelings of inadequacy.  I'm sure Ken Jennings' therapist got a call the day after Watson kicked his ass on Jeopardy. 

We humans all have a superiority complex.  Computers might be able to run trillions of operations per second, but they lack the ability to touch our soul.  What happens when they do?  What happens when you find a thing of beauty and find it later reduced to lines of code?

Max e^{i pi}

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1038
  • Have towel, will travel.
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #18 on: January 07, 2013, 09:13:53 AM »
The reveal was sickening, in a way, because this story is disturbingly prescient (Max did say he'd experimented with something similar).
Just to clarify: Markov Chains are a mathematical construct with some interesting and useful uses. In my case, I fed it a truckload of chat logs, and it spit out slightly coherent sentences some of the time.
The main difference is that there is no memory in a Markov Chain. If it comes up with a good sentence (grammatically correct, makes sense in context, etc') it doesn't know and promptly forgets that sentence and moves on to the next. (It does that with bad sentences too) This is how chatbots work.
The leap here would be to take something like the code behind a chatbot, and add learning algorithms so that it can remember the conversation, and make it better for the next one. So far nobody's been able to do that, mostly since it's very hard to define what a good sentence is.
It's even harder when it comes to something as complex as a movie.
The technology describe here is still far off on the horizon (maybe even below it), but it will probably happen. Some day.
Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

Registered Linux user #481826 Get Counted!


Max e^{i pi}

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1038
  • Have towel, will travel.
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #19 on: January 07, 2013, 09:16:59 AM »
We humans all have a superiority complex.  Computers might be able to run trillions of operations per second, but they lack the ability to touch our soul.  What happens when they do?  What happens when you find a thing of beauty and find it later reduced to lines of code?
You mean, like this?
Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

Registered Linux user #481826 Get Counted!


chemistryguy

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 261
  • Serving the Detroit Metro area since 1970
    • 5000 People can't be wrong...or can they?
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #20 on: January 07, 2013, 09:28:56 AM »
We humans all have a superiority complex.  Computers might be able to run trillions of operations per second, but they lack the ability to touch our soul.  What happens when they do?  What happens when you find a thing of beauty and find it later reduced to lines of code?
You mean, like this?

If it were an original piece generated by a computer, then yes.  Reducing existing music/movies into ones and zeros is commonplace.

When a computer strings together enough of these digits in such a way to make me cry, then we're talking.  And like you, I do think it will eventually happen.

bactram

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #21 on: January 07, 2013, 05:33:39 PM »
First time commenter here.

I liked the concept of this story. Like most listeners, I got what Big Semi was about before the reveal. It was horrifying to anyone with a creative neuron in what passes for my brain. But, like a train wreck, I just had to see it through to the end. The real depressing part of the story is the realization afterwards that all studios will make their own Big Semi once they twig onto the concept. It's the death of creative filmmaking. But Sophie may go for it just because there may not be a viable choice in the future. The irony is that she will be able to see the films go through the Big Semi evolution, and be part of the natural selection of films, just not being able to remember that she saw it.

The story started out good. But once I knew what the reveal was going to be, it seemed to go downhill. I'm not sure what the author could do to keep it interesting. As I said, it was mostly watching the train wreck unfold.

So, my overall impressions: cool concept, execution low. 1B.

--bactram

Peter Tupper

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 34
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #22 on: January 08, 2013, 03:05:41 AM »
I also disliked the ending, or lack thereof. The writer set up a good dilemma, but didn't resolve it. It isn't enough just to talk about something. The writer should have made some kind of statement.

Everything up to the non-ending worked fine. There have been experiments with having machines write financial news stories, and I've read a lot about story theory that suggests story can be treated as a formula. If you watch enough Hollywood movies, you become familiar enough with the standard model that you can predict what's going to happen twenty minutes or more ahead, if not the entire movie. This can happen with more auteurist productions too: when you've taken in enough of their works that you start to recognize the same stylistic tics and storytelling shortcuts and character types.

There's an interesting deconstruction of the art vs technique debate. Sophia loves the Semaphore movies, ever since she was a kid. But these movies are not auteur-productions (even though Big Sema is called an auteur), but just pure algorithms. She can't tell the difference. Her own artistic production is just a minor retweaking of Semaphore. It's possible Sophia has no artistic vision of her own, but is so seduced by big Sema that she'll gladly be a third trombone in the orchestra instead of making her own music. Arguably, she's being recruited because she contains the secret of selling Semaphore movies to girls as well as boys.

The unspoken issue in this story is money. Remember that Sophia bought all of the Semaphore movies in each new formats as they came out. She probably camped out to buy meta-IMAX-IV tickets, plus action figures, t-shirts, tie-in novels, bed sheets and so on. She's their model audience, in that she'll spend every cent she can on anything branded with a Semaphore movie. Big Sema's algorithms are probably tweaked to provide not the best story but the most marketable story, the one with the best merchandising tie-in options.

This is highly fertile ground that the artist did not explore.

rick2047

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #23 on: January 08, 2013, 08:25:04 AM »
I have been listening escape pod on and off for a long time. This is my first feedback comment. Contrary to popular opinion I liked the idea and the execution. I dislike stories which describe everything in excruciating detail. It just makes me drift off and seems pointless. A science fiction story to me is more about the idea to be presented than the story. Of course the story is important, but not as important as the idea. If the story can make me think about the idea in ways I would never have otherwise, then I think the story has done its part very well.

Real Artists did just that. As an engineering student I have often wondered if I can make machines which can make their own art if only just to prove that art and taste are as random as anything. But real artists made me think many different things about the movie making process which semiphore uses. Let me present a couple of points here.

1. Is the art made by the machine really art? Or is it still random noise which we have grown to like. The point here is my belief that taste and art are as random as anything. Anything can be presented in a way that it would warrant the tag of "art". But that is not the point of the story, because the movies made are curated and thus not really random.

2. But the real question is "Who is making said art?" I am of the opinion the viewers of the random movies that were generated by the machine are the artist. I see this as sculpting, the movie was already there they just chipped away the non-movie parts from the noise.

Scumpup

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 102
  • ...
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #24 on: January 08, 2013, 09:02:48 AM »
Big Sema's algorithms are probably tweaked to provide not the best story but the most marketable story, the one with the best merchandising tie-in options.

Merchandising options aside, what do you see as the difference between "the best story" and "the most marketable story" for a movie production company?  Are they in business to move you emotionally or to make a profit?

Just Another Joe

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 2
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #25 on: January 08, 2013, 10:11:11 AM »
The math just doesn't work.

The statement in the story is 100,000 generations to make a good movie. That's 273 viewings/day to get it out within a year, which is an awful lot.  But 100,000 is way too low of a number because the possibilities grow exponentially.

Suppose you only consider two choices, A and B. The number of possible combinations is the number of options to the power of the number of choices.

(A,B) (AA,AB,BA,BB) (AAA,ABA,BAA,BBA,AAB,ABB,BAB,BBB) ... (2^1), (2^2), (2^3) and so on. The numbers get big, fast.

But Big Semi wouldn't be choosing between two possibilities. If it were 10 possibilities at each critical juncture, 100,000 possibilities would only allow for six important choices.

I wasn't in love with the presentation either - both the protagonist and company were too glowingly perfect.


NPComplete

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #26 on: January 08, 2013, 08:39:23 PM »
I never actually saw the idea of Big Semi to be worrying.  Unless it gets to the point of being strong AI, a computer is nothing but a tool.  The main character, as well as almost everyone here, seems to see the computer as the one creating the movies, but that computer has no goals, desires, opinions, or feelings.  It is creating something based on the desires and opinions of a human audience, using techniques built into it by human programmers, toward a goal set by the humans running the company.  The people running the company want to make money, so they set the goal of the most marketable movie possible. 

Big Semi is just another step toward making the best tools that people can make.  The purpose of a tool is to do what the user wants with as little thought and effort from the user as possible.  A hammer that requires less strength to swing is a better hammer.  A car that has more intuitive controls is a better car.  A piece of software that makes it easier for an artist to take an idea, a goal, and a sense of taste and turn them into a movie is a better piece of software.

Now, I don't think that it is the right piece of software for all cases, since it seems limited in the control that can be exerted.  On the other hand, that should just be a matter of giving the artist the ability to override the computer's decisions.  If anything, the software is primitive and flawed, and should add more control to later versions.

Someone compared this to the viewers sculpting the movie, and that is the very image I got from the story.  If a sculptor uses power tools instead of a chisel to carve stone into a statue, you wouldn't say that the power tools had created the sculpture.  They were only a means for the sculptor to accomplish a goal.  If the sculpture is wonderful and inspiring, that is the fault of the sculptor, and if it is mass-marked flotsam, that too is the fault of the sculptor.  Something mass-marketable may even be the goal.  In either case, the responsibility for the product is with the sculptor, not the tools.


The math just doesn't work.

The statement in the story is 100,000 generations to make a good movie. That's 273 viewings/day to get it out within a year, which is an awful lot.  But 100,000 is way too low of a number because the possibilities grow exponentially.

Yeah, I saw that too.  I mostly put it down to really, really good heuristics that let it weed out a lot of obviously bad options, but looking at the math you did, it may still need a few more orders of magnitude.

benjaminjb

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1389
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #27 on: January 08, 2013, 11:16:47 PM »
The statement in the story is 100,000 generations to make a good movie. That's 273 viewings/day to get it out within a year, which is an awful lot.
Putting aside the question of how Big Semi deals with the exponential possibilities, are you considering each audience to be a single viewing or multiple viewings? I mean, if you have an audience of 20-50 people, each of those personal reactions might count as a viewing for purposes of the algorithm. Remember, each person has a camera on them, so it's possible Palladon is counting each individual as a viewing. How long does it take to get to 100k then?

Also, it's been a while since I listened to the story, but do they say that this studio puts out a new film every year?

Peter Tupper

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 34
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #28 on: January 09, 2013, 01:57:39 AM »
Big Sema's algorithms are probably tweaked to provide not the best story but the most marketable story, the one with the best merchandising tie-in options.

Merchandising options aside, what do you see as the difference between "the best story" and "the most marketable story" for a movie production company?  Are they in business to move you emotionally or to make a profit?

Spoilers ahead  for Studio Ghibli's animated movie The Secret World of Arrietty:

The two main characters are Arrietty, a tiny human who lives with her parents beneath the floorboards of a country house, and Shun, a human boy staying at the house. Both face uncertain, frightening futures. Arrietty's family has to move away because of human curiosity about them, and there are hints that the tiny humans are a dying race. Shun has to go through a risky heart operation that he might not survive.

Through their relationship, Arrietty and Shun both are able to face their future with hope and without fear. The movie ends with Arrietty and her family en route to their new home, and Shun going to the hospital.

Except there's a voice over at the very end from Shun, saying that he survived the operation and also that he had heard hints of tiny people in another house.

It's obvious that voice over was added in post-production (at least in the English dubbed version I saw) to make the movie more marketable. People don't like ambiguous endings and they don't like the idea of bad things happening to nice people, or so Hollywood believes. It undermines the story's integrity and its artistic statement.

Big Sema is probably full of rules like "Dogs never die" and "Monsters only kill bad people", as well as added rules like "Make sure there are not-too-edgy pop songs so we can sell the soundtrack" and "Have female characters 18-35 wear this line of clothing" and "Lots of characters suitable for action figures", and probably a meta-rule like "Don't take too many risks." Whoever owns Big Sema isn't content to let the system mirror people's desires perfectly: the punters have to open their wallets too.

(Yes, I'm aware that what I love about Arrietty is the ambiguous ending and what I dislike about this story is its ambiguous ending. However, in Arrietty, the two character's emotional arcs are resolved, even if their futures are uncertain. In Real Artists, Sophia does not make a decision, nor do we learn her fate.)

Scumpup

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 102
  • ...
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #29 on: January 09, 2013, 09:04:34 AM »
....It [the voice over]undermines the story's integrity and its artistic statement.

Big Sema is probably full of rules like "Dogs never die" and "Monsters only kill bad people", as well as added rules like "Make sure there are not-too-edgy pop songs so we can sell the soundtrack" and "Have female characters 18-35 wear this line of clothing" and "Lots of characters suitable for action figures", and probably a meta-rule like "Don't take too many risks." Whoever owns Big Sema isn't content to let the system mirror people's desires perfectly: the punters have to open their wallets too.

I never saw the movie you referenced, but it seems to have been based on "The Borrowers" series of children's books.  As an aside from the actual topic of discussion, I read several of those books when I was in elementary school back in the early 1970's.  The stories were well-told, but I never really got to like the characters themselves.  They didn't "borrow" things, they stole them.  Having been the victim of light-fingered classmates, I found the idea of a race of tiny thieves living in the walls of one's own house less than enchanting.  If that movie had ended with them going extinct, the young me would likely have said "Good."  /End of hijack.

If the punters don't open their wallets, there will be no movies.  That is a simple economic fact. 

If the movies Big Semi produces mirror people's desires perfectly, the employees of Semaphore get paid, and the corporation itself shows a profit, where is there a loser in any of that?








Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8657
    • Diabolical Plots
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #30 on: January 09, 2013, 10:25:11 AM »
The scariest aspect of all of this is short term memory modification.  Let's mess with your mind's hard drive every two hours and see where you sit after a month's time.  I don't think a non disclosure agreement is all that necessary when all of your employee's brains are turning into gray colored tapioca.

I'm surprised more people haven't brought this up.  Semaphore making movies didn't scare me, bother me, or horrify me.  But the thought of hundreds of people subjecting themselves to multiple runs of elective brain damage every day did.  What the hell?  I'd rather just wait for the movie to come out so I can watch it without having my brain scooped out like a gourd.

This story had me feeling annoyed throughout the whole thing.  I think the biggest reason was cognitive dissonance from the premise that this process would create movies that would be considered high quality by a movie critic, that they would work on many levels, and have a strong emotional core.  I can believe that this process would create summer blockbusters of the variety that appeal to masses of people who don't intend to analyze the movie, but I don't believe in any way that this would create something like a Pixar reputation.

The math just doesn't work.

I agree.  There are algorithms for optimization in this day and age.  But taking a movie from crap to great is more than just a few variables, and each of those variables has a continuous set of values.  Throwing parallel computing at it wouldn't really do the trick either because each part of a movie ties into the other parts, there would be few independent variables so it doesn't divide and conquer very well.

Even besides the computing, the amount of human time they'd have to PAY people, and the  time itself, would just be ridiculous.  Rather than pay hundreds of people to watch movies that are incredibly bad most of the time (as they would be when you're iterating from a random point), you'd save much money and time to just PAY A TEAM OF WRITERS to make something that doesn't start at complete crap (and then maybe use optimization to tweak a bit here and there if you had to).  A lot of the time of optimization algorithms depends on having a good educated guess for the startpoint--they should hire filmmakers to provide that start point.  And all of that time, and all of that money, would produce (in my opinion) a movie that's probably somewhat lower quality than a current Hollywood blockbuster, but requiring more time and money to make.

I've come to appreciate in the last few years how much I value the writing behind any TV show or movie.  You need good actors, but a good actor will give you nothing worthwhile if there isn't good writing behind the scenes.

This approach to making movies reminded me of the Infinite Monkey Theorem--that if you sat a monkey in front of a typewriter for infinity, that it would write the works of Shakespeare eventually.  What's more interesting is that it would theoretically also write all of the works that Shakespeare ever MIGHT have written and so on.  But the real work comes from separating the crap from the good stuff--that takes a lot of work, and it would take a lot LESS work to just write something good in the first damned place.  And all of that is even assuming that a monkey's key presses would be completely random from one key to the next, but I think key-mashing where a big group of keys is pressed right after each other would be more likely, which would probably never result in anything by Shakespeare.  
But I digress...

An interesting idea, though I never really bought the basic premise that this would produce critically acclaimed movies.  Even besides that, I wish it hadn't been written as one giant infodump.  Ken Liu can do better.

Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8657
    • Diabolical Plots
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #31 on: January 09, 2013, 11:11:01 AM »
I was discussing the story idea with a colleague who has interest in optimization algorithms, and he raised a very important point:  How are they capturing the child demographic?  Are they recruiting child employees and brain damaging them multiple times a day?  That raises new ethical questions.  Maybe they are offering daywork for children in other countries where there are less regulations.

Wilson Fowlie

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1471
    • The Maple Leaf Singers
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #32 on: January 09, 2013, 11:39:02 AM »
We're on the path to this story, in case anybody doubted it.
"People commonly use the word 'procrastination' to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what's happening as merely not-doing-work. We don't call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working." - Paul Graham

archaevist

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 116
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #33 on: January 09, 2013, 12:15:26 PM »
I thought the exposition was the best part of the story.

Making the main character a tumblr geek just left me feeling dead inside

Devoted135

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1252
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #34 on: January 09, 2013, 01:05:02 PM »
Sadly, I have to say that this is my least favorite Ken Liu story to date. I enjoyed the setup, and the idea that it was her illegal "helping" of a previous movie that got her an interview. However, from there it was all downhill infodump. I agree that the brain wiping and mind control was definitely the most horrific part of the story. She believes in working hard, but all the company wants her to do is be a female "sack of enzymes" to complement all of the male "sacks of enzymes" already employed.

There is a Radiolab segment about how a composer wrote a computer program to analyze his music and then also had it analyze the works of several great composers. It was able to find enough significant patterns/themes/motifs that the program can also compose brand new pieces that are indistinguishable even to trained ears.

benjaminjb

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1389
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #35 on: January 09, 2013, 01:26:33 PM »
She believes in working hard, but all the company wants her to do is be a female "sack of enzymes" to complement all of the male "sacks of enzymes" already employed.
Am I the only one who doesn't see the difference between "working hard" and being a "sack of enzymes"?

I wonder if Ken Liu is having a bit of a laugh about this story: it's set up like a typical "oh noes, computers replace people" story, but if you dig down into it, there's not all that much to panic about. As people here have noted, the computer-based system is clearly capable of making great works of art (otherwise the m.c. wouldn't want to work there so much); and people are still an integral part of the system, hired for the same reasons that they get hired by any studio (some are hired for their sensitivity to some issues, others are hired for their other skills--not much different from hiring comedians to punch-up a script or a script-doctor to help smooth out the structural aspects of a script).

Devoted135

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1252
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #36 on: January 09, 2013, 02:56:51 PM »
She believes in working hard, but all the company wants her to do is be a female "sack of enzymes" to complement all of the male "sacks of enzymes" already employed.
Am I the only one who doesn't see the difference between "working hard" and being a "sack of enzymes"?

Really? Okay, here's the difference in my view. When she's "working hard" she is putting all of her intelligence, creativity, and training into action. Importantly, this is a first-level, conscious action. When she's "being a sack of enzymes" they are measuring her base-line, unconscious reactions and all of her qualifications are irrelevant to her ability to do the job. Another example would be that my sister (a linguist) and I (a biologist) could not effectively switch jobs, but we could be a female "sack of enzymes" for the computer equally well.

InfiniteMonkey

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 483
  • Clearly, I need more typewriters....
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #37 on: January 09, 2013, 02:57:17 PM »
This approach to making movies reminded me of the Infinite Monkey Theorem--that if you sat a monkey in front of a typewriter for infinity, that it would write the works of Shakespeare eventually.  

I always thought that was an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters (infinity wouldn't really be necessary, because once you reach Shakespeare, you stop).


I wonder if Ken Liu is having a bit of a laugh about this story: it's set up like a typical "oh noes, computers replace people" story, but if you dig down into it, there's not all that much to panic about.


I don't think so, and I think the giveaway is the John Henry reference at the end. That story's about the inevitability of the triumph of technology over man, not a warm fuzzy feeling of "our friend the steam hammer".

benjaminjb

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1389
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #38 on: January 09, 2013, 06:44:09 PM »
Another example would be that my sister (a linguist) and I (a biologist) could not effectively switch jobs, but we could be a female "sack of enzymes" for the computer equally well.
Your sibling switcheroo example is a great example of what Palladon doesn't do at Semaphore. That is, the story specifically states that not all of the viewers are just random people off the streets. Some of them are experts in story structure, others probably are experts in other things, etc.

So the m.c. is being hired not just because she's a random woman (interchangeable with any other random women), but because she has a particular skill-set. You may argue, "oh, they're just measuring unconscious activity, and all women have the same unconscious activity," but I wouldn't say that around here.

benjaminjb

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1389
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #39 on: January 09, 2013, 06:48:37 PM »
I don't think so, and I think the giveaway is the John Henry reference at the end. That story's about the inevitability of the triumph of technology over man, not a warm fuzzy feeling of "our friend the steam hammer".
So, are you arguing that the final image of John Henry (man who beats machine but dies in the process and is then replaced by the next iteration of the machine) gives this story a cautionary edge? That's a totally reasonable argument, I think: the final image carries more emotional weight with the readers, so even if the rest of the story is "things are changing," the final takeaway is "technology will hammer you into the ground."

I'm not sure I agree with that, but I think it's totally reasonable as an argument.

Scumpup

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 102
  • ...
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #40 on: January 09, 2013, 09:20:04 PM »
John Henry was a fool, though, steel drivin' man that he might have been. The story and song as I remember them have him literally working himself to death in a contest with a steam drill.  He won, died, and was replaced with a steam drill anyway.  The only lesson I took away from it was that any job that can be done by more economically by a machine, eventually will be done by a machine.  The railroad's customers never knew whether the steel had been driven by John Henry or a steam drill.  In our story, the movie goers never know whether the movie had been produced by Big Semi or by human beings.  
Been years since I read it, but didn't the government of Oceania in Orwell's 1984 have machine-generated pornography for distribution to the proles?
« Last Edit: January 09, 2013, 09:24:40 PM by Scumpup »

Devoted135

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1252
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #41 on: January 09, 2013, 09:22:19 PM »
Another example would be that my sister (a linguist) and I (a biologist) could not effectively switch jobs, but we could be a female "sack of enzymes" for the computer equally well.
Your sibling switcheroo example is a great example of what Palladon doesn't do at Semaphore. That is, the story specifically states that not all of the viewers are just random people off the streets. Some of them are experts in story structure, others probably are experts in other things, etc.

So the m.c. is being hired not just because she's a random woman (interchangeable with any other random women), but because she has a particular skill-set. You may argue, "oh, they're just measuring unconscious activity, and all women have the same unconscious activity," but I wouldn't say that around here.

Hahaha, yes, I certainly would not argue that all women have the same unconscious activity! :D I had actually forgotten the detail about some of the viewers actually being hired for their expertise, which definitely weakens my argument. However, her interviewer did make a big deal out of needing to add some women to the "unconscious activity" pool. So, I still don't think this method is taking full advantage of any of the employees' expertise, but perhaps it isn't quite as egregious as I was making it out to be.

Peter Tupper

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 34
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #42 on: January 09, 2013, 10:46:53 PM »
....It [the voice over]undermines the story's integrity and its artistic statement.

Big Sema is probably full of rules like "Dogs never die" and "Monsters only kill bad people", as well as added rules like "Make sure there are not-too-edgy pop songs so we can sell the soundtrack" and "Have female characters 18-35 wear this line of clothing" and "Lots of characters suitable for action figures", and probably a meta-rule like "Don't take too many risks." Whoever owns Big Sema isn't content to let the system mirror people's desires perfectly: the punters have to open their wallets too.

(...)

If the punters don't open their wallets, there will be no movies.  That is a simple economic fact. 

If the movies Big Semi produces mirror people's desires perfectly, the employees of Semaphore get paid, and the corporation itself shows a profit, where is there a loser in any of that?


The issue is that Big Sema is not, and economically cannot be, the perfect mirror of the audience's desires. It must operate in a way that, when the demands of pleasing the audience come into conflict with the demands of making money, it will always chose the latter. The people who put up the money to make the thing won't allow it any other way.

Big Sema was sold to the investors as "I can guarantee you a 300 per cent return on investment on the opening weekend box office alone, plus a brand you can slap on anything and people will buy for decades, and I can guarantee you that every summer forever. Plus no flakey creative types."

That means no 150 per cent return on investment movies that might make somebody uncomfortable. That means not too much sex, no matter how much the algorithms might push it, because the distributors won't carry NC-17 or X-rated movies. That means a never-ending supply of magic negroes, sassy gay friends, wisecracking kids, manic pixie dreamgirls and dead lesbians.

The point here, from the investors' perspective (i.e. the one that matters most) is to remove risk, and art involves a degree of risk.

Another thing: People feel Sophia's kind of love and devotion to all kinds of things. I've read all of the Fifty Shades trilogy, and I think they're utter crap in so many ways, but there are people who think they're a beautifully written love story. Are they right? Who cares so long as they're willing to pay for it. That Sophia loves Semaphore's product means nothing.

Anthelion

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 3
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #43 on: January 10, 2013, 02:56:44 AM »
Personally I find the idea of coming back from work with an empty hrad creepy. I wouldn't think it's worth being part of a creative process if I had no memory left of it. Accepting this job means sacrificing another concious third of your life (1/3 wasted in sleep anyway) to a job which brings no actual satisfaction in the end of the day. How depressing  :(

Scumpup

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 102
  • ...
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #44 on: January 10, 2013, 08:59:27 AM »

The issue is that Big Sema is not, and economically cannot be, the perfect mirror of the audience's desires. It must operate in a way that, when the demands of pleasing the audience come into conflict with the demands of making money, it will always chose the latter. The people who put up the money to make the thing won't allow it any other way.

Big Sema was sold to the investors as "I can guarantee you a 300 per cent return on investment on the opening weekend box office alone, plus a brand you can slap on anything and people will buy for decades, and I can guarantee you that every summer forever. Plus no flakey creative types."

That means no 150 per cent return on investment movies that might make somebody uncomfortable. That means not too much sex, no matter how much the algorithms might push it, because the distributors won't carry NC-17 or X-rated movies. That means a never-ending supply of magic negroes, sassy gay friends, wisecracking kids, manic pixie dreamgirls and dead lesbians.

The point here, from the investors' perspective (i.e. the one that matters most) is to remove risk, and art involves a degree of risk.

Another thing: People feel Sophia's kind of love and devotion to all kinds of things. I've read all of the Fifty Shades trilogy, and I think they're utter crap in so many ways, but there are people who think they're a beautifully written love story. Are they right? Who cares so long as they're willing to pay for it. That Sophia loves Semaphore's product means nothing.

A cynic might point out that we already have "not too much sex, no matter how much the algorithms might push it, because the distributors won't carry NC-17 or X-rated movies. That means a never-ending supply of magic negroes, sassy gay friends, wisecracking kids, manic pixie dreamgirls and dead lesbians" in a system where movies are produced by "flaky creative types."  Those things play well to test audiences because, it would appear, those are the things that they want in their viewing choices.
I don't want to sound like I am sneering at the crass tastes of commoners; but the vast majority of movies and tv productions are specifically aimed at them and, so, are tailored to their tastes.  In general, they don't want the dog to die, they don't want violence that is too realistic or sex that is too graphic, they want some characters that they can like and some they can hate, and they like happy endings.  They aren't happy with what appear to be major plot threads left dangling just because "life doesn't always have closure."
There are independent films that depart from this formula and foreign films that, because they are foreign, have formulas of their own that are novel to us.  Are they actually better than a typical big budget Hollywood film or are they just more to your tastes?  Crassus nattering about oysters and snails comes to mind here:
Quote
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?
Antoninus: No, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn't it?
Antoninus: Yes, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals.

So, is the problem that Big Semi won't produce "good" movies or that Big Semi won't produce movies that are to our tastes?

InfiniteMonkey

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 483
  • Clearly, I need more typewriters....
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #45 on: January 10, 2013, 11:28:07 AM »

So, is the problem that Big Semi won't produce "good" movies or that Big Semi won't produce movies that are to our tastes?


The problem is the Big Semi will produce (quite probably high quality) popular movies , but it would not produce innovative or challenging movies.

Anton_Eckhart

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 4
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #46 on: January 10, 2013, 12:04:14 PM »
Newbie here. Hi everybody.

There are many reasons why I love science fiction, some conflicting with each other, and this is definitely a great example of one of those reasons.  One of the things science fiction allows us to do is to draw out deeply rooted questions of science, not just intellectual but emotional too, that mere thought experiments or research reports could never do. 

While I agree with some commenters that as a piece of fiction this story could have been a little better, it worked extremely well at some of what hard scifi is about.  I think we were set up for these expectations early on when our host tells us it was published in a journal for MIT Media Labs - perfect.  The short length is optimal if you have the kind of expectations of a hard scifi story that real world technicians should take to heart.

I work in the tech industry as I imagine many of you do, and this is the kind of fiction that I wish more tech workers would take as seriously as the latest techie non-fiction research book.

Scumpup

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 102
  • ...
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #47 on: January 10, 2013, 04:15:21 PM »


The problem is the Big Semi will produce (quite probably high quality) popular movies , but it would not produce innovative or challenging movies.

Your innovative or challenging movie is somebody else's incomprehensible or frustrating movie.  Supply and demand, not art, is really the heart of this.  There is a big demand for the kind of movies Semaphore produces, so they are investors fund them and they are produced. As in the story, so in real life.  If there was popular demand for movies like Un Chien Andalou, they'd be funded, produced, and distributed.
I can't fault people for wanting to see the kind of movies they like or companies for wanting to produce movies that will show a profit by bringing in those people.  Even if Big Semi really existed, there would be nothing stopping the independent production of more artistic/sophisticated pictures.  We have that now, and as noted upthread things like kickstarter raise interesting possibilities.

InfiniteMonkey

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 483
  • Clearly, I need more typewriters....
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #48 on: January 10, 2013, 07:13:26 PM »

The problem is the Big Semi will produce (quite probably high quality) popular movies , but it would not produce innovative or challenging movies.

Your innovative or challenging movie is somebody else's incomprehensible or frustrating movie.  Supply and demand, not art, is really the heart of this.  There is a big demand for the kind of movies Semaphore produces, so they are investors fund them and they are produced. As in the story, so in real life.  If there was popular demand for movies like Un Chien Andalou, they'd be funded, produced, and distributed.
I can't fault people for wanting to see the kind of movies they like or companies for wanting to produce movies that will show a profit by bringing in those people.  Even if Big Semi really existed, there would be nothing stopping the independent production of more artistic/sophisticated pictures.  We have that now, and as noted upthread things like kickstarter raise interesting possibilities.

Well, the features of at least some innovative and challenging movies find their way into mainstream movies. Not always, but sometimes. I don't want to stretch this analogy too far, but just like biological evolution, some features survive and get passed on. We simply don't notice it as innovative or challenging anymore.

And when it comes to making "independent" productions, yeah, that's where supply and demand comes it. Because the pool of investor movie for films isn't infinite. And movies, unlike writing, does depend on production money. And investors are unlikely to invest in something new and different when there's something with a certain, proven rate of return.

zoanon

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 126
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #49 on: January 11, 2013, 02:12:31 AM »
Alisdair's intro put me in the mood for horror, so I guessed the twist pretty much as soon as she was shown into the viewing booth.
its not machines taking over more an more things that bothers me, its the limiting of people to passive watchers.

edit: actually what bothers me most is that this wasn't called "reel artists"   8)
« Last Edit: January 11, 2013, 02:33:32 AM by zoanon »

chemistryguy

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 261
  • Serving the Detroit Metro area since 1970
    • 5000 People can't be wrong...or can they?
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #50 on: January 11, 2013, 07:24:08 AM »
it's not machines taking over more an more things that bothers me, its the limiting of people to passive watchers.

I agree it is this aspect that is most disheartening.  My ears perked up when Sophia spoke of revising the older Semaphore film and uploading it to YouTube.  The battle against passivity is what leads me to mutilate edit existing media and redistribute it. 

It's also why I visit these forums on a regular basis.

Scattercat

  • Caution:
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 4866
  • Amateur wordsmith
    • Mirrorshards
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #51 on: January 12, 2013, 01:41:27 PM »
This one came through without my input, so I'm allowed to talk.  :-P

I am solidly in the 1B camp, to return to the previous discussion points.  The idea is interesting (and I don't find it particularly frightening in itself).  Movies are communal efforts to start with, and the selection of audience members with refined taste struck me as eminently sensible and likely to produce, if not brilliant and challenging and troubling art, then at least solid and well-constructed stories.  (As the submissions manager, I have perhaps an unusual point of view on why having good taste might be particularly important to an artistic endeavor.  I get a LOT of submissions from people who clearly deeply love... well, something, but just being extremely enthused is no guarantee that you will produce anything but crap.  You have to study, to read with an eye to deconstruction.  Spitting out a variation of all of your favorite things is not likely to produce a good story.)  I'm not overly bothered by the idea of using powerful genetic-algorithm software to enhance a product, though I'm skeptical that something like Pixar would be the result.  (Dreamworks, absolutely, and the references to "The Mezozoic" definitely sent me that direction rather than toward Pixar.)

However, as has been pointed out, the 'story' aspect here is really, really thin.  (A "baked potato" story, if you will; vast and squishy chunks of buttery idea, but only a tiny jacket of what contains the actual vitamins.)  The ambiguous ending fell a little flat because of how little Sophia is involved in anything that happens; if you cut her completely out and just had a short PowerPoint presentation explaining the idea of Big Semi, you'd still generate 90% of the discussion in this thread.  Now, on the one hand, that's a grand old tradition in science fiction, to write a story that is nothing but an excuse for a man in a lab coat to lecture the audience about some idea the author just read about.  But on the other hand, I like to think that SF, as a genre, has developed enough that we can afford to tell proper stories and have Big Ideas.  The snippets of character in this story are well-done and quite impressively subtle for their brevity, which is a testament to Ken Liu's skill, but they're really nothing more than a formality, an excuse for the lecture to happen.

Also, I'd like to third the "OMG WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THE BRAIN DAMAGE!?"  That detail smacks of a last-minute revision; some beta-reader must have asked, "But wouldn't seeing the same movie immediately afterward alter the unconscious reactions and skew the whole process?"  And so we get a quick explanation to forestall that complaint, spackle it on and just walk past it really fast when touring the facility, hoping that no one notices.  But holy crap, there are so many terrifying ways that sort of thing could go wrong that it really eclipsed the rest of the story for me; it was so obviously a meta-fiction device to try and keep me focused on the question of "Can computers make Art?" that I wasn't able to think about anything else.


("So there's a train rushing toward five people on the tracks, but if you push a lever, it will switch to a track with only one person.  Do you push the lever?"

"Of course.  One person dying is less awful than five."

"Aha!  So now you're on a ledge over the train tracks, and the train is rushing toward five people, but this time all you have is one very large, fat man.  If you push him over, the train will hit him and stop, saving the other five.  Can you consign him to death when you have to do the killing yourself instead of just pulling a lever!?"

"But if the train is going fast enough to kill five people and not derail, why would one person stop it?"

"They're very small people."

"Wait, they're children?  So how old is the fat man?"

"That's not the point!"

"What if I just ask him to jump?"

"He won't."

"Why not?  I'd do it.  In fact, can't I just jump myself if the fat man is a dick about it?"

"You're not big enough to stop the train."

"But the fat man is?  I weigh like two hundred pounds.  How fat is he?  How can I even push him if he's that superhumanly fat?"

"Look, just assume that he's big enough, that he won't do it himself, that you can't do it, that the five people will definitely all die, that...")
---
Mirrorshards: Very Short Stories
100 Words.  No more.  No fewer.  Every day.
Splinters of Silver and Glass - The Mirrorshards Book

Gamercow

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 654
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #52 on: January 20, 2013, 10:51:38 PM »
Here's why I'm not frightened by the idea of a blockbuster-making movie-bot:  It's not art.  Will they be enjoyable movies?  For most people, yes.  Will they make a ton of money?  Assuredly.  But will they be art?  No.  They will be the Applebee's, Olive Garden, TGIF of movies; Generally loved by most, utterly and completely safe, but soulless and unimaginative.  There will still be the art movies out there that need to be made, if for no other reason than the artist needed to get the idea out of their brain.  These art movies may become yet another element in the movie-bot's chemistry set, but they will always be made.  To continue my earlier metaphor, there will always be restaurants that specialize in offal, or spectacular noodle houses that still make the noodles by hand, or exquisite little Italian restaurants that take 9 hours to make their meatballs, just because that is what those people need to do.

The cow says "Mooooooooo"

Max e^{i pi}

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1038
  • Have towel, will travel.
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #53 on: January 21, 2013, 06:13:59 AM »
...or exquisite little Italian restaurants that take 9 hours to make their meatballs, just because that is what those people need to do.
How... how is that even possible? The longest it ever took me to make meatballs was 2 hours, and I made LOTS of meatballs.
Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

Registered Linux user #481826 Get Counted!


Scumpup

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 102
  • ...
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #54 on: January 21, 2013, 08:13:54 AM »
...or exquisite little Italian restaurants that take 9 hours to make their meatballs, just because that is what those people need to do.
How... how is that even possible? The longest it ever took me to make meatballs was 2 hours, and I made LOTS of meatballs.

First, you have to catch the cow...

matweller

  • EA Staff
  • *****
  • Posts: 678
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #55 on: January 21, 2013, 08:40:18 AM »
...or exquisite little Italian restaurants that take 9 hours to make their meatballs, just because that is what those people need to do.
How... how is that even possible? The longest it ever took me to make meatballs was 2 hours, and I made LOTS of meatballs.
It only takes an hour to form and half-cook the meatballs, but then it's at least 4 more in the crock pot to really cook them right. You know you're there when the grease separates out of the sauce. Oh man, I'm hungry now...

Max e^{i pi}

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1038
  • Have towel, will travel.
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #56 on: January 21, 2013, 09:30:45 AM »
...or exquisite little Italian restaurants that take 9 hours to make their meatballs, just because that is what those people need to do.
How... how is that even possible? The longest it ever took me to make meatballs was 2 hours, and I made LOTS of meatballs.
It only takes an hour to form and half-cook the meatballs, but then it's at least 4 more in the crock pot to really cook them right. You know you're there when the grease separates out of the sauce. Oh man, I'm hungry now...
I don't count cooking time. I never count cooking time. That time doesn't count because it can be used to do other things. Like washing up or making garlic bread....
Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

Registered Linux user #481826 Get Counted!


CryptoMe

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1042
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #57 on: January 29, 2013, 03:02:27 PM »
Inspired by the story, I have compiled other poster's thoughts to create a comment expressing my opinions on this story. Have I made a good comment? You tell me.
(In all fairness, though, I am endeavouring to express my vision of a good comment, not one that has mass appeal, so the analogy may fail here).

I think Sophia would be wasted as a test viewer.  She's already demonstrated that she can take the output of the computerised process and make it better; Semaphone would be more sensible to use her talents in that way, surely. 

When she's "working hard" she is putting all of her intelligence, creativity, and training into action. Importantly, this is a first-level, conscious action. When she's "being a sack of enzymes" they are measuring her base-line, unconscious reactions and all of her qualifications are irrelevant to her ability to do the job.

The scariest aspect of all of this is short term memory modification.  Let's mess with your mind's hard drive every two hours and see where you sit after a month's time.

The problem of course is that this ends up being an art form with no personal statement, rendering it enjoyable but somewhat sterile. I'm not sure what choice Sophia would make, but I'm pretty sure I would have run.


Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8657
    • Diabolical Plots
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #58 on: January 31, 2013, 10:05:32 AM »
I always thought that was an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters (infinity wouldn't really be necessary, because once you reach Shakespeare, you stop).

I've heard variations of it, but since you're dealing with an infinite timespan it makes little difference if it is infinite monkeys or not, the result is the same.   I suppose the main problem with having only one monkey for infinite time is that eventually the monkey dies, but I'm assuming that's not something that's meant to be part of the thought experiment.  Either way, what really matters is that you're going to need a lot of bananas.  And you're going to have to scoop a lot of monkey poo. 

Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8657
    • Diabolical Plots
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #59 on: January 31, 2013, 10:11:00 AM »
John Henry was a fool, though, steel drivin' man that he might have been. The story and song as I remember them have him literally working himself to death in a contest with a steam drill.  He won, died, and was replaced with a steam drill anyway.  The only lesson I took away from it was that any job that can be done by more economically by a machine, eventually will be done by a machine.  The railroad's customers never knew whether the steel had been driven by John Henry or a steam drill.  In our story, the movie goers never know whether the movie had been produced by Big Semi or by human beings.  
Been years since I read it, but didn't the government of Oceania in Orwell's 1984 have machine-generated pornography for distribution to the proles?

I completely agree.  I've heard that story many times, mostly from the John Henry song on a Johnny Cash album I listen to fairly regularly.  The story is infuriating.  John Henry does nothing but prove the point of his opposition.  Not only does he literally work himself to death in a single day, but he does so by winning by such a significant margin that he CAN'T EVEN SEE THE DRILL FROM THE FINISH LINE!  If he'd paced himself at some pace somewhat faster than the drill, maybe he could've survived and lived to do that for more than one day and that would've proved his point rather than supporting the opposition.  And at least at the end of the song that I listen to, his dying words on his deathbed are to demand that his wife should take up his own line of work in which he has managed to work himself to death and leave her alone.  "Yes dear, I am dying young because I value my pride more than I value my life with you.  Be a dear and take up the burden of my pride after I'm gone, okay?  Thanks."

Dave

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 128
    • I Can Bend Minds With My Spoon
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #60 on: February 01, 2013, 07:51:24 PM »
-Dave (aka Nev the Deranged)

CutGlass

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #61 on: February 15, 2013, 07:02:27 AM »
I listened to this story a few days ago while commuting, and then this morning came across a news story that's so close that I created an account purely to post it here on the forum (after over 7 years of listening).

I can't post a link, but it's easy to find if you search the BBC News website for an article by Colin Grant entitled "Many Worlds: The movie that watches its audience". Basically, a team at Plymouth University are working to develop a system along the lines of one described in Ken Liu's story.

Just Jeff

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 72
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #62 on: February 15, 2013, 07:18:44 PM »
CutGlass, I caught the tail end of an NPR segment today on Many Worlds, and yeah, it brought me right back here.

The audio archive is here: http://tinyurl.com/d68byc8

Summary: "Many Worlds is a 15-minute drama from Alexis Kirke, of the Interdisciplinary Center for Computer Music Research at Plymouth University in England. The film, about a bizarre physics experiment cooked up by a depressed girl and unleashed on her friends, 'reads the minds' and the bodies of the audience, and changes its plot while they watch it.

acpracht

  • EA Staff
  • *****
  • Posts: 221
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #63 on: February 15, 2013, 07:29:16 PM »
CutGlass, I caught the tail end of an NPR segment today on Many Worlds, and yeah, it brought me right back here.

The audio archive is here: http://tinyurl.com/d68byc8

Summary: "Many Worlds is a 15-minute drama from Alexis Kirke, of the Interdisciplinary Center for Computer Music Research at Plymouth University in England. The film, about a bizarre physics experiment cooked up by a depressed girl and unleashed on her friends, 'reads the minds' and the bodies of the audience, and changes its plot while they watch it.
Crap. You beat me to it.
My jaw dropped when I heard this.

childoftyranny

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 175
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #64 on: April 11, 2013, 06:23:44 PM »
I'm in the camp that would call this terrifying, but not because I'm afraid of computers creating things or replacing people as I already see this as happening with movies and visual media. I see it happening with movies of course, especially the disturbing amount or remakes, but I also see it occurring with memes and youtube media, as well as the remix styles of music. I tend to find these styles pretty "meh" so the idea of more and more of it makes me groan! I didn't really see the reveal coming, but unfortunately other than seeing the connection with things I don't really enjoy I didn't care so much either.

I didn't with this character because I never really fell in love with a movie, I can't recall being blown away by any that I saw, and so far my overall experience has been I still enjoy the movies I enjoyed a while back so I've luckily(?) missed out on a lot of the ruined nostalgia moments of things, a good example being Star Wars.

In the end its sort of interesting that I found the story somewhat thought provoking even if I didn't really care for the story, so that's sort of a success!

Fenrix

  • Curmudgeonly Co-Editor of PseudoPod
  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 3784
  • I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #65 on: June 02, 2013, 07:10:37 PM »
I started out at 1A but after reading this you make me consider 1B. Maybe after a few more iterations I'll have a better idea...

Also I think Cryptome had the meta-winner response.
All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”

hardware

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 192
Re: EP377: Real Artists
« Reply #66 on: June 11, 2013, 07:57:13 AM »
Yeah, this one was probably more interesting as a thought experiment than as a story. Now I didn't see the brain manipulation as anything else than a lazy plot device, and therefore it didn't horrify as it would, if taken seriously. What I think is the most interesting question raised here, and one that the story never really adresses, is about the importance of taste in Art versus the importance of the craft. While traditional film making (including the CGI heavy productions of today) puts very high emphasis on craft, the process here seems to completely focus on the possibility to discern good from bad. But what would be lost in that process ? A lot of great art is made struggling against the limitations of the art form, struggling with expressing yourself within the limitations inherent in a medium. It is stated in the story that the greatest asset of a great artist is great taste. But is that really true ?