Escape Artists

News:

News

ATTENTION: NEW FORUM THEME Please see here for details: http://forum.escapeartists.net/index.php?topic=13188.0

Author Topic: EP686/EP377: Real Artists (Flashback Friday)  (Read 14620 times)

chemistryguy

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 261
  • Serving the Detroit Metro area since 1970
    • 5000 People can't be wrong...or can they?
Reply #20 on: January 07, 2013, 02:28:56 PM
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
Reply #21 on: January 07, 2013, 10:33:39 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
Reply #22 on: January 08, 2013, 08:05:41 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
Reply #23 on: January 08, 2013, 01:25:04 PM
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
  • ...
Reply #24 on: January 08, 2013, 02:02:48 PM
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
Reply #25 on: January 08, 2013, 03:11:11 PM
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
Reply #26 on: January 09, 2013, 01:39:23 AM
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
Reply #27 on: January 09, 2013, 04:16:47 AM
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
Reply #28 on: January 09, 2013, 06:57:39 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
  • ...
Reply #29 on: January 09, 2013, 02:04:34 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.

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: 8727
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #30 on: January 09, 2013, 03:25:11 PM
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: 8727
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #31 on: January 09, 2013, 04:11:01 PM
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: 1472
    • The Maple Leaf Singers
Reply #32 on: January 09, 2013, 04:39:02 PM
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
Reply #33 on: January 09, 2013, 05:15:26 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
Reply #34 on: January 09, 2013, 06:05:02 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
Reply #35 on: January 09, 2013, 06:26:33 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
Reply #36 on: January 09, 2013, 07:56:51 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....
Reply #37 on: January 09, 2013, 07:57:17 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
Reply #38 on: January 09, 2013, 11:44:09 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
Reply #39 on: January 09, 2013, 11:48:37 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.