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Author Topic: EP686/EP377: Real Artists (Flashback Friday)  (Read 14621 times)

Scumpup

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Reply #40 on: January 10, 2013, 02:20:04 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?
« Last Edit: January 10, 2013, 02:24:40 AM by Scumpup »



Devoted135

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Reply #41 on: January 10, 2013, 02:22:19 AM
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

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Reply #42 on: January 10, 2013, 03:46:53 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.

(...)

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

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Reply #43 on: January 10, 2013, 07:56:44 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

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Reply #44 on: January 10, 2013, 01:59:27 PM

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

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Reply #45 on: January 10, 2013, 04:28:07 PM

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

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Reply #46 on: January 10, 2013, 05:04:14 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

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Reply #47 on: January 10, 2013, 09:15:21 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

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Reply #48 on: January 11, 2013, 12:13:26 AM

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

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Reply #49 on: January 11, 2013, 07:12:31 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, 07:33:32 AM by zoanon »



chemistryguy

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Reply #50 on: January 11, 2013, 12:24:08 PM
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

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Reply #51 on: January 12, 2013, 06:41:27 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...")

---
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Gamercow

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Reply #52 on: January 21, 2013, 03:51:38 AM
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}

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Reply #53 on: January 21, 2013, 11:13:59 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.

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Scumpup

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Reply #54 on: January 21, 2013, 01:13:54 PM
...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

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Reply #55 on: January 21, 2013, 01:40:18 PM
...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}

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Reply #56 on: January 21, 2013, 02:30:45 PM
...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....

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CryptoMe

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Reply #57 on: January 29, 2013, 08:02:27 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

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Reply #58 on: January 31, 2013, 03:05:32 PM
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

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Reply #59 on: January 31, 2013, 03:11:00 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?

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."