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Posts Tagged ‘Robots’

Where Nothing Can Go Worng

September 29, 2016 | by

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We’re not spying, but it feels like we are. Each moment is tracked on surveillance monitors, recorded, studied. On one screen, a man, dressed moments ago in cowboy gear, is now postcoital with a robot prostitute. She soon makes herself scarce, heading back to recharge her circuits in the break room. The cowboy stares up at the ceiling, his six-shooter cooling in a holster draped over a chair. He’s luxuriating inside a simulacrum of an 1880s Western whorehouse, one situated within a network of amusement parks in an unnamed desert expanse. It’s the end of the first act of the 1973 film Westworld, written and directed by Michael Crichton, a master of the techno-thriller novel whose occasional forays into filmmaking—he directed a half dozen features over two decades—yielded more modest, earthbound results than the fantastical predictions he packed into his paperbacks. But Westworld, his feature debut, continues to haunt. Its vision of a pleasure dome with exploited, humanlike robots as moving targets has been reprogrammed into a highly anticipated HBO series, premiering Sunday. Read More »

Designing Black Power, and Other News

June 16, 2016 | by

Larry Ratzkin’s design for Black Power.

  • Tall orders for graphic designers: in 1967, Larry Ratzkin was tasked with designing the jacket for Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton’s Black Power, meaning his assignment was essentially to turn a whole political movement into a book cover. And he succeeded, as Josh MacPhee writes: “The cover was simple yet profound: a white field, the center crowded—almost to exploding—with the giant words Black Power in a thick, slab-serifed type. The authors’ names and book subtitle stack above and below, in a more elegant, thin sans-serif. That’s it. No images, no frills … The cover to Black Power is surprisingly successful, such a simple treatment—almost elegant—for a text that caused massive conflict and defines the transition from the non-violent Civil Rights Movement to the much more militant Black Power Movement in the United States. The initial 1967 Random House first-edition dust jacket was created by Larry Ratzkin, a well-known graphic designer who turned out upwards of a thousand book covers … All U.S. editions of Black Power in the almost fifty years since its initial publishing … have used facsimile re-creations of Ratzkin’s original design … This has to be the most seen and trafficked cover of Ratzkin’s long career, yet it is never associated with him.”

Pockets—They’re Still Great! And Other News

March 23, 2016 | by

Pockets!

  • The cafard and mirthlessness that have long governed French philosophers have now extended to French writers of all kinds—a new survey says they’ve never been unhappier. Their proposed solution? Surrender. “French writers have never felt more badly paid, undervalued, or under pressure … More than half of established authors earn less than the minimum wage. Many are so depressed by the state of the book industry that they are considering giving up altogether, according to a new report that canvassed more than 100,000 authors of fiction and nonfiction … Although exact comparisons are difficult to make, French writers appear to be still doing better than their British or American equivalents.”
  • BREAKING: Nicholson Baker loves pockets. Give him a good pair of pockets, he’s happier than a pig in shit. And who isn’t, really? You gonna look me in the eye and tell me you don’t like pockets? “I’m a pocket-loving guy,” Baker says in a new podcast. “At any moment I got a couple pens—like why would you have just one pen? For a long time I tried to do everything with pockets … the pocketing of things. The prestidigitational trickery of being able to move things from the world of public visibility into a private place. It sort of feels to me like writing. Or I guess, what I like about writing, is that paragraphs take your most personal observations, or embarrassments sometimes, fantasies, whatever they are, and you fill them up, and it feels as if you’re putting them away or you’re stowing them, you’re pocketing them. But then because of the weird and wonderful act of publishing, you’re making public what you have hidden.”
  • Terry Southern’s letters are full of the humor you’d expect from him, Will Stephenson writes—but as windows into his personal life, they’re curiously opaque. “There’s something cold about Southern’s persona, in other words—he’s always in character, always on. The letters come complete with scenes and dialogue—a voice that’s arch and faux-pretentious, recalling the comedian Lord Buckley—and his habit of signing them under false names only thickens the fog. Reading the book, I wondered whether Southern would have really wanted to see it published, or whether that matters. I wondered whether I even liked Terry Southern anymore, having read it … The majority of these letters, though, have to do with the labor and economics of writing … In some ways, this is the major theme of the collection—where is the next check going to come from?”
  • Alex Mar on Doreen Valiente, once dubbed “the mother of modern paganism,” who believed that witchcraft was simply a means of accessing one’s own power: “One particular image of Doreen Valiente tells two unresolvable stories at once. In this black-and-white portrait, perhaps taken in the fifties at her home in Brighton, she is, at first glance, a suburban wife seated before a pale curtain, wearing a patterned cocktail dress, a string of stones around her neck. (She was in her thirties then, her jet-black hair cut short in a wavy bob, her lips and brows painted in.) But then the photograph becomes complicated: spread before her on a table is an altar laid out with a crystal ball, a bowl, rope, candles, and incense; in one hand she holds up a large bell, in the other a ritual knife … She is the Nerd Queen, a person of rare esoteric knowledge. She is Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft … ‘I had never felt any objection to working in the nude,’ she writes. ‘On the contrary, it was fun to be free and to dance out the circle in freedom.’ ”
  • I consider it part of my job to keep you abreast of quiet advances in the robot-writing community—so you should know that artificial intelligences can now write well enough to make headway in literary contests. “In Japan, a short novel co-written by an artificial intelligence program (its co-author is human) made it past the first stage of a literary contest … Humans decided the plot and character details of the novel, then entered words and phrases from an existing novel into a computer, which was able to construct a new book using that information … The prize committee didn’t disclose which of the four computer co-written entries advanced in the competition. The Japan News reports that one of the submitted books is titled The Day a Computer Writes a Novel, which ends with the sentences ‘I writhed with joy, which I experienced for the first time, and kept writing with excitement. The day a computer wrote a novel. The computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working for humans.’ ”

Teach Your Automaton to Feel, and Other News

June 8, 2015 | by

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Tim Davies, Space Robot Lovers, 2012.

  • At last, the time has come for robots to harness the single most powerful force known to humanity: metaphor. An attempt to teach emotional nuance to artificial intelligences, The Poetry for Robots project invites people—even decidedly unpoetic people—to react to photographs in verse, which the robots will thereafter memorize, as is their wont. “By feeding poems to the robots, the researchers want to ‘teach the database the metaphors’ that humans associate with pictures, ‘and see what happens.’ ”
  • Pistols at dawn! The duel, which was at the peak of its powers in the eighteenth century, enjoyed a prominent status in the literature of the era. Actually, “without literature, there would be much less to go on, historically speaking. Dueling was usually illegal. It was often tolerated, but, still, discretion was an issue—dueling at dawn was popular for reasons of secrecy … One outcome of the silence surrounding the activity was that, for first-timers, the nearest guide to protocol might lie in fiction.”
  • Vivian Gornick on Delmore Schwartz: “Like the time itself, everything about him was out of control—his beautiful, anxiety-ridden face, his stormy eloquence, his outrageous self-dramatization. He charmed and alarmed. There was a sweetness of spirit at the center of all his dishevelment that made nearly everyone who knew him hold him in tender regard.”
  • Fact: “under the right conditions, three atoms that all repel each other will be forced into an inseparable triad.” Physicists have only recently discovered what existentialists have known for a good while—“hell is other atoms.”
  • In French, the word créneau—what we’d call a crenellation, or a battlement in a castle—has taken on a rich figurative life; it can mean a parking spot, an appointment time, even a market opportunity. In other words, it’s very much like our word slot. So why not ask: “Does it mean anything that the French etymology sees appointment times, schedule segments, and parking spaces as figurative openings in a defensive wall made for ‘shooting or launching projectiles upon the enemy,’ while English speakers see them figuratively as shaped depressions made to allow pieces of wood to be fit together into useful structures?”

Sketches from an Artificial Mind, and Other News

November 14, 2014 | by

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Not a fair fight: five robots sketch one man. Photo via Beautiful/Decay

  • A new collection of stories from the tenth-century Arab world is agreeably unhinged, particularly when it comes to sex. In “The Story of the Forty Girls and What Happened to Them with the Prince,” for instance, “a Persian prince stumbles across an enchanted castle run by a sorceress and her troop of warlike female cousins. Divested of their armor, the girls prove to be ‘more beautiful than the houris of Paradise,’ and queue up to enjoy his favors (naturally they are all virgins). Finally the sorceress offers herself to him, forbidding the prince—who is impressively not yet exhausted—from approaching any of the others again on pain of being imprisoned, tortured and loaded with iron chains; conditions to which he cheerfully agrees. That’s forty couplings, and then some, since the sorceress, having miraculously regained her virginity, presents herself for a second deflowering.”
  • If you’d prefer to keep things chaste, look to love in the time of telegraphy. The nineteenth century saw a vibrant subgenre of the romance in which telegraph operators flirted across the wires. “There’s something incredibly modern about these amateur stories and the way they handle technology, the influence of corporations, gender, and love in the time of hyperconnection.”
  • A history of the New York Times Style section and its uncanny ability to court controversy: “For decades, many of us have used ‘reading the New York Times’ as a kind of performance, a shorthand to convey our seriousness or sophistication or social cachet, or yes, even our affluence. To read the Times daily, we think, is to signify that one is in this world, but not of We imagine ourselves the world’s observers, its makers, or even its collective conscience. We want to believe we are reading from far above the fray of Juicy Couture, or Botox, or any of a hundred other manifestations of rank consumerism, vanity and anxiety. The section instead is a jarring, insistent reminder of the folly of this fantasy. Styles, we are you.”
  • Novelists and musicians earn royalties on their work—visual artists don’t, meaning they receive nothing from multimillion-dollar deals involving their art. Art Royalties Too, a new bill making its way through the congressional meat grinder, will try to change that, but no one knows if it will pass. “Intellectual property is a very unusual area in Congress. As a general rule, you cannot predict where someone is going to be on an issue like this or on music licensing by knowing that he’s a Democrat or Republican.”
  • I wrote earlier this week about a robot that could give you the creepy sensation that someone is right behind you. But the world has no shortage of terrifying robots, and so now I give you this: Paul-IX, a robot who can sketch with more talent and accuracy than most humans. (If this robot teamed up with the other, it could get some great sketches of you looking creeped out.)

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It’s Already Right Behind You, and Other News

November 10, 2014 | by

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The Phantom Omni can make you feel as if someone (or something) is right behind you. User discretion advised.

  • “An editor whose taste is unique to himself is a bad editor. The only person who discovers a writer is the writer himself.” An interview with our editor, Lorin Stein.
  • Aldous Huxley doing calisthenics; Borges beneath a ponderous storm cloud; James Ellroy behind a lamp with no shade on it … and other portraits that give the lie to this idea that writers don’t photograph well.
  • Partying on the dime of New York’s most controversial literary publisher: Amazon. “Outside, a war was raging; inside there were friends, food, and funding—for now. Passed hors d’oeuvres were loudly heralded … ‘I saw the sliders coming around and it just suddenly crossed my mind. I guess all this is being paid for by Amazon!’ ”
  • A pair of new films offer two very different theories about creative life: In Whiplash, an aspiring drummer faces “an abusive professor who is convinced that relentless torture is the only way to coax his students to the peak of their abilities … the crazy guy is right: The only way to be any good at something is to not bother trying to be good at anything else.” Meanwhile, Adult Beginners suggests “that if you forego grandiose notions of achievement and settle for surrounding yourself with people who love you and provide you with emotional support, your definition of fulfillment will become more manageable.”
  • Today in our science-fictional reality: What if there were a robot that could produce the skin-crawling feeling that someone is right behind you? There is. We’re fucked. (Actually, the robot may help us understand schizophrenia—but still.)

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