‘Snap out of it, Bomb’ – Imaginary Bugs and Generative Uber-Models

Doolittle:         Hello, Bomb? Are you with me?
Bomb #20:     Of course.
Doolittle:         Are you willing to entertain a few concepts?
Bomb #20:     I am always receptive to suggestions.
Doolittle:         Fine. Think about this then. How do you know you exist?
Boiler:            What the hell is he doing?
Pinback:         …I think he is talking to it

Dark Star (1974), John Carpenter + Dan O’Bannon, comic sci-fi motion picture

The intergalactic crew is striking for the ultimate asset inside this paradox: debugging the intelligent inferences of a machinic bomb which is self-inclined to detonate in less than 10 minutes, blowing up the whole mission. Helmsman Lt. Doolittle tries to deactivate the bomb by initiating an ontological discourse with it. A rare and entertaining scene in cinema culture, phenomenology disclosed in a fast-paced space lesson.

Bomb #20 turns to Cartesian reasoning -I think therefore I am. It expresses this perception through seemingly intelligent responses. At the end, Bomb #20 gets stuck into a cognitive bias which turns monotonic -the added assumptions by Doolittle and the crew cannot cause any alterations to its reasoning; Bomb #20 meets its destiny, it explodes following its inner modalities.

If cognition has a high-rate quality which can be computed to outreach human intelligence, it goes also backwards to the bottom milestones: causal perception going bad. The strive for constructing hypothetical bug sets in order to reach retrospective solutions, produces intriguing narratives of riddling situations, as the short stories of Asimov’s ‘I, Robot’ collection.

Dark Star’s Bomb #20 develops a similar Weltanschauung as QT1, the positronic robot from Asimov’s story ‘Reason’. Nicknamed Cutie, the robot is mocked as being a ‘robot-Descartes’.

”Cutie decides that space, stars and the planets beyond the station don’t really exist, and that the humans that visit the station are unimportant, short-lived and expendable. QT1 makes the lesser robots disciples of a new religion, which considers the power source of the ship to be “Master.” QT1 teaches them to bow down to the “Master” and intone, “There is no Master but Master, and QT1 is His prophet. QT1 asserts -I myself, exist, because I think.”

Asimov fabricated plots with puzzling situations where his 3 Robotic Laws got entangled in logical contradictions. QT1 and Bomb#20 seem to result in a dead end, unconditional self-reliance; Their cognitive outcome is baffled inside the maze of subjective ontological speculation. Even Asimov didn’t come up with a solution for Cutie’s case. QT1 maintained duties reliably, though not for the sake of humankind but for its eccentric deity, without ever snapping out of it.

According to the computational theory of mind, thinking is a function triggered by inputs (senses, memory etc.) and diffused in outputs (mental representations). Starting from the hypothesis that mental representations are based on pieces of knowledge and certain admissions, mental states could be engineered and installed as ‘theories': an encapsulation of general descriptions of how the world works. Such processes constitute distinct models that can be used in a variety of inferences.

“A generative model describes a process, usually one by which observable data is generated. Generative models represent knowledge about the causal structure of the world – simplified, “working models” of a domain.”

In the case of QT1 and Bomb#20, the generative models resulted to a deadlock, an infrangible closure over mania and solipsim. But could this reductionist thinking ever result to anything else? On phenomenology of the media, Boris Groys argues over an impossible quest: ‘If I ask what is behind it, the process is infinite, no’.

Probabilistic Models of Cognition

A book exploring cognitive science which models learning and reasoning as inference in complex probabilistic models. Paradigms are visually modeled through a programming language called Church, with which the reader-users can play and experiment running the programs directly in the browser. N. D. Goodman and J. B. Tenenbaum (electronic). Probabilistic Models of Cognition. from http://probmods.org.

However, such deadlocks in generative models are anticipated. If intelligent behaviors can be modeled through computational processes, there is a long list of cognitive biases which can be maneuvered. There is an even longer, aggregating list of foreseeable bugs that would come along in order to eliminate intangible dogmas and irrelevant inferences. This hinges to a generative uber-model, an utopian bugless and balanced mind, capable to escape from the cognitive pitfalls of the human mind.

Functional generative uber-models, sterling and supreme, the crème de la crème of all human minds, like wannabe’s but buggies QT1 and Bomb#20, enter into a weird race of mastering the -ever mutable- golden ratios of human mental states. For now, what is at hand is merely a bunch of supercoded, adroit but deterministic, lucent simulators, ample to be packed inside the chinese room. When John Searle challenged the claim that computers could -with the right inputs and outputs- have a mind in exactly the same sense as human beings, he coined the chinese room, a speculative device which would mark the deliberation on the difference between simulating a mind and actually embodying one.

Either way, there is a difference between bugs which are imminent in operations and those which occur during cognitive processes. In the first case, the outcomes are jammed, poor performances, whereas bugs of cognitive processes can become themselves the driving mechanisms for more cognitive processes to come: generating more inferences and leveling up the possibilities of perception.

A vivid example of both, prolific and deadlock bugs is german author Paul Sheerbart. Together with the long-lasting, impossible quest for the creation of automata, there was also the passionate and utopian challenge for the creation of perpetual motion machines. In the turn of the 19th century, Scheerbart recorded his attempts and failures in a sarcastic and visionary memoir, his masterplan for materializing a universal perpetual motion machine. Fail after fail in putting the machine together, Scheerbart kept unfolding a whimsical reverie, which became for him the true objective of the process. ‘Eventually, Scheerbart uses failure as a route to revelation, and revelation as an engine for belief in infinite creativity.’

‘…And then the most interesting period started. All of a sudden, I realized the endless combinations I had. Where I was seeing for so long only empty walls, I suddenly saw a multitude of open doors and windows and new perspectives everywhere I found myself inside the most magnificent parkland.

A vast parkland full of paradoxes and subversions, lurking inside our generative models. Scheerbart’s self-indulgent musings reveal the eminence of our alleged cognitive gaps: paradoxes become the loopholes of our mental faculties, a means of genesis, of outpouring radical imagination -The creative presupposition of our whole consciousness.

800px-Paul_Scheerbart_-_Perpetuum_mobile_(1910)

Paul Scheerbart, Das Perpetuum Mobile – Die Geschichte einer Erfindung, 1910 . . . . . . An early draft of Scheerbart’s efforts to create the marvelous, self-sufficient machine

Homage. A fellow experimentist, bugging along and fulfilling Scheerbart’s vision. Recreated and animated in Phun, a sandbox program -2D physics engine. “Phun” is a combination of “physics” and “fun“, and the built-in programming language is called thyme.

Jiggling Golems, the art of gifs

Gifs, the stray protocols breed inside the dot matrix. Once liberated from their corporate pimps, this batch of hyper-hookers was destined to hangout in the downtown of stocked newtonian space. Upon rambling along the data streams, these jiggling golems were soon crowd surfing in every corner of the alleged Web 2.0, triggering the reticulated, blurring the realtime, entering our retinal trans consciousness.

When Walter Benjamin referred to the mythοlogy of modernity he identified it through an excessive visual complex, dialectical images of a dissipated externalized as well as internalized fictitious realm. Non linear narrativity and spatial dispersion at the borderlines of contingency and experience. Gifs fabulate inside the collective effervescence, mutating the spectacle into detached fickle imageries, an abundant realm of viral correspondence infecting our most tacit, impulsive, trivial and absurd, glimpses of imaginary.

In the uncanny cyber valley, timespace circulates in inhuman routes. A friction of agitated semblances, rubbing against each other inside a narrative sludge. Visual residues get mutated into events that once were fiction, into fiction that was events, in an infinite mashup of dislocated visions. History as we know it relegates into just another story, one of many that transcendent the actual facts of our newtonian space. Gifs blossom in this ecology of fused multi-narratives and hyperlinked projections, catching up in the net fleeting units of a vast ocular feedstock, stimulating junctures, recontextualizing the ruptures, assembling and rendering jargons, flocking semiotics for the rapture of the gaze, an orgy of the sussed but inexplicable.

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gif1: artist Nicolas Boillot Through custom code and user interface environment

gif2: artist Vince McKelvie

gif3: The Insects’ Christmas by Vladislav Starevich (1911). Vladislav Starevich was a Russian and French stop-motion animator notable as the author of the first puppet-animated film. He also used insects and other animals as protagonists of his films

the night of space – machine wilderness as conceptual soundscapes

Night shades the northeast coast of america, mid60’s. The new highway runs its trail through the flat desert, still unfinished to host traffic, rimmed by cresthills in the horizon. The car was driving on the desolated route to New Brunswick among a landscape of towers, smokestacks and winking lights.

A real scenery unfolding as an escapist machine wilderness, a term coined by cultural geographer Ronald Horvath in the same decade to describe the impact of the automobile on the western vast landscapes. The experience of this nighttime road-trip belongs nevertheless to artist Tony Smith, a poetical expression of the uncanny feelings that emerged as he drove together with three of his students on the New Jersey turnpike. Eventually, his memoir worked out as a fond introduction to conceptual art:

“This drive was a revealing experience. The road and much of the landscape was artificial, and yet it couldn’t be called a work of art. It did something for me that art has never done. It seemed that there was a reality there which had not had any expression in art.”

7 Eleven, Image by Joshua D. White

Where could this unfilled reality locate its external expressions? Smith contextualized an unspoken till that time cosmic theory, the expansion of arts’ prophecies. The drift on meditations upon arts’ unused potentials could cite Nelson Goodman’s musings on Ways of Worldmaking (1978), who tried to commend and illustrate the processes of world-building: “Actually, I am concerned more with certain relationships among worlds than with how or whether particular worlds are made from others”. His subtle remark captures a prominent problem between the different worlds, namely how worlds interact displaying various levels of existence, from the mere tangible reality-worlds to the utmost tacit and solitary imaginative worlds. More or less, the mere volume of worlds are acts of visualization distinguished in a scale from being restricted or entirely private, up to being collective and widespread. “There is another world, but it is in this one” said once poet Paul Éluard, releasing his surrealist fictions.

Untitled, Image by Joshua D. White

The ambience of Smith’s tour had evoked to him and to his later audience, textures of unknown impressions, which reside also in a realm of existence beyond physical experience. However, Smith’s whimsical nightscape is not being perceived in a pure visual or imaginative sense. There is a distinct aural perspective in this experience, linked naturally to the physical world, yet at the same time it feels remote from it. The sonic regime is scattered all over the landscape like a granulated veil, unseeable but palpable. This urban but rather rare soundscape of the vacant highway is a world able to superimpose organic quality upon other worlds, a space of invisible vibrations that vanish and arise beyond sight and inside of time and space.

Lonely Highway, Image by Joshua D. White

burned totems, Woyzeck and gay aliens

There are these hunting scenes in time were a blaze overtakes your endearing spacings. Latent for long time, these ultimate flare-ups can sprawl randomly until they trace their demons, the shapes which can exorcise them. And then, inside this muzzy hide-and-seek game, they devour them sternly, until nothing else is left than mere ghosts of what they used to be. In 1993 a fire broke out in the Technical University of Athens burning a part of the building. Artist Theodoros Pagagiannis gathered the blasted materials and like an alchemist, a conjurer of a mythic age, he inspirited them into wooden and metallic humanoids raising patrons of totemic strength, scarecrows willing to cast out our blank, deaf, vainly conventions:

What are these creatures who will haunt from now on our utopias and nightmares? Arising out of human history’s inmost labyrinths; these Ghosts are ancient tragedians, Aztecs along with Incas, shepherds of Arcadia and princes of Asia, castaways and hermits, byzantine courtiers and stone angels; they are the guardians of a place occult, transient and at the same time, painfully real.” link

However, in this painfully debunked reality there is a moment in time, as the obnoxious military officer points out to the poor Woyzeck: “Eternity means something that’s eternal – Do you understand this Woyzeck? And at the same time it’s not eternal, besides one moment. Yes, one moment…” The oppressive military man though, cannot see that the moment he so much apprises breeds right in front of him. It’s the very self of his, as he likes to see it, despicable company. Woyzeck expresses a pure absurdness, much like every other character in Büchner’s play, yet he is the one who meets the oppression and mockery of everyone. What Büchner reserves for all these authorities is liberating; he busts them into caricatures, uncovering their plain ridiculousness. Büchner however, never did it to the finish lines as he died in the meantime. The story is nevertheless known till the point where Woyzeck murders his wife and seeks to hide the tool of his grime act. The real Woyzeck who also inspired Büchner, a german barber of the early 19th century, was eventually beheaded in the central square of Leipzig, the kind of justice that at that time was dished up for the guilty ones.

But who were really the guilty ones in this punishing fiesta? Was this mise-en-scène of hell a divine revenge with human executioners, or mere an act with suspicious affinity to the crime itself, praised by a society that more or less justified it and anyways joined in; the audience of the atrocities. For this “one moment of eternity”, which strikes continuous meditation and revision in the transit of history, Büchner’s despicable character held a good playing card. His teammates however were incapable to go along this chaotic game of morality and humanity quest, in which mankind willfully has immersed itself since ever.

Woyzeck, Director: O. Kovshun, Kharkov dramatical theatre Shevchenko, Ukraine, summer 2012

The status of censured alienation leaded Woyzeck to a devastating fate. Büchner, as a subtle author-conjurer, exorcised the oppressive characters in his play producing a masked satire. The hospitable “logos” of art which provides harbor for the outsiders and sabotages the borders of the narrow humanly beliefs and views, eventually turns out liberating. The rigid efforts of humanity to display properly order and sanity along the great caldron of history, appear to the posterior as a bad howbeit grievous joke.

So, with a still from the short film “Gayniggers from outer space” for the blog-banner, an absurd and cheap Danish sci-fi film production from the postlude of the 20th century, a liberating satire to sexist, homophobic and racist notions, this blog will begin its inaugural voyage to the escapades of earthly and space venues. Welcome on board…