Rape and Beans: Hope for Humanity in Westworld 3

A PSA before we get started. Those of you looking for insights into the whole Pandemic Thing—and who have an hour and change to spare— might want to check out Through The Noise’s interview with Dan Brooks. This is one of the guys who saw it coming.


I loved The Matrix, despite its flaws. I even forgave the physics-breaking conceit of Human batteries when I discovered that it had been mandated by idiot suits in air-conditioned offices (the Wachowskis’ original screenplay had used embedded humans as organic nodes in a massive AI network). I kind of winced at the whole “love conquers all” element—and sure, the philosophy was strictly stoned-undergrad— but how many Hollywood movies even aspire to grade-school smarts these days?

I didn’t dismiss the sequel as readily as some. Sure, it was a step down. And yes, those interminable dialog scenes could have used some major edits. But all was forgiven in the closing scenes, which showed Neo wielding his god-like powers outside the Matrix. To me the implication was obvious and inescapable: the “real world” was just another layer of the Matrix, a containment facility for meat sacks who only thought they were rebelling. (It would also explain why 22nd-century sewers were big enough to act as convenient highways for giant hovercraft.) Seriously, what was the alternative— that after all that careful set-up about hacking OS’s and bending the “rules of the program”, Neo’s powers were just, well, magic?

As it turned out, that was exactly the route they took. And so Matrix Revolutions crashed and burned for me far before we were even treated to that ridiculous scene in which our unarmored heroes strapped themselves like big naked bullseyes onto the fronts of battle mechs which could only be resupplied by children pushing wheelbarrows through a free-fire zone. By the end of Revolutions I couldn’t help but wonder if the brilliance of the original Matrix might not have been entirely inadvertent after all, as if beginner’s luck had let some utterly inept darts-player hit the bullseye right out of the gate, only to fuck up consistently thereafter.

In the wake of its third season, I can’t help but notice that my feelings about Westworld have followed pretty much the same trajectory.

*

My review of the first season was downright ecstatic. I never got around to reviewing the second, but unlike many, I didn’t regard it as a bad season; I thought it was a good season with some bad elements. Sure, it was a step down from Season 1 (like The Matrix Reloaded); sure, too many scenarios (also like TMR) seemed designed for no other reason than to justify a fight scene. Most of the Samauri-World side quest was gratuitous (although as a writer I did enjoy learning that the Head of Narrative Design had dealt with his creativity deficit by recycling the same few storylines into different parks). But the main problem, as I saw it, was not so much the hodgepodge of elements as the fact that those elements were never properly seeded. We never saw Chekov’s gun on the mantel until two seconds before someone picked it up (looking at you, Meta-virtual-Westworld).

On the plus side, the Ghost Nation episode was a high point for the whole series, a narrative flip that turned much of what we’d thought we’d seen inside-out. I was pumped for Season 3.

The Machine 2.0

And you know, it started out well enough. Dolores seemed surprisingly conversant with 2058 society for someone of her background, but we’d already established that Hosts were very fast learners when let off the leash. Caleb was a sympathetic Everyman (you wouldn’t expect less from Aaron Paul). The introduction of ubiquitous bots both metal and virtual, for purposes ranging from heavy construction to psychotherapy, was handled seamlessly. Rohoboam, the AI puppet master, was nicely imagined (though perhaps too reminiscent of “The Machine”, from Person of Interest). The revelation concerning who was living inside all the golf balls was cool. I’ve seen complaints about unimaginative worldbuilding— the future as contemporary Singapore with the serial numbers filed off, that sort of thing— but there’s a decent backstory (an optimistic one, even) implicit in that scenery. The high-tech levees, the risen seas; the profusion of greenery sprouting from the rooftops of skyscrapers; the sparse traffic on downtown streets, regardless of time of day (a commonplace sight now; I’m betting the set designers didn’t think their vision would come true quite so quickly). Wonderful touches were sprinkled throughout the season: the larceny phone app, the shapeshifting clothes, the mood altering drug “Genre” (which was both cool and meta). Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” is a great song to watch the world burn by.

But the further the season progressed, the fewer of those moments there were; the more the storyline itself began to suck.

The frustrating thing is, the ideas are there. This show, even this season, contains the ingredients of kickass narrative. The premise of the whole planet as a kind of bizzaro Westworld, where the AIs run the Humans, is a nifty conceit. The ongoing exploration of Big Data remains timely. And taken as a whole, the multi-season arc is pleasingly coherent, at least in theory. Season 1 was Westworld As Microcosm, ending in a breach. Season 2 showed us attempts at breach containment, ending in failure: Micro escapes into Macro. Season 3 shows the Macrocosm as a metaphorical inversion of Westworld, where AI programs humans, and it ends with the apparent collapse of that civilization while killer robots are being clandestinely printed to populate the ruins. So I’m guessing Season 4 may show us a retrograde civilization populated by robots and Humans: Westworld on a global scale, with all the safeties off.

The parts are all there—but the longer this season went, the worse it got. It’s not just a question of unimaginative worldbuilding, or how well Westworld’s elements jibe with reality: its creators aren’t even being consistent with the rules they laid out themselves, earlier in the series.

Maeve, for one thing. Possibly my favorite character from Season One, now repeatedly dumped back into Nazi World for reasons that remain unclear. (Nice to see the alt-right get their own theme park, though.) Maeve, who can literally control other hosts with her mind. Maeve, who— when battling with those selfsame hosts— keeps choosing to fight them with a katana, for fucksake, instead of just sending a shutdown command over the LAN that all Delos robots share (and which was such a focus for so much of Season Two).

For that matter, nobody seems to have written down a set of consistent rules about how Hosts work in the first place. In Season One, if you shot a host it played dead but it wasn’t really. (Tortured almost unto “death”, Teddy staggered around like a spider with six of its legs ripped off— and then instantly booted back to optimum performance when Ford uttered the right code phrase.) Two seasons later, though, while the Hale host walks away from an exploding car bomb at point-blank range, Maeve genuinely dies after being run through with a katana that does far less damage (and again: what is it about these damn katanas?)

Dude, you wuz robbed.

Early in the season we’re shown a monstrous Riot Control Robot that effortlessly punches through walls and is basically everything that ED-209 wishes it could have been. But when deployed during an actual riot, it lobs a single gas canister and then wanders off for a smoke, leaving crowd control to a bunch of unremarkable-looking cops decked out in riot helmets and plastic shields. (Seriously: truncheons and plastic shields are still the go-to fashion accessory in 2058? We’ve got microwave-and infrasound-based area-denial tech today.)

And honestly, the whole Free Will is an Illusion riff was explicitly front-and-center back in 2016. Anybody who didn’t catch on then isn’t going to be enlightened now by endless closeups of humans grimacing in existential angst while some robot tells them you think you have Free Will but bwahaha you really don’t. Add a new insight or two, for chrissake; get out of your goddamn loop.

We know, we know. You’re not really in control. Bummer.

As the season winds down, Rehoboam’s carefully-managed society crashes and burns (quite meta, when you think about it) while Dolores decides—in a revelation lifted from too many sixties-era Star Trek Episodes— that though they might be a bit rough around the edges, There’s Hope for These Spunky Hoo-mans after all. The example served up to support this insight— the “moment of kindness” that flits through Dolores’ newly-enlightened mind— is William handing her a can of beans, before going on to repeatedly rape and murder her over the next thirty years. (At the very least she could have lingered instead over her recollection of Caleb, who— during his own past-life encounter with Dolores— had said, Yeah, you know guys, let’s not rape her when his buddies started unzipping their flies.)

Aesthetically it was a stylish season throughout, and a promising one for perhaps the first four episodes. But for me, its decline carries an especially personal sting. Several of the ideas it stomped on— from the grand-scale exploration of AI-run societies down to the more intimate ethics of deprecating malcontents into cold storage— are ones I’d been playing with myself for a videogame project, well before Season 3 even premiered. I watched the season deteriorate with disappointment and dread rising in lockstep: our themes, our sandbox, presented to an audience orders of magnitude greater than anything we could ever aspire to. It didn’t matter that they botched the execution; Nolan and Joy were still planting their big hamfisted fingerprints all over the concepts, and anyone who came across our little game in a couple of years would inevitably think Jeez, they’re just ripping off Westworld…

Moot, as it turns out. That game gig ended up as so many others, put into indefinite cold storage like one of Season 3’s Outliers. But still, it burns: because there was so much there to play with. Because even though Joy and Nolan proved they could juggle those balls in the past, somehow they dropped them this time around. And because I know we would have done better with the same props.

Ah well. At least I still have Devs.

Bernard sat down in a motel room before the final credits. This is how he looked afterward.
I guess this motel doesn’t get a lot of business.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Saturday May 30 2020at 01:05 pm , filed under ink on art . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

32 Responses to “Rape and Beans: Hope for Humanity in Westworld 3”

  1. I remember holding court at Clarion West, explaining to them exactly what you wrote: that the closing scenes of Revolutions clearly meant that the ridiculous 2nd movie was all a set-up, another layer of control that set up a truly radical third movie, where we discover what Matrix reality is really like. After all, the AI were trapped in the 2nd layer, too. So many interesting questions.

    Nope.

    The WW/Matrix comparison is fruitful. Maeve’s sudden inability to use abilities formerly important to the script mirror Neo’s shift from Internet Jesus at the end of Matrix 1 to Kung Fu Superman in 2.

    Devs, though, man. Alex Garland’s stuff seems to be following a pattern: great cinematography, great casting, great acting, fucking terrible writing. It’s exactly like Ex Machina: it uses the briccolage of science and SF without any understanding of the science or issues, nor any real interest in learning. They are SF-jacketed bullets with schmaltz cores.

    ‘Has it passed the Turing Test?’
    ‘Blahblah shut up, I want to see whether an employee of mine will fall in love with a doll dressed up like his Redtube searches WHOOPS.’

    ‘We just proved the Everett-Wheeler Interpretation of quantum mechanics! Why is something suddenly different in my one reality-slice? THAT ONE LADY MUST HAVE EXERCISED FREE WILL FOR THE FIRST TIME YAY PEOPLE.’ Queue seven minutes of slow-mo establishing shots backed by ominous soundscapes.

  2. The ending of Devs had me really perplexed. They went so hard in trying to establish everything was fixed and immutable and then somehow she exercises choices in the end. This really surprised because I watched Garland’s interview elsewhere and he said he pretty much believes in determinism and that we don’t have free will. So what is the ending supposed to state, some kind of defiant statement of what he would wish to be true? I don’t know. It left a bad taste in my mouth after what was a pretty good 7 or 8 episodes.

    I really liked the depiction of Solomon in Westworld though. The passive, casually disinterested way of a God who computed every conceivable outcome. The he way dunked on Dolores as a pimped up consciousness simulator. Great, just great. For me it was good enough to look past all the dumb writing of the end if only we get some more AIs dismissing the childish games of robots and humans for supremacy.

  3. John Baccarat: So what is the ending supposed to state, some kind of defiant statement of what he would wish to be true? I don’t know. It left a bad taste in my mouth after what was a pretty good 7 or 8 episodes.

    The ending was supposed to mean that you can’t predict everything because of many worlds. Anyway, GM’s description of Devs is pretty much exactly how I feel, except I didn’t watch Ex Machina for the same reason I also couldn’t stomach more than 1 episode of Westworld: robots are fucking stupid. I hate them, worst sci-fi idea ever. Fuck ‘human’ robots so much.The shots of the quantum computer in Devs were really cool though.

    Somebody should make a Blindsight adaptation so I can stop complaining about how terrible sci-fi television is.

  4. The Matrix sequels seem like the combination of a creative team noone truly understood and a success that divorced them from any attempt at a coherent narrative. Judging from Speed Racer the Wachowski’s were never actually interested in coherent philosophical narrative but rather cinematic spectacle and The Matrix was probably a script they felt forced to write to get out their cinematic spectacle, when given the money to throw out more spectacle they went for the spectacle
    Most think pieces I’ve seen put the decline of Westworld around a desire to outsmart the audience (have no foreshadowing and don’t do the obvious thing so noone can predict what is going to happen), I have a feeling the backlash against nitpickers has created a toxic writers room where themes are all that matters (themes arise out of events but you only need events, not connections, for that), there’s a school of criticism that sees all fiction as commentary on real life and so would not be able to write science fiction because they’d find themselves making it an abortion analogy and then of course there’s the usual subjects; the writers expressed all they needed in season one but then were offered lots of money, burnout etc
    But whatever, in the end it was a show that had a good first season and then never lived up to that just like so many others

  5. Tran Script: Somebody should make a Blindsight adaptation so I can stop complaining about how terrible sci-fi television is.

    Eh. I think we’re just spoiled. Sure, it’s not a high bar by any means, but compare sci-fi TV and cinema today with what passed for sci-fi TV and cinema 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. We’re in the golden age of sci-fi entertainment.

    The other golden age, that is.

    JDMM: Most think pieces I’ve seen put the decline of Westworld around a desire to outsmart the audience

    I think this is down to the desire of nitpickers and critics to outsmart themselves.

    Westworld had a strong premise, some great acting and a compelling plot. It was good for around one season, and it delivered a great first season. Season 2 was not as stellar, but it was good enough. There was no need for Season 3. But then again, no series in history has ever “needed” a Season 3, so this is not unique to Westworld. As you wrote, “the writers expressed all they needed in season one but then were offered lots of money”.

    I’ll still watch Season 3, and probably enjoy it. There’s only so much coherent philosophical narrative I can ask for in a show about killer cowboy robots, after all.

  6. God, I would welcome it so much if someone explained to me what’s so cool about Devs.

    OK, let’s forget about the overall air of cheap sentimentality. There is a scene in Episode 6, where two characters have the most flaccid “scientific discussion” ever, with one of them, Katie, lamentably confusing cause and reason and not knowing that randomised events in an experiment require similar conditions and the other one, Lily, simply having nothing to say to that. However, that pales in comparison with another of Katie’s “brilliant” moments when she attacks a lecturer with “are you fucking kidding me”, meaninglessly waves around her favourite “Everett Interpretation” and ends the conversation with “whatever”. Like, yeah, she’s a natural.

    Ex Machina was good, Annihilation was far from perfect, but still it had its moments. Devs, on the other hand…

    Featuring: A looming statue of THE girl (yeah, huge as his grief, we get it); gold elements EVERYWHERE (chef’s special from the larder of futuristic commonplaces); random song bits chipping in mercilessly—and all this among the oh-so-very-ominous rumbling.

    I feel like I’ve wasted my time on this one, but again, I would be only too happy to reconsider.

  7. We are indeed in a Golden Age of SF entertainment – I remember being excited as kid for Automan and Manimal. A lot of it is still pretty bad, though.

    P.D.: The Katie/Lecturer moment, like a lot of Garland’s work, is meant to communicate to a (in this case physics-) literate portion of his audience that Garland has done his homework. The lecturer is instructed to present an outdated/ridiculous theory as a credible alternative while leaving Katie’s chosen theory unmentioned while setting up Katie as a maverick. It’s fine. It’s cute.

  8. Dolores’ personal redemption of humanity based on William handing her beans jarred me. Other choices, such as Caleb averting her rape, and the observation that humans must have some good in them because they made Teddy capable of appreciating a beautiful sunset, seemed more fitting, except they’d already been noted. The can of beans trope references the beginning of the series, and would have worked for me in the sense of that older trope that we’re born innocent, and it is the world – and maybe more specifically the world of humans – that corrupts us, except that there wasn’t any lead-in to make it clear that Dolores was thinking along those lines when she chose that instance over others (or, if there was, I missed it). That interpretation also allows us to see the good in those who, unlike Caleb and Teddy, can’t easily be seen as good. This way, Dolores can see that there’s hope for all of us, if only we’re brought up well. From what I’ve seen, that’s likely not correct – we descend into rapacious, self-interested psychopathy as a result of inherent drives, but why not be optimistic?

    Season 2 worked for me in retrospect because, having learned that Bernard had intentionally de-indexed his memories, the lack of logical transitions seemed to mirror his state of mind. I’d have to watch the season again to see if that retrospective assessment holds up.

  9. Phil,

    I think implicit in Dolores’ decision is the idea that, given her own blood soaked past, she’s almost forced to forgive humans because if there’s no hope in them changing their stars, how can she reconcile her own contradictions? Man and machine are both beholden to material conditions they had no hand in crafting.

    Season 3 was pretty fucking weak to be honest. William’s inclusion was fucking baffling, they absolutely wasted Ed Harris in this, nevermind the loose end from Season 2 they just ignore. Maeve couldn’t be more 2 dimensional and the whole season seemed to be an exercise in how much fight choreography they could cram in. It’s like they got bored of kicking around ideas found in philosophy of the mind and tried to make something a bit more dumb and fun, which if I wanted that, Altered Carbon is right there on the shelf. And that after credits ending….. jesus wept. I feel like they’re going to subtitle Season 4 “mission to moscow” at this point.

  10. About a month ago I applied online to my local ASPCA to adopt a pair of guinea pigs.

    It’s been a few years since I wallowed in the Wattsverse, Firefall obviously. Since I’ve been hiding from the plague, I thought it would be a good time to reread the Behemoth trilogy. Like visiting old (sociopathic) friends, it would cheer me up and be an ideal substitute for human interaction. Plus, I might learn something germane to current events. BTW I live in Manhattan (Harlem).

    ASPCA got back to me yesterday. No pigs, but I just had a zoom meeting with a male cat that I’m adopting. His name?

    Starfish!

    I told the young ASPCA rep about all this. Including a brief history of Lenie’s maimed starfish. Fortunately, ASPCA will still permit the adoption.

    Dr. Watts, please explain to me, a non-scientist, wtf just happened? Have I slipped unawares into Deepak Chopra’s pocket universe?

  11. Sean

    I think implicit in Dolores’ decision is the idea that, given her own blood soaked past, she’s almost forced to forgive humans because if there’s no hope in them changing their stars, how can she reconcile her own contradictions?

    Good point. And if that is part of her reason, it makes her better than the many humans who feel no need to address their internal contradictions.

  12. Off topic but John Brunner Was Prophetic is always welcome here, I take it:-

    In this paper, we explore the correlation between different visual biometric modalities. For this purpose, we present an end-to-end deep neural network model that learns a mapping between the biometric modalities. Namely, our goal is to generate a frontal face image of a subject given his/her ear image as the input. We formulated the problem as a paired image-to-image translation task and collected datasets of ear and face image pairs from the Multi-PIE and FERET datasets to train our GAN-based models. We employed feature reconstruction and style reconstruction losses in addition to adversarial and pixel losses. We evaluated the proposed method both in terms of reconstruction quality and in terms of person identification accuracy…we attained a very high cross-modality person identification performance, for example, reaching 90.9% Rank-10 identification accuracy on the FERET dataset.
    https://arxiv.org/abs/2006.01943

    “People are going around marvelling at the fact that there’s a solid scientific basis for palmistry. Anybody with a grain of intelligence could have said, directly the notion of the genetic code was formulated, that there was no a priori reason why the pattern of the folds in the palm should not be related to a person’s temperament by way of an association of genes sharing the same chromosome. Indeed, there were all kinds of reasons for assuming this actually was so, because we aren’t totally stupid—as I’ve pointed out before—and unless there was in palmistry some element of relevance to real experience we’d have given it up and gone chasing some other will-o’-the-wisp. There’s no shortage of them.
    “But it took forty years for someone to conduct a properly rigorous study of the subject and demonstrate that the suspicion was well-founded. This I do find remarkable—or disheartening might be a better word”
    —You: Beast by Chad C. Mulligan [Stand on Zanzibar]

  13. You probably already know about this
    https://scitechdaily.com/beneath-the-oceans-surface-a-virus-is-hijacking-the-most-abundant-organism-on-earth/

  14. GM: Alex Garland’s stuff seems to be following a pattern: great cinematography, great casting, great acting, fucking terrible writing. It’s exactly like Ex Machina: it uses the briccolage of science and SF without any understanding of the science or issues, nor any real interest in learning.

    I liked Ex Machina, although I also had serious reservations about it. I liked Devs significantly more. I have to admit I’m surprised to see the negative reactions here; it’s making me wonder if my taste can in any way be ported across systems (I also liked “Avenue 5”, which a lot of people think sucks). I’ll do a review at some point, but not before I do a rewatch to gird myself against all you naysayers.

    Tran Script: The ending was supposed to mean that you can’t predict everything because of many worlds.

    That was my take-home, too. The tension between Copenhagen and Many-Worlds was pretty explicit throughout the series.

    Fatman: I think we’re just spoiled. Sure, it’s not a high bar by any means, but compare sci-fi TV and cinema today with what passed for sci-fi TV and cinema 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. We’re in the golden age of sci-fi entertainment.

    This is true. Over here, after years of being told by all and sundry that “Deep Space Nine” was far and away the best of the Star Trek series, we’ve just finished watching the entire seven-year run, and—well, it was okay. Once they realized that Armin Shimerman was the best actor in the cast they did some really fun things with Ferengi culture. They helped pioneer the whole epic-arc thing. Good FX for the time. They managed to file off most of the B5 serial numbers by the time they ran their course.

    But there’s no way it holds a candle to the Galactica reboot, or Devs, or even this last lame season of Westworld. The mean quality of televised SF is way higher in recent years, as is the mean quality of television in general. I chalk it up to the growth of specialty/streaming channels and our escape from the braindead broadcast constraints of Standards & Practices. (Also I refuse to acknowledge the existence of “Another Life”.)

    P. D.: God, I would welcome it so much if someone explained to me what’s so cool about Devs.

    There may come a day when I do just that.

    But it is not this day.

    Phil: The can of beans trope references the beginning of the series, and would have worked for me in the sense of that older trope that we’re born innocent, and it is the world – and maybe more specifically the world of humans – that corrupts us, except that there wasn’t any lead-in to make it clear that Dolores was thinking along those lines when she chose that instance over others

    I could buy that interpretation if the examples of Human Goodness weren’t so fucking trivial (as I recall, after her can-o’beans flashback, the other example to flit through Dolores’s mind was some six-year-old girl gaping in wonder at an insect). If you’re going to show us some kind of balance or dichotomy between Good and Evil, for chrissakes at least serve up examples of Goodness that counterbalance rape and torture and murder. Show us someone giving up their lives to save the Siberian tiger. Show us machine-gun-toting ninjas jumping up fromf the sewers and mowing down the Minneapolis PD. Something.

    Sean: I think implicit in Dolores’ decision is the idea that, given her own blood soaked past, she’s almost forced to forgive humans because if there’s no hope in them changing their stars, how can she reconcile her own contradictions?

    Way too implicit, if you ask me. If that is, in fact, the nub of her revelation, there’s no way it would have taken her an entire vengeance-suffused season to figure that out. Right out of the gate she’s smart enough to hack 21rst-century security systems and human beings alike. Having those insights while at the same time not grasping the whole hardwired-constraints/double-standards thing? That’s a pretty gaping blind spot.

    Mark Major: About a month ago I applied online to my local ASPCA to adopt a pair of guinea pigs.

    Curiously, I read this line immediately after coming back upstairs after feeding my step-pone’s pair of guinea pigs.

    ASPCA got back to me yesterday. No pigs, but I just had a zoom meeting with a male cat that I’m adopting. His name?

    Starfish!

    Yay!

    Dr. Watts, please explain to me, a non-scientist, wtf just happened? Have I slipped unawares into Deepak Chopra’s pocket universe?

    You have not. You have simply indulged in an act of kindness (admittedly, because your brain was hacked) that’s way more substantial than the ones that caused Dolores’ inexplicably 180. Good on you.

  15. Jagged Orbiter: Off topic but John Brunner Was Prophetic is always welcome here, I take it:-

    In this paper, we explore the correlation between different visual biometric modalities. For this purpose, we present an end-to-end deep neural network model that learns a mapping between the biometric modalities.

    Holy shit.

    I’ve barely glanced at this paper, and already I have questions (like, how can the ear picture predict hairlines and the presence of eyeglasses when there is no eyeglass hardware visible in the shot? Why does that only work sometimes?), but I most definitely will take a closer look over the coming days. I would have thought this impossible, for the same reason I didn’t buy Zanzibar‘s palmistry example (fingerprints are developmental, not genetic; identical twins have different fingerprints). I would have thought the whorls of an ear would also have a large nongenetic component to them. Apparently not.

    If this pans out it is both amazing and scary. Predicting a mug shot from an ear? I shudder to think of the surveillance implications.

    Mark Major:
    You probably already know about this
    https://scitechdaily.com/beneath-the-oceans-surface-a-virus-is-hijacking-the-most-abundant-organism-on-earth/

    I did not. But I do now.

    I’ve got to be able to fit this into a story somehow…

  16. Peter Watts,

    Peter Watts: Holy shit.

    I’ve barely glanced at this paper, and already I have questions (like, how can the ear picture predict hairlines and the presence of eyeglasses when there is no eyeglass hardware visible in the shot? Why does that only work sometimes?)

    Perhaps wearing glasses continually has some long-term effect, and these is some clue in the hair configuration or ear shape RE presence of glasses. Of course this would be too subtle for human, but not for a NN with enough data.

  17. Westworld S1 and S2 for me seemed to be very well though-out for a series for many reasons, but mainly philosophical, and metaphorical. The entire Park as a closed system, a Maze, a Prison, and a model of the entire world, if you will. S1 is pre-culmination of a good story, and S2 is post-culmination. Not to speak about S2 post-credit scene that sent so many questions that could send the plot spinning any number of years forward. Not going to speak about technical details, they are secondary, that can be rounded up with some suspension of belief.

    I was expecting anything, an army of a million Dolores marching through the smoking ruins of civilization, a world suffering from it’s own inability to continue. Or the opposite – a same Dolores running into a real human maliciousness far superior to her own personal hatred, powerful intelligence agencies clashing for control over the new threat/opportunity rather than squashing it like a bug. And.. null. Nothing. All I’ve got here is an attempt of 4 puppets (not even puppeteers!) to change the world with an equivalent of round-nose pliers and sheer boldness. And several more trying to stop them. (And it’s 2 series short, why in the world?!…)

    Maybe it is too much ambitions was put into the new ideas they couldn’t flesh them out properly? Run into budget problems? Seems like, not contained within the walls of the Park, the model of plot building chosen for previous series does not deliver the same result. The world built for this chapter of the story is too small, too. Just a couple:

    A computer system that can track and record and correct everyone in the world, who is kidding who? Why couldn’t they just make this Rohoboam a big CityOS software type – one of the dozen similar, best one, a market leader. Distributed among several key capitals, a premium product for the Ruling Power of Corporations? Is that too complex for modern generation, they can’t think in trends? Maybe at least they could have shown more detailed how useless are the leaders in this world, how really they are just puppets who enjoy their lives in blissful unawareness, but alas, not even that.

    Then, I would have expected a real danger to Hosts – a exo-suit cavalry pacification platoon armed with 16 types of weapon systems that would go thorough walls, traps and cyber defenses, pulverize and vaporize an army of hosts if they are ever discovered. I imagined they weren’t in S1 or S2 because of the contractual liabilities (“you drop that hammer on our problem and you own us billions”). But the best security I saw is again no more than some dumb perps with guns, and this time Hosts don’t even have “off” switch. So, the biggest treat to Hosts in this place is the famous robot, not armed even with a peashooter, and it is hijacked, used, and tossed out! Booo!

    Off-topic, or for the context, I’ve got in COVID situation in last 2 weeks, I’ve had more time to relax and consider some things. I was also enjoying Expanse S4, really, they are much more experienced at world building and plot, and they’ve had some input of source material. Seeing new Westworld after that makes me want to just forget it as a bad dream, a pile of lost opportunities. I think I can write it off as one of the many things ruined by ongoing clstrfk – not a huge tragedy, but sad nevertheless.

  18. Re. cyanobacteria, P. Watts: “I did not (know). But I do now.

    I’m surprised. George Church has been talking about this possibility for a couple of years. Here —

    ‘Church Speaks
    A Conversation With George Church [2.14.18]’
    https://www.edge.org/conversation/george_church-church-speaks

    There’s a transcript along with the vidclip/audio. For specifically cyanobacteria-relevant material, read the dek below the head and then skip to the graf starting, “I probably started seriously in the ‘90s when I got interested in photosynthesis. We published some papers together with Penny Chisholm, a professor at MIT, on the most abundant photosynthetic organism on the planet. ….”

    But it’s all worth a read. Church is always lucid and interesting, and if there’s a Tesla or Edison of the biogenetic technologies that will dominate the 21st century I don’t know who else it would be.

  19. Here. Eleven minutes out of your life —

    George Church on Cognition Genes, Aging Reversal, Lab-built Brain Components, CRISPR self-mutilation, DNA data storage (for genome sequencing purposes), and much more.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH87sfVD36M

  20. Jagged Orbiter:
    https://arxiv.org/abs/2006.01943

    I think it’s worth pointing out, here, that the ear/reconstructed face/actual face data triplets in section 4.3 of the paper aren’t necessarily entirely representative. There are 30 examples, split up into 2 equal groups by dataset (identifiable by their internally consistent lighting). Additionally, the images were picked from one of two equally-sized test sets, one present in the training data and one not present in the training data. The left 2/3rds are chosen from a subset of the images used to train the network, and the right 1/3rd is chosen from a subset of the images that are within the source dataset but were not used to train the network. In other words, the network could have “memorized” the triplets on the left two thirds of the example table, but not on the right third.
    Additionally, remember that the examples are all generated using the model trained on the training set composed of the images in the same dataset as the example images, even those that are not in the training set. Each dataset has self-consistent lighting, so the example ear-face pairs not in the training set for a given model are still pretty similar to the pairs that *were* in the dataset for that model.
    Still pretty crazy, though.

  21. Everett-Wheeler Quantum Physics is one of the reasons the writing on Devs sucks, not a ‘get out of jail free card’ for the sucking.

    DEV SPOILERS

    In the climactic scene, the God Machine that only works because the programmers account for an E-W universe within the machine’s code predicts a ‘universe’ in front of the Devs team (and the viewing audience). One of these team members strongly resisted the E-W QM code strictly due to sentimentality (his identification of his self, and his daughters, is incompatible with E-W and apparently reality); the other is literally a Quantum Physicist specializing in E-W QM (and coding apparently?). DESPITE ALL OF THIS, and knowing that in E-W QM all possible permutations occur (although not at the same frequency, so probability is maintained), they just assume that their universe will unerringly become the universe shown, even though they’ve proven their universe is currently splitting into separate universes many times per second.

    Having proven the theory that mandates a nearly endless propagation of difference selves, and different universes containing those selves, they are shocked when one of their selves (the one we are viewing) sees something deviate. Then we get blah blah magic girl had free will.

    It’s nothing less than a complete misunderstanding of the thing being written about. And it’s unnecessary. There’s a much better series lurking under the surface, that deals with issues of identity and determinism vis a vis modern physics. As is stands, it’s a waste of a great cast.

  22. Peter Watts: I’ve barely glanced at this paper, and already I have questions (like, how can the ear picture predict hairlines and the presence of eyeglasses when there is no eyeglass hardware visible in the shot? Why does that only work sometimes?), but I most definitely will take a closer look over the coming days

    Good question. Probably a good reason to be skeptical of the result. It doesn’t sound implausible though that it would be possible to predict some features about the face, after all both the ear and face are probably similarly affected by whatever hox gradients and what have you people go through during development. I’m curious if it’s possible to also predict like, penis length etc. from just the ear.

  23. Doc- Thanks for all the kind words and the personal anecdote. It turned out that by signing the ASPCA adoption contract, I started a clock running. After I sent it back, they gave me 3 days to pick Starfish up from the shelter. I have PDD (dysthymia – one reason I find your SF so upbeat), mild diabetes, and I’m old. So I was paranoid about taking mass transit. Plus, mass transit was supposed to be limited to essential workers only, though I’m told that wasn’t enforced. The good news is that Starfish (I contemplated calling him Scarface b/c I believe they should only be named after other charismatic mammals) has been adopted. ASPCA is keeping my application with an eye towards my adopting a moggy in the near future. Cats seem to be lower maintenance than piggies btw – curious if you agree?

    I’ve been wondering: Would (will) mosquitoes make a good vector for Covid 19? I haven’t seen this discussed anywhere. Would they be a good vector for Behemoth?

    Best, mm

  24. PS – I haven’t found you on Twitter. I suspect you’ve wisely decided to control the channels by which we stalk- er fans can clamor for your attention…

  25. Cool:
    ONE BIOLOGIST BECAME A QUIET CHAMPION FOR A CREATURE THAT’S THE SOUL OF SCIENCE
    https://www.inverse.com/science/adopting-lab-rats-during-coronavirus

  26. Mark Major,

    Please tell me Dr. Watts at least has an instagram account? Since my work forces me to use this cancer of an app now, i might as well put it to good use.

  27. The K,

    lol. I don’t know. Instagram seems to demand membership to view. If you’re behind a corporate firewall, chances are your employer gets a record of what sites you visit fyi. Are you the guy from The Castle?

  28. Mark Pontin: I’m surprised.

    Don’t be. I currently have 1637 unread articles in my rss feed, and the only reason it isn’t higher is because there’s a hard limit on the number of articles allowed from each stream.

    I am way behind. As anyone waiting for me to answer an email can attest to. This stuff does look really interesting, though. I’ve opened the tabs at least.

    Mark Major:
    Doc- Thanks for all the kind words and the personal anecdote.

    Any time. All I ask in return is that you never, ever again refer to me as “Doc”.

    ASPCA is keeping my application with an eye towards my adopting a moggy in the near future. Cats seem to be lower maintenance than piggies btw – curious if you agree?

    I’ve passed this question on to my elder step-pone, who has been keeping piggies for some time now. She says yes: cats are definitely lower-maintenance. Piggies have to have their cages cleaned regularly and need daily lap time. They also have a distinctive smell. Also a single piggie is a non-starter: they are social animals, so you need at least two for company. Finally, most commonly-sold guinea pig cages are way too small; steer clear of Habitrail or any of that stuff (The Meez’s piggie enclosure takes up about a third of her bedroom.)

    All that said, she says they are definitely worth the extra effort. Keep in mind that when I presented the scenario of a guinea pig and a cat trapped in a burning house, she got very peevish when I asked her which one she would save and which she would sacrifice. This may have an impact on her credibility in such matters.

    I’ve been wondering: Would (will) mosquitoes make a good vector for Covid 19?

    Apparently not.

    Would they be a good vector for Behemoth?

    Anything is a good vector for Behemoth. It doesn’t need any kind of active intermediate host (it was originally classified as a soil nanobe, remember). Basically it thrives anywhere it can find a source of short-chain sulfur-containing proteins, which means pretty much anywhere there’s organic material.

  29. Mark Major:
    PS – I haven’t found you on Twitter. I suspect you’ve wisely decided to control the channels by which we stalk- er fans can clamor for your attention…

    Not on Twitter. Twitter almost seems to have been explicitly configured to promote stupidity. (I mean, seriously: that character limit made sense back in the days of flip-phones with 15-column displays, but all it does now is force people to either talk in bumper stickers or chop lengthier thoughts into bumper-sticker fragments. It’s fucking idiotic.)

    Not on Instagram either. Not on any social platform except for Facebook, which ironically may well be the most pernicious of the lot, and I try to minimize what I post there. (Also I tend to use inappropriate response-emojis to fuck up FB’s profiling algos, so if I actually like someone else’s post it’s more likely to get an Angry Orange Emoticon of Apoplectic Rage than a Thumbs-Up.

  30. At least facebook is giving back to humanity in terms of e.g. pytorch. And you know, they might mine our behavior for targeted advertising and what have you, but facebook doesn’t make regular people dump their trash and cigarette butts in nature, they do that all by themselves just fine.

  31. Peter Watts,
    “All I ask in return is that you never, ever again refer to me as “Doc”.”

    My bad (as the kids say instead of an apology). “Peter” sounded presumptuous, and “Watts” has soo many syllables. “Sir” is what POTUS’s imaginary friends call him. This is a bit like “don’t think about a white bear”.

    “her credibility”

    Seems good because her advice matches that of Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue on youtube.

    “Not on any social platform”

    Wasn’t that you on Onlyfans.?.

    Came across this on Twitter: https://www.nhbs.com/squid-empire-book

    Better still: https://twitter.com/PhilippineStar/status/1260460802164895748

  32. I always thought that the problem with The Matrix sequels was that the first movie was just too epic, it was just so great in so many aspects that they had to be a step down compared to the original.

    Regarding Westworld, I haven’t watched it yet, to be honest I didn’t even know what it was about, now I am thrilled so I’ll give it a go 🙂