Beyond colorization

January 11th, 2023

There was a big todo back in the 1980s in response to classic black and white films being re-issued in colorized versions. Noted filmmakers and film critics came out against the process as a violation of artistic integrity, and there were even lawsuits over it.

Yet many people, having been raised on color films, preferred the colorized versions of older movies. And nowadays colorization is often applied to old documentary footage. In that case, the argument that colorization would violate artistic integrity is weaker.

The way A.I. is progressing, old films may eventually be re-issued with much more radical changes. Many young people find the pace of older movies to be slow, and one can easily imagine A.I. re-edits that impart a more modern pace to classic old movies.

Future generations might very well grow up seeing modernized versions of classic films. When that starts to happen, I wonder whether there will be an outcry from critics and filmmakers.

Thought experiment

January 10th, 2023

In 1997 J.K. Rowling, in her first Harry Potter novel, introduced us to a fictional universe in which people can wave at you from newspaper photos, maps can show you where people are at the moment, and various other fantastical possibilities. A quarter of a century later, we take many of those very same things for granted in our everyday real lives.

Suppose you wanted to invent a magical fictional universe today, and you only wanted to include “impossible” things that will actually become everyday reality in another twenty five years. What would you include?

Future multitasking

January 9th, 2023

I had an interesting experience recently while riding in the front passenger seat of a car. We had just stopped at a traffic light, and the driver needed to check something on a phone.

I was instructed to keep watching the light, and to say something when it turned green. In that moment, it occurred to me how convenient it would be to always have somebody with you to pay attention to things when you can’t.

Sometime in the coming years, a driver who is all alone will be able to give the same instruction to an A.I. assistant. The A.I. will, as instructed, dutifully watch traffic lights, and speak up when the light changes.

This kind of capability has all sorts of implications for many everyday situations. How many times have you not been able to do something, because in that moment you weredoing something else?

At some point we will all have our own A.I. assistant with high functioning virtual eyes and ears, to help us effortlessly multitask out here in the physical world. The interface for this will most likely be plain old conversational speech and gesture.

I am not sure whether this is a good thing.

Media and artificiality, part 2

January 8th, 2023

Generally speaking, we accept the artificial conventions of familiar media. We don’t even think about them much.

A play has a group of people up on stage pretending they don’t see us. A novel is really just a string of words printed on a succession of pages.

In the latter case we can’t even see or hear the characters. And yet they can seem very real to us, because we accept the artificial conventions of the medium.

Similarly, cinema posits that it is perfectly reasonable to watch giant faces moving about on a flat screen, as well as sudden changes in point of view, and to call that reality. We learn the visual language of film when we are children, and from then on we simply accept it without question.

All of these media work because they tap into something within the way our brains already work. All humans have a biologically determined commonality in the ways that we perceive and think about reality.

Every successful medium taps into that common biological heritage. Sometimes a medium does so in ways that we might not think would work (for example, printed words on paper) if that medium did not already exist.

I don’t think we have reached that point yet with immersive media, such as virtual reality. We are still in a stage of experimentation, much as early filmmakers experimented with having trains rush at audiences, and making objects on the screen magically appear and disappear.

When immersive media become mature, it will be because we have collectively figured out how to match their capabilities to the way that our brains and senses really work. That will take time, but the end result will be worth it.

Media and artificiality, part 1

January 7th, 2023

I’ve been having a correspondence with a friend about media. In particular, we’ve been discussing cinema as a medium.

Everyone who is alive today has grown up with movies. So it’s very likely that you don’t know anybody who first encountered a movie when they were already an adult.

Which means that we take the language of cinema for granted. We talk about movies being “realistic” as though we are discussing something that happened out here in the real world.

But out here in the real world, we are stuck in our physical bodies. The language of montage — constructing visual narratives via the instantaneous juxtaposition of different viewpoints — isn’t something we could ever experience in reality.

Yet we generally don’t think about the extreme artificiality of the visual language of movies because we grew up with it. We all know the language intimately, and we’ve known it since we were little kids.

More tomorrow.

An ounce of integrity

January 6th, 2023

It’s weird to realize that two years ago today an armed mob stormed the U.S. Capitol Building, at the urging of the President of the United States, because they didn’t like how the presidential election turned out. And it’s even weirder to realize that the President of the United States wanted to join them.

If that hadn’t happened, and I were to write that into the plot of a novel, I suspect that readers would shake their heads in disbelief. After all, my readers would probably think, no President with an ounce of integrity would even think of doing something like that.

Oh, right.

The greatest gift

January 5th, 2023

The greatest gift you can give someone is to become the person they always believed you could be.

Jumping the easter egg

January 4th, 2023

The recent adaptation of the 1988 fantasy film Willow into a TV series has a lot going for it. In the process it has been from translated from the original English into Millenial-speak, which can be jarring, but also kind of fun.

The show contains lots of cool Easter eggs. I like the fact that one of the main characters is named Boorman — a plausibly Tolkienesque name, but also a clear reference to the great film director John Boorman, who once upon a time brought us Excalibur, The Emerald Forest and other movies that are clear influences on the current series.

But there is one place where I feel that they jumped the shark on the easter egg front. At one point a character refers to a “Fibonacci hex”.

It’s one thing to do winking shout outs to relevant filmmakers. It’s another thing entirely to randomly insert the names of actual historical figures from our own world.

That moment yanked me clear out of the fantasy universe. It was as though a great wizard suddenly appeared named Thomas Jefferson.


January 3rd, 2023

As George Santos heads to Washington D.C. today to be sworn in, I can’t help thinking about the parallels. Here is somebody who speaks with a voice of authority, yet pretty much just makes everything up.

He is a college graduate who never graduated from college, a Jew who is Catholic, a proudly out gay man who forgot to mention he had been married to a woman, a property owner who doesn’t own property, a generous giver to charity who doesn’t give to charity. He is a self-proclaimed law abiding citizen who is being investigated for crimes in several countries.

Despite all this, the man is now blithely traveling to our nation’s Capital to be sworn in as our Nation’s representative from New York’s 3rd congressional district. He doesn’t seem to see a problem with the fact that his entire election campaign was based on a fictional construct.

This is pretty much what we expect from ChatGPT. When you ask it a question, it speaks with an uncannily impressive voice of authority. Yet if it doesn’t have an accurate answer for you, it will just make stuff up.

How long will it be before we elect a well-trained chatbot for President? And after we do, will anybody really notice?


January 2nd, 2023

When I was around 13 years old, I read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. Well, “read” is not exactly the right word. More like devoured.

I loved all things Asimov in that phase of my life, and I couldn’t get enough of his voluminous offerings. Nightfall, the robot stories, The Gods Themselves, The End of Eternity. Whatever it was, I read it.

I spent many joyful hours in my youth pondering the endochronic properties of resublimated thiotimoline. I would happily design experiments in my head based on that one simple impossible hypothesis.

But the Foundation trilogy was my go-to. And then I grew up, and for a while I forgot about the trilogy.

Until one day, many years later, I picked it up and read it again. This time I read with trepidation. After all, most of my adult re-readings of childhood science fiction turned out rather badly.

For example, I was horrified, as my adult self, upon rereading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. That beloved novel from my teenage years turned out to be filled with misogyny, racist assumptions, and all sorts of attitudes that I now found unsettling.

But to my delight, Foundation was an even better read as an adult than it had been when I was a teenager. The epic sweep, the original ideas, the sheer intelligence of it all, was even more thrilling to my adult self.

So I’d just like to take a moment today to wish Isaac Asimov a very happy 102 birthday.