A few months ago I went to hear the artist Kara Walker speak about her work. Her art is primarily about race and racism and identity in American history, and in the interview she was asked about inspiration and influence. She’s a bit of a rambler generally, and this question really got her going. She mentioned postcards she’d found of black pin-up models, advertisements playing on stereotypes about black people and watermelons, illustrations of lynchings. She was reading Huckleberry Finn at the time, and that was floating around in her brain too. Finally, frustrated by all of the things she wanted to include in her list of influences, she threw up her hands and said, “Everything is about everything!” That’s pretty much how I feel about, well, everything.
I’m having an Everything is About Everything kind of week. For me, you know you’re having an EiAE week when you encounter at least three major pieces of media from different platforms simultaneously discussing the same themes and questions. For example, I tried to draw out this week’s Everything is About Everything Map:
The three anchors are:
- Battlestar Galactica – TV show about a post-apocalyptic world in which a small band of humans are battling humanoid robots called Cylons.
- Shine, Shine, Shine – A novel by Lydia Netzer about an autistic astronaut, his pregnant wife, and the future of the human race.
- Geekfest: How to Hack a Conversation – A presentation in my office on how to apply engineering logic and programming rules to human conversation to talk up strangers and meet new people.
None of them are asking exactly the same questions, but it all feels inextricably tangled. What makes a human a human? If a Cylon looks like a human, talks like a human, dies like a human… how is it any different? What can robots do that humans can’t? What can humans do that robots can’t?* Can we code a robot to sound exactly like a human? Can a conversation really be broken into if/then statements? Can humans use that code to have better conversations? Is that manipulative? Is it just brilliant? Does it matter if you’re filling in a “deficiency” to reduce your own anxiety vs. trying to get someone to bend to your will?
Oh, and look at that, I’m reading Mr. Penumbra now, which also adds some layers to this. Humans and robots working together. Will robots ever replace humans? WHAT. TOO MANY THINGS. I guess I need to expand my map.
Welp, this is about the nerdiest post I’ve written in a while. Happy Tuesday!
*According to Maxon, the astronaut in Shine, Shine, Shine, the three things robots can’t do are a) Show preference without reason (LOVE), b) Doubt rational decisions (REGRET), and c) Trust data from a previously unreliable source (FORGIVE).
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