What’s truly damaged about this Joker…

OK. Let’s start with the forehead tattoo…

Tattooing “Damaged” on the forehead of one of the most iconic villains of all time is so hilariously clueless, I have to believe that a lot of talented people involved in the movie, including the director and Leto himself, had to be against it. Look, I can live with the Graffix bong collage on his torso—pick your battles—but writing “Damaged” on the Joker’s forehead is like scribing “Sexy” and “Dangerous” on each of James Bond’s pecs (in old English). WE GET IT; WE KNOW THE GUY. My mom knows who the Joker is. Y’all are gonna throw out your back with all this lily gilding, DC. It’s nearly condescending, cynical, and insecure as offering movie goers an instructional manual as they walk into the theatre.

That said, I still think it’s great that they’re making Suicide Squad and I still think Leto can be a fantastic Joker. But when you can’t wash the veneer of the creative committee process from the work you’re trying to pass off as art, people will smell that shit. They’ll know. I think if nothing else, what people respond to most strongly in art, whether exceedingly commercial or avant-garde, is coherence of vision. Which is not the same as a coherent story. It’s that phenomenon when an idea comes from one brain. And that idea is so strong it resonates to everyone involved. That idea influences the actors and crew to add all the right details to enhance the message, not reiterate or rephrase it. That’s what leads to collaboration, not committee. Committee is what’s above, a half-dozen ideas in nearly the same zip code, all pelted against the subject without a great regard for the whole. I’ll give it this, though. Something in Jared Leto’s eyes is still genuinely unnerving. This film might be a case of some clarion calls of talent inspiration cutting through the white noise of second guessing and studio notes.

Ah, I’m talking out my ass at this point. Heh…”damaged”…


My thinking had become very uptight…

I may go so far as to say if you don’t like The Big Lebowski, stop reading this blog.

(I’m just kidding. Come back. P-please?)

One of the amazing things about the Coen Bros’ story is the way The Dude experiences epiphanies that ultimately enlighten no one but him. He’s like this sub-Philip Marlowe upon whom nothing depends and the only useful realization he forms is that he is the mark. Before expressing his final epiphany, he begins, “My thinking about this case had become very uptight,” a line that’s become a kind of mantra for me. How often, for example, do you express an opinion about something then immediately catch yourself with the thought, “I’m positive I don’t have all the facts.” I skew gullible so for me the answer is, quite often.

Take the Apple Watch, for example. I was ready to join the chorus that this was a luxury item, a status symbol, and a sign that Apple was moving into a high-end product niche for only its richest clients. It’s also clear that it’s impractical to use for typing messages and/or browsing and utterly dependent on the iPhone. None of these things is untrue but none of these observations can be reverse-engineered into a proper motivation for the Apple Watch’s existence. In courting these criticisms, I had no perspective on the motivation for creating such a thing. Which given the amount of money and effort it had to involve, was unlikely to be slight.

I’m sort of appreciating this after reading this incredible Wired piece on the behind-the-scenes thinking and tinkering that went into designing the Apple Watch.

Look, I’m as disappointed as you are that this post turned into me saying, “Actually the Apple Watch is kinda cool?!?!” but hear me out…

The TL;DR of the thing is that Apple is trying to revolutionize and tier our interactions with push notifications. The watch notifies you of different events in different ways while offering a dynamic array of interactions with those notices by sensing your movements. And apparently you’re not meant to actually text with the thing (it’s interesting—read the piece). What these guys tinkered into oblivion was a new way to keep you from looking at your phone. That’s what the fucking Apple Watch does. And that’s…kinda great?

Yes, spending $400 on a thing that keeps you from being enslaved to the thing you bought for $700 (and pay $100 for monthly) is next-level first-world problem solving. But that’s not the point nor what I find interesting about this whole thing. What’s interesting is the idea of intention and how mangled it gets. I don’t want an Apple Watch (not now, anyway) but the amount of love and care these guys put into an electronic watch (well, actually a supercomputer on your arm) made me think of recording sessions where a short space of, say, four seconds and perhaps 50-odd tracks gets belabored with stupid levels of intensity. In that moment, that four seconds becomes your world. And when it’s finally right, it becomes this massively powerful detail in your experience of the music, as a creator.

That detail is almost never meaningful to an outside listener. That’s why when I’m listening to something that isn’t really clicking for me, I try to give it that generous ear, try to isolate and expand one of those expansive four-second cross-sections the band and engineer just labored and argued into being. Sometimes I still hate what I’m hearing. But sometimes, I get it.

That detailed moment is literally everywhere. It’s in the design of a doll’s tiny felt cape or even in the location of the zip ties that braced it to the cardboard. It’s in the load-bearing strength of the guard rail hugging a canyon road and in the plotting of the grade of said road. I’m constantly surprised by what happens haphazardly, just the result of throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks with users/consumers/etc. and what is the result of painstaking consideration. It’s not always obvious.

What’s obvious is almost never worth the trouble, not in the long-term certainly. The surface experience of reality is not only boring, it’ll probably lead you to being exploited at some point. Like The Dude.

“My thinking about this case had become very uptight.”


Scarier than Skynet

Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence

Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, essentially an academic paper on the concerns around AI, the possible ways by (and speeds at) which it may lap human intelligence, and the multiple potential outcomes of those scenarios is smart, more comprehensive than you can imagine, and really fucking scary. Scary because it’s often as dry as an instruction manual. Imagine reading detailed instructions on a new device and coming across something to this effect: “Do not cross these two wires. Crossing these two wires together yields planetary-level damage. Do not cross these two wires under any circumstances.” Imagine glossing over that detail buried on page 10. Of course, a robot would never do that…

This is no pop science book. It’s a struggle to read sometimes and often slow going. Bostrom has degrees in robotics, philosophy, math, and physics. He occasionally uses a down-to-earth metaphor but as I mentioned, this is an exhaustively researched book that reads like an extremely technical and academic thesis. And, as he demonstrates, it serves no one if he dumbs this down. Here’s why: after enumerating what he believes to be an exhaustive list of edge cases related to a particular scenario in which, say, an AI might pretend to exhibit rational operations while planning a large-scale domination or species-wide genocide, he’ll often suggest that perhaps the AI may take a route that we may not have considered and cannot consider. Always, he insists, this possibility exists.

At it’s best, Superintelligence blends clinical thoroughness with jaw-droppingly evocative as in this fantastic passage:

Consider a superintelligent agent with actuators connected to a nanotech assembler. Such an agent is already powerful enough to overcome any natural obstacles to its indefinite survival. Faced with no intelligent opposition, such an agent could plot a safe course of development that would lead to its acquiring the complete inventory of technologies that would be useful to the attainment of its goals. For example, it could develop the technology to build and launch von Neumann probes, machines capable of interstellar travel that can use resources such as asteroids, planets, and stars to make copies of themselves.[emphasis mine]

Ya don’t say! Throughout the book, Bostrom remains keen to the idea that AI can reach for the resources of the known universe. This is considerably more ambitious and, well, scary than the concept of Skynet. Skynet essentially had one trump move: pit two human superpowers (the US and the USSR) against one another to facilitate mutually assured destruction. Then, after crippling the human race that tried to deactivate it, Skynet continues to defend itself…through a ground war. I admit, I’d never considered this unsophisticated second stage to be an unlikely move for a machine intelligence. If we’re giving credit to The Terminator mythos (and I’m inclined to do so) we could imagine that Skynet operates through what Bostrom calls a “stunted” AI, one that has deliberately been given limited information or a restricted flow of data from which to generate judgments. But as he explains, a proper AI likely can fill in an incomplete picture:

It might be that a superintelligence could correctly surmise a great deal from what seem, to dull-witted human minds, meager scraps of evidence. Even without any designated knowledge base at all, a sufficiently superior mind might be able to learn much by simply introspecting on the workings of its own psyche—the design choices reflected in its source code, the physical characteristics of its circuitry.

Don’t try to get the jump on a machine. As bummer as this book can be at times, it’s actually weirdly fun and a breath of fresh air on the non-fiction tip. With the sustainability of our planet’s resources and the psychotic teetering of our global economy, it’s bonkers to consider adding concerns over machine intelligence superseding our own. If it’s any conciliation, the conditions could accrete so fast, we may never even have the chance to see it coming…

Good night!