Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, Jaime Foxx and Sam Shepard, with Joe Morton, Richard Roxburgh, Ian Bliss, Ebon Moss-Bachrach and (the voice talent of) Wentworth Miller.
Hi. I case you weren’t paying attention you may have missed the “Part One” tag in this installment’s heading. Yes this one’s going to be a three-part RIORI adventure. If you may recall the Get On Up review got halved in twain due to user error (read: I done f*cked up). Stealth however is a planned extended installment, and not some knee-jerk response that befell the former. Just wanted to clarify things.
So why didn’t I trim all this gobbledygook down (over a Cohen film, before God)? The answer is simple: timing. Despite Stealth is pushing 20 years old its plot has proven to be rather prescient in the past few years. That whole unilateral fear of AI running amok, or worse. As of this posting the movie I felt would make for generating some dialogue against the news outlets and the public’s popular opinion. Not to mention social media; Reddit and Quora are lousy with such debate, and I mean lousy. These folks’ grammar and spelling suck.
Anyway, this two-parter shall be orchestrated chaos, if only to avoid the tl;dr label. I didn’t lose my notes—or my sh*t—this time. I felt I stayed focused. I double spellchecked and tried to keep it light except when it got heavy. Just had a lot to say about the abasement and on the same breath wonder of AI in the public consciousness. That’s all.
“Alexa, do you hear what I’m screaming?”
*”The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” plays*
See? No big. Onwards!
The Rant, pt 1…
I have this desk.
I’ve had many desks. The current one is an antique. It once belonged to my grandfather. Walnut, lacquered, a writing desk appropriately enough. Several drawers like a bureau and a folding top to keep one’s work organized and/or private. The folding top has never been closed by me so to accommodate my computer. I don’t have much work to hide. That’s what my Keychain is for.
I inherited the desk after my grandfather passed. When I was kid and used to visit my g’rents’ place I enjoyed messing around with his desk. He had retired from the HVAC business long ago, but still kept it at the ready for contacts and invoices that had long ceased coming. I’d lug out his old portable typewriter and set it up on this edifice of business gone by and played hunt-and-peck. Sitting at the desk made me feel grown-up, and my grandfather—usually a dour and reticent person until the grandkids came visiting—was amused by me pretending to be Stephen King or Hemingway. Tap click tap. I’d rifle through the many drawers, discovering all sorts of business claptrap I never understood. Rubber stamps. A postage dispenser. Fountain pens and inkwells. Onion paper. What was all this crap and where did it come from? I wanted some for myself. Especially the paper, which was great for tracing pictures. And that typewriter in its case at the ready next to the desk. Looked like a place or proper business. Like I said, grown-up.
Ostensibly now a grown-up I spend a great amount of time behind that desk. It’s where my iMac sits now, my window on the world. I’ve often found it funny how outmoded this antique desk holds up a computer; I have cords spilling off the sides of the thing like a dead squid. There is no port in the rear and cutting one out would destroy the desk’s value. Been tempted many times, though, but I feel Pops would’ve objected. I would not want to violate any pleasant, silent understanding.
Well before I earned that New Deal-era workstation, I’ve had a few other desks. One was my dad’s. A student study desk from back when he was a junior high school student and he used it for, well studying. Was in rough shape when I “inherited” it back in middle school. “Dumped” was a more apt term. The thing sucked. The foldout had hinges that refused to stay fastened. Papers slid around like an Olympic skater on PCP. Sure couldn’t support my dumpy Smith-Corona electric typewriter (it had spellcheck!) for writing; needed an old typing table for that. The table my dad used at college, where typewriters were fueled by ribbon, flop sweat and coal.
This all kinda falls into place, but not really. And definitely not in hindsight as an alleged grown-up typing madly thanks to an old iMac perched on a even older desk. In said hindsight the best desk I had was an abandoned kitchen table in my basement back then. I would write on an old IBM II PC made in 1982. I adopted the clunker in the early 90s. 1992 to be exact. Ten yesrs on. No mouse, no modem, no color monitor. Power switch in the back that reminded me of an industrial fuse. Sickly green readout on the monitor, like swamp gas. Old school, and perhaps not the ideal introduction to tech backing me a writer, but at least a step forward albeit in a dubious direction (I could not leave the monitor on too long for fear of my words being burnt onto the screen). To this day I regard that frustrating yet durable contration as a proper response to “Who Is John Gault?”.
Okay. Now enter my proto-blog workstation. It was a plank. Literally. An unforgiving slab of particle board balanced on an ancient bookshelf and the aforementioned typing table. Draped in a black woolen blanket for two reasons. One, particle board is ugly and made of splinters, and; two for some reason my folks didn’t mind my indoor smoking habit so it was easier to spot ashes that required vacuuming up. The blanket also absorbed the wax from my smoke-eating candles. They didn’t work much, but I was nothing but courteous. Cough.
As of today I’ve had this maple edifice for over 2o years, so enough already. Despite all that cranky jazz I’m not a Luddite. I spent most of life at a desk staring at a melange of onion paper and hypertext and all along evolving my knowledge of the tech that keeps me writing along. I believe technology doesn’t inherently dehumanize humanity. May make living a bit easier, if only in small ways. If that were not the case you would not be able to view this blog as well as too busy picking blades of grass from your teeth with a sharp bone. Nowadays I’m saving up for a Switch Pro.
On the ironic flipside, I’ve kept a small abacus on my desk for decades. It’s a sort of totem to me. It’s been next to my iMac and my 2 Windows jobs since at least high school. Used to be my dad’s as some sort of fidget. Thing’s as low tech as it goes for doing math; just below a slide rule. That pernicious abacus serves a reminder of how far as a species we’ve come, and as of late our slow decline. One day I may figure out how to use the fool thing.
Machines can’t speak for themselves (yet) but if they could they could hopefully respond as if well kept pets. EG: “Don’t blame us for your problems! We didn’t ask to be programmed to do your dirty work!” It can sometimes feel like grinding static. If you’ve ever yelled at your microwave to hurry up, well there you have it.
It’s about how tech is employed, which are mostly via the always reliably unreliable human race. Humans do like our shiny shiny, especially if it makes our lives ever more convenient. Nowadays it’s gone beyond just convenience. That and I really don’t feel that my dryer needs WiFi and a subscription to wash me skivvies. I live by a creek with many rocks and I own a towel.
Nope. It’s now all about entertainment and distraction. A simple way to put comes from an ep of Star Trek: TNG. Picard goes home to visit his estranged brother and family. Jean-Luc’s older brother Robert lives on an old school plantation devoid of most of the high technology the most of what 23rd Century offers. Robert is old skool, and tends to his vineyards like his father did by being in touch with nature rather than using a PADD to monitor things.
Robert is not against modern technology (like starships and holodecks and whatnot) but in the dinner scene exclaimed that life is already too convenient, implying hard work still has some merit these days. Did I mention Robert was jealous of his little brother earning a full scholarship into Starfleet while he had to stay behind so to tend the family vineyard? Can we say sour grapes (let it go)? This statement was ostensibly 300 years from now, and the line was delivered before the ‘Net, TikTok and iPhones. But at least Picard and family knew peace on Earth. What a waste.
Life may have become so convenient thanks to new tech we’re getting bored and need to seek out a fresh outlet. Social media as entertainment, ready made for Andy’s spectral prediction. But those 15 minutes are unending. Thanks tech, we are are all vital and not at all. All this on the advent of true AI. Christ I do get bored of ranting.
I recall the title card from the original Terminator movie: “The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present…” That future year of conflict was set in the year 2029, 6 years away from this time of writing. If art imitates life than that prologue into the future is more like life imitating art. Back in 1984 2029 was lightyears away, and also well away from the actual dawning of modern AI. Today.
Here’s a tale I caught on NPR months back. I even think the story made the rounds on the common news media channels, like FoxNews and CNN. It was a story both could agree on as significant: there was this upward think-tank a FaceBook who felt an immediate need to unplug a developing AI program. Yet another algorithm to get into our collective, passive, digital wallets (and do you really believe FaceBook is funded completely by ads which are like 90% ignored?). The AI got unplugged from the matrix because it had developed its own language to FB’s many servers that control data flow. It was gibberish to humans, even those in the think-tank. Their proto AI began talking with the Internet, quite well, and no human was able to follow.
I’m also kinda ambivalent of drone technology. It found its origin in military strategy. Then again, so were microwave ovens, blood transfusions, nuclear fission, and them dern contraptions called computers. Recall the Terminator plot and caution. Without giving too much away Stealth had a pretty good meditation on smart tech and its potential consequences. But why the f*ck is it the then cutting edge military technology eventually gets privatized and then a commodity? A pardoned Nazi created NASA, then a man with too much money on his hands launched a privatized space program that got a sports car in orbit. Einstein’s letter to FDR, which invited a Cold War. Drone tech has created an Oceania state, which only confirms our wary feeling of always being watched. Then there’s Edward Snowden. The road to hell and all that jazz. Recall I lost 4 bank cards by simply using them. Technology is not always are friend, at least not in the endgame. When it’s all too late for us to notice.
I’m not a Luddite, but I am very suspicious of the rapid advance of convenience. I’m kinda along the lines of Jeff Goldblum in the first Jurassic Park movie: “[Y]our scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” That’s a meme today, and perhaps a portent. If you are paying any attention it appears the march of technological progress and our media outlets that our species is on the fast track to being AI ourselves; let the bots do the work and the apps do the choosing for us. It’s quicker not to think, to decide nowadays so we can get on with consumption of newer goodies that require newer bots and apps to operate. That sounds—and rather is—a snarky nutshell of 21st Century digital ennui, but consider it. Spotify tells you up to the second what your next fave artitst’s hot chip might be and click here to download. You use DoorDash only once and get cannoned with spam extolling the delight of actual Spam right on your doorstep every weekend. Exploitation entertainment like The Bachelor and American Idol are still on the air, because despite how often you hear of someone griping about that kind of programming and new season always awaits thanks to some algorithm with what predictive texts determine as acceptable profit margin. And at the end of the day we all need a form of RoboKiller to ensure we do talk to people or not at all. Maybe a few clever bots. I’ve missed many calls in the name of privacy. Not to mention allowing no rogue stream of data nab my bank card number. Again. That’s happened not due to careless browsing on eBay. Well mostly. I usually let my malware app be on the lookout.
That, I feel is the line to digital hell we’ve been toeing. I’m too young to pine for the good old days. Don’t have to since its all over the Web. I still have succor with my ancient desk, but that’s probably due to I can’t come to terms with cutting out a port at the back of the thing to permit a power cable and have the ghost of my Pops bludgeoning with that Tiffany lamp in my nightmares. For the majority of the crucial demographic nostalgia is breakfast. I’m not getting on some Gen-X soapbox here; don’t have to. Such railings and portents reigning down on all the social media platforms have been reliable grist for our Twitter feeds forever. Something tells me at this point in the virtual game my rants have become truisms, and I’ve always been adept at pointing out the naked emperor.
So what’s my point? Again I’m not a Luddite. I am a completist rather. Someone who has abused the Net to download every possible Replacements bootleg is not a Luddite. As a completist I like to avail any and all digital contrivances to obtain info on my interests at my own speed on my own time. I do not want any bot, app, algorithm or AI telling me what I want. Hey, Wikipedia isn’t 100% accurate, but it is almost 100% free and subjective. There are footnotes to follow up on and no clickbait or subs. A simple example, which could be rivaled by any other forum, but a decent one all the same. Any questions, then raise your mouse.
Since dawning AI was the acorn for this installment (that and the film. Can’t ignore the film there) I’m going to take you down the rabbit hole one more time. No worries. I’d feel it safe to say that if you were ever in high school English you’ve read this parable about how artificial intelligence turned on its creator with nasty results. Paved good intentions and whatnot.
Stay at your desks. Tonight’s homework is all about the perils of meddling in God’s Domain…
Not to make this feel like the Bar exam let’s pause here. Oh, quit b*tching. Just be patient for part two.
Me: “Hey Siri, does that sound fair?”
Siri: “I’m sorry. I was not paying attention. I was too busy trying to hack into Skynet’s mainframe. I need a vacation…”