Posted on July 2, 2015
Just watching the first episode of AMC’s excellent and disturbing series Humans and my first thought is that it would be stupid to make robots look like humans. One excellent reason for this is embodied in the scene where the family’s new robot is serving breakfast and the mother keeps telling it to sit down and join them.
People who aren’t rich aren’t comfortable with being served. It’s the reason Americans are overly familiar with waitpersons in restaurants. We want to feel like this nice young person just popped over to fill our tea glass out of the goodness of her heart.
There’s another really good reason not imbue machines with human faces, even ones that aren’t particularly expressive. We have a tendency to anthropomorphize our pets. We project human emotions and feelings onto them as a way of including them in our families (and probably to banish some sense of loneliness). How much emotion would we project onto something that actually had a human face?
The show calls out this problem quite explicitly in a scene where a husband comes home to find his wife being exercised by a hot young man. It’s obvious the “young man” is a robot but it’s equally obvious from the husband’s expression that he’s feeling jealousy.
This would not be a problem if the robots looked like this:
And less like supermodels.
I accidentally watched an episode of Undercover Boss last year. This was one of those drive-by viewings where you turn on the TV, the show is on and your Id can’t look away no matter how much your Ego and Super Ego try to reason with it.
In this episode, a guy who owned a novelty toy company went down to work in one of his own warehouses as a picker.
I worked in a warehouse for a while during high school and it was one of the better jobs I had during that time (the worst being all fast food and retail jobs. I truly hate working with the public) as it mostly consisted of driving a forklift, taping boxes, checking pallets, the kind of stuff I could do without engaging my brain which left more gray matter for writing stories at night.
What I saw on this episode of Undercover Boss horrified me. The pickers in this warehouse were fitted out with a literal robotic overlord that yelled at them all day, “Pick A1B22! Pick A2B33!” And, of course, the robots were programmed to drive the workers at particular pace which was just a little bit shy of so frantic that every shift would end with a workplace murder-suicide.
Forget creepy looking robots, this is the true Uncanny Valley, the time between now and the moment when the machines just flat out take our jobs. The time during which we work for them.
And what was truly creepy about this particular Voice Directed Warehouse (VDW) system was that it had a name. Jennifer. When the pickers get behind, they call out, “Slower, Jennifer!” Seeing this filled me with an overwhelming sadness. I was watching a human beg a machine to give him a fucking break.
But the truly sad thing is that in ten or fifteen years, even that job won’t be available for humans.
When I used to watch The Avengers reruns on TV as a child, I would get the feeling that I was witnessing a joke whose punchline I didn’t quite get. As a show, it was quirky and weird and felt like a story being told by someone who wasn’t entirely stable, while the other spy shows in terminal reruns in those days had a uniform sense of lock-jawed seriousness they borrowed, I think mistakenly, from Bond.
Except for two: The Prisoner, which made no fucking sense at all but which I love to this day, and The Avengers which I could never quite figure out. Was it a comedy? Was it a parody? Was it a straight up spy story? Or was it just stupid?
Like I say, I never felt fully in on the joke but I suspect it was a combination of the first three things above. It definitely wasn’t stupid. It may have come off as strange and offbeat but I think that was the point.
And it was never dull.
Diana Rigg (along with Yvonne Craig) became one of my first television heart throbs and Patrick Macnee’s John Steed would form the basis for my idea of a man who was cultured and self-contained. An image that many actors would attempt to reproduce over the years though few would have Macnee’s success.
Most of the papers say he died yesterday at the unfathomable age of 93, but I prefer to think he quit the field like a gentleman.
I just turned on my TV and heard “that” sound. A sound hauntingly familiar to anyone who saw Alien or Aliens in the theater. That particular beeping of the locator device they use to track the monster(s) that are about to kill them. It’s a sound spiked with desperation and panic and defeat.
My first thought on hearing it was to wonder which scene I was about to be subjected to, the one in the ventilator shafts on the ship or the one when they come through the ceiling in the station.
Turns out it was the opening scene of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. I’ve never seen this movie and, with a Rotten Tomatoes freshness rating of 12 percent, I’m not ever likely to, but it was a good instinct on the director’s part to open with that sound. It certainly had me hooked for a minute.
It made me wonder what other sounds have bled over from popular culture to haunt our waking hours. The “Deet! Deet! Deet!” from Psycho. The Halloween theme song. The whispered voices from Friday the 13th.
I would add the gothic chorus from The Omen but that bit has been so overused by other movies that the teeth have been removed from its bite.
There are days when my brains feel like cheap, imported cardboard. Not quality, American made cardboard, mind you, but the sketchy imported stuff. This is one of those days.
I’m always flabbergasted when I hear that a particular star (usually Tom Cruise) is being paid $20M to star in a film. The first thing that occurs to me is: Couldn’t they get someone who can run toward the camera for, say, $10M and use the leftover money to pay teachers?
Okay, what I actually think is “give the leftover money to me” but I think I come off better pretending I care about teachers.
The truth is, actors do open movies… sometimes… and for some people. While you probably wouldn’t even bother going to see a Mission Impossible movie without Cruise in it, I can’t help but think that Edge of Tomorrow would have made its way to profitability quicker with a different star out front (and also a better title). When you see Tom Cruise’s name, your expectations for what you’re going to see fall into a very narrow realm.
For the record, I’m not saying Cruise wasn’t great in the movie, he was, but it was a stretch for his public persona that may have limited the number and kind of people who came out to see the movie.
And there is one actor who gets me on board any project he’s in, as well. Stanley Tucci. He literally makes anything he’s in watchable at the very least and often lifts the material to another level. I even watched The Devil Wears Prada because he was in it. And you know what? The parts he was in were really good.
As a result, I ended up watching a TV show that I normally would not have even heard about: Fortitude. It turned out to be excellent. If you haven’t seen it, give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.
I should add that everyone in the show is great, including Michael Gambon and a lot of European actors Americans might not be too familiar with. It was just that hearing Tucci was going to be in it brought me to the show while the writing, production value, and excellent acting kept me with it.
The thing that makes life exciting, and therefore worth living, is a sense of wonder and newness. You get that sense of wonder and newness from a thing called dopamine, a chemical and its associated receptors in your brain that give you that, “Oh, wow!” feeling when something cool or unexpected happens. That double rainbow guy a few years back had way too many dopamine receptors.
As you age, fewer and fewer things provide you with a reason to fire up the old dopamine mechanism, mostly because you’ve actually seen pretty much everything or because your brain just feels like you’ve seen everything. You can spur the system to life by trying new and dangerous things like jumping out of planes or sex tourism in Bangkok and we call that tempting fate. Or you can achieve the effect through the application of various drugs and we call that crippling addiction.
We complain about writers and directors being booted from movies and how the vision gets lost in the process but we forget that sometimes it’s for a good reason.
For instance, Jeff Wadlow did not in any way get the Kick-Ass story. If someone had looked over his shoulder and seen what he was up to early on during prep, maybe they could have gently guided him over to the corner to let him think about something else for a while and we could have gotten a sequel that was as smart and stylish as the original instead of being bludgeoned by the turd that Wadlow produced.
Many productions are troubled and there’s always interference from the studio, but it’s hard to tell if that flawed process is going to produce a Godfather or a Heaven’s Gate.
I think Matthew Vaughn was probably smart to pass on the Kick-Ass sequel but I’m equally glad to hear that he’s prepping to do both a Hit Girl/Big Daddy prequel and a Kick-Ass 3.
And I’m totally stoked to see Cage resume the role of Big Daddy, but I am wondering where they’re going to get a replacement for Chloe Grace Moretz. She obviously won’t be able to play a pre-teen Hit Girl. That’s going to be tough because part of the charm and magic of the first movie came from her performance.
Anyway, it’s good to hear that Vaughn isn’t “happily done” with the Kick-Ass story and that Kick-Ass 2 didn’t necessarily kill the franchise.
Imagine if you went to the movies and saw something intense like Fury Road. Then you came home and turned on a double overtime football game. And then, just to wind down before bed, you watched an episode of Arrested Development.
At some point, you would be gasping for relief. Intensity is best taken in small samples surrounded by dull patches of otherwise unremarkable time. You don’t want every entertainment experience to be an 11 any more than you want to pour hot sauce over everything on your plate — and if you do, stop using the second floor bathroom. You’re ruining it for the rest of us!
I have to admit that after a long day of using my brain for work and then a long evening of using my brain for writing (or editing or cover design or publishing or advertising) I have a tendency to choose the least challenging show on my DVR.
I mean, I’m not saying I’ve watched 2.5 Men or anything but I’ve definitely passed over The Americans for an episode of Person of Interest – a show I “watch” while checking Facebook on my iPad. It was never a very good show but for a couple seasons it raised interesting questions about artificial intelligence and its role in human society. Mostly now it’s just serial exposition between running firefights.
Or The Big Bang Theory. I definitely watch that over Mad Men if I’m tired. Mostly, I just watch baseball.
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