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The Machine Stops

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

What a great story from E. M. Forster. I read Howard's End in college and this story felt like an equally transformational experience. I do have a penchant for dystopian stories, one of my all time favorites being Harrison Bergeron, which 'The Machine Stops' reminded me of.

A common theme in dystopian fiction is a false sense of reality. In 'The Machine Stops,' Vashti, the narrator, has a universal belief system that is rooted in the Machine, the device and system that maintains their daily well-being. This is challenged by their son Kuno who has the audacity to question the mechanisms behind the Machine and learns that it is doomed.

Tying this back to the idea of synthetic media, I think about the perspective from which any synthetic qualities are observed. For instance, deepfakes are an example of synthetic media that are untrue, yet there may be an observer who accepts a deepfake as a truthful and factual occurrence. Is this false piece of media considered synthetic to them?

Another example would be 'fake' or censored news sources, like in China. Citizens are being shown highly curated versions of the daily news, yet it only appears synthetic from the outside. For those who have no other perspective, the news will seem truthful and completely lawful.

Here's an example of something that was made to seem synthetically produced by machine learning, but actually wasn't. For a while as they were being published, I thought that Keaton Patti's series of bot-produced scripts were actually produced by bots. On April 13, 2020 he tweets "I forced a bot to watch over 1,000 hours of Tiger King and then asked it to write an episode of Tiger King of its own. Here is the first page." The script is strange, not entirely grammatically correct, and its perfect randomness is funny. For a bot to have written this, it's almost too perfect. It turns out that this 'bot' is himself, and he is writing the scripts without the help of a machine other than his brain and laptop.

In Applications last week, we were introduced to a film that was written entirely by a robot (Sorry, I forget the name). We watched a clip and it was painfully bad and awfully funny. For a robot to have

That being said, people will believe anything these days. Especially when deepfakes look like real captures and robots are still bad at doing things. We're living in a time when robots are dumb enough that they accidentally mimic human behavior, and humans are dumb enough to believe anything that's put in front of them.

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