2014: Postmortem

Posted in film, meta on October 20th, 2015 by Samuel Kenyon

Oh no! I forgot to post a personal postmortem 1 for the year 2014 like I did for the previous year! Oh well, here it is ten months late.

What Went Right

  • Started a new day job at a biotech company called GnuBIO, now the skunkworks division of Bio-Rad. Essentially I write robotics code for microfluidics inventions that will ultimately contribute to human health improvement via diagnostics.
  • Made a short film based on my screenplay Enough to be Dangerous.
  • Got married to Emily. On Halloween. Proposal happened…on April Fool’s Day.
  • Visited Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Visited Philadelphia, including the Mütter Museum.
  • Moved to a smaller but better located apartment in Cambridge.
wedding dance to dubstep

wedding dance to dubstep

 

Istanbul

Istanbul

We had a few drinks with AI researcher Eray Özkural in Istanbul:

Eray Özkural, Samuel H. Kenyon, and Emily Durrant in Istanbul

Eray Özkural, Samuel H. Kenyon, and Emily Durrant in Istanbul

The Movie

I was able to kick my film Enough to be Dangerous into gear fairly quickly once I decided it should be done. Aside from writing and producing it, I also was the lead actor.

Enough to be Dangerous

Enough to be Dangerous

Making a film has all the same problems that a startup company does, although the boundaries between the “company” and the “product” can be different. Particularly in this case, my new company (called at the time “Subterfugue Films” (a horrible portmanteau)), is vaporous and all the resources existed for the “product”, which is the film itself. Recently (in 2015) I renamed my film company to Imaginary Danger Productions.

Enough to be Dangerous was finished under budget, although I went over-budget on film festival costs. It was accepted to various film festivals (see the official page for more info), so it was successful in that regard. I’d love to remake it as a full-length feature, however, as it really is uncomfortably compressed to fit into 35 minutes.

What Went Wrong

Startup

I co-founded a tech company called Glug, but within a few months decided to leave it (the company is now dissolved).

This startup turned out not to be ideal for me for various reasons, so I quit. Also at that time I realized I’d rather put all that startup energy into making my film.

The most important lesson learned is not to invest any money on incorporation or legal fees before you know if the product/company will even launch for real. Another thing I learned is a proposed new tech product should be able to garner followings from hundreds if not a thousand people (e.g. on mailing lists or social networks) even if those first thousand people aren’t the actual early adopters—it’s a crude measure of general interest.

Image Credits
– wedding photo by Tanya Rose

Notes

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The Ideal Film AI

Posted in film on February 18th, 2015 by Samuel Kenyon

This is prompted by Ben Bogart‘s question “What do you consider the most seminal representations of AI in cinema of all time?”

I think the best is yet to come. Ideally an AI (Artificial Intelligence) in a film would have two elements:

  1. The alien aspect: It’s not a human or some other animal (although it can be very similar).
  2. Some connection with humans (or a human), e.g. humanity created them for a job, or this particular human created this particular AI for some reason, etc. This is the difference between the screen character being just another sci-fi alien (extraterrestrial, previously-unknown terrestrial monster, et cetera).
cropped_Automata-crossing-the-river-of-time

Autómata (dir. Gabe Ibáñez)

 

Automata and Tron: Legacy both make meager attempts to show AI emerging and evolving and trying to figure out their own way that’s not quite the same as for humans.

The robot R2D2 (Star Wars) superficially meets these ideals: we know it’s intelligent, yet it doesn’t speak English or get subtitles. Its connection with humans however is not really used in any interesting way in the film (we don’t analyze the slavery of robots in Star Wars …at least I don’t). And if the history stories are true, R2D2 and C3PO are just metal copies of the peasants from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress.

fortress1

The Hidden Fortress (dir. Akira Kurosawa)

 

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5 Important Themes in Science Fiction Cinema, or Cultivating Bad Taste

Posted in culture, humor on February 21st, 2011 by Samuel Kenyon

Yesterday I attended the 48th episode of Boskone, a science fiction literature convention held in Boston.  I found that Boskone was not just about books however, illuminating me with discussion panels such as “The Five Definitive Criteria By Which SF Cinema Is to Be Judged.”

Robot Monster

Warning: This blog post is about to get silly.

The panel consisted of Esther Friesner, Craig Shaw Gardner (lord of obscure SF movies), Ginjer Buchanan, and Bruce Coville.

"Five Definitive Criteria..." panel @ Boskone 48

They considered science fiction writer John C. Wright’s criteria:

1. Is there a hot babe in a skintight and/or revealing future-suit?

Barbarella

Barbarella

2. Is there a gorilla?

Bride of the Gorilla

Bride of the Gorilla

3. Is there a robot?

The Gunslinger from Westworld

The Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) from Westworld

4. Does any character have Way Cool mind powers?

Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble in Little China

5. Does a planet get blown up?

exploding planet

This shit just got real.

The gorilla requirement forced the large part of the discussion into the realm of cheap B movies such as Rock ‘N’ Roll Wrestling Women Vs. the Aztec Ape. In fact, the only two non-B movies featuring gorillas I can think of off the top of my head are Congo and Mighty Joe Young.

Of course, if you stretch the definition of gorilla to include other kinds of apes, you can start considering the Planet of the Apes movies and 2001: A Space Odyssey. But even those don’t meet all the criteria. Many movies get 4/5, for instance Star Trek (2009) and Forbidden Planet.

Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet

The most obvious movie that can meet all five criteria is Star Wars: Episode IV, if “gorillas” is stretched to include Wookies.

I pointed out to the panel that if we include TV series, then Aqua Teen Hunger Force has definitely met all five criteria. I didn’t mention the ATHF movie, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, because I don’t think it featured any planets being blown up or a gorilla.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters

Hopefully they will rectify that in the ATHF sequel Death Fighter, planned for release in summer 2012. And in case you were wondering, rumors have it that Bruce Campbell will return to voice Chicken Bittle. Thus, once again I have an excuse to end a blog post with that grand sci-fi thespian.

Bruce Campbells

Bruce Campbells

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When Mainstream Attacks: Robot Tropes That Never Die

Posted in culture, humor, transhumanism on February 17th, 2011 by Samuel Kenyon

Science comedian Brian Malow has made a video containing neither comedy nor science:


When Robots Attack! Should We Fear a Singularity?

And yes, I realize I shouldn’t have even bothered to watch it once I realized it was for a mainstream news outlet, but several people in my Twitter lists were tweeting it.

Unfortunately, this video turned out not to be for nerds or anyone who has ever thought about future robots or the Singularity.  This video is for mainstream sheep.  The only glimmer of hope was when he started pursuing the thread of asking why humans have this tendency to punish themselves in robot stories with a father figure or in the manner of Frankenstein.  After a couple seconds of that we’re dropped back into cliché city with “robot uprisings.”

The Roomba is mentioned—and then—holy shit, iRobot makes military robots too!  OMG!  Wait…everybody knows that already.  Big deal.  I guess Time readers/watchers are really behind the…times.  And sure, I’m not being fair—Time readers may not have heard of every robot company, after all.  Thank goodness this video shows Big Dog and Robonaut, two unrelated robots made by other companies, wedged in between the iRobot clips while Malow lobs the old joke at us that the cleaning robots will decide to kill humans.

Sure, it’s supposed to be funny.  But it’s not, because it’s unoriginal and out of date and/or not real enough (some humor is effective because it’s so close to the truth).  As William Zinsser said of humor writers:

They’re not just fooling around.  They are as serious in purpose as Hemingway or Faulkner—in fact, a national asset in forcing the country to see itself clearly.

Occasionally I do see a humor piece on the web that achieves this, sometimes even from big places like Cracked.com or The Onion.

Partly, it’s just a matter of taste.  Surely some people found Malow’s robot/singularity video funny; after all, millions of people out there paid money to see Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers.  Millions of people…laughing when they’re told to at tired jokes and clichés.

Of course, maybe it’s too difficult to be funny with robots—you have to be creative and you’re not sure what your target audience will grok.  But, please, if you’re going to make yet another joke about the “robot uprising,” at least make it a new joke.

If you think I’m biased against people making fun of robots or my company, think again: The Daily Show beat Malow to the punch and made fun of iRobot in 2009 (“Roombas of Doom“), and it was much funnier than Malow’s attempt, although still very far removed from reality:

So why do I even bother ranting about mainstream tropes and lack of creativity?  Well, the problem is it’s infecting even those not in the mainstream.  Almost every person, even if they are scientists or engineers, seems to be obligated to mention AI overlords and robot uprisings as if there are no possible other hooks available.  Every single military robot related article I have seen on the Internet mentions Terminator.  It’s as if the bulk of our culture has been reduced to a mere handful of common concepts, and more and more people are being sucked into this pit of mental inbreeding.


Cross-posted with Science 2.0.

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