Sci-fi films so few people saw, they might as well have been indie: Passengers (2016)

Here be spoilers, dearest visitor. Watch the film Passengers (2016) before reading further.

The ideal date movie?

For an easy way to know if your date is a sexual predator or apologist, sit down together for a watch of Passengers (2016), starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen and Lawrence Fishburne…

…then ask your date to read this blog post, or summarise it in conversation. Their reaction will tell you everything you need to know. Just be sure to have a quick getaway plan in case their answer surprises you in a certain way.

Did you notice how Passengers (2016) had three endings — but chose the (morally) wrong one?

In reverse chronological order:

Third is the actual ending of the film, when the rest of the crew awaken on their new home world nearly ninety years in the future. Jim (Chris Pratt) and Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) are long dead, having turned the ship into a Garden of Eden during their lifetime spent together en route to Homestead II.

The second ending shows us the moment when Jim explains how Aurora can return to cryosleep using the medical treatment pod.

The first ending came as Jim (Chris Pratt) is blown out of the ship and into space, presumably beyond anyone’s ability to save him.

Passengers was a great story about two people who face impossible choices. An asteroid storm damages their ship and Jim, a mechanic in his early thirties, awakens from cryosleep eighty-eight years too early. He will live, grow old, and die on a ship in the middle of space, alone with barely palatable food and only an AI bartender to keep him company.

Aurora, probably somewhat younger than Jim but still age-compatible, is faced with the same fate. The twist is that Jim is to blame for her early awakening. This is essentially the reverse of the typical “date rape drug” scenario: instead of being molested in her sleep, Aurora is brought back from medically-induced slumber only to be emotionally manipulated by Jim into believing that their shared misfortune is due to cosmic destiny.

What’s interesting is how the filmmakers seemed aware of the moral implications, but ignored their (morally) rightful outcome in order to feign a “happy” ending.

To put it simply: in order to set things right at the end of the story, Jim needed to die.

Jim sentenced Aurora to death for the sake of alleviating his loneliness. He brought her back to life in order to deceive her into loving him. He didn’t even have the courage to tell her himself — Arthur (Michael Sheen*) the robot bartender was more of an honest person than he was, and even then the truth slipped out by mistake.

When Jim was blown out of the ship, his death would have been a heroic act of contrition to save Aurora. A life for a life.

When Jim discovered that the medical pod had the power of suspended animation, it was an opportunity to bring the symbolism of “sleep pod” full circle, using Jim’s expertise as a mechanic to save Aurora’s life. A perfect ending.

But instead, the forces of Hollywood prevailed. The sexual predator won. His victim’s disturbing “need” for his love resembled Stockholm Syndrome in which a person grows attached and emotionally enslaved to their captor.

Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was brilliant, raw and real. The script and filmmakers failed her character Aurora, and turned a visually beautiful film into a symptom of Hollywood’s inability to see women as real people. Instead, Aurora remained the love-object to be “won” by a “Nice Guy” abuser/rapist/emotional terrorist.

The screenwriters and filmmakers had two chances to make Passengers great. Instead, they chose the third option which, in light of recent revelations about Hollywood’s treatment of women, seems to be an ominous symbol of our past and present than a story about our possible future. If you see Passengers as a warning, then it’s still a good film, but a chilling one that tells its true story in layers simmering below the surface of its narrative. Passengers isn’t just romantic science fiction. Passengers is psychological sci-fi horror.

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What’s the future of sensuality, sexuality and sex in science fiction, society and life?

[ + ] Crystal Sacrophagus, by G-host Lee.

Technology has always played a major role in the enhancement of our human sensual reality. Ripples from the future find voice in the quaking tremors of sex toys, the seismic shifts of mass media, and enduring whispers of unanswered questions.

From the Printing Press to Virtual Reality

Since the beginnings of literature with Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, erotica — sensuality conveyed through words alone — has consistently been among the most profitable genres of fiction, especially among women 1.

From Victorian times, vibrators were often disguised as anything from handy kitchen utensils to mechanical neck massagers. One look at their elongated, bulbous shapes and attachments often betrays their dual-use versatility.

Today’s technology still transforms our lives in ways both subtle and obvious, as remotely sharable teledildonics share news headlines 2 with emergent virtual reality spaces 3. Media, hardware and software will eventually come together to redefine our conception of wetware, literally and figuratively, reaching deeply into all areas of public and private life.

There has never been a monolithic “right” versus “wrong” way to approach human sexuality. Non-Western societies have a multiplicity of words for an assortment of genders 4, 5. Both ancient Greeks and Japanese regarded love between men as the highest form of bonding 6. In ancient English and Asian 7 theatrical traditions, the roles of beautiful women were often played by young male actors.

Theatrical technology continues into the future, pervading everyday life in the realms of makeup, fashion and style. Increasingly sophisticated clothing interweaves synthetic materials with cloud-based programs to track vital signs 8 and fitness, embed our communications devices 9, and even disguise our appearance to protect us against increasingly intrusive surveillance 10.

From Sexual Liberation to Social Dystopia: Meet The Real Enemies of Society

In an increasingly uneven economic landscape, where the rich get richer and everyone else feels pressured by the downward slide into corporate-owned dystopia 11, young women increasingly sell nude photos by the dozen to their online followers. Non-nude pornography proliferates on sites like Twitter and Tumblr, from lingerie selfies of playfully bared nipples and shapely rear ends to blogs full of blatantly erotic “fitspo” models and yoga posers. Influence cultivated via homespun “authentic” Youtube videos can lead to careers fueled by invasive behavioural profiling, innocently re-cast as “Internet advertising” 12. This is a technology-driven form of “soft” entrepreneurial sexwork evolving from the self-exposure demanded by Silicon Valley’s social media companies. Privacy policies dictated from above in dense legalese are minimally skimmed by attention-seeking users who gladly thumb their noses at the more prudish sensibilities of generations past.

There are harsh downsides and real dangers in this new world of sensuality, sexuality and sex in society. Shaming campaigns, revenge porn, and Internet stalking have reached epidemic levels. Amoral corporate entities like Facebook restructure our ideas about privacy to nudge us into oversharing while packaging and selling our digital identities — drunk tweets, lonely late-night nudes and all — to anyone who will buy them 13. Our immediate present becomes a long-tail past that, once uploaded and shared, can haunt us long after an initial indiscretion, perhaps for a lifetime. The entirety of Gamergate was based on attempts to shame and harass indie game developer Zoe Quinn into committing suicide, partly based on recirculation of nudes that were published nearly a decade prior. What people do consensually in private is never the business of a stranger, much less a pack of voyeuristic keyboard warriors hellbent on false “madonna versus whore” moral-purity witchhunts. Society loses sight of basic morality at its peril, and this is a peril that has quickly become an existential threat.

Privacy and the right to be forgotten, left alone or simply able to control access to non-public data has never been more important. The twenty-first century heralds an age where nation-states increasingly wage information warfare campaigns in tandem with kinetic battlefield tactics. Similar to our understanding of cyberwar, the average person remains woefully unprepared for the new era of misinformation, disinformation and malicious identity distortion that already envelopes and threatens the world’s democracies 14. We are now all potentially social media superstars — or at least stars to our few followers. With stardom’s intense fascination comes the perils of “reputation management”: a single cheeky semi-nude photo, cellphone “sextape” video or inebriated sexy tweet can be intentionally and virally misconstrued to slander a person’s entire identity. Technological capabilities have raced far ahead of the average person’s awareness of their responsibility to check facts and seek context, instead of jumping to unfounded conclusions based on assumptions and prejudice. Our hunger for entertainment often outpaces our willingness to accept the diversity of human sexual expression as technology spreads across the globe at an ever-increasing rate of acceleration.

The overused and irresistibly true William Gibson quote applies here, paraphrased, as everywhere else: the future (of human sexuality) is here, it’s just not evenly distributed. Gibson wasn’t talking about sex 15 but in some ways, sex is now just another aspect of cyberpunk, though Gibson’s original vision (and sexuality itself) is so much more than that.

Trans, human: Redefining nature, shifting social norms, Hollywood and porn

Glacial as it may sometimes feel, social norms are quietly changing. Rap stars now brag about not only fast cars and money, but also an increasing diversity of sexual orientations and inclinations. Pop stars continually push new boundaries as the glistening baton of sexual freedom passes from Madonna to Lady Gaga to Miley Cyrus, Halsey and other mass-media brand names. Androgyny and non-binary gender presentation has become cool with genderfluid personalities like Ruby Rose. Movie stars are increasingly comfortable with identifying as gay, from action heroine Michelle Rodriguez of Fast & Furious and Resident Evil fame, to the surprising insights brought by a refreshingly mature Lindsay Lohan. Transgender actresses and directors like Laverne Cox and the legendary Wachowski sisters, respectively, are powerfully visible role models for young trans women. Many people across the gender spectrum in the Hollywood spotlight are openly LGBT now, and it no longer necessarily consumes the gravitational centre of their public identity.

Homosexuality, bisexuality and pansexuality are as “natural” as any other sexuality; there are hundreds of species whose members engage in non-heterosexual behaviour 16. Human beings simply extend such natural inclinations into the symbolic and technological realms, and bring our intimately imagined desires to life. The internetworked spread of ideas clarifies what has been true for as long as species Homo sapiens sapiens has existed on this planet.

In the fashion world, reality stars like Carmen Carrera and high-fashion models like Andreja Pejić have built careers defying, challenging and changing gender and beauty norms. In January of 2017, model Hanne Gaby Odiele came out as intersex in a bid to raise awareness and help others who are born the same way 17.

Even pornography itself is changing. What used to be considered “gay” among cisgender heterosexual men is now becoming mainstream when a man and a woman do it together on camera. Transgender model Ines Rau graced the centrefold of the November/December 2017 issue of Playboy 18. Playboy is still the world’s most famous and well-respected “lad mag”, renowned equally for its beautiful models and for its high-quality in-depth journalism.
Above all, Playboy and Hollywood encompass massive business empires. They only hire, print and promote what sells to mainstream audiences. The fact that LGBT and non-binary actresses, directors and models (and yes, even porn stars) are increasingly visible means that society is not only becoming “tolerant”, but more accepting of expressive sexual diversity.

Returning to technology, cosmetic surgery merges with transhumanism as more people experiment with body modification. Techniques become more refined, strategic and precise, and will even become even moreso as robotic surgeons take over the scalpel from their human forebears. The line between “extreme” fashion, body modification, transhumanism and posthumanism blurs as augmentations combine style and function. Advancements like augmented reality built into our eyes will increasingly be adapted for ornamental and recreational purposes. First, essential medical devices like pacemakers found their way onto computer networks. Now, consider the increasing prevalence of sex toys that are already being connected via Wi-Fi; as technology begins to enter and take more permanent places inside our bodies, what’s next?

Questions for the future of sex and society

Gender reassignment surgery is real. How long until we have functioning implantable wombs?

In what ways will our perspective rebalance after the realisation that sexuality, sexual orientation, gender, and genitalia aren’t necessarily hardwired together?

How will our attitudes change as robots learn to accompany us and fulfill even our most taboo fantasies?

What happens when our technology-enhanced bodies and brains — meshed into a next-generation Internet of Things, Minds and People — inevitably get hacked 19? How will we protect ourselves from malicious software and memetic viruses that contain transmissions of a sexual kind (in a sense, the newest form of “social disease”, or more accurately, social-networking disease that contains a sexual payload)?

These are questions to be pondered, explored and played with here in this subproject of AltSciFi. The same imaginations that have constructed erotic narratives for millennia can anticipate unseen new directions before they become our collective reality over the coming decades.

Science fiction has always been a place to look toward possible futures. As you’ve read in this overview, society is changing faster and in more ways than most people are consciously aware, but we can all feel it. Sensuality, sexuality and sex offer a window into an aspect of ourselves that few people explicitly consider, but is evolving nonetheless. The implications of our relationship to our bodies and minds as expressed in sexual thoughts, desires, behaviours and technologies has always been intrinsic to our existence as human beings. The sooner we accept who and what we are, the sooner we move to a better future for all.

Welcome to AltSciFi ピンク. ;)

Join us. Explore. Enjoy. Above all, be safe and protect your privacy.

P.S. The AltSciFi project is for adults over the age of eighteen only. We do not knowingly include or endorse any imagery or other content depicting the sexual behaviour of anyone under the age of eighteen. AltSciFi is for consenting adults, by consenting adults. Any material depicting nonconsensual sex may be accompanied by a disclaimer that such fantasies are common (specifically among women) and thus constitute a grey area, up to a certain point. Child sexuality and rape are never acceptable topics for adult entertainment — including in anime — and are banned from use by anyone associated with AltSciFi. Aside from that, as long as it’s consensual, non-scatological and enjoyed by adults only, our future-focused approach will gladly consider all possibilities. This is the future, after all, and in science fiction, everything is possible.

Learn More

1. Stewart, Thomas. (31 Jan 2014). Which 5 Book Genres Make The Most Money? Retrieved from https://www.therichest.com/rich-list/which-5-book-genres-make-the-most-money/.

2. Cox, Joseph. (7 Aug 2017). We Anonymously Controlled a Dildo Through the Tor Network. Retrieved from https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/wjnwgb/we-anonymously-controlled-a-dildo-through-the-tor-network.

3. Tsukayama, Hayley. (11 Oct 2017). Facebook announces a wireless $200 virtual-reality headset. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/10/11/facebook-announces-a-wireless-200-virtual-reality-headset/.

4. Medwed, Robbie. (01 Jun 2015). More Than Just Male and Female: The Six Genders in Classical Judaism. Retrieved from http://www.sojourngsd.org/blog/sixgenders.

5. Guy-Ryan, Jessie. (18 Jun 2016). In Indonesia, Non-Binary Gender is a Centuries-Old Idea. Retrieved from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/in-indonesia-nonbinary-gender-is-a-centuriesold-idea.

6. History of Same-Sex Samurai Love in Edo Japan. (1 May 2017). Retrieved from https://allabout-japan.com/en/article/5187/.

7. Kabuki. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/art/Kabuki.

8. Giles, Chris. (24 Oct 2017). The biomedical smart jacket that diagnoses pneumonia using Bluetooth. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/24/africa/biomedical-jacket-uganda-africa-tech-rising/index.html.

9. HAL 90210. (26 Sep 2017). Jacquard: Google and Levi’s ‘smart jacket’ that you can only wash 10 times. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/26/jacquard-google-levis-smart-jacket-denim.

10. Schneier, Bruce. (14 Jan 2013). Anti-Surveillance Clothing. Retrieved from https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/01/anti-surveillan_1.html.

11. Metcalf, Stephen. (18 Aug 2017). Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world . Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/18/neoliberalism-the-idea-that-changed-the-world.

12. Eckersley, Peter. (21 Sep 2009). How Online Tracking Companies Know Most of What You Do Online (and What Social Networks Are Doing to Help Them). Retrieved from https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/09/online-trackers-and-social-networks.

13. Hachman, Mark. (1 Oct 2015). The price of free: how Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google sell you to advertisers. Retrieved from https://www.pcworld.com/article/2986988/privacy/the-price-of-free-how-apple-facebook-microsoft-and-google-sell-you-to-advertisers.html.

14. Constine, Josh. (31 Oct 2017). Congress grills Facebook, Twitter, Google on shells hiding election meddlers. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2017/10/31/election-inference-shell-companies/.

15. Kennedy, Pagan. (13 Jan 2012). William Gibson’s Future Is Now. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/books/review/distrust-that-particular-flavor-by-william-gibson-book-review.html.

16. Hogenboom, Melissa. (6 Feb 2015). Are there any homosexual animals? Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150206-are-there-any-homosexual-animals

17. Lindsay, Kathryn. (Jan 2017). This Model Just Revealed She Is Intersex. Retrieved from http://www.refinery29.com/2017/01/137416/hanne-gaby-odiele-intersex

18. Quinn, Dave. (19 Oct 2017). French Model Ines Rau Makes History as Playboy’s First Transgender Playmate. Retrieved from http://people.com/bodies/ines-rau-makes-history-as-playboys-first-transgender-playmate/.

19. Dalton, Andrew. (03 Apr 17). This connected vibrator’s camera is disturbingly easy to hack. Retrieved from https://www.engadget.com/2017/04/03/siime-connected-vibrator-camera-wifi-hack/

What if we can take Elon Musk’s science fiction high-speed underground vision one step further, and make it work for everyone?

Have you heard about Elon Musk’s idea for an underground system of tunnels that would move cars at superhigh speeds?

Of course you have.

The idea generated a wave of hype for Musk’s brand, but what is this “underground car” concept, really?

Silicon Valley often cannibalizes and reinvents existing services, usually involving an app, in order to turn a profit. In this case, Elon Musk has set his eyes on “disrupting” public transportation using his tech-celebrity cult guru status and the Tesla brand.

His “underground car” concept is a subway for private transportation, combined with the idea of a bus stop where cars arrive to be transported underground (a “car stop”).

Do you notice the weird part of that idea, though?

Yes. The exact reason for a subway is that many people don’t have access to cars. Subways and buses exist for everyone to use, which benefits all of society at an affordable price.

Elon Musk wants to sell more cars. He also probably wouldn’t mind owning an entire private subway system. Beyond hyping his brand now, it makes good future business sense. Public transportation is also “suboptimal” to say the least, so maybe Musk could “disrupt” it and do it better.

What if there could be a public option that works for everyone, and doesn’t require digging a whole new subway just for cars?

Think about it: there are already bus stops in many urban areas around the world. There are also subways in many major cities from São Paulo to Seoul. What if we could create a compelling vision of a future where the two — bus and subway — came together?

On a busy rush hour city street, a bus-sized pod sits at the curb. The pod, however, has no tires (or maybe it does) and sits atop a platform. At scheduled intervals, the platform descends into a city subway tunnel, and is propelled inside a vacuum-sealed tube (or a regular subway track) to the next stop. Behind and ahead of the pod, a regular subway train also runs its route, along with other transport pods.

When the pod reaches the next pod-stop, it slides into the rectangular lift-space and is elevated to the curb, streetside, unloading passengers and making itself available to a new group of riders.

In this idea, you leverage existing subway tunnels to create a public transportation subsystem that’s a hybrid of bus and subway. It can

  • reduce traffic congestion and pollution
  • be mostly automated to fit into subway schedules, and
  • benefits everyone rather than only people who have private cars.

Revenue generated by this system can be used to improve other aspects of public infrastructure — bridges, roads, schools, a functional universal healthcare system, or even funding basic income for when AI and automation overtakes most human jobs.

This idea could change the world. And we — the science fiction writers, artists, tinkerers, hackers and future-fascinated engineers — could be the ones to build the vision so that society can imagine it as real and demand that it be created.

Learn More

1. The Boring Company. (28 Apr 2017). Tunnels. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5V_VzRrSBI.

2. Etherington, Darrell. (28 Apr 2017). Watch how Elon Musk’s Boring Company tunnels will move cars faster. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/28/watch-how-elon-musks-boring-company-tunnels-will-move-cars-faster/.

3. Oremus, Will. (2017 June 19). Lyft Isn’t Reinventing City Buses. It’s Undermining Them. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2017/06/19/no_lyft_didn_t_accidentally_reinvent_the_city_bus.html.

4. Friedman, Ann. (26 June 2017). Lyft Shuttle: A bus, but without all those pesky poor people. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-lyft-shuttle-bus-perspec-20170626-story.html.

5. Pereira, Alyssa. (19 June 2017). Critics call out Lyft for reinventing the bus with its new ‘Shuttle’ feature. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com/technology/article/Critics-call-out-Lyft-for-reinventing-the-bus-11230357.php.

6. Drum, Kevin. (17 Jul 2017). Mass Unemployment Will Start Around 2025. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/07/mass-unemployment-will-start-around-2025/.

The Matrix, Unloaded: Motoko Becomes Mira. Ghost in the Shell Becomes RoboCop. Hollywood Reboots into the Wrong Cyborg Body… Again.

2017 live-action Ghost in the Shell — a gender-switched RoboCop reboot starring whitewashed “Mira Killian” (not Motoko Kusanagi) with ethnically random cast, set in try-hard cyberpunk not-really-Japan?

After reading the reviews of Ghost in the Shell IMAX previews (here and here), the items mentioned in this article’s subtitle became clear.

Ghost in the Shell illustration by GUWEIZ. https://www.patreon.com/guweiz
Ghost in the Shell illustration by GUWEIZ. https://www.patreon.com/guweiz.

At least two different people have seen the first fifteen minutes of 2017 Ghost in the Shell and written in-depth reviews that are highly similar. Those fifteen minutes contain more than enough footage to glean a basic idea of the plot — or in this case, what the plot basically is, and definitely isn’t. Reviews confirm that Motoko Kusanagi (oops, “Mira Killian“) is intentionally whitewashed; her backstory is a gender-bent copy of RoboCop, not Kusanagi’s background drawn from 1996 anime Ghost in the Shell.

Known facts:

– the 2017 Hollywood version of Ghost in the Shell is designed as a big-budget blockbuster — not a mysterious indie noir thriller with some sort of complex, inscrutable concept and plot;
– the advance screening wasn’t a VFX exhibition; the footage was chosen to give people an idea of what the film is about;
– both reviewers independently agreed on the basic plot and the Motoko Kusanagi (oops, whitewashed “Mira Killian”) character’s strangely RoboCop-like backstory as shown in the footage.

Here is the newest trailer released on 01 March 2017:

This could have been a decent cyberpunk film without needing to:

– “prettify” the gritty Ghost in the Shell anime aesthetic with neon and giant holograms everywhere;
– blatantly whitewash a Japanese anime (Motoko is now “Mira”);
– or, as the reviews also suggest, dumb down and replace the real Ghost in the Shell concept with a blockbuster-friendly Hollywood plot.

Why not just create a female RoboCop starring Scarlett Johansson and the same ethnically random (“diverse”) cast, set in some imaginary future city?

Lessons Lost From The Way of the Matrix

They could have gone the way of the Matrix and lifted eighty percent of the plot from Ghost in the Shell itself, sprinkled in “deep” transhumanist philosophical moral dilemmas, and blended the other twenty percent with Dark City (or in this case, RoboCop).

People who hadn’t seen Ghost in the Shell or Dark City thought that the Matrix was brilliantly original. This 2017 Ghost in the Shell film could have followed a similar formula and at least tried to create something that seemed new.

Dark City Detour

We can’t definitively know what influence Dark City (1998) had on the Matrix (1999) during the intervening year after Dark City was released. It’s entirely possible that the Wachowskis took cues from Dark City in designing the style of the Matrix in post-production and maybe even reshoots. Three hundred and sixtyfive days is a long time, but it’s also true that today’s hype for virtual reality was already a trendy sci-fi trope back then.

All that’s clear is how many eery similarities exist between the two films’ style and subject matter, and the fact that the Matrix was released after Dark City.

The Matrix Was a Smart Blockbuster

It’s also useful to note that the Matrix wasn’t a small-budget indie film by any stretch of the imagination, especially for relative unknown directors as the Wachowskis were at that time.

From IMDB:

The Wachowskis approached Warner with the idea of the Matrix and Warner balked at the budget they had submitted, which was over $80 million. Warner instead agreed to give them $10 million. The Wachowskis took the money and filmed the first ten minutes of the movie (the opening scene with Carrie-Anne Moss) using the entire $10 million. They then showed the executives at Warner the opening scene. They were impressed, and green-lit the original asking budget.

USD$80 million in 1999 would equal $116,609,363.75 in 2017. That’s a fairly massive budget.

The Matrix proved that a sci-fi action blockbuster doesn’t need to dumb itself down in order to excite audiences and succeed at the box office.

How The Matrix Translated Philosophy Into Onscreen Action

What worked so well in the original Matrix (1999) was the abundance of symbolism from philosophy (“welcome to the desert of the real“), folklore (“buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy“) and religion (including Buddhism — “there is no spoon“).

This left the “true” meaning of the imagery up for interpretation.

The actual text itself (i.e. the script) was far less developed than the symbolism; that’s where the Wachowskis were at their weakest. The Matrix 2 and 3 often highlighted their inability to blend dialogue seamlessly with imagery. This culminated in the Architect’s plot-stopping speech, among several other “talking head” moments.

An unfortunate side-effect of “images above all” is that those images could be misinterpreted and twisted in any number of ways. The Wachowskis, two transgender women who (at least at time of writing) embody an inclusive mentality, created the “blue pill” and “red pill” symbol. And we know what happens on Reddit now when you talk about taking the red pill.

(The upside is that we got to see ahead-of-its-time moments like the Battle for Zion (Part 1 and Part 2), which showed us realistic combat exoskeletons over a decade before the Edge of Tomorrow (2014).)

There was literally a lot to see in the Matrix, philosophically speaking. The Architect’s speech was fine as a dramatic, theatrical monologue; it just didn’t work as part of a film script. The Neo-as-messiah myth is also an example of the “chosen one” archetype that you see in most Hollywood films; it’s easy to focus on and identify with a “hero’s journey” plot arc. Remember how ambiguous the ending of Matrix Revolutions was, though; there was more happening than just the sacrifice of Neo. It was a courageous way to end the series, particularly since it didn’t resolve to a typical “happily ever after” conclusion.

Neo Versus Motoko: Different Cultures, Different Challenges

None of this is intended to say that the Matrix was anywhere near as complex as Ghost in the Shell, because they operate in different media, designed to address and challenge different cultural expectations (1999 Hollywood film vs. 1996 Japanese anime).

Ultimately, the Matrix may have tried to do too much philosophically, rather than too little, whereas Ghost in the Shell infused the anime world with a near-perfect blend of non-glamorised futuristic Japan, cyberpunk, hardcore action and transhumanist adventure.

It seems clear now that 2017 live-action Ghost in the Shell won’t be the film that fans want, regardless of what Hollywood is trying to sell us. At least this leaves the door open for an indie production to create a faithful smaller-scale adaptation — without much fear of comparison to the big-budget “authenticity” of this one. Who could create such a faithful adaptation? Stay tuned.

What’s the future of society in a world where ideologies create facts, billionaires run countries and isolationism invites global war?

The previous entry was about the future of a post-capitalist world, and contains lots of sources to facts for further reading.

This topic is deeper. It’s about a future where facts themselves come second to ideologies, and where ideologies include large-scale war as a viable option.

We have two widely accepted versions of reality on offer now, bolstered by social networks and mass media.

1. Mainstream mass media, which adheres to a journalistic standard while reporting some facts and under-reporting or ignoring others.

2. Non-mainstream mass media across the political spectrum. The non-mainstream media is based on pushing a polarized, identity-based set of talking points that require the audience to pick a “team”. Once you support one ideology, the other becomes the “enemy”. Ideas become personal possessions and are instantly accepted or rejected based on ideology.

Solipsism Becomes Dogma

The tribalistic “non-mainstream” media is, at core, based on the principle of solipsism — that if you can’t physically verify a fact, it could be false and is therefore suspect. Ideology then defines what is and is not a fact. And ideologies are, at core, tools to inform (and manipulate) large numbers of people. Religions offer metaphysical ideologies. Economic theories become religion-like dogma (capitalism vs. Marxism, for example).

In a functioning society, citizens first accept that facts exist independently from ideology. If citizens prioritize ideology over acceptance of facts, facts become tools for ideological manipulation. This is true regardless of your particular ideological preferences.

Third War

We now have regressive tendencies on display across the planet, for example in France, Germany, the U.K. and the United States.

Nativism, protectionism, xenophobia, isolationism, racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia are all rising. Even Naziism — an ideology explicitly based on calls for genocide — is being normalized as “free speech”. These are the same dynamics that gave rise to the second world war.

Dictatorship

In the United States, the president’s administration — based on constant, blatant lies — is now gutting institutions like health care and environmental protection. Tapping into citizens’ mistrust of globalisation, the American president champions a “strongman” approach that promises to crush dissent in the press and across society. These are the first steps toward dictatorship, and they are accelerating by the day.

Pretences and Guarantees

The American president has literally ushered Wall Street into the White House, under the proven false pretence that rich people will help common citizens become rich, too. Gullible working-class Americans immersed in an alternative media bubble have apparently forgotten what happened to them as recently as 2008 (i.e. the Great Recession). Revocation of trade deals with China and support of the fossil fuel industry virtually guarantee that the United States will fall far behind in four years.

Overall, it seems like the world is headed for pre-World War II conditions. Now, though, several nations have nuclear capabilities. The world’s largest economies have forgotten what made them great — cooperation rather than antagonism. And billionaires seem to be trying to take what they can before global corporate capitalism based on oil and American Empire finally destroys itself.

What’s next?

– Will people keep pretending that dismantlement of social services, glorification of militarism, and destruction of the environment will somehow yield social mobility and opportunity instead of terrorism, poverty, war and chaos?

– Will people wake up in sufficient numbers before it’s too late?

And if they do wake up, what kind of government will take the place of the current corrupt and dysfunctional one? Clinton was an opportunistic politician who took money from Wall Street. Trump is an egomaniacal billionaire who embodies the concept of vulture capitalism.

It all begins from how we define and accept the meaning of a fact.

Apocalyptic visions aside, if this isn’t the end of democracy in the U.S. and across the world, how does global civilization repair itself?

Now may be the perfect time to start a new story — almost definitely a story that includes less talk and more action.

What comes after The Great Disruption, when machines and A.I. cannibalize consumerism and corporate capitalism?

If you want to construct realistic stories about futures that begin now, these ideas will inevitably underpin your world-building infrastructure.

What comes after corporate capitalism and consumerism, when “full employment” is no longer the goal, or is no longer possible due to machines and AI?

This question anticipates the world’s economic evolution after robots and artificial intelligence take more jobs than they create.

We can’t know what new industries will arise. At some point, it’s likely that AI will automate most repetitive (i.e. middle class) cognitive tasks, and machines will automate or assist much, if not most, manual labor.

Corporate capitalism has, in many cases, elevated standards of living across the globe, but at the cost of using an extractive, exploitative model. Globalisation essentially seeks the lowest standard of living and pays workers as little as necessary until automation/roboticisation can do the job more cheaply.

So what happens after full employment is no longer a practical goal for global economies?

What happens when the idea of “get an education, have a career” is completely disconnected from income potential? Fifty years ago, a high school diploma symbolised a decent basic education; now, high school won’t get you very far at all. What happens when the same occurs for university and graduate degrees — if only because the number of graduates is larger than the number of jobs?

What happens when robots can adequately perform most factory and shipping jobs? If more people are told to re-train, how can the economy sustain itself when technology keeps making more and more types of productive human activity obsolete?

What happens when AI gives each office worker the ability to be ten times more productive — when we know that companies resist paying workers more for work that is aided by machines, as long as the labor market is full of possible replacement workers at the same wage point?

In the past, monarchy was considered the pinnacle of human progress. Now, we have corporate capitalism (plutarchy), that extracts profit from local economies and redistributes it to less than one percent of the world’s population. Technology enables that process to accelerate faster than ever before — robots don’t demand more pay. An essential aspect of capitalism is to eliminate costs, and labor is a cost. Financial compensation for labor is also how humans survive (and spend, enabling other humans to survive).

At some point, the current corporate capitalist/consumerist model will begin to fail. Some say that it already is failing, and reactionary sociopolitical backlash has already begun.

Beyond the typical untrue dogma that an infinity of new industries will save us as new technologies are born — what comes after the current system?

Silicon Valley Panacea: Universal Basic Income

Universal basic income (UBI) is a popular concept circa 2017. There’s only one problem: corporations actively evade taxation whenever possible, even to the point of lobbying and gerrymandering political processes to have leaders elected who protect their interests. If raising taxes to sustain a UBI fund is implausible, that is not a viable option until the idea of corporate responsibility becomes fashionable again for one reason or another.

UBI would be a “sensible” answer. Corporations (and economists who influence public policy) thus far have shown no inkling toward being sensible.

Corporations are, by definition, are non-human entities run by people whose only objective is to increase the wealth of their shareholders from one quarterly earnings report to the next. That’s why corporations are operating on an unsustainable model right now, from environmental destruction to exploitative globalisation. The only measure that matters is in the short-term — the quarterly earnings sheet. The long-term future is a distant secondary consideration, if at all.

Corporate Cash Hand-Outs and the Beatitude of Uber

If corporations can fund a universal basic income, they can also just keep the money instead of “throwing it away” for redistribution to the rest of society. That seems to be a very popular mentality now among those who brag about evading taxes and their supporters who see the world as “winners” versus “losers”.

As only one example among many, technological parasites like Uber are destroying local transportation economies across the planet.

Uber is poised to destroy millions of jobs in transportation through app-driven taxi services and autonomous commercial trucking. When Uber can get rid of drivers completely by deploying self-driving cars and trucks, that will mean a tremendous number of people who don’t have jobs.

Not only that, but Uber wants to pretend that its drivers are not employees, and therefore is exempt from paying them as such. It may be “legal”, but it’s certainly unethical. And what’s legal is shifting as quickly as Uber can browbeat politicians into changing the laws where Uber hopes to operate. To counteract the passage of legislation, we see Uber becoming increasingly litigious and eager to spread pro-Uber marketing through the redefinition of “sharing” (meaning: profit-taking).

There’s no reason to assume that any large corporation would automatically switch from an exploitative framework to a sustainable one in time to save corporate capitalism from itself.

The Myth of Infinite Leisure

Leisure time creates new markets? This could mean that people create more and more games and diversions to keep themselves busy outside of productive work.

The downward pressure exerted by technology seems to have usurped the emergence of a “creative economy”. For example, music is now considered a “free good” even by the most successful musicians. No one bothers (or at least, far fewer than in the pre-digital — or more precisely, pre-streaming — era) to try to make any real money from music anymore, and there is a limit to how many streaming subscriptions the average person will want or be able to afford.

Even a “leisure economy” has limits due to supply versus demand and the influence of technology operating at economies of scale.

The Chimera of Corporate-Sponsored “Freedom”

A corporate capitalist future where everything is… free? No, that would be a completely different system, one that wouldn’t follow from the form that exists now.

Capitalism is the opposite of “give goods and services away for free”.

Google does not provide anything for “free”. They sell users’ personal data. The “social media” and adtech game is about pervasive, intrusive, and usually not-quite-invisible surveillance, hidden behind gamification, the narcissistic quest for worthless attention and meaningless happyfaced Silicon Valley slogans like “don’t be evil”.

Nothing is free in a capitalist world. Either all actors involved are paid, or the work is not done. The only free labor comes from the end users who remain intentionally ignorant of the fact that they are being used, and that their personal data is sold to the highest bidder.

Neo-Luddite Conspiracy Theory?

Are computers simply not having any effect at all? Is the idea of technological unemployment merely a Neo-Luddite conspiracy theory? That seems extraordinarily unlikely.

If technological unemployment isn’t happening, where are the new jobs coming from to replace the ones taken by AI, roboticisation and other forms of technology that become smaller, smarter, more networked and more ubiquitous?

The mantra “just get another job” presupposes an infinite number of jobs, which defies the reality of any labor market (as we saw most recently during the Great Recession of 2008 caused so graciously by the deregulatory policies of American President George W. Bush). Hardware and software are beginning to eclipse the functionality once afforded exclusively to humans.

See the example of Uber mentioned above. Other professions are seeing similar encroachment. There are quite a few other examples, but Uber may be the most well-known one that will have global repercussions in the next few years. The displacement of human cognition and labor is inevitable. This is the nature of the Turing machine in combination with a corporate system that seeks to reduce labor costs to zero whenever and wherever possible.

Trickle, Trickle, Trick…

Massive increases in productivity are already happening, and are not making everyone wealthier.

More effective technology reduces the amount of work humans need to do. This reduces the number of human work hours. Continue the inverse relationship, and eventually full employment is no longer sustainable. Technology simply exacerbates and accelerates existing problems. But the character of the problems itself will change as the macroeconomic principle of full employment gives way and existing low-level service jobs become increasingly unattainable.

Many people are working for a decreasing standard of living as corporations become more efficient, while forcing workers to work harder and longer for less. Full employment is a flawed metric to begin with. The jobs themselves are often traps that keep people struggling in wage-frozen positions while creating an illusion of “prosperity”. Inflation rises, employers don’t raise wages and claim the difference as profit.

People cannot just choose to work fewer hours. Walk up to your boss, “okay, boss, I’m going to work half-time from now on because I want to live the non-materialistic good life” and watch her laugh you all the way to the unemployment line. The aggregate (everyone in the labour market) determines how many hours the average person works. People are greedy and undermine their own ability to collectively bargain for better wages and hours, but more importantly, corporations exploit workers by presenting basement-level wages with the carrot of “overtime pay” that eventually is no longer voluntary.

There is likely a midpoint between dystopia and utopia. There’s no such thing as an “inevitable” future — evidenced by how often predictions are proven wrong.

Facts in the present moment, however, are discernible and are not simply a matter of interpretation.

That’s why thinking about the variables (and how they might change) is worthwhile. Life is more of a petri dish than an equation. ;)

Revenge of the Anthropocene

2064: roboticization and artificial intelligence have progressed to a level whereby automatons can convincingly simulate humanity. Robots are not yet conscious, but are emotive to an extent that the majority of their owners feel that they now deserve “robot rights”.

Note: this is a plot outline rather than a completed story. See if you can spot any parallels to real-world events. ;) This post may be updated as more details emerge.

The current prime minister of the PanAmerican Union begins integration of robots into society, advocating for legalization of human-robot civil unions as a first step.

At the same time, World War III looms again, after four decades of international rapprochement between the major global power spheres. Robotic terrorism is reported as a fatal menace to humanity, although less than .005% of robots are susceptible to algorithmic radicalization. Easily-exploited, obsolete robotic neural networks are overwhelmingly based on archaic Internet 1.0 architecture, often called the “Internet of Things”.

The 2064 PanAmerican election season arrives. A set of candidates is put forth. One of them is an opportunistic technocrat mired in scandal. The other candidate: a trillionaire neoagriculturist, promising to rid PanAmerica of robots and return society to ancient agrarian glories of fabled past.

Despite amassing a fortune by employing robots rather than humans, the Trillionaire Agragrian touts the slogan, “Purge the robot scourge”! The pseudo-populist Agrarian constantly, blatantly and proudly lies to his supporters using condescending childspeak. “Make the human brain great again!”

Millions of human workers displaced by robots rally to the cause. “We don’t hate robots, but they’re unnatural, inauthentic. We’re pro-human. All humans matter.”

Humanity stands at the cusp of universal basic income and unparalleled prosperity. Still, many yearn for an anachronistic “frontier” lifestyle defined by hard struggle to survive.

The Agrarian wins Election 2064.

PanAmerica, along with the rest of the world, plunges into an abyss of war and terror that rivals the darkest hours of the early 21st century.

END.