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Dystopia in Pop Culture: Fiction or the Future?

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. 

Dystopias have become a staple of popular entertainment, and despite predictions to the contrary, they show no sign of tapering off. Yet most of us have only the vaguest sense of what a dystopia is.

For starters, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. A utopia is a pretty old concept; Thomas More created the term in 1516 to describe a perfect society. “Dystopia” is a more recent term, dating to the 19th century: it comes from the Greek ”dys” meaning “bad” and “topia” meaning “place”. While a utopia is an ideal civilization, where everyone has their needs met, a dystopia is a society that is essentially harmful. The central arc of dystopic fiction almost always puts the hero in conflict with the government or the group of people in charge.

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. These worlds answer “What If” questions about the future with the most pessimistic of responses.
What if the earth runs out of oil?

What if we stop having as many children?

What if the government used reality TV as a form of propoganda?

What if there was no law and order?

What if we lived in a military run state?

Dystopian fiction imagines the worst-case scenarios for our future. However paranoid these imaginings may seem, they also expose important truths about our current reality.

RLL Ep. 2 FB Card

The RLL Podcast: Ep. 2 – Deadpool, Star Wars, VR and The Art of Storytelling

 

RLL Podcast Cover Art iTunes

 

Abe and Tharaha are joined by special guests, New York Times notable Author Daniel Jose Older and Teacher extraordinaire Maeve Gavagan to discuss storytelling in the 21st century. We explore the advances in storytelling through different mediums such as print, television, film, video games, virtual reality, social media and even live theatrical experiences. Tharaha lets us know about the newly featured content on NuSkool.com including the teachable moments found in the Deadpool and Star Wars films.

Ep. 2 – Show Notes:

Check out all of the great work mentioned in this episode:

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

Junot Diaz

Hamilton on Broadway

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Nueromancer by William Gibson

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Sleep No More

Ernest Hemingway’s Six Word Novel

The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

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The Future is Here Part 3 of 3: Artificial Intelligence – When Will Siri Rise Up Against Us?

In 1950, Alan Turing, came up with a theory about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). He was one of the most important early computer scientists and a legendary codebreaker during World War II (as shown in the film The Imitation Game). The Turing Test essentially states that if a person has two conversations, one with a computer and one with a human and can not distinguish which conversation is with the computer, then it qualifies as Artificial Intelligence.

Since the release of Turing’s paper introducing the Turing Test, philosophers have been debating if imitating human behavior counts as “intelligence,” or if it is possible to create a computer that can “think” on its own. It’s a simple topic that has raised moral issues, questions about the “human soul” and the dangers of the digital age since Turing’s paper was published in 1950.

Stephen Hawking has stated, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk, the developer of Space X, has stated that A.I. is “our biggest existential threat,” and in January of 2015 he donated $10 million to DeepMind, an Artificial Intelligence developing agency “to keep an eye on what’s going on.” Bill Gates the co-founder of Microsoft has also stated he is “in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence.”

With all of these fears about Artificial Intelligence from leading scientists, technologists, and philosophers, should there be a larger concern for the rapid development of computer intelligence? How much can you really trust the latest version of Siri or Google Now? Find out more about Artificial Intelligence in this lesson and reevaluate where you stand on this issue.

Taiwan soldier_194yrbgmd88hyjpg

Dystopia in Pop Culture: Fiction or the Future?

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. 

Dystopias have become a staple of popular entertainment, and despite predictions to the contrary, they show no sign of tapering off. Yet most of us have only the vaguest sense of what a dystopia is.

For starters, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. A utopia is a pretty old concept; Thomas More created the term in 1516 to describe a perfect society. “Dystopia” is a more recent term, dating to the 19th century: it comes from the Greek ”dys” meaning “bad” and “topia” meaning “place”. While a utopia is an ideal civilization, where everyone has their needs met, a dystopia is a society that is essentially harmful. The central arc of dystopic fiction almost always puts the hero in conflict with the government or the group of people in charge.

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. These worlds answer “What If” questions about the future with the most pessimistic of responses.
What if the earth runs out of oil?

What if we stop having as many children?

What if the government used reality TV as a form of propoganda?

What if there was no law and order?

What if we lived in a military run state?

Dystopian fiction imagines the worst-case scenarios for our future. However paranoid these imaginings may seem, they also expose important truths about our current reality.

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The Science of The Force

 

The Force

What is The Force in the Star Wars universe? Could we as humans, here on planet earth, ever dream of having such power at our fingertips? To answer that we need to look at what The Force is, and how the rules that define it compare to what is known about the world we live in.

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“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

In Star Wars, The Force is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy. The power of The Force can be used by individuals who are sensitive to it, a power that is tapped through the midi-chlorians.

Midi-chlorians are microscopic, intelligent lifeforms that live within the cells of all living beings in the Star Wars Universe. The Force spoke through the midi-chlorians, allowing certain beings to use the Force if they were sensitive enough to its powers.

The two main practitioners of The Force are the Jedi and the Sith. Usage of the Force grants a number of useful powers, such as the ability to sense impending attacks; to push and lift physical objects; influence the thoughts of others, known as the “Jedi mind trick”; and even see the future or maintain one’s consciousness after death. Dark side users strong with the Force could summon lightning from their fingertips. Jedi taught younglings that the Force could be used for many purposes, including protection, persuasion, wisdom, the manipulation of matter and the performance of great physical feats.

Earth Forces

So, that being said, how does this compare with the laws of physics in our world? The closest thing we have to an energy field that is all around us, is the electromagnetic force.  It is one of the four known fundamental forces and is a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles.

The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life above the nuclear scale, with the exception of gravity. Roughly speaking, all the forces involved in interactions between atoms can be explained by the electromagnetic force acting on the electrically charged atomic nuclei and electrons inside and around the atoms, together with how these particles carry momentum by their movement.

If elevated levels of electromagnetism were directed at certain areas of the brain, this can affect people mentally.  If you direct magnetic fields at different parts of the brain you get all sorts of responses.  They can be used to pacify a subject, make someone hallucinate, can even be used to alter someone’s sense of morality.

Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream…it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

 

Science Fiction? Or just Science?

According to physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, aspects of the force are being developed today.  We can now begin to decipher the outlines of thinking via the electroencephalogram (EEG) and the MRI, which gives us living pictures of thoughts ricocheting like a ping pong ball inside the brain.  We now have computers that can read these thoughts.  In Japan, we even have a device that allows you to see what you are seeing on a small scale – like seeing a memory on a computer screen.  Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream, for example.  According to Dr Kaku, it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

We can’t exactly use electromagnetism to move people’s bodies at our will, but we know certain parts of the brain are connected to certain parts of the body, and we’ll be able to energize them, perhaps, with electromagnetic radiation.  So we’ll be able to actually manipulate arms and legs of a person, simply by using electromagnetic radiation beamed into the brain.  This technology is very primitive at the present time, but we’re getting there very fast.

If electromagnetic forces are the key to unlocking our own Force like abilities within the rules of physics on earth, then we need something to be able to direct or utilize that force whenever we desire.  There is already an example in nature of a creature that is able to process or read electromagnetism all around it – sharks and other cartilaginous fish.

Sharks have the Ampullae of Lorenzini, electroreceptors that form a network of jelly-filled pores in their nose. This organ allows them to detect the electromagnetic fields of the objects around them.  They can sense great disturbances, like a ship with a large magnetic field, or small ones like a fish they’d like to eat that’s nearby.  Perhaps if we had some biological enhancement, like the Ampullae of Lorenizini, or if midi-chlorians somehow became a real thing, we’d be able to read and understand, maybe even use the electromagnetic forces around us.

What is known about our physical world is fascinating, and the forces that are all around are fantastical in their own right. With understanding, and when taken to the next level through technology and research, our world could be closer to the science fictional world of Star Wars.

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The Future is Here Part 3 of 3: Artificial Intelligence – When Will Siri Rise Up Against Us?

In 1950, Alan Turing, came up with a theory about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). He was one of the most important early computer scientists and a legendary codebreaker during World War II (as shown in the film The Imitation Game). The Turing Test essentially states that if a person has two conversations, one with a computer and one with a human and can not distinguish which conversation is with the computer, then it qualifies as Artificial Intelligence.

Since the release of Turing’s paper introducing the Turing Test, philosophers have been debating if imitating human behavior counts as “intelligence,” or if it is possible to create a computer that can “think” on its own. It’s a simple topic that has raised moral issues, questions about the “human soul” and the dangers of the digital age since Turing’s paper was published in 1950.

Stephen Hawking has stated, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk, the developer of Space X, has stated that A.I. is “our biggest existential threat,” and in January of 2015 he donated $10 million to DeepMind, an Artificial Intelligence developing agency “to keep an eye on what’s going on.” Bill Gates the co-founder of Microsoft has also stated he is “in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence.”

With all of these fears about Artificial Intelligence from leading scientists, technologists, and philosophers, should there be a larger concern for the rapid development of computer intelligence? How much can you really trust the latest version of Siri or Google Now? Find out more about Artificial Intelligence in this lesson and reevaluate where you stand on this issue.

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CGI Can’t: Physics Fails In Film

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is in more movies than you might think. Whether it’s enhancing a background, adding fog to breath, or even drawing Iron Man’s suit when he’s just standing around, it’s often invisible. If it’s done right, we barely even notice it.

But if it’s done wrong, it stands out. There are a lot of ways CGI can go wrong, but we’re going to focus on one thing: physics fails. In a physics fail, the CGI object is either way too light or way too heavy. When it interacts with real objects, the CGI does not have the right amount of weight or momentum. When a physics fail happens, it makes the audience painfully aware of how fake a movie is.

For example, nothing about this tank turret throw from Fantastic Four makes any sense whatsoever. How could a 500 lb rock monster anchor down several tons of steel? Why does the steel shatter? How come the impact doesn’t cause the nearby sand to scatter? Why does the blast fire out equally in all directions?

Sure, the Thing doesn’t exist, but for the space of 2 hours the movie is asking us to believe he could exist in a world like our own. Every time the CGI breaks the laws of physics, we get slapped in the face by reality.

Fantastic Four had comically bad CGI, but it’s far from the only movie with physics fails. Sometimes a physics fail happens for the sake of the plot, like with this incredibly lightweight helicopter because the effects team just didn’t bother to calculate for weight limitations.

Sometimes a physics fail is just the result when a fake object and a real object interact, like when the director forgets that a desk should wobble or tip when an elf jumps onto it.

So, how can directors make CGI better?
Well first, if they fail at physics, learn better physics.
Secondly, remember your audience is smarter than you think they are. Even a 12 year old can tell the difference between which scenes were shot on location and which action sequences were shot on a soundstage in Hollywood.
And lastly, keep it real. Be more creative and find ways to make the effects using real life elements, robotics, animatronics, puppets and other creative arts that brought Hollywood magic to life in the first place.

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Suicide Squad is a Modern Day Bohemian Rhapsody

 

Bohemian Rhapsody is a song composed by Freddy Mercury, and recorded by the rock band, Queen.  It was released in 1975, and has stood the test of time, becoming one of the best selling singles of all time. More recently it has come back into the public’s attention through the new Suicide Squad trailer. So what exactly is the meaning behind the lyrics and its connection to this band of delinquents?

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The word “Bohemian” can either refer to a native or inhabitant of Bohemia or “a person who has informal or unconventional social habits, especially an artist or writer.” The second meaning applies here, and has some bearing on the overall message of both the song and film.

This song is a very emotional tale, and tells the story of someone who usually just goes with the flow and has lived a simple life. However, he has done something terribly wrong and owns up to his crime. He faces jail time (or a death sentence).  He struggles with the realities before him in an epic battle between good and evil in his mind, and ultimately accepts his fate and returns to his past way of thinking that he, must again, go with the way the wind blows.

 

The crime, the confession

The song begins with someone who is disillusioned, confused, and seemingly in shock.  The subject also explains that he’s just a simple boy, and lived life modestly, and usually doesn’t care about life’s ups and downs.  But, now he’s wondering why something so bad has happened to him.

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality. Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.  I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy, because I’m easy come, easy go, a little high, a little low. Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me.”

Then, comes the explanation for his feelings.  A confession. Just pure truth.

Mama, just killed a man. Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead. Mama, life had just begun, but now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.

This can be connected to Deadshot’s dilemma, an assassin by trade but a family man at heart who will do anything to keep his daughter safe. Not sure if she’ll show up in the film but she plays a major role in his life in the DC Comic Universe.

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The boy now explains that he has to go face the music for his crime. Probably a jail cell. Maybe the executioner.

Mama, ooo, didn’t mean to make you cry, if I’m not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters. Too late, my time has come, sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time. Goodbye, everybody I’ve got to go, gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.  Mama, ooo (anyway the wind blows). I don’t want to die, I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.

 

It’s not over till the fat lady sings

After a moving guitar solo, that further iterates the despair he is feeling, things get a bit crazy. Facing imminent death can do that to people.  This section depicts the struggle between symbols of good and evil within his mind. The song proceeds with the operatic section.

First, he explains that he feels like a clown, just a fool before his “court” or his mental judgement. A Scaramouch is a clown-like character from classical Italian comedy, often depicted as a coward. I think we can all figure out who the clown is in this bunch.

I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango?

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light? Wait, wrong movie.

Then, he feels fear, and thinks on Gallileo Galilei – the famous scientist who played a major role in the scientific revolution during the Renaissance in the 1600s.  Perhaps he thinks on him because Galileo was deemed a heretic and had to live under house arrest for the a good portion of his life. Wishful thinking?

Do we know any crazy doctors that had to be kept in confinement? Why yes, yes we do.

Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening me. Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo Figaro – magnifico.  But I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me. He’s just a poor boy from a poor family. Spare him his life from this monstrosity.  Easy come easy go will you let me go?

Bismillah is Arabic for “In the name of God” or “In the name of Allah,” so in this section it would appear he is having an inner battle, portraying his persecutors and saviors at the same time.

Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. Let him go. Bismillah! We will not let you go. Let him go. Bismillah! We will not let you go. Let me go. Will not let you go. Let me go (never). Never let you go. Let me go. Never let me go ooo. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go.

Then, this section indicates he is prepared for the worst, and assumes he will be facing the devil for his crime.

Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me. For me. For me.

If there is any character dealing with an internal battle of good and evil, it’s the Enchantress. It is believed that the Enchantress is possessed by a separate evil entity controlling her powers and she goes to desperate measures to eliminate the demonic force within her.

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After insanity, comes anger, then acceptance

Now, comes the anger.  It would appear that the boy who normally doesn’t seem to care about anything and goes anywhere the wind blows has become angered, perhaps thinking of the emotions that inspired his crime?

So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye? So you think you can love me and leave me to die? Oh baby, can’t do this to me baby, Just gotta get out just gotta get right outta here.

But, after the anger, comes the passivity again, returning to his usual state of mind.  Maybe it’s a way of not letting the pain become too much to bear.

Ooh yeah, ooh yeah. Nothing really matters, anyone can see. Nothing really matters. Nothing really matters to me. Anyway the wind blows

Each member of the crew carries a burden to bear and a deep darkness within them, but they’re not called the Suicide Squad for nothing. Whether by choice or by the orders of Amanda Waller, they all face certain death and none seem to care about what awaits them.

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Other interpretations

Mercury himself has refused to explain the composition of this song, other than saying it was about relationships. Could the entire song represent the highs and lows of loving someone and then losing that person?  Maybe a jealous rage caused the fictional crime? Or perhaps, it was about Mercury’s own inner turmoil and confusion since it was written after he understood his own orientation in his life, ending his relationship with women.

Brian May, the guitarist for Queen, supports suggestions that the song contained veiled references to Mercury’s personal traumas. He recalls “Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song.” May, though, says the band had agreed that the core of the lyrics was a private issue for the composer.

The song ended up being a huge commercial success, despite it being an unconventional 5 minutes 55 seconds long. It has become one of the best selling singles of all time, all around the world.  It is definitely one of the most memorable songs I’ll ever hear, and will surely add a new layer of meaning to this year’s blockbuster film about a misfit band of lost souls.

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The Future is Here Part 3 of 3: Artificial Intelligence – When Will Siri Rise Up Against Us?

In 1950, Alan Turing, came up with a theory about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). He was one of the most important early computer scientists and a legendary codebreaker during World War II (as shown in the film The Imitation Game). The Turing Test essentially states that if a person has two conversations, one with a computer and one with a human and can not distinguish which conversation is with the computer, then it qualifies as Artificial Intelligence.

Since the release of Turing’s paper introducing the Turing Test, philosophers have been debating if imitating human behavior counts as “intelligence,” or if it is possible to create a computer that can “think” on its own. It’s a simple topic that has raised moral issues, questions about the “human soul” and the dangers of the digital age since Turing’s paper was published in 1950.

Stephen Hawking has stated, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk, the developer of Space X, has stated that A.I. is “our biggest existential threat,” and in January of 2015 he donated $10 million to DeepMind, an Artificial Intelligence developing agency “to keep an eye on what’s going on.” Bill Gates the co-founder of Microsoft has also stated he is “in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence.”

With all of these fears about Artificial Intelligence from leading scientists, technologists, and philosophers, should there be a larger concern for the rapid development of computer intelligence? How much can you really trust the latest version of Siri or Google Now? Find out more about Artificial Intelligence in this lesson and reevaluate where you stand on this issue.

future

The Theories Behind Time Travel

Great Scott! How many gigawatts does it take to write a story with time travel and parallel universes? It doesn’t take that much electricity, but it does take a lot of planning, researching and creativity.

H.G. Wells, Isaac Asminov, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Kurt Vonnegut — they’ve all written famous science fiction books that focus on time travel. Wells’ Time Machine dates back to 1895, before Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and before the ideas behind black holes and wormholes existed.

Traveling in time to alter our destinies has been a pop culture fascination for a long time. Many superheroes have experienced time travel in different ways. Superman could go back in time by flying around the world quickly enough to reverse Earth’s rotation. Similarly, The Flash could travel fast enough to go back in time. Even the mutant, Wolverine, traveled back in time in X-Men: Days of Future Past to change the fate the world.

The plot lines involved in time travel and jumping through alternate realities are not easy to follow and are even more difficult to write. This lesson takes a look back in time at how some science-fiction stories have rules and a structure to the way time and alternate universes function within their fictional world and how you can create your own narrative structure to write your own tight story involving parallel universes and time travel.