[Klaar voor de => “AI-revolutie”]

Machines die slimmer zijn dan mensen. Het kan realiteit worden in de toekomst en daar zitten veel haken en ogen aan. Verschillende topexperts brengen de implicaties in kaart in de documentaire We Need To Talk About A.I.

In deze fase zijn we omringt door Narrow AI, kunstmatige intelligentie die een specifieke taak veel beter dan mensen kan uitvoeren. Bijvoorbeeld schaken, autorijden, beleggen, een vliegtuig besturen en gezichten herkennen. Deze AI is vergelijkbaar met een autistische savant. Dit is indrukwekkend, maar staat nog ver af van A.G.I.: Artificial General Intelligence. Mocht dit ooit arriveren, wat gaat er dan gebeuren? De scenario’s in films zijn meestal niet erg rooskleurig. Denk maar aan The Terminator, The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey en Ex Machina. Ook verschillende publieke figuren hebben gewaarschuwd voor de gevaren van AI, zoals Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking en Bill Gates.

Een van de gevaren is dat AGI-machines niet noodzakelijk dezelfde doelen als de mensheid nastreven: het goal alignment probleem. Bijvoorbeeld, wanneer de missie wereldvrede is, dan vindt de AI het misschien wel een goed idee om het hele menselijke ras uit te roeien. Zie bovenstaande films voor dergelijke scenario’s. De film die waarschijnlijk het meest realistische beeld geeft is 2001: A Space Odyssey. De boordcomputer HAL van het ruimteschip Discovery One besluit dat hij de missie naar Jupiter beter zonder bemanning kan uitvoeren, en probeert astronauten om zeep te helpen. Een duidelijk goal alignment probleem. Maar veel AI-experts worden boos van dit soort bangmakerij. Het is onmogelijk om ver vooruit te kijken bij technologische ontwikkelingen. We moeten gewoon bouwen, experimenteren en leren van wat er goed en fout gaat.

Dat kan zo zijn, maar er is wel een grote zorg die tijdig geadresseerd moet worden. Als AGI wordt ontwikkeld kan dat de machtsverhoudingen op de wereld enorm verstoren. Stel dat een dictator als Poetin, Trump of Xi als eerste AGI in handen krijgt… Ik durf er niet aan de denken. Of mogelijk even verschrikkelijk; een tech-gigant als Google of Facebook die ermee aan de haal gaat. Dit is een winner takes all contest. Degene die het als eerste krijgt zal binnen de kortste keren iedere industrie domineren. Hier moeten we afspraken over maken of het kan rampzalig uitpakken.

Maar er is ook heel veel dat AGI kan brengen. Een paar voorbeelden: tijdig de signalen herkennen van hartproblemen, kanker en suïcide. Het sterk verbeteren van verkeersveiligheid. Het laten slagen van veel meer operaties met robotchirurgie. Maar ook het mogelijk maken van een meer gelijkwaardige verdeling van welvaart binnen een vrije markt economie. En zorgen voor meer duurzaamheid en minder oorlog.

Dit klinkt idyllisch, maar een keerzijde hiervan kan weer zijn het inleveren van vrijheid. Een AI dictatorschap dus. Een tussenvorm kan zijn dat de AI als scenarioplanner fungeert die de mens alle ideale beleidsvoorstellen voorlegt. Maar de mensen blijven beslissen. We moeten hoe dan ook nadenken over hoeveel autonomie we machines geven. Dat geldt bijvoorbeeld ook voor zelfrijdende auto’s die ethische keuzes moeten maken, zoals het laten sterven van hun passagier of het inrijden op een groep kinderen. Wie beslist?

Er komt nogal wat bij kijken. En gezien de enorme revolutie die AI gaat inluiden is het niet verkeerd als hier zoveel mogelijk risicomanagement op los te laten. Alles wat er mogelijk verkeerd kan gaan moet in kaart worden gebracht en alle mogelijke maatregelen moeten worden genomen om deze risico’s in te dammen. De vuistregel van riskmanagement-expert Nassim Nicholas Taleb is hier van toepassing: ‘wat moeder natuur doet, is rigoureus totdat het tegendeel is bewezen; wat mens en wetenschap doen, is gebrekkig totdat het tegendeel is bewezen.’ We zijn gewaarschuwd.

George Lucas, Not Guilty

Today, on the premiere of ‘The Last Jedi’ – the eighth official episode in the Star Wars saga, creator of Star Wars – Mr. George Lucas – stands trial. He is accused of being a hack.

The prosecution (The internet)
Of the many things that catch blame for ‘ruining’ the Star Wars prequels – Jar Jar Binks, midi-chlorians, almost every line of dialogue George Lucas wrote for Padme and Anakin – there is one moment that makes almost every fan cringe, no matter how dedicated. We’re talking about Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader, literally the jumping-off point of the entire Star Wars saga.

In this moment, Vader learns that he has lost his wife and unborn children…and has been transformed into, like, a Space Robocop. So, what does he do? He breaks free from his shackles and lets out the now infamous, “NOOOOOOO!” that felt like it had a Kanye-level of autotune to it. It felt ridiculous when it should have been the defining moment of the prequels. What the hell was Lucas thinking?

The defense (Johnny Cochran)

This defense will be short and easy. This is the man who gave us Star Wars after all. The original Star Wars films still form the best trilogy ever created hands down. Even the third part – which is never the best in any series – is in case of Star Wars nearly perfect: ‘Return of the Jedi’ contains some of the best stuff of the series. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert (1942 – 2013) gave each of the three original films the maximum rating of four stars (read his awesome reviews here, here, and here).

So why is Lucas so hated despite being the man who gave us Darth Vader, Yoda, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker amongst many others? Because he also gave us Jar Jar Binks? Because he writes remarkably terrible love scenes? So what? Didn’t the other great filmmakers of his generation make similar mistakes? Francis Ford Coppola cast his daughter in ‘The Godfather: Part III’ and it nearly ruined the film. Yet, he is never criticized in the way Lucas is.

Statistically, after sunshine comes rain. Lucas gave us the best trilogy ever made, so the prequels were never going to top that. Still, that is no excuse for not making better movies. But are they really so terrible?

Episode I: The Phantom Menace is the worst, most will agree. But look at what it does have: the pod race, Darth Maul (IMDb-poll names him the second greatest SW villain after Vader), and the return of many great characters: Palpatine, Yoda and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor is perfect casting as a young Alec Guinness). There is also fun foreshadowing going on of all that is to come. Finally, the world building is spectacular and unforgettable.

Roger Ebert – who gave ‘The Phantom Menace’ 3,5 stars out of 4 – concluded: “Mostly I was happy to drink in the sights on the screen, in the same spirit that I might enjoy ‘Metropolis’, ‘Forbidden Planet’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Dark City’ or ‘The Matrix’. The difference is that Lucas’ visuals are more fanciful and his film’s energy level is more cheerful; he doesn’t share the prevailing view that the future is a dark and lonely place.”

Episode II: Attack of the Clones – The greatest weakness is the love story, we can be clear about this. But it would be a shame to let that ruin the whole movie experience, because episode II has a lot going for it. First of all, it has a terrific Raymond Chandler-style mystery plot. Also, there is a great sense of urgency; the battle for the galaxy has now really begun. And the filmmaking in general – the editing, sound, production design, music, etc – are all A-grade. There are few filmmakers with such imagination, and with the ability to bring it to the screen, like Lucas.

As for villains, usually the best thing about a Star Wars-film, I don’t like Jango Fett so much, but Count Dooku – played the uncanny Christopher Lee – is terrific, and so is his lightsaber duel with Yoda. The dark side is really prevailing now and Lucas effectively uses the principles of Eastern Philosophy to craft the story development. People may not like Hayden Christensen, but what is actually accomplished by his performance is that we get an uneasy feeling about Anakin. The air gets thick in the confrontational scenes. Unlike Obi-Wan – who was the perfect Jedi-student in episode I – Anakin is the pupil you always have to worry about. And these foreshadowing shots with Palpatine are grand. His quest to the dark side is thus very well handled.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith  Episode III is a return to the classic space opera style that launched the series, and many agree that Lucas really approaches old trilogy greatness here. In the saga’s darkest chapter, Anakin really journeys to the dark side under the influence of the demonic Palpatine. Aside from the infamous ‘Noooo’-moment, episode III is a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable film with some of the best action sequences in the series.

And so, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if George Lucas is a hack, then Chewbacca lives on Endor, and therefore you must acquit! The defense rests.

So let us all shut the hell up and enjoy Lucas’ legacy.

The Sopranos Ending Explained: Tony is not Definitively Dead, but his Future Looks Bleak

10 June 2007, 10 years ago today, the legendary finale of the legendary HBO-show ‘The Sopranos’ was aired. It became perhaps the most discussed moment in television-history…

I remember the day after when everybody was confused as hell about it (or just pissed off). Creator David Chase said he hadn’t intended to be coy, he just wanted to entertain his audience. That may be so, but what was the audience to make of the ambiguous ending in which protagonist Tony Soprano – after having his arch enemy Phil Leotardo killed – visits an American diner with his family to have onion rings? A suspicious looking man sits at the bar and goes to the bathroom later. And Tony tells his wife Carmella that one of his crew members, Carlo, will testify against him. That’s basically it. Then the screen suddenly goes black while on the jukebox, the song ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey is still playing. At ‘don’t stop’, it stops.

For those who need a reminder, it’s right here:

One theory that quickly appeared was that the suspicious man shot Tony when exiting the bathroom and that the moment this happened, the camera switched to Tony’s point of view, indicating his death with the black screen. Others claimed that the ‘hints’ for Tony’s suggested death didn’t mean anything, and that the show ‘just ended’.

These two opinions lead to furious debate on the International Movie Database that went on for nearly ten years, until IMDb shut down the message board early 2017.

In this article I will explain what really happened, what David Chase meant (and didn’t mean), and how we are to interpret certain clues. But in advance: both of the theories stated above are wrong. Chase has said so himself. Obviously there were clues for Tony’s death – it’s ridiculous and insulting to Chase to state the show simply ended. But he didn’t intend for the viewer to interpret these clues as Tony’s definitive death either… Here’s why…

‘There are only two endings for a high profile guy like me, dead or in the can, big percent of the time.’
– Tony Soprano in ‘For All Debts Public and Private’ (SE4, EP1)

In retrospect, this quote already told us how the show would end. Except it wasn’t one or the other. Rather, Tony Soprano got both. The New Jersey mob boss ended up like physicist Schrödinger’s cat, both dead and alive at the same time.

Why did he get both endings? Well, there are certainly clues that a hitman is after Tony in the final scene. I won’t go into great detail about this, but the most important clues are several instances of foreshadowing during the final season, most notably his brother-in-law Bobby Bacala telling Tony: ‘you probably don’t even hear it when it happens’ and New York mobster Gerry Torciano being murdered in a restaurant and Silvio not realizing it till blood splattered in his face. The way the final scene is shot – moving in and out Tony’s point of view – could mean a bullet entered his brain the moment the screen goes black.

But murder is certainly not the only option, as there is also the threat of indictment. as one of Tony’s associates, Carlo, has flipped and is about to spill his guts to the FBI. That means that besides the option of Tony getting whacked, he could be indicted. I refer once again to the quote above.

Dead or in the can… Wasn’t it Carmela who – earlier during the final season – feared these two options like a piano hanging over their heads? It was also Carmela who asked Tony in the episode ‘Sopranos Home Movies’ (during the opening scène of the final season, that should not be overlooked): ‘Is this it?’, referring to the FBI ringing the doorbell.

David Chase has said about the ending: ‘There was nothing definite about what happened, but there was a clean trend on view – a definite sense of what Tony and Carmela’s future looks like. Whether it happened that night or some other night doesn’t really matter.’

It is interesting that Chase uses the word ‘it’. This could refer to Tony’s death, but it might as well be referring to Tony’s arrest. Both options would have a significant impact on Tony and Carmela’s (lack of) future. That is the explanation for the ending right there. There is a sense of impending doom, but by the time the screen goes black, nothing has happened yet, unless a bullet has entered Tony’s brain at that point, ending his life immediately. And there are certainly reasons to think that, but it remains only one out of several bleak options for Tony’s future.

The ending is just simply showing us how Tony’s life is at this point. What has the show been about in the first place? In simple terms: a mobster in therapy. The ending shows us that Tony has made his choices. He had the opportunity to change his ways, but didn’t. So the consequences are his and are very likely going to be severe, like the monks told him in his coma dream in the episode ‘Join the Club’. A very significant scene earlier in the season was a conversation Tony had with Little Carmine Lupertazzi in which Lupertazzi (who was generally considered an idiot in mob circles) told Tony he had quit the gangster life in order to spend more time with his family in peace and happiness. If only Tony had made the same decision he could have perhaps avoided the only two endings of the mob life. Now it’s definitely too late.

That is the point the final scene makes. Death could come knocking at any time and for any reason. An indictment could come at any time as well. With Carlo in the hands of the feds, it is only a matter of time before they come for Tony….

We have witnessed the life of Tony for eight years. We have seen him steal, scheme, cheat and murder. He also reaped the benefits of his criminal life: woman, luxury, respect, money. But off course a price has to be paid. The mobster’s life is destructive, as we have seen many times during the series…

Most of Tony’s mob friends, who lived the same type of life, are now dead or in the can (but mostly dead) or in a coma. For Tony, who was always a little luckier and smarter, the consequences come a little later. David Chase didn’t want to show that crime doesn’t pay, but he also didn’t want to show that crime does pay. The ending gives us exactly that; a mosaic of possibilities, limited down to the overall negative. Logical consequences of a life in crime, but nowhere moralistic. The ending in that sense is crystal clear, but to explain it would be to diminish it. And that’s what Chase meant with: ‘there is no mystery’ and ‘I’m not trying to be coy’.

The major point is to not look at the ending as storytelling, but more in terms of the overall themes that the show was covering. David Chase has said he was inspired by ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in creating the final scene. What did Kubrick say about that ending? “They are the areas I prefer not to discuss because they are highly subjective and will differ from viewer to viewer. In this sense, the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it. If the film stirs the emotions and penetrates the subconscious of the viewer, if it stimulates, however inchoately, his mythological and religious yearnings and impulses, then it has succeeded.”

This 2001-influence was very palpable. For example when Tony enters the restaurant, he looks at a seat and then suddenly… he is sitting there without having crossed the space in between! That is quantum-weirdness going on… Chase is telling us: this is an experience, not straightforward storytelling. Chase has also said many times that he was inspired by David Lynch in making ‘The Sopranos’. Nobody ever claimed to fully understand a David Lynch film. They are moving paintings. There are always possible interpretations, but never convey one definite meaning or truth.

Chase is making a philosophical statement about the nature of life and death rather than showing death itself. It often arrives suddenly and you’re not necessarily ready or prepared. In the case of a Mafia member it is even worse. Murders usually happen from behind, so that makes for a shitty death experience. Ironically, sudden death came for James Gandolfini, one of the greatest actors ever who made Tony Soprano such an unforgettable character.

But it doesn’t have to be a murder that ends the mobster, there is prison too. What is the point of mentioning Carlo if the scene is only about the supposed hit on Tony? Another consequence of the life of the mobster is that you can get busted at any moment, and since a made member has certainly committed crimes that can get him into prison for life (like Johnny Sack who died in prison earlier this season), he is constantly facing the end. Tony and Carmella both knew this. What a way to live…

And since death comes suddenly, it is important to enjoy the good times with your family, exactly like A.J. reminds his father to do. David Chase has confirmed the above open interpretation in an interview with The Directors Guild of America. He states:

“I thought the possibility would go through a lot of people’s minds or maybe everybody’s mind that he was killed … Whether this is the end here, or not, it’s going to come at some point for the rest of us. Hopefully we’re not going to get shot by some rival gang mob or anything like that. I’m not saying that [happened]. But obviously he stood more of a chance of getting shot by a rival gang mob than you or I do because he put himself in that situation. All I know is the end is coming for all of us.”

He continues: “The biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That’s what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don’t stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it’s all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we’re so lucky to have been able to experience them. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it. So don’t stop believing.”

Conclusion
This is the end. It might not be the epic conclusion some were hoping for, but it’s a unique scene nevertheless. Chase makes an almost cosmic experience out of something ordinary like eating onion rings in an American diner. Like he said, there is nothing definite about what happened, but we do get a clean trend on view on what Tony and Carmela’s future looks like. ‘The Sopranos’ was never the show to tie up everything neatly anyway. In that sense, there is quite a lot of closure in the final season. Therefore, the ending is as fitting an ending as it can be with loads of stuff to analyze for the fans even 10 years later. Salute.

De volgende stap in de evolutie van de mens

Tijdens mijn vakantie bezocht ik met Loesje en Rosa de Veluwe, maar in mijn geest reisde ik stukken verder: naar Jupiter en daar voorbij.

Het begon met een bezoek aan de Apenheul waar mijn oog viel op deze poster:

Er staat op: ‘De aarde is een unieke planeet. Het is de enige planeet met miljoenen vormen van leven. Er is nog nooit een planeet gevonden waar de omstandigheden precies goed zijn voor zulk leven. Ergens oneindig ver weg in het heelal bestaat misschien nog wel zo’n planeet, maar daar zullen wij mensen nooit kunnen komen.’

Wat een kortzichtige, stellige, ongeïnspireerde en onware boodschap! Het klopt helemaal niet dat de aarde uniek is, en dat er misschien nog wel ergens zo’n planeet bestaat. Ja, de omstandigheden voor leven zijn op aarde bizar gunstig, maar het universum is zo onmetelijk en onvoorstelbaar groot, dat de kans zeer groot is dat er nog duizenden – misschien wel miljoenen – planeten zoals de aarde bestaan.

De laatste zin – daar zullen mensen nooit kunnen komen – is storend in zijn stelligheid. Het doet me denken aan de stelling van Dr. Lee DeForest (televisie en radio pionier) in 1957 dat de mens nooit de maan zou bereiken. Twee jaar later wisten de Russen al het ruimtevoertuig Luna 2 succesvol op de maan te landen. Tien jaar daarna volgen de eerste mensen.

Nu is het bereiken van planeten lichtjaren weg – in tegenstelling tot de maan – een bijna onvoorstelbaar lastige opgave. Ik schreef al eerder over de drie randvoorwaarden die daar voor in ieder geval opgelost moeten worden:
1. Ruimteschepen bemand met robots die de schepen kunnen besturen en door de ruimte kunnen navigeren en enorme afstanden kunnen afleggen, onderweg stoppend langs planeten om water en zuurstof uit de grond te onttrekken.
2. Deze schepen moeten uitgerust zijn met hyperslaapkabines zoals in de film ‘Alien’. Dit is de enige manier om zulke afstanden te overbruggen, want een ruimtereis naar een geschikte planeet kan wel honderden tot duizenden jaren duren.
3. Een systeem waarmee de astronauten de atmosfeer van de gevonden planeet geschikt kunnen maken voor overleving, dus de juiste verhouding zuurstof, stikstof en koolstofdioxide

Dit alles lijkt zeer uitdagend, maar niet onmogelijk voor het toekomstige, zeer geavanceerde menselijke ras.

Maar, later gedurende de vakantie, liet regisseur Stanley Kubrick me, middels een herkijk van zijn science fiction meesterwerk ‘2001: A Space Oddysey’, het licht zien. In deze klassieker vinden mensapen, en later hedendaagse mensen, een mysterieuze monolith. Dit is een machine die duidelijk door aliens op aarde en op de Maan en bij Jupiter geplaatst zijn. De openhaard is ons vakantiehuisje leek overigens wel wat op zo’n monolith:

Dit superieure alien ras heeft dus de afstand naar een ander zonnestelsel succesvol weten af te leggen. Wat de monolith precies is, en wat de bedoeling van de aliens is geweest, wordt in de film niet duidelijk gemaakt. De aliens zijn ook niet fysiek te zien en daarvoor staat op Wikipedia de volgende verklaring:

Astronomer Carl Sagan wrote in his book ‘The Cosmic Connection’ that Clarke and Kubrick asked his opinion on how to best depict extraterrestrial intelligence. Sagan, while acknowledging Kubrick’s desire to use actors to portray humanoid aliens for convenience’s sake, argued that alien life forms were unlikely to bear any resemblance to terrestrial life, and that to do so would introduce ‘at least an element of falseness’ to the film. Sagan proposed that the film suggest, rather than depict, extraterrestrial superintelligence. He attended the premiere and was ‘pleased to see that I had been of some help.’ Kubrick hinted at the nature of the mysterious unseen alien race in 2001 by suggesting, in a 1968 interview, that given millions of years of evolution, they progressed from biological beings to ‘immortal machine entities’, and then into ‘beings of pure energy and spirit’; beings with ‘limitless capabilities and ungraspable intelligence’.

Wow wow wow!!!! Dat is toch de gaafste opmerking ooit gemaakt over de aard van buitenaards leven? Het is daarnaast ook een directe visie op de volgende fase van de evolutie van de mens, namelijk van biologische wezens naar onsterfelijke machine eenheden. In deze tijden van digitale transformatie lijkt deze stap – die zowel verwondering als angst oproept – verre van onmogelijk. Hoe lang duurt het voor we allemaal ‘in de cloud zitten?’ Gezien het exponentiele karakter van de veranderingen die nu plaatvinden zou dit antwoord bizar dichtbij kunnen liggen: 20 jaar, 40 jaar, 100 jaar?

We gaan andere bewoonbare planeten dus niet bereiken als biologische wezens, maar als machines. En voor machines zijn afstand en tijd irrelevant. En de eerder geschetste randvoorwaarden ook trouwens. Machines hebben geen voedsel en zuurstof nodig. Zelfs de hele motivatie voor het vinden van een andere bewoonbare planeet verandert hierdoor. Net als in ‘2001: A Space Oddysey’ zou een nieuwe motivatie kunnen zijn het verder helpen van een beschaving die nog aan het begin van de evolutie staat. En zo zijn mensen geen mensen meer, maar goden. ‘2001: A Space Oddysey’ is daarmee een blik in het verleden en in de toekomst van het menselijk ras tegelijkertijd.