Interesting things

Jurassic Park as plotted by AI

Lately I’ve been fooling around with play.aidungeon.com, particularly its “Dragon” model, which is perhaps based on GPT-3 (though I’m not sure). While the app is biased towards generating second-person adventure game text, I have found it fun to feed it some plot summaries and let it generate a continuation. The results are nonsense, illogical, and inconsistent, but funny.

In regards to story writing, the app can be a lot of fun for generating random ideas, but it’s just about useless (so far as I can tell) for generating appropriately constrained ideas, which are far more important to story writing. Stories, after all, have to go somewhere. Plots develop, characters develop, tensions rise and fall, etc. With only random ideas, the story just kind of meanders around randomly. Perhaps some of its pointless meandering can be tamed with proper prompting, but I have not yet found an effective strategy to achieve this. Perhaps future apps will be better designed for such a purpose, but perhaps it is just an inherent limitation with the AI model itself.

Below are the results of one of my expirements with having the app continue the plot of Jurassic Park. The first three paragraphs are copied from Wikipedia’s plot summary of the film, and the rest is from the AI. You can see that it makes very little sense, and would make a pretty terrible movie, but I found it humorous.

Another experiment involved having it continue the plot of the film Clue, in which Mr. Boddy’s ghost terrorizes the guests and Mrs. Peacock kills Mr. Green with an icicle. In yet another, the AI continued a biography of Mozart by having him get married at age nine and grow up to play pianos in taverns and murder his cousins.

Here’s the Jurassic Park plot continuation (the first three paragraphs are the prompt):

Industrialist John Hammond has created a theme park of cloned dinosaurs, Jurassic Park, on Isla Nublar, a Costa Rican island. After a dinosaur handler is killed by a Velociraptor, the park’s investors, represented by lawyer Donald Gennaro, demand that experts visit the park and certify its safety. Gennaro invites mathematician and chaos theorist Ian Malcolm, while Hammond invites paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler. Upon arrival, the group is shocked to see a live Brachiosaurus.

At the park’s visitor center, the group learns that the cloning was accomplished by extracting dinosaur DNA from mosquitoes preserved in amber. DNA from frogs was used to fill in gaps in the genome of the dinosaurs. To prevent breeding, all the dinosaurs were made female. Malcolm scoffs at the idea, saying that it will inevitably break down. The group witnesses the hatching of a baby Velociraptor and visits the raptor enclosure. During lunch, the group debates the ethics of cloning and the creation of the park, and Malcolm warns about the implications of genetic engineering.

The group is joined by Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex and Tim Murphy, for a tour of the park, while Hammond oversees the tour from the control room. The tour does not go as planned, with most of the dinosaurs failing to appear and the group encountering a sick Triceratops. It is cut short as a tropical storm approaches Isla Nublar. Most of the park employees leave for the mainland on a boat while the visitors return to their electric tour vehicles, except Sattler, who stays behind with the park’s veterinarian to study the Triceratops.

[AI’s continuation]

Meanwhile, Malcolm enters the control room to find that the computer system has been sabotaged. He hacks into the system and finds that Hammond is dead and his son Michael has taken over. As he attempts to escape, he runs afoul of an angry Tyrannosaurus rex who chases him through a tunnel leading out of the building. He returns to his car where he is attacked by two more T-Rexes.

Malcolm manages to drive away, but is pursued by a third T-Rex. A fourth one follows, which knocks him off the road and onto a rocky hillside. He calls out for help and is rescued by Ellie Sattler, who drives up alongside his car and opens fire on the pursuing Tyrannosaurs. She kills them both with her rifle before they can reach Malcolm again.

Back at the visitor center, Malcolm tells Ellie that she saved his life and that he owes her a debt of gratitude. She asks if he wants to come back to the island with her, but he declines. He says there are things here he needs to do first. Meanwhile, Hammond’s grandson Lex has returned from the mainland and reports what happened to his father. While he’s explaining the situation, Hammond notices through a window that one of the rival bioengineers, Ed Regis, is in his proximity.

Hammond rushes out and shoots Regis multiple times before being restrained. He declares that they are at war, before ordering the computer system to be destroyed with a flamethrower.

The film then cuts to the outside of the visitor center, where there is a scream of pain from Ian Malcolm as the building explodes.

The following morning, law enforcement arrives on the island. Gennaro briefs them on the situation. While searching for survivors, they discover that all of the dinosaurs have been killed. The footprints discovered near the visitor center belong to a henchman working for the island’s owner, Peter Ludlow. Ludlow had learned that Hammond was dead and believed that he could get away with claiming the island. He also realized that he was trapped there with several hostile dinosaurs.

The second coup happens in the hospital room where John Hammond lies dying. His granddaughter Kelly has taken over his role as head of InGen and has accelerated the timetable for building a new Jurassic Park in San Diego. However, a police sniper takes her out from a nearby building, mistaking her for Ludlow. The blame shifts to Ludlow. The actual culprit is Ed Regis, who storms the room.

After killing Ludlow with a gunshot to the face, he shouts out that he didn’t kill anyone and that Ian Malcolm was the murderer before escaping via helicopter. With InGen destroyed, Hammond dead, Ludlow dead and Regis on the run, a third shadowy group is suggested as being responsible for the attacks. The investigation suggests that they have no known motive or target.

The book ends with ‘DNA donkeys’, a note about the next entry in the series Tey cats and a reminder that there are fourteen new engravings made out to readers of this book.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Philosophy

The meaning of facts

Someone shared this comic on facebook (from drawninpowerpoint):

I criticized the comic because, although the comic clearly portrays one character as the more ignorant, the two characters are really behaving similarly; their viewpoints are just based on articles from sources they trust. They are not doing the work of exploring or questioning the reasons they trust those sources in the first place, or the implications of accepting what those sources say. One character just takes for granted that her source is “objective” and “scientific”, as though the other character would just accept such an analysis at face value. Not only are they not questioning the foundations of their disagreement, they seem unaware that such foundations even exist; it’s just one source of information versus another.

This points to the larger issue that these characters (and many people in the real world) seem to take for granted: facts are never “just facts.” News, even if it is accurate and factual, is never “neutral.” The facts, the news stories, are embedded with meaning. Editors at a news outlet (or even a prestigious scientific journal for that matter) selected that article or that set of facts for a reason. You, as the reader, will interpret the meaning of those facts. How you interpret that meaning will be based on a lot of personal factors, but it won’t be objective. A fact, in and of itself, may be objective, but its meaning is never objective. The meaning of a fact must be formed through your understanding of the world, your interests and values, and even the choices you’ve made.

So arguing with someone that, “You just believe that because you watch too much Fox News!” or “You just believe that because that’s the consensus on Tumblr or Twitter!” is a useless argument, a sort of reverse appeal-to-authority fallacy. Perhaps it is true, but it takes for granted that there’s some other source more worthy of trust. That is, what news sources you trust is itself founded on something deeper, including the way you form meanings from facts.

This also goes for arguments of “this news is neutral, this is more biased, etc.” It’s all biased because it’s all filtered. And you get meaning from that filter whether you like it or not, so you might as well be conscious of it and think about it while you consume it. Why is this news outlet reporting this news story? The significance may or may not be political or controversial, but a reason exists, even if you do not have enough information to guess why.

And what about all the facts and the news you don’t know about because it never reaches you? You can’t use news that doesn’t reach you to form any meaning at all! But it still exists.

My point with all this is not to argue that news should be “more fair” or “more objective” or anything. My point is that news can never be “fair” or “objective” in the first place, so you, as a consumer of news, should be aware of the set of presuppositions with which you form meaning from the news, and you should think about what meaning the presenter of the news wants you to have, whether or not it’s controversial.

A digression, but this is the same sort of problem I’ve ranted about before in regards to our formal education system in the US, especially in the higher grades. Many parents, students, and teachers take a lot learning material for granted. So much of what is taught in high school and college is just useless information because the student is never going to use it. The facts lack meaning. Very few students are going to end up using chemistry and calculus, and certainly not to the extent that they need to memorize and regurgitate a bunch of facts about them this year or else. But then the student grows up and forces his child through the same wasteful system.

This whole topic is also interesting to me because it relates quite a bit to artificial intelligence. What does it mean for a set of facts to “mean” something at all? How could we program a computer to form “meaning” from a set of facts? It’s easy to understand how a human might do it, but when we try to define it formally, it’s like trying to catch a cloud. Get too close to a cloud and you lose the shape of it and you’re just lost in a fog. But I find it a fascinating question.

This also relates to how science is not nearly as “objective” as the usefulness of the scientific method may make it seem. Much of what we call “science” is in fact subjective interpretation, the forming of meaning from facts. The scientific method provides a useful way of honing in on the most practically useful sets of factual interpretations, but they remain just that: useful interpretations. Not immortal objective truths. This does not mean immortal objective truths about the material world don’t exist, only that science doesn’t tell us what they are; rather, science only provides us with a “most useful guess for a given set of purposes based on a given set of data.” (The scientific method should also not be confused with merely interpreting meaning from statistical data; collected data for which we could not control certain variables is much more tricky to interpret, despite our mind’s natural inclination to do so.)

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

War and Peace vs Dune, and stuff

Reading

I finished reading Dune last week. I didn’t much like it. I thought it was boring. So if the soon-to-be-released new film adaptation isn’t great, a big reason is probably that the source material isn’t that great. I recently started reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and in doing so I realized one big reason I found Dune so boring: there’s no humor. Or at least there’s very little humor that I noticed. The book, and the characters in it, took themselves too seriously. Too me, lack of humor makes stories feel too fake. Not enough emotional contrast I guess.

War and Peace, on the other hand, has a good amount of humor sprinkled in, sometimes from characters, sometimes in just the way Tolstoy describes things. I’m only on page 250 of 1000+, but the reading itself is not very daunting. Tolstoy’s prose (at least the translated prose; I’m reading the Maude translation) is very dry. This happened, then this, and this. Straight to the point. No long flowery ambiguous descriptions. No Dickensian run-on sentences. (Though Dickens at least wasn’t too flowery either, for the most part. At least, as far as I remember; I haven’t read Dickens since high school, which was sixteen years ago.) So it’s very approachable, despite its age. It’s just really long. It feels very analagous to a modern TV show; it jumps around between a lot of different characters. It began as a serial back in the day, so I guess that makes sense.

One archaic phrase in this translation that annoys me though is when people “screw up their eyes.” I guess that means something like squinting or furrowing one’s brow? Definitely not something people say (or write) nowadays.

I’d like to finish the book by the end of the month, but I’m probably too slow of a reader.

TuneSage

Still working on TuneSage! I would definitely love to release the first version of it before the end of the year, even as soon as the end of September if I can. A lot of that will depend what “features” I include in the first version. It probably won’t be much at first, because I just want to get it out there. Anyway, I’m finally returning to work on the front end. There’s still a lot of stuff to do on the back end, but working on the front end will probably help me decide what features I want or don’t want for the initial release as I try to design a possible “workflow” for users.

Whatever else

I’ve uploaded more “thrift store finds” videos on my second YouTube channel; eBay flipping has been a fun side-hussle, easy and addicting. Just keep a social distance and wash your hands constantly. (And wear your mask, even though they fog up your glasses and then you have to take your glasses off and you can’t see anything.)

By S P Hannifin, ago