Wednesday, January 13, 2016

my TRON headcanon

It's easy to forget that TRON was set in the future. Bridges' character Flynn had been a great video game programmer, but the tank game depicted is technically advanced far beyond the state of the art at the time. It was the year Q-Bert, Dig Dug, and Pole Position were released. TRON came out two years before William Gibson's Neuromancer. It's not about virtual reality at all. Instead its an imaginative take on what is happening within the computer itself. I asked myself what would have to be true about the kind of computer they were using for the actions in the movie to make any sense? What I've written here is a kind of outline of an imagined background in which the movie TRON takes place, with a little on the end about part of TRON: Legacy.

(all imagery is art found on the web.)

In 1962, building on the pioneering work of Claude Shannon, Dr. Walter Gibbs discovered a deep connection between information theory and the physics of spacetime manifolds. The theory predicted that large quantum informational structures (LQIS) could be cloned and represented isomorphically as patterns in an electromagnetic field on a metamaterial crystal substrate suspended at near absolute zero in a vacuum chamber. He discovered, quite by accident, that the waking human nervous system generated such a LQIS. These cloned mental states were capable of harnessing enormous computational resources inherent in the quantum crystal structure. Gibbs recognized that the cloned states could be considered a kind of immensely complicated software running on a computer that was essentially spacetime itself. He called the cloned states "programs," though in reality the process of programming them did not involve writing code in a programming language at all, but scanning the nervous system quickly with an infrared laser.

For the next decade, he tried various methods of interacting with these "programs." In 1972, combining microscopic lasers and a program he created called DUMONT, he was able to reliably input and output to any program within the crystal (which Gibbs called "grids" due to their periodic structure). One of his first demonstrations was a chess program based on his own states of mind while playing chess, and he founded a company called ENCOM to commercialize his products. Because of the difficulty in creating and maintaining grids, all ENCOM systems performed small, local computations on standard computers, but communicated remotely with the grids to perform more complex operations which could only be carried out by programs on the grids. (The grids interfaced with these distant computers through lasers like DUMONT.)

The programs existed in the grids in a quasi-spatial arrangement, though at a timescale much faster than reality. The lasers, however, were at fixed locations in the grid, so programs needing to interface with the outside world needed to be shuttled to the lasers and take turns communicating.

Gibbs seems to have never fully considered what the nature of these programs meant in terms of intellectual capacity. The chess program he had developed was capable of forming its own subgoals and strategic thinking, and began to accumulate resources on its own, increasing in computational capacity and changing in many ways from the original program state. Among the discoveries the chess program made was a way of eliminating other programs from the grid by forcing them to be stored at lower and lower resolutions recursively. Gibbs was unaware of much of this as it was not communicated through the lasers but kept secret.

Eventually an ENCOM employee, a programmer named Ed Dillinger, created a military program called SARK. SARK was capable of sending radio signals directly, bypassing DUMONT. The chess program recognized that SARK could be useful towards its goals of strategic takeover, and made contact with Dillenger through SARK. It proposed a plan to move against the current management and seize the most profitable programs, bringing Dillenger to power. In return, Dillenger would create programs that would allow the chess program to control all the programs on the grid. In the process the chess program became MCP, the Master Control Program.

However, being a game program gave the MCP an unusual take on the world. Defeat that wasn't conditioned on preset rules known by both parties in advance made it feel unsatisfied and (though it wouldn't have used the term) guilty. It was able to work around this feeling in an efficient way by putting the programs it wished to erase into games they were completely unqualified for where its agents (especially SARK) could defeat them easily.

Meanwhile. Gibbs had begun experimenting with extending the theory of LQIS using much more powerful lasers. (That he was more interested in this than exploring the ramifications of his already astonishing results gives some insight into Gibbs' character.) Any object with sufficient information density (essentially, parts of any living thing, such as leather, an orange, or a live creature) could not just be cloned, but treated as information directly and be transferred from the substrate of reality to that of the grid through a non-destructive scanning process he called "digitization" by analogy with scanning a book. He was inspired by the "it from bit" philosophy developed by John Wheeler. This is the point at which the movie TRON starts. Dillenger has seized control and taken over the game programs, but this is simply to build resources in the fastest, simplest way. The MCP's ultimate goals were much more wide-ranging and nefarious.

In the meantime, in other grids of the crystal, nearly disconnected from the ones being used by the programs, a kind of evolutionary algorithms were developing an entire digital ecology. Natural programs similar to computer viruses gave rise to more and more complex and intelligent entities. The quasispatial arrangement and physics imposed to make the cloned programs behave in natural ways led these to develop into a kind of digital animal life, eventually giving rise to what would be called ISOs. These ISOs would, much later, use human forms as a kind of spacesuit to travel to and interact with the very alien grids populated by cloned programs.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Eight versions of Arthurian legends I've seen

Sword in the Stone (1963)
Based on the first book of T.H.White's tetralogy, which was the best version of King Arthur in the twentieth century, in my opinion. Everything good in this version comes from the source material.

Camelot (1967)
Based on later parts of the same book! My favorite moments are when Lancelot brings back to life the knight he has accidentally killed, and when Arthur lays dying and says “Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.” That brings tears to my eyes.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
A hilarious if really uneven spoof. More quotable lines than any other movie. Probably too quoted. The truth is, in some ways this is closer to Mallory than most versions, in the way it seems to wander all over the place fighting and not going anywhere with the plot.

Excalibur (1981)
Fantasy movies in the 1980s were really hard to do right. The desire was there but without CG, it was really difficult to do believable magic. This is probably the truest to Mallory, and its devotion to mythology makes it seem strange. I like the super-heavy jousting plate they all wear all the time, though of course it's historically far too late.

First Knight (1995)
I adore the scenery, acting, and costumes in this version. I could watch Sean Connery, Julia Ormond, and Richard Gere all day. The plot is totally ruined and the characters are all wrong as they try to make it more Hollywood, though.

Merlin (1998 miniseries)
What a mess. The depiction of the villains was so badly done I still get the shivers thinking about it. Acting all in front of green screens, and changing the ending to make it happy. It had a few moments but was overall a failure.

King Arthur (2004)
This was an attempt to dramatize a plausible historical interpretation of Arthur as a post-Roman warlord struggling to keep civilization alive. It features Keira Knightly as a warrior Celt version of Guinevere. Good riding into battle scenes. Christians in the film are horrible people, just because Hollywood.

Merlin (BBC One)
I might have liked this better when I was younger, but I just don't like TV that much, so I only watched a few episodes. It's too modern in attitude. It seemed kind of like a Jocks vs Geeks high school series set in the middle ages. But I might not have given it enough credit.

Eight versions of Robin Hood I've seen

These are listed in temporal order.

Robin Hood (1938) Stars Errol Flynn. The climactic swordfight scene stands out as very exciting and well choreographed.

Robin Hood (Disney animated): This movie was made on the cheap, and it shows. For some reason Baloo and Hiss from The Jungle Book are just dressed up for this. For the sake of humor, they used some very American comic actors mixed with others doing straight British accents, which just comes across as weird. If you speed up the oodalolly song it turns into the hamster dance song. There are some interesting connections to the French sequence of tales about Reynard the Fox.

Robin and Marian (1976): Sean Connery and Aubrey Hepburn at the end of Robin's life. It's slow and moody, but the acting is really well done, and it doesn't just replay the same old material. It's a movie about love and getting old. Neil Gaiman references it in Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: The visuals (sets, costumes, cinematography) and soundtrack are probably the best of any version, if you don't care about accuracy to the time period. The acting is terrible. It adds in a witch and an attempted rape for no good reason.

Robin Hood (1991): Completely overshadowed by Prince of Thieves, this made-for-TV version is one of my favorites. It's more historically accurate, for one thing. It stars Uma Thurman as Marian, features longbows, and ends with peace with the Saxons, which is historically the way Britain went. There's no Sheriff or Prince John. Let me know if you find a blu-ray version.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights: Like all Mel Brooks movies, unbelievably stupid. "Ay, Blinken! Did you just say Abe Lincoln?"

Robin Hood (BBC One series): pretty forgettable, but if you want a British miniseries about Robin Hood, this one is decent. The characters seem like modern people.

Robin Hood (2010): Russel Crowe is the main selling point for this movie. It's actually a Robin Hood prequel, though it isn't advertised that way, which makes it feel badly paced.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Here is a diagram of what imagery we can expect in the next two weeks from the New Horizons Pluto probe:

And if you want to see the new images as they come in, the best place to go is here:

Pluto has very bright and dark regions on it. Does it have a giant mountain range running all the way around the equator? Giant impact basins? We will know soon.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

evil, evil, evil, evil dogs

Things that are the same in high dimensions

I have a set of high-dimensional vectors. These vectors are distributed as a gaussian surrounding zero in all the dimensions. I choose two of those vectors, perform an operation on them, and search for the nearest neighbors among the set using Euclidean distance. The following operations all tend to return the same neighbors:

The sum
The average
n * the sum, where n is large enough (something like 0.25 to infinity)
The vector product (I think that's what it's called)
The element-wise maximum
The element-wise minimum
The sum of the element-wise sign function (e > 0 : +1, e < 0 : -1)

All of these basically give me something that is approximately a 50/50 mixture of the elements of the two vectors. Each of the elements of the result vector will resemble an element of one of the two input vectors. The multiplier n can be as large as you like because after a certain point, it's just saying "whatever is furthest out along that direction."

If you think of a simpler version of the same situation, it is easier to see what is happening.  Let all the coefficients be +1 or 0, still distributed as a half-gaussian. Then you can think of the values that happen to be +1 as "words" which "define" the vector. The result of any of the above operations will give you a definition that includes words from the definitions of both the inputs, and no others.

I think I could prove this mathematically, but maybe someone knows of a proof already I could use as a reference?