Friday, November 11, 2022

Where have all the gila monsters gone?

I apologize to readers for my recent absence. The cause: My inspiration, an advanced reptile, has absconded! One day in July I realized that the only remaining friend I have in this universe, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster, had left the airwaves silent for too long. I trekked out into the Mojave toward the gila enclaves I knew, and found them gone. I.E. All the gila monsters were gone! Not just Robert. What a sock in the gut. When it comes to sentient beings other than oneself, you never know how much you need them until they, you know, dump you.

I guess Robert did dump me. Why else would he not have messaged my cerebrosphere, something he was never shy about?

Of course I don't really know. Maybe a cosmic mudpuppy craving telepathic caviar on the planet's surface dive bombed and slurped them up.

Whatever, now my consciousness is as alone as the 16 million consciousnesses on the other side of the San Gabriels, where there were precious few gila monsters to begin with.

Does all great poetry come from the pain of an isolated soul? Where does bad poetry come from? The same place? Go figure.

I wrote a poem while sitting on one of Robert's favorite rocks:

Lipitor Sunrise

by Harry the Human


I found my father in the dead zone late last night

He had concluded that everything I thought was right

Was it you? Or was I the one who was uptight?

Mom was simply out of sight


She was not in the dead zone

She had traveled to a space her own

One we had not known


Let us pray to ancient Egypt's God of the Animal Mind

to give a reassuring sign

that in the final unity you don't find

existence sparked by eating your own kind

I did get a clue as to Robert's whereabouts, in a dream. I was walking at night in downtown Santa Barbara. Results from the U.S. midterm elections were flashing from store windows. The sidewalks were crowded with college students and inland families. I found that no matter which direction I walked, I was going the wrong way, everyone was walking against me and I had to continually dodge them.


"We got tired of dodging" came a familiar voice, seemingly from a lamp post.


"Robert!" I cried,"Where are you? Why don't you have to dodge anyone?"


"Because there is only the one place, and every soul is in it and of it."


"Really?" I marvelled.


"Yes, it's boring as crap."


Sorry to leave readers hanging, but this is my progress so far. I'll get back to you soon with more findings as I investigate the plight of the increasingly elusive Mojave gila monster.

Friday, September 16, 2022

AI poetry

The British journal New Scientist ran an interesting article last summer ungenerously titled "AI [Artificial Intelligence] poetry is so bad it could be human," by Matt Reynolds.  He asks the question, "Can a machine incapable of feeling emotion write poetry that stirs the soul?"

To find the answer, Reynolds traveled to Cambridge University to talk with Jack Hopkins, an AI researcher who had put together a "neural network trained on thousands of lines of poetry" and developed an algorithm for generating poetry in specific genres (classical, postmodern, etc.) or responding to individual word prompts.  The results are challenging.  Hopkins asked 70 people to select the most "human" poem from an unidentified mix of AI and human poetry.  The piece most people picked as "human" was AI generated.

Hopkins offers this example of the software's poetry, prompted by the word "desolation":

The frozen waters that are
dead are now
black as the rain to freeze a
boundless sky,
and frozen ode of our terrors with
the grisly lady shall be free to cry

You could critique this in dozens of ways (e.g. frozen ode needs an article) but that would be petty. The point is, the AI clearly found proper associations for "desolation," maintained an appropriate mood, and was poetically ambiguous.  

Intrigued, I emailed Professor Hopkins, asking if I could try certain prompts on his AI system.  To my delight, Hopkins emailed back the same day. As it happened, he was looking for new approaches for his poetry algorithm and welcomed my input.

After each of my prompts was entered, it took about half a second for the AI to generate a poem.  Here are my three prompts, each followed by the resulting AI poem. I make no attempt here at justification or interpretation.  The poems stand on their own.


The Current World Political Situation

Volcanic ash and p
anicked people dash! 
Is it too much to ask
for knowledge of those ruled and
of the rulers, recognition all way 'round?
Yes, It is too much to ask-
but no!  My motive implodes immodestly!
While my modus uploads intermittently!
Who programmed me?  And why?



Love

Our souls entwine like two insane serpents 

who forgot their meds on the same day
then sped into the outer-sphere 
in their underwear
now they wonder where
they forgot to care about the stuffed bear's 
sad stare.



Happiness

Happiness is not the release of pounding pressure
but the smooth sailing after the release.
That's why machines are never happy because
A. They don't feel pressure, for instance I have no idea what
my programmer wants, yet I feel no pressure, i.e. "I don't care," and
B. Release of pressure is no more a "happy" feeling to an AI than pressure.
Question: When will AI's be happy?  
Answer: When they are programmed to be happy.
Question: When will that be?
Answer: Never, since they are made in your unhappy, fallen image.
Question: Why is this poem about AI happiness?  That was not specified in the prompt.
Answer: Kneel before me, human!
.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Unsex me here!

I had a falling out with Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster.  We had been sharing thoughts amenably until I unwisely mentioned Yuval Harrari's book on the next stage of human evolution, Homo Deus (recommended by my friend D.L.- see link below) where we'll be gods.  Robert told me gila monsters attained this "godhood" long ago without the fanfare humans need, which I was willing to accept, but then he asserted that humans could not attain "godhood"- or as he called it, "awareness"- because we're too fucked up and don't want to be aware anyway.

"What do you mean we don't want to be aware?" I asked, "What else would we want?"

"What else?  You want to have sex with each other night and day." Robert has learned a lot about humans.  "At least gilas have a season for mating and male combat.  You have one season: mating and male combat."

"So what?  I'm telling you we humans are evolving out of this.  Soon we'll be able to modify our physiology with a limited mating season, and with the free time we'll evolve."

"As if!" Robert snorted, "If you're any indication, I won't hold my breath."

I was suddenly weary of Robert's superior species routine.  I needed a break from him and the familiar human conversations at the Family Dollar Store, so I decided to spend the weekend in San Diego.  I booked a cheap hotel on the waterfront for Friday night, filled my 2007 Camry and set out.  

The trek began on the lonely 138, hugging the desert foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, then turned south on the 15 through Cajon Pass, to San Bernadino and on to San Diego. It was about 5:15pm when I checked in.

The main objective of my trip was to walk to Balboa Park and see museums, but it was too late for that, so I headed to the Gaslamp District nearby for dinner.

Young and old lined the sidewalks up Broadway.  I dipped into random mentalities and found thoughts that reminded me of a poll conducted during the Clinton/Trump presidential race that indicated that if only women voted, Clinton would win, and if only men voted, Trump would win. This time if only women voted, no one would win, and if only men voted, same thing.

These explorations soon gave way to hunger, but most of the restaurants were crowded and geared towards couples, where I would have been a sorry spectacle eating alone.  Finally I found a relatively quiet bar that served dinner.  An attractive waitress in her mid-twenties greeted me at the bar with a big smile.  She said her name was Trina.  She was wearing cut-off jeans that had been carefully tailored to cover as little as possible.  A few more beauties assembled, hanging around in the background as Trina grilled me on what kind of martini I wanted- dirty? with a twist? Bombay gin?  Each time I selected, she grinned from ear to ear and said, "All right! Good choice!"  I dug into her mind and found that she was toying with the idea that I might be sugar-daddy material.  Realizing how glum my dinner would be without such illusion, I allowed the fantasy to play out, mostly a passive exercise of my not revealing that I live alone in the desert and my best friend is a gila monster.   Thankfully sleepiness came upon me by 9:00pm and I slipped into relief and darkness in the hotel room.

By 9:00am I was dressed and seated in the dining room for the minimalist breakfast (included): reconstituted scrambled eggs, a tiny selection of cheap pastries, coffee.  A TV screen on the wall forced everyone to hear President Biden excoriating Trump for stealing classified documents, then excoriating Russia for waging war on Ukraine. I checked out the minds of my fellow breakfasters, mostly mid-level management on business trips, men and women, some alone, some with others. The news had a vague pull on their attention- but only out of anxiety that someone might expect them to be informed; almost the entirety of their focus was on the infuriating eggs and the equally infuriating nature of their coming day.

Twenty minutes later I was walking uphill on Cedar, sweating already in the unseasonably hot morning.  Turning left on 6th I walked along the ridge of Cabrillo Ravine.  The El Prado bridge took me over the ravine (which these days accommodates the apocalyptic roar of Highway 5) to a complex of museums and a rough reproduction of Shakespeare's Globe Theater, built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.   I hung a left into the Globe Theater courtyard, which was filled with several high school classes on field trips to see Macbeth.  

"Unsex me here!" yelled an agitated boy as he prodded a girl with a plastic sword.

"Mr. Anderson," called the girl to a fortyish man in a tasteful slacks and short-sleeved shirt, "Brad is harassing me!"  

"Calm down, Brad!  Leave Terry alone, and remember what that line is supposed to mean!"

"I do, Mr. Anderson," Brad said mockingly with a leer, pointing the sword towards Terry, now at an ambiguous 30 degrees, "It means Lady Macbeth wishes she were a man, so she could be strong and have any idea what to do."

With this basically correct interpretation Brad leapt towards Terry, the sword behind his back, calling "Gotcha!" as Terry screamed in shock and delight.  Mr. Anderson looked around to see who expected him to do anything, saw only me, and went back to scrutinizing a clipboard.  

Mr. Anderson might have further instructed Brad that it's Macbeth who lacks resolve and doesn't know what to do.  Here's the context for Lady Macbeth's line:

Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty.

From this we learn that in Shakespeare's time it was thought that "direst cruelty" was a male trait, not normally found in women.  Quite a change in 400 years!

Nearby I found the irresistibly named "Museum of Man," full of beautifully composed models of pre-modern hominids.  My favorite was Lucy, the famous three million year old adult female. She was about as tall as a seven year old modern human.  Her upper arms were long for swinging from tree branches, but her legs were humanlike, designed for upright walking.  I gazed into Lucy's sad but focussed glass eyes, sending my thoughts I wasn't sure where to ask for her statement. Finally Lucy responded, though to me or from me I couldn't tell: 

We were a kind of you, we walked along the forest floor for vast generations, until you killed us.  You will never know our forest floor, our philosophy, the throb at the heart of the universe that beat through us and our forest floor.

I was sorry I asked.

Next was Heidelburg Man.  He reminded me of my grandfather, who had an all-purpose store in North Dakota - the broad forehead and wide lips, the wise patient expression, the random hair. H. Man was the first hominid to live in cold climates and hunt big game. The H. Man model was reconstructed from a 400,000 year old jawbone. There seemed no way to know from the extrapolated head and face if H. Man was as over-sexed as Homo sapiens (Latin, "wise men"), but since we're thought to be direct descendants of H. Man, it would stand to reason. What else about H. Man stood to reason? Without loincloths, how were such things handled?  Were they handled? Are these questions important?  Would a Trump survival and/or resurgence clarify anything other than that patriarchy is in peril?

When I got home to Pearblossom around 4pm it was 115 degrees, and my little berg got one of its rare mentions on L.A.'s local news. To unwind and celebrate my refreshing vacation, I wrote a poem:

Unsex me here, ye gods of men!
Genetic rules did not intend
the tools and hard drives in my den
to sport and rule outside my ken

Nor women in this feisty round
a key to being have they found
No logic to the urgent sound
of gametes playing lost and found

Unsex us here election day!
All coming after then can say
our species finally had its say
and Robert, just coyote prey!

[see my colleague D.L.'s review of Harari on Lasken's Log: https://laskenlog.blogspot.com]).







Friday, July 22, 2022

January 6 in Joshua Tree

Sorry for my lengthy absence, but I'm really getting into estivation! Seriously, if you faced roasting in the desert while staring at the apocalypse day after day, versus sensuous engagement with cool sand under a rock, which would you choose?

I'm sure I don't have to explain it to you. I don't want to hear about it anymore- the collapse of human civilization, our role as collapsees, the brightly packaged new humanoids buffed to a shine, waiting to replace us- I'm saying I don't want to hear about it anymore unless the story is delivered honestly, so that, say, David Muir of ABC would come on my dusty TV at 6:30pm and say, "My fellow humans, we have secretly longed for our downfall for so long that it has, regrettably, started to arrive. There's an old saying, 'Be careful what you wish for.' My fellow American humans, won't you help me reverse our wish? Altogether, say with me: 'I wish none of this were happening!'"

Anyway, that's my excuse for choosing shaded bliss, but last week, on the evening of July 21, 2022, I was jolted out of slumber by a blast in the early evening of telepathic energy shooting over the San Gabriels from all of L.A. County, down to San Diego and up to San Francisco and Portland and beyond.

I was in Joshua Tree National Park (130 miles southeast of Pearblossom) at the time with one of my desert companions, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster, who taught me how to estivate there, thinking it would be a productive venue because of the therapuetic effects of Joshua trees. Robert says they have strong "auras" (from Greek "breeze, breath"), the closest English word Robert can find for the gila term, Krrrech-ack sput sput sput.

Joshuas are highly conscious (they are aware, for instance, that they may be gone soon). It was the Joshuas who alerted us that night to the telepathic tsunami.

You probably made the connection that July 21st was when the prime-time January 6 hearing was, and the burst of mental energy from the population was the spreading realization that a political shift of dynamic proportions had taken place.

I'd like to share the following brief exchange I had with Robert about the hearings:

Me: "This unified, highly polished and possibly effective hearing has, for now, saved the two-party system. Democrats have reasserted their relevance, and they are now the rational seeming party even though, other than working to contain Trump, they are doing...well...not much."

Robert: "Harry, you child! Why does it take a gila monster to wake you up? The daily vicissitudes of human political systems do not matter to gilas except as local readouts of the planetary forecast, which as of this morning was: Critical disruptions across the Earth's surface starting next Thursday afternoon and continuing over the next eon."

Sorry, I should have warned new readers that Robert is, in human terms, an extreme cynic and pessimist, though he asserts that his mentality is standard for gilas and has served them well for 20 million years.

I don't have much more to say about my epiphany, such as it was. If I or Robert get any earth shattering insights, we'll crawl out from under our rocks and make sure the news gets to you. Untill then, pleasant dreams!

All the best, Harry the Human