Life With and Within the Robot

Swedish actor and dancer Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex Machina.

Dear Friend and Reader:

The other night I went to the movies with my cousin Dominick Vanacore, and we saw Ex Machina. One of my principles of film is that any movie worth seeing once is worth seeing twice, and Ex Machina qualifies.

It’s the story of a programming genius (modeled after a search-engine billionaire who goes into other stuff, much in the spirit of Google) who develops both the mental algorithm and the physical engineering for extremely vivid human-styled robots. They are of course sex robots. Everyone is curious about this; everyone knows that it’s a matter of time before we’re looking right at it. And science fiction has an excellent track record of predicting the future — much better than astrology.

The action begins when one of his employees arrives at the research and development compound, which looks like it’s located in rural Alaska with the weather of Hawaii. The employee’s job is to perform the Turing test on one of the robots — to engage with the robot and determine whether it’s convincingly human.

The Turing test was conceived by Alan Turing, one of the inventors of computing (such as the concepts of “computation” and “algorithm” or automated reasoning). His test involved whether a human can distinguish human intelligence from machine intelligence. In Ex Machina, it’s performed as a series of interviews between Caleb Smith and the robot, who’s called Ava.

Director Alexander Garland (a Brit — this ain’t from Hollywood) intentionally did the film as low-budget, because with less money you have to have a stronger concept and rely on acting rather than special effects. That said, the CGI used to create the human robots is utterly convincing. They spent their budget well.

The scenario is set inside a massive, mostly underground facility that is designed for security and surveillance. Every move, sound, activity, entrance and exit is controlled by computer programming. But Ava indeed has a mind of her own. Caleb is charmed by Ava from the first moment. The test is over when it begins.

We find out, though, that Ava has been specifically designed based on Caleb’s own preferences, as were discerned from studying what and where he searched on the Internet — especially his preferences for porn. She’s designed to play right into his needs and desires.

Ava passes the Turing test, and a lot of bad things happen in the process. I would love to tell you exactly what, but I don’t want to reveal too much. What we get, however, is the perfect metaphor for the current Internet and the potential future of society: machines that cannot be distinguished from humans.

Currently this is not because the machines are so advanced but rather because most humans are so easy to fool. Most perception is really projection. We see what we think we are. But then something odd happens, which is that we become like the environment in which we function. Humans are becoming like machines more rapidly than machines are becoming humans.

This takes some perceptive skill to see. The Internet is an environment, and by a definition I like to work with — that of Marshall McLuhan — an environment is an invisible phenomenon. Most people do not consider the Internet a robot, but that’s exactly what it is and how we use it.

The Internet becomes visible when we have problems, or some other factor changes the patterns we’re used to processing below the surface of consciousness. Mercury is currently retrograde in Gemini, making several contacts to Neptune in Pisces. Mercury is the worldly god of technology and communication. Neptune is the worldly god of the imagination, deception, dreams and intoxicating substances.

Put them together in the digital environment and we are likely to get some observable effects, or rather, effects worth observing. Mercury retrogrades are a time to pay attention and tune into the environment; the challenges make that environment more noticeable, and your responses to it easier to feel.

This blend of retrograde Mercury plus Neptune would alone be the perfect blend to create this effect, but currently we also have Mars in the mix, which is adding energy in the form of impulse, determination, frustration and anger.

In sussing this out, let’s start with anger. Many people are pretty pissed off as it is. We normally tend to gloss this over with social graces and, in the alternate, ignoring one another. Various numb-out substances, predominantly liquor and prescription meds, also push anger below the surface. They are coping mechanisms.

But if you look at the constant state of war, and its popularity, and the prevalence of violence and why people indulge so much psychic violence in the form of films, TV and games where people are constantly dying (or being possessed by evil spirits or raped or stolen from), the shadow side of society is easier to see.

The current mix of energies has some real potential to be self-destructive. It also has an ‘unconscious’ quality.

Now take this state of mind and transplant it onto the Internet. Consciousness, already bound up in so much frustrated struggle, now engages an environment where we are basically prisoners. We know we’re observed like prisoners, presumably all or most of the time.

Any honest assessment reveals that the Internet and the NSA (the previously unheard-of National Security Agency, whose supposed real job is to spy on encrypted communications of foreign governments) are one and the same. The Internet is a surveillance tool. That it’s so useful makes it all the better as one.

Your search results are being tracked, and if they are not, you’re likely to feel like they are. If you sit at a desktop computer or use a mobile device, there’s a camera constantly pointed at your face, and microphones listening to you. Add this to the security cameras now placed in every corner of the world (including many people’s homes) and it’s easy to see that the environment of the R&D facility in Ex Machina is close to the current state of affairs.

Now, here’s the real problem. Many people seek freedom on the Internet. That’s where we go, most of the time, at our current phase of history. There’s a level of freedom that is indeed seductive. The ‘Net is not a substitute for experience, it is an experience, but it’s one that tends to leave people feeling empty. Yet most people have imported pre-existing emptiness with them to their experience of the Internet. I have observed that, as digital technology takes over, we’re leading lives less based on tangible experiences and more based on abstract concepts.

Back in the AOL days, there used to be that Surf Safely message on the welcome page. Every time I saw it, I would think, what actual danger lurks on the Internet? What can actually happen to a person from “surfing” to a website? (Clearly, the implication was to avoid photos of sex, which is funny, since Hot Chat was the feature that made AOL profitable at the time the company went public — a fact that was concealed from investors.)

It’s true that the Craigslist Killer (whatever happened to that?) is not so much an imaginary threat, but you would have to go way out of your way to get from a website to an in-person encounter with a murderer. So really, that’s a lot more than an “Internet danger.”

If the dangers of the Internet are largely imaginary, or require someone’s full participation, so too is its satisfaction. People go to the Internet most often because they are lacking in some tangible experience, then they don’t get that thing at all.

Most of the time, unless you’re really focused and know exactly what you’re doing, you get something else — particularly in social experiences online. You get an abstraction, a description, a photograph, that leaves you wanting. It’s an advertiser’s dream come true.

One variable is that the more you contribute to the Internet the more real it is to you, because you’re investing more creative energy. Where you invest creative energy you will have a more satisfying experience — that’s true of just about everything. Cooking a basic meal for yourself has a sense of accomplishment that paying for an expensive meal in a restaurant does not have.

So, we now go looking for food in the land of 0s and 1s. We seek human contact in the midst of programmed systems, whether you’re talking about texting someone you could be sitting with, or seeking a partner on one of the many, many dating and marriage websites that have become extremely big business these days. Instead of going out and talking to people, we’re training ourselves to rely on robots to do it for us. Robots may be good for some things, like making a random playlist work. But they are terrible for actual human interaction because they filter out everything that truly makes us human — the nuances, the sensory experiences, the rich silence, eye contact, warmth and touch.

An email petition is not a protest or a community meeting. An online course is not sitting in a classroom with your peers. A YouTube video is not a performance. Yet the Internet by its nature demands a kind of participation. The problem is that most of the time that participation leads nowhere. It’s true that there are circumstances where the Internet is very helpful, especially for isolated people, those who cannot leave the house, or those in areas where no other culture is easily available.

To the extent that we have some experiences that seem real or relevant, we bring most of the material, and do a heck of a lot of projecting of our own human traits onto who or whatever we’re interrelating with through millions of lines of code, all while being observed by some authority figure that is the equivalent of a cyber god.

While the universal fear associated with robots is that they will rise up and take over the world, I think the real issue is that they are slowly training us to be like them, to respond without emotion, instantly, providing exactly what is demanded. They are training us to expect people to be like them.

That’s a subtle way to take over the world, and consciousness, and its evolution. Remember that when you go out on the street and people are walking around staring into their little computer screens. Remember that every time you hear about a car accident caused by someone who was texting.

Even when people get together, there’s an increasingly stilted quality to the interchanges. Many young people consider it intimidating to meet people in person, or to be in any social circumstance where what’s expected of them is not made explicitly clear. It’s as if social interactions now must be part of an algorithm or nobody knows quite what to do. It’s as if the risk factor is too high in merely having an unscripted encounter with another person.

Now for the quest — reclaiming our souls in the midst of a time when advanced programmers are trying to figure out how to synthesize the soul, or distract you from remembering that you have one. There’s no easy answer to that, nor is there an easy way to state the issue. One problem with all this automation is that instead of leading us to lives of leisure, every waking minute seems to be occupied and time is running out of control.

If you choose to explore some variant on physical reality, tangible experiences and in-person encounters, you may discover that fewer people than ever are interested — especially if it’s a situation where they must ‘be themselves’. To be yourself means to be who you are, thinking on your feet, unscripted, while being seen and listened to.

Soul means being you without a role to play, such as serving coffee, selling insurance or being a girlfriend. Soul means facing the risk of rejection. Soul means allowing random things to happen. Soul means allowing a conversation to go for more than a few moments.

Soul means that your body and your senses are central to your life experience. And therein lies the rub: being in your body reminds you that you won’t have that opportunity forever.

With love,

Planet Waves Monthly Horoscope for June 2015 #1050 | By Eric Francis

Aries (March 20-April 19) — You may have changed your mind about something in the past month, something that really matters. You may even rethink that same thing several times in the coming few weeks. And you may be wondering why you’re not able to get a clear fix on your real position, though you’ve learned a lot from working through the question so many times. What you’re about to discover is that what matters is not what you think but how you feel. Emotions are the real motivator for most people, if not for everyone. You can test this out by noticing how often the facts are ignored entirely and people respond only to their emotional impulses. You may find that in doing so, you harness a lot more of your authentic motivation. It will help immensely if you remember what you’ve learned in sorting out things like harboring two perfectly contradictory desires or opinions simultaneously. It can be really annoying while you’re working through that, then you start to get the benefits. One of them is seeing how what seems to conflict does not have to. Often opposites contain one another, and support one another more than they compete. The ability to hold contradictions cultivates profound strength. From there, when you make a decision, you align yourself with some deeper core reality of who you are and move forward with bold determination.

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — The return of Saturn to your opposite sign Scorpio will slow down the movie and allow you to evaluate whether a new commitment is right for you. Evaluation does not imply that something is wrong, or that you need to step back; rather, it implies an experiment that will help you suss out what you really want. What you also get is a reminder of what your life was like going back a few years. If any old fears or sadness come to the surface, you can trust that they’re arising in your awareness so that you can see where you were and remember how you felt. This is for the purpose of gaining clarity and resolution. The resounding message of your charts, and the reminder going forward, is about keeping your commitments loose enough that you have room to move. As someone born under a fixed sign, you tend to think in terms of permanence. This can include the desire to honor tradition, or to maintain bonds with others for the sake of doing so. Those have a real value, which does not conflict with leaving some options open. Seen one way, what you seem to be doing is revising a time-honored tradition and making it suitable for your life (and the world) as they are now. That is progress.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — You’re never one to keep silent for long, though you may be pushing things lately. Between Mars in your sign and Mercury retrograde there as well, you’re speaking with unusual boldness, though some may perceive you as arguing both sides of an issue. While I would never urge you to dial back your eloquent views, I suggest that you pay attention to the limits of others in your environment. This would include your intimate partners, business partners and those with whom you have a strong disagreement. You live the idea that dialog, debate and repartee are a friendly sport. Others not so enlightened have the potential to take offense. You may get a warning at some point this month to mind your politics, for example, those in the workplace, or when dealing with any legal or government authority. Make sure that how you express your views is appropriate to your situation. Please take extra care wherever and whenever alcohol is involved. That’s the time to avoid the whole ‘in vino, veritas’ thing and stick to less controversial matters. Let the presence of alcohol, in your environment or in your body, be a caution that you’re closer to the edge than usual. You may write some excellent stuff, though set a delay and publish after Mercury stations direct on the 11th or better still, after the Sun leaves your sign on the 21st.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — Emphasize what works, especially where money is concerned. Over the past few seasons you’ve likely figured out where there are resources to be had, and where they are less likely to turn up. Those are not absolute truths, however. Leave yourself room to experiment. Most of all, make sure you invest most of your time and energy into what you’re the most devoted to. Current aspects so strongly support your finances that if you’re ever going to get a monetary reward from what you love to do the most, now is the time to take that chance. I say this knowing that you may be confronting some deep fears, including how you may have used up a ‘last chance’ of some kind. You may also be questioning your integrity and whether it’s possible to maintain it in your current environment. It’s worth noticing these thoughts going through your mind, in as detached a way as possible. When the Sun and Mars enter your sign later in the month, you’ll see that you were really experiencing a lack of confidence. It will be best to address this by moving forward, taking the most direct route that you can. Remember that confidence leads to success more effectively than success leads to confidence. This is a matter of faith in yourself, which ultimately requires no proof or even evidence of validity.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — Self-improvement is a real distraction from growth. It’s like the theory as compared with the reality. Growth means change, and for you right now, change means expansion. The quest to ‘be a better person’ is questionable; to make the most of your life, and to use every experience as an opportunity to facilitate learning, is a mature approach. You’re in a phase of considering your many possibilities; you have not felt this kind of potential in a long time. You can safely ignore any mixed signals you seem to be getting from your environment, such as whether others think what you want to do is really a good idea. You don’t need to guide yourself by any form of public opinion. It looks like you’re being guided in the direction of an opportunity to put potential and opportunity together. This may seem like a stroke of pure luck until you figure out that you will have to make some adjustments to a current commitment in order to bring this to fruition. Yet I suggest you consider whatever impact any potential choice will have on a partnership as something working in your favor. You will raise issues such as the extent to which a certain connection affords you the freedom you need to make positive moves. You will get a look at what adjustments are necessary to facilitate this. Know what you want; remember that everything is negotiable.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — So much is happening behind the scenes that you’ll be amazed when it starts to emerge. At the moment it may seem like your most ambitious actions and your very best plans amount to little more than a windstorm. At least you aspire to greater things and you’re taking action. Yet it’s as if a whole other show is developing behind the one that’s currently apparent. Therefore, I suggest you use current events as more of a study than as a sure-fire course of action. Get to know people, particularly those with authority and influence. You are likely to be meeting them in droves, especially in informal contexts or places you least expect. Keep in contact with them and develop relationships that exist outside of any specific plans. This includes making sure that the people around you are organized and working effectively. Pay particular attention to work flow. Notice the ways in which technology helps, or gets in the way — and remember those vital discoveries. You don’t need to be the boss as much as you need to be a facilitator. If there is any troubleshooting to be done, make sure you do it yourself or are directly involved. The current timeframe into July is the time to set the stage for greater things to come.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — Pay attention to how you think others perceive you. It may not be true, but your ideas will tell a story. Then you can check whether that story teaches you anything useful. The reality as I see it is that you have tremendous respect and admiration coming from your peers. You can turn that into support or creative opportunity. Yet secretly, you may have your doubts. You may be wondering whether you’re really worthy of anyone’s high opinion of you, or their recognition of your talent. The doubts you may be feeling very likely belong to someone else. I know they seem real, but consider the possibility that they are part of someone else’s legacy. Let’s take this a step further. Imagine for a moment the most frightening, negative things that you heard about religion as a child: the rules, the threats, the twisted logic. Did that in any way set limits on your bliss? Consider what your parents were told, and how that may have filtered through to you in language that was not obviously dressed in the garb of religion. Once you see these things for what they are, it will be easier to acknowledge them and make choices that are not covertly misinformed by them. The thing to hunt for are messages that somehow establish the validity of a negative self-image. Be bold about finding them — and laughing at them.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — Saturn spent more than two years in your sign, and now it’s about to make one last visit to Scorpio before taking up residence in Sagittarius till late 2017. This is a reminder that an emotional growth phase is not quite over. You’ll also figure out how little you need to do, in order to reach a state of true resolution. In the end, I think you’ll discover that this was all about being at peace with who you are. Look for that one last little place you’re holding out; that one condition you’re holding against your self-acceptance. I am going to take an educated guess and say this has something to do with sex. You seem to be of two opinions about something or someone, and the more you focus on it, the more opinions you seem to have. You’re someone who prefers to know exactly where you stand, though the current scenario is really making you wonder if that’s even possible. Maybe it’s not. Maybe your viewpoint keeps changing and that’s natural. Maybe you’re aware that there are many potentials. Maybe it’s just fine if you contradict yourself from day to day. I would ask, though: do you talk about your desires and experiences, or do you tend to keep them to yourself? Opening up will help — a lot. Secrets are about power. This is about pleasure.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — If you added it up, you would be surprised how much time you spend solving the problems of others. By that I mean people you know are in your environment, and people who lived on Earth before you (parents and other ancestors). By problems, I mean their hang-ups; their anxieties; the things they didn’t resolve. Their regrets over the experiences they didn’t have. Right now life is offering you many people, places and things to explore. Some of them will approach you; others you must take a small chance and reach out to. You will also have to sort out which of them is friendly, or a positive influence. You may encounter a kind of ambiguity that will, in itself, be seductive. The thing you’re prepared to do that many people in the past could not handle is to embrace variables, unknowns and mixed signals, and not have your mind explode. Take a light approach and listen to what people say; notice how their story changes. Notice how they really feel underneath the story. As you do this you will make some interesting observations about yourself. For example, an overload of small talk may remind you that you really have some ambitious plans for what to do with your talent. You have no need to be deterred by the ways in which others fall short of their own potential.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — You may be in the midst of a struggle about where you fit into society. This goes beyond what job you do, and what calling you follow. I’m talking about the most basic elements of establishing your unique place in the world. And that’s precisely the thing — unique means one of a kind, and this is very much about your individual place in a very complicated world. The situation seems to have reached the point where you gave up on the question for a while; in some ways the past few months have come with a sense of isolation that you could not quite understand or describe. I suggest you take up the question of your involvement in the world not as a theoretical thing but as something you experiment with actively. It’s true that this may disrupt certain established patterns. But the reward will be going beyond your expectations and theories and experiencing the results of an actual experiment. If you say you want to do something in the future, try doing it now. If you have an idea of who you are, step into the world as that person, today. This is not a time to be attached to stability for its own sake. All of your real potential is contained in your ability to shuffle the deck, adapt, explore and observe the results that you get.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — You may be wondering what kind of crazy romantic karma you have going on. What, exactly, is the purpose of your involvements? Where are they leading you? They seem to start off as one thing and end up as another. The current mix of Mercury retrograde plus Mars is a reminder to everyone that life is a creative experiment. That includes every dimension of eroticism, of art, of pleasure-seeking and for you, of that place where minds meet and reveal to you something about yourself. Though I’m not certain of this, my current theory is that every encounter of this kind is designed as a self-revelation. Following that theory, you may be discovering that your relationship to yourself is presently the most complicated one in your life. Doubts about what you stand for, questions about your priorities, and a need to truly honor your healing process are swimming around your deepest feelings. The sensation of having no solid ground on which to stand is one of the most relevant themes of our time in history, and you can embody it fully. It would seem a scary place to be, except for the fact that it’s got so much to offer you. You might say that if life right now is governed by the uncertainty principle, then you are a master of the game.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — First, the question of the month is: how good do you think your life can be? Keep that in mind for a moment. Meanwhile, you may be going through a phase of insecurity beyond what’s normal for you. This has a great benefit — you’re asking questions about what makes you feel safe, which translate into questions about what you want. Insecurity is usually considered a bad thing. Raised to full consciousness, it’s one of the most productive feelings you can have. So I suggest you do the full consciousness thing and see what comes up. Your astrology is drawing two closely related pictures right now. One of them describes you working to resolve a seeming split in your emotional body. That could be two competing sets of feelings; the influences of radically different childhood family backgrounds; or some other inner division that you are currently exploring one side of, then the other side of. Over in another corner of your chart, your life is illustrated as something in a state of continual improvement. So potent is this developing event that you’re likely to get a taste of the life you want in a way you’ve never seen or felt it before. I suggest you remember that this is not so much a point of arrival as it is a demonstration of what is possible. Remember — this is actual proof.

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