Category Archives: Professor’s Picks

What Separates Us From Machines?

Westworld is an interesting series that focuses on two different beings, “Hosts” which appear to be automatons, and “Guests”, which are humans.  It was a little confusing why they were called that but some dialogue mentions a “park” indicating this is a theme park where the automatons are design to serve or cater to the humans that attend it.  In this western themed park, it seems to be another world where humans are free to do anything they choose, no matter how questionable their actions may be.

In the beginning of the episode, a host named Dolores hints her world is the kind of place where it allows a lot of freedom by saying, “The newcomers are just looking for the same thing we are.  A place to be free to stake out our dreams, a place with unlimited possibilities.” (00:04:05). This is eventually seen to be true as some of these “newcomers” get away with things like killing other people and laughing over it as though it’s nothing (00:53:24).  The same freedom doesn’t apply to the hosts however, as they’re supposed to “stay within their loops” (00:40:05). They aren’t allowed to experience a different way of life unless a guest chooses it for them (00:39:42) and they aren’t able to kill the guests either (00:12:23) leaving them no choice but to experience whatever someone else wants from them.

Technology is just seen as a tool to serve humans which makes it even more likely the guests will treat them improperly.  When the Sheriff malfunctions, the guests say “something is wrong with it.” indicating that some don’t even view the Sheriff as anything but a machine (00:27:04) and some old guy even refers to them as “livestock” (00:45:02).  They return to town and proceed to shoot up the wanted man’s gang and say things like “Look at that! I just shot him through the neck! And his pal here, too. Yo, go get that photographer. I want to get a picture of this.” (00:54:40).  These signs show that humanity doesn’t care for the hosts no matter how lifelike they look or act. It’s honestly disturbing that people would be willing to kill automatons that mimic our behaviors and then laugh over it like it’s nothing.  The hosts can hardly be told apart from the guests so these actions technically are no different from killing a stranger.

With the hosts being treated unfairly, it seems like this theme park isn’t going to last very long.  Some of the park managers foreshadows this by saying “You don’t have kids at home, do you Bernard? If you did, you’d know that they all rebel eventually.” (00:18:45).  This is nearly proven later when Mr. Abernathy threatens the inventor of hosts by saying “I shall have such revenges on you both.” (1:02:03) indicating that it’s possible for the hosts to break free of their programming.  Generally, the hosts are not designed to react to anomaly’s or unusual things like when the upper level of the bar collapses and the people inside don’t even glance at it (00:50:30). However, Dolores appears to be showing this behavior too, as one of the researchers lines claim they “literally couldn’t hurt a fly.” (00:27:31) only for Dolores to slap one on her neck at the end, revealing her growing awareness of the world (1:06:54).

From this episode, we can see that Westworld is a place where humans can do whatever they want.  We see guests that kill automatons that look like humans, laugh about it, and snap pictures of it.  But if we keep in mind what defines humanity and machines, this world is pretty messed up. Humans are typically regarded as beings known for their empathy and compassion, yet there’s barely any to be seen here.  Machines are commonly seen as cold and calculating, but in Westworld, they’re built to be lifelike and live out the same everyday lives that can be altered in disastrous ways depending on how the guests want them to.  Pertaining to the series, the line that separates us is so blurred, the hosts might as well be considered more human than us.

A “Handmade Tale”

The Handmaids Tale, when I first read a few passages of the actual book I knew there was a dark vibe to it. But watching the first episode of the series really showed me the true darkness within this “Fictional World”. I could see why this book as a whole has become popular. The new presidential administrations methods and motto matches that of the hierachy in place within the Handmaids Tale.

At (16:25) An Aunt speaks to the handmaids at the red center and explains why it has come to this point. And that is a plague of infertility and toxicity released in the world. A punishment from God. The Aunt without actual proof claims all the chaos is a part of gods plan. This is similar to the current presidential administration whose “information” is also missused and inaccurate. Around the 19:40 mark the aunt says somthing that left me uneasy. “I know this must feel strange to you but ordinary is just what you’re used to. This may not seem ordinary to you right now but after time it will become ordinary”. This statement concluded that these women had nothing great in their past lives and that from here on out that being a handmaid will be their normal.

Which is completely false, throughout the episode other women reveal information about their past lives and former happiness. Around 13:19 Offred has flashbacks of her young daughter and husband at a beach enjoying the water. Throughout the episode Offred has flashbacks of her daughter and constantly reminds her self to get herself together. She maintains strong in hopes of seeing her daughter and runing away with her far away. From the beginning of the episode I could see the physiological warefare between this hierarchy and the women. Around the 27:50 mark a handmaid is surrounded by other handmaids and aunts. Being accused of provoking her rape experience. The aunts get the other handmaids to agree with them which left me thinking how meticulous this hierarchy is to get these women to spy and plot against each other.

Woman Vs Woman is a recurring theme throughout the Handmaids Tale. This is seen perfectly within the Commanders Home between Offred and The commanders wife Joy. Pure hatred and sadness can be seen through Joy’s eyes through the completion of the ceremony. The root of that pain and suffering is not of Offred but the hierarchy and their sick physiological warefare. This is Due to our will for survival. Every Man and Woman within this hierarchy plays their part to survive. Joy willing and capable directs all this hatred and sadness onto Offred who is incapable of reciprocating the same energy back to joy. Because that’s risking her life death for sure. Death she does not want to face as she wants to be reunited with her daughter the will that keeps her going.

It is clear that the hierarchy in place has complete control over all its subjects and makes complete examples of those who are not within their control. At the 15:35 mark Offred and Ofglen decide to walk back home by the river. They encounter the wall that has a Priest, Doctor, and a Gayman hanging from it. Prime examples of what happens to those who disobey and don’t fit within the hierarchy. Death seems to be the penalty faced for any obstruction within the hierarchy that or being cast out of it to clear waste till dying days. The fear of death allows this hierarchy to maintain physiological control or advantage over everyone with in it. So much like controlling all actions.

At about the 47:45 mark The Aunt gathers all handmaids for a salvaging.  A man is broughtout who according to Aunt Lydia, raped a pregnant Handmaid and caused her to lose the baby. All handmaids are startled and upset. Offred is secretly breaking down at potential news of her friend Moira being killed. Aunt Lydia blows a whistle and Like Attack dogs on command begin to release all frustration, anger, all emotions onto that man a purging of sorts for these handmaids. They all stop and snapback to normal from this rabid state after the whistle blows again. Many handmaids seem relieved after the “purging” but Offred is still in disbelief from what she had heard.

This first episode was like the story itself a machine. A machine that has tons of parts that allows it to work properly. This episode showed how this hierarchy gets all these pieces to work. When it comes to the handmaids their obedience is enforced by the Aunts and the wives of the Commanders. They separation between the handmaids and the aunts and wives. Allows the hierarchy to create tension and complete separation between them. As a result the complete control of Women. Because the women in higher positions fail to see the harm they are causing themselves and their kind but that again are blinded by the will for survival.


The Earth Without Humans

“August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” is an amazing short story written by the science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury.  It’s placed in a world where humankind seems to have gone extinct and the only trace of their existence so far is an automated house programmed to ease the former resident’s life.  Near the end of the day, the house gets destroyed because the ongoing storm outside the house knocked a tree into it causing a chain reaction that resulted in the house being destroyed.  What stuck out to me the most was the amount of focus Bradbury put on the house. He made it clear that animals such as a dog exists so why center the story around an inanimate object over the only other surviving member of the family?  It’s almost like Bradbury wanted us to see what life was like for technology without anyone to care for it.

During the beginning of the story, it becomes obvious that the house is almost like a housekeeper by doing all the cooking and cleaning around the house.  At one point, the house reads the poem “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sara Teasdale which outlines the situation, “Robins will wear their feathery fire/Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire/And not one will know of the war, not one/Will care at last when it is done./Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree/If mankind perished utterly.”(Bradbury, 3).  It’s interesting and a little ironic that the house just happened to pick this poem. The residents of the house are gone and it continues its daily routine as though they were still alive. The house, the trees, and the animals, have no clue that the family is missing, save for the dog. Eventually, this poem applies to the house as well. It gets destroyed at the end but no one will be around to know it.

Reading about the house and its purpose reminded me a little of the the Machine from E.M. Forster’s short story, “The Machine Stops.”  The Machine is the omnipotent being that practically spoon feeds humans while the house is more like an upgraded computer that simply makes life more convenient for humans.  Both even suffer the unfortunate fate of “death” but the destruction of the house was the only one to make me sad. Throughout the story, it does things for the family such as making food, cleaning the house, and reading to them aloud, even if they’re not present.  It’s not a sentient being but the things it does for the family is comparable to a child eagerly doing chores to please its parents. It has no idea that its been left alone and is just waiting for the residents to return. When the tree falls into the house and starts a fire, you can see the desperation of it trying to stay alive, “And the voices wailed Fire, fire, run, run, like a tragic nursery rhyme, a dozen voices, high, low, like children dying in a forest, alone, alone.” (Bradbury, 4).  Bradbury characterized the house like a struggling human, showing that even technology doesn’t live forever when alone.

Theoretically, if the humans were still around, would it have been any different?  After all, the house couldn’t even save itself. This brings up another similarity the house has to the Machine in which they both have limited areas of influence.  Both the Machine and the house were destroyed due to lack of management. In “The Machine Stops”, people could have taken care of the Machine to ensure it didn’t break down.  In this story, the owners of the house could have cut down the tree to avoid the possibility of it falling into the house. Humans need to take caution when managing technology though because it’s implied that the family were killed by some explosion, “The five spots of paint-the man, the woman, the children, the ball-remained.  The rest was a thin charcoaled layer.” (Bradbury, 1).

Even if humanity perished, life will go on without humans since the universe doesn’t revolve around us.  I think Bradbury put a lot of focus on the house and its capabilities because this is a message designed to warn us.  Humans are too lazy and self absorbed. We depend on technology so much and making it serve just us is the wrong thing to do.  The house’s downfall shows that technology needs humans just as much as we need it. It might not have any feelings but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care for them any less.  The way we manage technology may cause more harm than good and we need to be more aware of that.

Metropolis and The Machine Stops: A Close Comparison of Two Science Fiction Stories

Metropolis is a silent science fiction film directed by Fritz Lang in 1927 Germany. After watching Metropolis, I realize that it shares similar elements to the 1909 short science fiction story “The Machine Stops” by E.M Forster. This includes its setting, plot and characters. For example, they are both set in a dystopian future in where humans are controlled by “the machine”. In Metropolis, underground workers are forced to work for the machine because their city’s “life-force” depends on it. If a worker slacks off, parts of the machine gets destroyed. Therefore, it can be assumed that every worker is vital in the stability of their city. These workers are shown to work so hard that they get physically exhausted, but continue to perform because “someone has to stay at the machine” (0:34:16). On the other hand, in “the Machine Stops”, most of the citizens of this world live underground in a community created and controlled by the machine. As a result, they do not know life without the machine and cannot live without its influence. For instance, the citizens are given technologies that accommodate their every need (3) and they are encouraged to resort to a book created by the machine for advice on common and uncommon issues.

The main characters are quite similar as well. Metropolis’ Freder Fergerson and “The Machine Stops’” Kuno both rebel against the machine after watching what it does to humans. They share a disdain for it because they value freedom over being controlled. In Metropolis, after watching a worker become exhausted from controlling part of the machine, Fergerson helps him by taking over his position so that he can experience freedom (0:35:40). In “The Machine Stops”, Kuno encourages people to live in the outside world so that they can be free from the influence of the machine. In addition to their values, both characters have similar parents. Fergerson and Kuno are sons to people who share deep beliefs in the machine. They also try to convince their parents in leaving the machine, but are unsuccessful in their attempts.

Another similarity between “The Machine Stops” and Metropolis is the characterization of the background characters. Both stories portray them as robots with no free will. In Metropolis, the workers perform their duties with exact precision (they only move the part of their body that needs to be used) and they all move at the same time (0:14:17). Furthermore, each worker is given a number and is referenced by only that number (01:12:07). While in “The Machine Stops”, “[p]eople were almost exactly alike all over the world” (8) because “[e]ach infant was examined closely at birth, and all who promised undue strength were destroyed” (11). As a result, most humans in “The Machine Stops” are forced to follow the machine’s idea of life.

One last similarity between the two stories Is the interesting use of capitalization for the machine. In “The Machine Stops”, the word “machine” is always capitalized, but in Metropolis it is both capitalized and lower-cased.  I wonder if this is a consistency error or if it was done on purpose. If it was done on purpose, perhaps it depends on the person saying it; a person who believes in the machine would treat it as an entity and capitalize it, but a person who doesn’t believe in it would lowercase it. If this is true, I believe this small detail informs us a considerable amount on a characters beliefs and values.

The Star Blog

“The Star” is a science fiction short story written by H.G. Wells. It portrays to its readers a realistic event that could happen in our future of planetary collisions and the catastrophic disaster that would be left in its wake. It is interesting as to the way that Wells portrays the humans in his story as oblivious and ignorant.

When there is news of Neptune going to collide with the white star, people are ecstatic, excited, and enthusiastic of the event. There are shouts and talks all over the world and many did so “jestingly.” The whole world seems to participate in a grand festival as they marvel the approaching star. They seem oblivious to the effects and dangers of the collision. Instead of worrying, humans make themselves the audience ignorant of the fact that they are a part of the play. It makes one wonder if it is human nature to remain ignorant to impending threats until it is too late. People are experts and display true professionalism at making excuses, lies, and looking at the “brighter” and sweeter side despite the poison and danger that lurks beneath.

This nature is reflected in Forster’s “The Machine Stops,” as the humans do not realize the extend of the problem that the Machine has cause. The keen and sharpness once portrayed in humans have been dulled due to their over-reliance on the Machine. There have been warnings and signs of the Machine stopping, but the people just played it off as temporary. Steps and precautions could have been taken, but humans remain content in their make-believe world. It is not until they are faced with the consequences, the death of the Machine that they realize their mistake.

Wells’ characters’ nature is paralleled again in our own society. In our society, the impending threat of global warming and environmental issues are becoming increasingly visible, yet nothing is done to try and fix this problem. The vast majority, the “nine human beings out of ten [are] still busy at their common occupations.” The water is still left running while people brush their teeth and the light remaining on despite having no one in the room are all examples of our continual ignorance. People may have acknowledge the problem, but they distant themselves and makes excuses like “It is not immediate,” “There is still time,” and “It has nothing to do with me.” What is considered immediate? Is it until the consequences hit us at full force considered immediate? By the time that people realize it, there is no time left and now it has everything to do with you. 

Humans, at least the vast majority of humans, are all lazy and self-centered. As long as things do not concern or benefit them, they make no move. People cannot be content with their life as is, we need to take precautions for the future impending threats. The older generations may have a harder time to change, but children need to be taught the importance of the double “A”s, awareness and action.

Blog 1: The Machine Stops

The story The Machine Stops is an amazing story written by E. M. Forster. The story takes place in the far future where Earth has become a barren wasteland. By that time, humans have retreated deep down into the underground, relying on the function of a gigantic apparatus known as Machine for all their needs and survival. Through this text, Forster seems to warn us the danger of over-reliance on technology for it can lead to the downfall of humanity as it can cause the deterioration of human mentally, socially, and physically .

Humans have pride themselves on their creativity, their knowledge, and their daringness to take chances and challenge the unknown. It is admirable that the characters of the story is able to create the omnipotent Machine, but it is this same Machine that murdered their inspirational mind and their adventurous soul.  Humans no longer centralize their wits on discovery and creativity, for they thought the Machine is perfect; instead,  they “concentrate [themselves] upon problems that she [is] certain of solving.” All the while that humans thought they are advancing, they do not realize that they are building towering walls around their minds and restricting themselves to the known. The goal is to make progress, not perfection, for things end or are lost the moment that something is perfected or completed.

Not only does the Machine caused limitations to humans mentally, it also cause physical isolation between people. The Machine has instruction manual for everything. People no longer leave their rooms for anything for everything is provided; as a result, face-to-face social activities are dying. Even the interactions between parents and children is limited for “‘[p]arents, duties of,’ said the book of the Machine, ‘ cease at the moment of birth.” The relationship between the mother, Vashti, and her son, Kuno, is an example. Despite the plate that allows them to communicate, Vashti still feels lonely in her room. Humans are social creatures and a part of what we do is physically interacting with others. Physical interactions are needed to deepen or solidify the bonds that exist between us. Furthermore, it is also a form of comfort, for we know that their is someone that is within reachable distance; otherwise, no matter how bright or how colorful the screen is, people are still alone and lonely, for in the end, it is still one person in the room.

Physical health not only relies on health food, but also exercise. The Machine provides the humans with everything that they will need, from sleep, to food, to communication, and everything else in between. This cause the humans to be slothful and and inactive; as a result, the human body is deteriorating due to the long periods of unused. In the story, people is not able to hold a book, walk, or hold out their hands for a long period of time. The “muscles…had failed [them].” Furthermore, the situation is made worse when the more physically fit children are killed and only the genes of the deteriorated are passed on. As this continues, humans will no be no more than “swaddled lump of flesh[es],” useless and unfit for survival  without the existence of the Machine.

Over-reliance on technology eventually lead to the downfall of the characters in Forster’s book, and it may be ours too if we do not heed its warning. Machine exist to better service humans and not to limit us. It is okay to rely on technology for support, but people must remember that the first and foremost is us; in other words, we are the foundations, and we need to evolve along with the technologies in order to better control it.

Reading Response 1: The Machine Stops

The “Machine Stops” was a little hard to get into as it started in the middle of story but over time, the entire situation unfolded making it more understandable.  Earth was considered uninhabitable, a desolate wasteland almost akin to a desert, and people were forced to live underground with the help of technology called “The Machine.”  As the story goes on there are several signs that the Machine is not some ordinary appliance such as its capabilities, how people treat it, and how it treats the people.

The Machine first appears as a piece of technology with a multitude of capabilities.  It plays music for people, can move people across the room without forcing them to get up, and acts as a communication device for people.  But as the story progresses, it becomes more obvious that it’s not just a tool that makes people’s lives more convenient. It decides where people live, housing them in hexagonal rooms, creates artificial air and lighting for people, several things which aid people in living underground.  It might have seemed like a utopia to the people but it was clear that they were too dependent on this Machine. They practically became incompetent since the Machine took care of their every need. When the Machine began to fail, they didn’t know how to fix it, leading to the death of many.

Even before the re-establishment of religion was implemented into the story, there were indications that people already worshipped the Machine.  When the Book of the Machine was introduced and Vashti was on the airship, she clung to it tightly along with other passengers on board. The next sign was when the airship attendant stated “How we have advanced, thanks to the Machine”and their comment was quickly repeated by Vashti and another fellow passenger.  Even the quiet hum of the Machine was enough to comfort people in times of distress. People don’t treat their computer like a god but in this story, it was evident that the Machine was viewed like one. It wasn’t taken for granted, at least, not until the later half of the story after it started failing which roused complaints from the people.  Although people treated it like a sentient being, in the end it was just a machine, one that failed to function after being overused.

As for the Machine’s interaction with the people, it initially appears to be somewhat of a caretaker to the people but it’s also possible that it wasn’t so amicable.  It constantly catered to people’s needs, such as whipping out a bed for them when needed or raising a platform to pick up a dropped item. When one of the protagonists, Kuno, finds his way to the surface illegally, the Machine deploys a robot called The Mending Apparatus to go find and recapture him.  The Mending Apparatus even kills a woman that attempted to help Kuno. It began to look like the Machine actually cared little for human life and simply wished to keep people under its rule. Other signs are not allowing Kuno to adopt children because he’s athletic and rebellious, qualities which would cause a lot of trouble for the Machine.  People often mistreat machines in real life, so the idea of a machine wanting to keep humanity under its thumb isn’t too far fetched. The real reason it didn’t annihilate humankind is possibly because it knew that it needed someone to fix it, only to realize near the end, the knowledge of repairing technology was lost forever.

On a side note, while I was reading this, the whole concept reminded me of a movie that came out two years ago called 10 Cloverfield Lane, a science fiction psychological horror film.  It involves many of the same ideas that were found in this story, an Earth that’s considered dangerous on the surface, people being forced to live underground, and even an escape to the surface through a ventilation shaft.  The biggest difference is that 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Earth is uninhabitable because (Spoiler Alert) it got invaded by aliens that try to kidnap or kill humans on sight.