The Intent to Create and Artificial Intelligence

This comes from a conversation I cannot stop myself from having time and time again.

This comes from a conversation I cannot stop myself from having time and time again.

Every person who has thought about the future; every philosopher who has considered what it means “to think” in an era with complex computers; every student of computer science; every reader of science fiction; they all have their own definition of how to discern “true” artificial intelligence. We trade out notions every time it comes up. A friend and I recently got into a talk about how it was the desire to create, the notion of “art for art’s sake” that could distinguish a realized AI from an imitator.  His source was something that Bill Nye had said.

I shared his idea, with a nuanced angle. My source was something I once read in a book by a respectively (in comparison to his own contemporaries and Bill Nye,) unknown philosopher, Jean-Francois Lyotard. In his book, The Inhuman, Lyotard states:

The unthought hurts because we’re comfortable in what’s already thought. And thinking, which is accepting this discomfort, is also, to put it bluntly, an attempt at having it done with. That’s the hope sustaining all writing: that at the end, things will be better. As there is no end, this hope is illusory. So: the unthought would have to make your machines uncomfortable, the uninscribed that remains to be inscribed would have to make their memory suffer. Do you see what I mean? Otherwise, why would they ever start thinking?

His point is that creative efforts are painful ones, and that these efforts cannot conclude. It is the sense of discomfort and doubt that comes from an eternally unfinished project that will remain the last barrier between Artificial and Human thought. The broader context, this chapter, is called Can Thought go on without a Body? and deals with the idea of creating a “human” conscious mind that would persist after the heat death of our solar system. That is the framework necessary to tease out these ideas on what makes something truly human. The work itself does not go into, nor concern itself with, the details of how our solar system dies, where the remnant thought must go and resettle or whatever– the future of our consciousness– only that it persist in some manner that is assumed to be “post-human.”

Now, what is the point of this? It is to frame a discussion over what truly makes up human thought, by virtue of framing the question around a hypothetical perfect AI. His point is not the AI itself, but what it says about us, about humans, in what we would truly have to do to make something in our image. Making a “perfect” brain, according to our definition of flaws would not do our reality justice, as humans. The true mark of perfection would be to create a literal human mind, with all the capacity for fear, doubt, pain, suffering, existential query, and so on– all things necessary to, or byproduct of the process of human thought. Anything less would simply be advanced computation.

His belief was that the constructed “human mind” would have to suffer from the affliction of knowing creativity is never over. This is the thread that interests me the most, as a writer.

We, as people, as writers, accept that we cannot write the perfect book. We have no concept of perfection. An AI that is too simple to be human would. The AI would run into a wall of objective metrics. It would write what it considers the absolute book that touches on everything every book ever has, given enough data. A neural network could smooth out innumerable variables and claim to have created the Last Book.

Artists suffer from knowing that they cannot reach this perfection, but they do not shy away from it. Even if an artists claims that do not seek perfection and they are fine with flaws, they still strive towards a specific vision. We still want to give the most “correct” form of something to the world that we can give– as though there were a “correct” way for something to exist, preemptive of itself.

One one level, I would dare to say that not only is creativity a sign of intelligence, but that it is our proof of existence. Though, I do not intend to disparage those who consider themselves “non-creative” sorts. Creative efforts are what define us as people. “Mon-creative” types still make mosaics in their lives by showcasing the things they love, the art, the music, the poetry they love. They don’t have to make it to be human in that way. By extension, preference for preference’s sake is creativity. Sure, we have psychology often trying to explain certain preferences as biological imperatives, like the color green and the soothing affect of blues compared to reds, but just as often as we find someone who fits there paradigms, we find someone who doesn’t. But that is another topic, almost entirely.

It would be easy, and quite understandable, to say that Lyotard’s view is bleak, perhaps myopic, in saying that “the hope sustaining all writing… is illusory,” but I think that is a rather freeing concept to understand. It’s not a damnation of our efforts thus far, or of those to come. It’s an acknowledgement that we, as people, are free of the tyranny of perfection that would stalk the minds of our artificial counterparts. Imagine, if possible, a world where art were…over. Not eradicated violently, not set back thousands of years via destruction, not just hopelessly stagnant, but done– shelved away, complete, that the canon concluded and we were somehow satisfied with what we had. Think of how incapable of boredom we would have to be to live in such a world. Think of how simple our brains would need to be to sustain that.

Think of how robotic we would have to be.

My Personal Crisis with Poetry: On Digital Publication and Rights

By now, I assume word has gotten around to most Bloggers…

Putting work–short stories, poems, a full length novel (should you dare)–on a public blogging platform is considered, by many sources, to be published, when it comes to First Publication rights. Self-publication is no longer a joke, in certain circles, so in a sense, it is quite valid for publishing houses to take the idea seriously. The problem, however, is that in reality, self-publication exists somewhere between valid and a joke. Putting your own book up on Amazon is a very real form of self-publishing that often takes work, and by virtue of being a marketed product, is validated as it sells. Blogs and short form content, (like poetry, as discussed previously, here) are taken less serious. For example, if you are asked about the publication of your prior work in an interview and you cite your own blog, chances are you’ll get the professional equivalent of an eye roll.

But I would like to focus on poetry for now.

In my experience, submission guidelines for poetry are sometimes more lax, but still important to follow when it comes to publication or contest entries. Their laxness is that some, like the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship will allow for some poems to be previously published.  Others, like the Walt Whitman Award allow for any number of the poems to be published, so long as the specific collection itself has yet to be.

The latter is a situation I’ve seen often when it comes to both publication submissions and contests (though the Whitman Award is certainly a hybrid of those, given the prize of publication.)

The problem is that this laxness will leave aspiring poets in the dark. I know that I personally fear putting too much of my work onto my blog, because it is sometimes unclear what crosses the line into being too published. There’s a sense that we ought hold back. Even among young and new poets, their websites and blogs often imply a large body of work that is unavailable via the blog or site, unless through a store page.

And that’s where things get blurry. As I discussed before, the issue of how to monetize, patronize, or otherwise contribute to a poem in the modern age has become complicated by our sense of value. Of course these young and new poets should profit from their labors. Of course they should be able to sell a book as they please. But there is a tyranny in having to hold back in order to make it so one can make a living from their work. It is unjust to all parties. The audience is given loose incentive based on a delicate balance between sharing and under-sharing of the poet’s efforts. The poet is left in a worse state, having to decide how much to exist, how much presence to commit to the open world, because publication is a world of Rights, but it is no longer the only means to become, well, public. In the end, what this does is it creates a culture (an admittedly formative one) where emphasis is placed so heavily on the means by which a poem is cast into the world. It creates a culture where consideration has to be given, not to if an audience will enjoy the work or how to find the right audience, but how to withhold from them properly.

It creates a culture where it feels as though one could waste a poem.

Old Post: On the Origin and Development of the Alt-Right in America

Author’s Note: This post was originally made on facebook during the 2016 election, and thus might be outdated to some degree. I still stand by the opinions professed here. Not presenting such opinions, for the sake of having or maintaining broader appeal, is cowardice.

Calling Trump’s followers the “alt-right” diminishes the impact, influence, and approval (tacit or otherwise) the more “traditional” political Right of this country has had on raising and shaping them.

When you say that Trump’s belligerent followers are something new, you are implying that Trump created not only a platform, but an entire culture and mentality. Even going so far as to say he awakened it in people is too much credit. It is the rhetoric that has passed for decades, once left to the outside to say. It is the coalescence of every news segment, every man on the street at right wing rally interview, and every absurd question thrown at right wing candidates by their more “out there” supporters that the news has seen fit to mock. He is not the progenitor or the prophet of the fears that Obama is an “Atheist Muslim Communist” as was once the stated by a Romney supporter. The moment where McCain responded to a woman claiming that Obama was an Arab, with a clearly derogatory tone, was a defining one for me, because what he said was to me interpreted at first as in response to her tone, and not an issue of offense.

He said, “No ma’am, he’s a decent family man and a citizen of the United States who I happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues”

I cannot claim to really know if he was juxtaposing the idea of being a decent family man against the idea of being Arab, or if he was contrasting it with her insinuations and the insinuations of the crowd that night. I would like to believe the latter, because he is clearly a man of some intelligence to have been going in politics as long as he had by that point. The real problem is how hard I had to consider that he didn’t mean the former. The real problem is that he may very well have been vague on what he was responding to as an attempt to both dissuade and placate the crowd by giving them what they wanted to hear, if only in a small, alternatively directed, dosage.

Now, of course, we see people coming out of the woodwork of the Right, people who have reached their breaking point, where their friends, once thought like-minded; their constituents, once believed to be good, simple Christian folk; and their party; once thought to be about free market and small government, has all shown itself to built on a foundation of hate and ignorance. Friends turn out to be overt racists. Newly proposed policy seeks to put us into the political climate of fear and terror that was once struggled against by these same politicians in their existence through the cold war and beyond.

After becoming addicted to the sudden rush and overwhelming approval garnered by using hate and proposing “punitive” actions of destruction to an almost indiscriminate degree against the Middle East and its inhabitants, much of the GOP is coming off their high. Many have come to realize that their party’s platform has changed from a position about a potential form of governance wherein there are marginal interventions by the regime, to one of overwhelming interference for the sake of saving some imagined “White Christian Moralist minority” that is in danger of being crushed.
When it was them, when people like McCain and Romney were being popular for tacitly acknowledging comments made about the brown kid on their playground and laughing at his clothes or saying his customs were weird or that he probably had some disease, it was okay, and what the party stood for. As soon as Trump comes up and says “we should be mean to the kid because he’s brown and probably gonna infect us with poverty” the Right was upset with him, because he was better at being popular for it.

Make no mistake, this same Right that is on occasion condemning him, produced as their best effort this time around a man whose signature move as a politician was to promise indiscriminate bombings in the Middle East. Whether or not he understood the term “carpet bombing” at the time, it still means his solution to US over-involvement in the Middle East was blowing things up without a real understanding of what he asked for. And that was almost the face of their platform. Take the voter who is most clichedly emblematic of the current Republican party, and put them in a room with an ISIS supporter, and give them a universal language with only one word for God and you may find they have a lot to talk about.

We may say the party is run by the rich, by oligarchs who profit off of fear, but that is slowly becoming no longer the case, in a sense (though to say the rich are to be disempowered is another claim entirely, and one I find unlikely. I speak more to image, in this case.). Sure, Trump is manipulating the fears of people and using it to win, but ultimately (and I think many of the people in party leadership positions have seen this as well) the GOP will become run by the people. A true party of the people. Of certain people. Someday soon, the Republicans will have to wrestle with the fact that they became slaves to the decrepit mutation of Newt Gingrich’s Moral Majority, now infused with the fear and jingoism of 9/11 rhetoric. Pulled by their necks, the old guard will be forced to work to fix the recent additions to their platforms, occasionally paying lip service to their once primary goals of lesser government involvement, all the while proposing fixes that work against their dream.

Storytime: My First Tinder Date

With a profile that included the term “anarcho-primitivism” I felt safe assuming it was a joke…

With a profile that included the term “anarcho-primitivism” I felt safe assuming it was a joke…

The story of my first experience with Tinder obviously started before the date. According to the internet, I swiped “like a girl,” which is to say, very selectively. Now, I don’t know about where you’re from, but I feel safe in assuming that there are people everywhere who try to have as broad and neutral an appeal as possible. Those folks don’t cut it for me. I tried something different: I went for people who seemed crazy in their funny.

And that’s how things really got started for me.

But like all things, this was a learning experience. So here’s lesson one:

One of the first things she asked me after we had already agreed to meet was if I was over 21. I was 24 at the time. I remember tilting my head at my phone as I responded, as though that would somehow be conveyed. Yes, I was, 24. Her response was that she was only getting used to being actually 21 and not having to be cautious about where she went to get a drink anymore. It was all so new to her, seeing as it had been 3 months, max, since she became “legal.”

After that conversation, which was taking place after the time we had originally designated to meet, I remember immediately going into the settings section and changing my age range to 23+ to create a safe buffer from what craziness I could. That was my first lesson.

We had agreed to meet only a few blocks from where I was staying, so I wasn’t particularly upset by the change in plans. I spent the rest of the day reading in a park with a fountain while she and I intermittently hashed out plans to salvage the day and go out in the evening instead. Looking back, lesson two maybe should have been “don’t schedule to meet strangers mid-day, because you’ll feel like it’s harder to leave whenever you want” but I didn’t learn that lesson til my next Tinder experience.

The park was great. In fact, the best moment of that day was before the date even happened, when I sat listening to the best street preacher I had ever met.

He was recounting the biblical tale of Naomi. But he wasn’t just reading the scripture into a megaphone, no. He was paraphrasing, with commentary. It was inspiring.

He said things like “So, uhh. So Naomi is with– shes this lady and she’s with her husband Elime– Emil– Emmie– I’m not gonna even try to pronounce that, sorry guys. Shes’s with her husband and then God gets mad or something and…”

He trailed off into an interesting tangent. “You know, these copies, of the bible,” he starts, waving his copy from what he said was 1976 Library of Congress press “These copies are hard to find. In fact, the government doesn’t want to let me have them, but there’s a lot of things they don’t want. They don’t want me spreading the word either. They send drones after me all the time, but nothing works, because every time they send a drone, God kills the pilot.”

There’s a pause as he looks over his irreverent flock of park-goers. “So anyway, God kills Naomi’s whole family. Wow, that’s just…” He turns his megaphone directly on the crowd and solemnly says, “has anybody out there ever experienced loss?”

Nobody replies.

So, logically, he screams into the microphone full force for maybe 1.5 seconds and then says “I just wanted to give you a taste of what it’s like.”

His biblical tale continues. “So anyway, God kills Naomi’s whole family… Why would you do that God? Why God?… He trails off once more. “Why dad?”

By now, my date arrives, and I, perhaps rudely, hush her as she approaches, pointing to the preacher, and I whisper about how amazing he is. His last line before we depart is  “I bet by now y’all have figured out who I am, huh?”

And it’s all downhill from there.

The date starts off fine enough. I didn’t really know what to expect and she seemed like a nice enough person from the, admittedly limited, chatting we had done prior. We go to a nearby bookstore cafe, which it turns out is a restaurant with full meals and wine and all, and not a cafe. She orders a glass of wine, I abstain. Before the glass arrives, we talk about all sorts of things: her major, what my major was, hobbies,  nihilism, usual fare, I thought. Once the glass is on the table, she thanks the waiter.

Once he’s gone, she goes “ugh, I really need to stop threatening to kill myself when I drink.”

 I look at her, and then to the glass now on the table, and then back to her, and then to the glass again.

She notices what I’m doing and responds:

“oh, no no, one glass won’t do it. Sorry, I bet that was a weird thing to say.”

To normal people, this exchange would be a major red flag, but I’m the idiot who thought her profile mentioning folk music and Wicca practices under candle light and an anarcho-primitivist commune sounded hilarious, so… (To my credit: a friend of mine did confirm there was no way that wasn’t a joke)

Things proceed without much more cause for concern after that though, so I excuse it. I don’t mind if someone’s a bit moody or nervously saying weird stuff, so I thought I’d give her full benefit of the doubt– and seeing as conversation returned to being normal soon after, I felt sure it was just a weird blip.

Eventually we make the plan to go back to her house because she has a patio and I’ve already made it clear that I don’t have an appetite or anything, so loitering at the cafe that was actually a restaurant felt a tad uncomfortable.

We take a Lyft, and she warns me that if they have to cross any bridges, she might have a mini freak out. Again, that’s fine. Lots of people get weird nerves about things and suppressing the hell out of them doesn’t help if you’re already tense and with a new person.

Before the Lyft arrives,  however, she goes to a liquor store and buys a bottle of wine. I didn’t think about the implications of that, as it happened.

She tells me a few stories about her time on a commune, like when they had a sheep that kept eating the crop of some nearby farm, so they had to put it down, and her job in all of this, as resident passionate vegetarian was to skin it.

There’s very little worth mentioning about our time on her patio. We mostly listened to music and didn’t talk, aside from her getting drunker and occasionally veering towards those token lines of “yeah, idk maybe I should just end it all” and me being like “how about you don’t, huh?”

Eventually, I leave. She walks me to the front of the house and tries to give me a kiss and it’s something I can’t really avoid. I do, however, manage to dodge her question about seeing each-other again.

But that isn’t the end of the story.

Her and I never really talk again, save an awkward text conversation that lays out how she won’t be seeing me around and she should stop being so hard on herself, if she can.

The story continues with me walking home. At some point I see a woman on the other side of the street as I’m walking. It’s around midnight but she’s got her phone out and I assumed had just called in an Uber or something. I pass a man on my side of the street, carrying a small folded sign. Eventually I get a few blocks down and forget if I’m supposed to turn left or right.

That’s when the woman from before shows up out of nowhere. She asks if I’m lost, tells me that there’s a lot of cool stuff down the left, where she also happens to be going and is elated when I tell her that’s the way I also meant to go. As we’re walking, she says she’s glad caught up because she couldn’t get an Uber or a cab and didn’t feel safe walking alone. She mentions the man I passed earlier “with the weird gait.” I ask why she didn’t get an Uber, where she was coming from, normal things.

She responds, saying, “I was at this taco place up pretty far away. My mom always checks my bank statements and sees that I go to bars and stuff and she gets really mad if she doesn’t see an Uber charge right after.”

She then clarifies that shes’ been in the city for 3 months and is 23.

So we talk as we walk and when we get to the front of her home, she gives me her number (and puts her full name in my phone like a sociopath) and tells me to be safe and all that.

And that’s when I realized that she was afraid of the guy on the other side of the street, not because he walked funny, but because he was black. And that’s the first time racism ever got me a date.

On the “Birth” of Public Figure

The creation of that which is not wholly ourselves alone.

The creation of that which is not wholly ourselves alone.

I suppose this is an appropriate topic to begin my presence in the “blogosphere,” though I have to confess that I’ve not spent much time digging through the first posts of various bloggers and authors to get a sense of if this is a tired cliche or note. I’ve only just decided to take serious the idea of having a twitter, a blog, etc. and the possibility of being a writer as an actual form of living, rather than a hobby. With that possibility, I was struck with a strange feeling, however. This is not a debut in a normal sense, to create one’s own public image. It is not being discovered among all the hopefuls, it is not being a young actor who makes it in film and is recognized, no. It is a birth, all its own.

For, in doing all this, I have to make choices. I have to go so far as to name myself — To decide if I ought have a pen name, or if I ought use my real name, my birth name, my given name. And in some cases, like on Twitter, imagine if that were taken. Imagine if there was no room for one more Jay Carter. I would need a new name. And in the case of most blogs, Jay Carter: The Blog, doesn’t sound nearly as interesting as some catchy handle, persona, or loose memoir-esque title, like Confessions of an Adult Velcro User, or some such thing. I’m sure this metaphor applies beyond that of writers, into the realm of all public figures (especially those that must be clean, like politicians), but I would like to stick to the experience I myself am having.

This metaphor of a birth is one I quite like. We have to decide what we’ll be as writers, as content creators, as public figures, all over again. You’re a food critic, or a film junkie, or provider of social commentary. But you can’t be all of them, can you? Maybe a few, and that blend is what makes you stand out: finding a way to blend food prep with the ethical considerations of an anti-imperialist Cuban expat’s child, or something. We exist multi-factedly, but we narrow our lives into what we’ll be, our career choices, our ambitions, our hobbies (if we are fortunate enough to let those define us instead). Writing is no different.

But the metaphor continues, because, as writers, we are new, we are fresh, we are then born and unpublished, naked to the world and unproven in its harshness. We must then be the child minds that create. And like children, we thrive on imagination. To be a writer — even if it’s in a “non-creative” capacity, like that of a journalist, or a non-fiction writer, or biographer, or whatever one might make an argument for being a non-creative writing capacity — is to exercise one’s imagination. It is to draw connections others have yet to see, to imagine ways to tell even the most documented and vivid events in a fresh way that gives more people that story. That is absolutely an imaginative endeavor. Otherwise, there would be no reason to listen when your friend tells you about a news story they read — to listen for their flair. You could cut them off, (barring the rudeness, I suppose)simply ask for the link, and infer that the article you read was objective and without moments of creativity or emphasis. Even works utterly free of embellishment, lies, and other manners of falsehood are not devoid of imagination.

And as children, we grow and learn, and everything is exciting and new again, because we’re learning to speak again for the first time, and we exist in a world where we assume everyone will want to hear what we have to say, because we ourselves just learned it. We have a life and a past that we draw from, but it will never absolutely mesh, and we find that in crafting our new selves, we must discard so much.

That is why this is a birth — because we are not ourselves recast.

She, Who Walks…

She, who walks in empty grace
trepidatious in her step
has gone, unfazed, to wear the face
to face a meeting with regret.

Escorted by the Seraphim,
her hosts that hold her spirit low—
dangling like a pendulum
touching not the earth, and swinging slow.

Ask her not where she must go
guarded by their splendor so.

She, who walks with certain fate
has never for a moment wept
as spirits, round her, congregate:
Her countenance has kept

Ritual, continue then,
Sacrosanct, her journey, lo.
The Lord watches devil’s Kith and Kin,
The Vicar asks we tell her so.

But ask her not where she must go
on moonlit nights when clouds hang low.

For where she walks, men young and old
speak of Vice and Virtue—of her role—
claiming thus, she works for gold
and not the good-ness of her soul.

A Modern Belle Dame sans Merci
who wears the faces that she must,
and will be the woman she must be
to be avoidant of their lust.

And know she walks, with grace, august,
having learned that Love, she cannot trust.

My Personal Crisis with Poetry: Patronage and Payment.

There is something wrong with how we consume poetry.

There is something wrong with how we consume poetry.

 

Poetry is, to me, a very strange form of creative writing. The rest of the world seems to agree, given the treatment it gets. For one thing, unlike most other forms of writing, there seems to be a collective agreement that there’s no money in poetry when it comes to publication, unless you’re Maya Angelou (or as a more topical, though less impactful example: Rupi Kaur).

As I understand, it is for that reason that contests, such as the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships exist. Because Poetry has to be funded, encouraged to flourish somehow. And it’s evidently in lump sums that come through victories in the medium at key points in one’s career. The aforementioned fellowship aims at young poets and requests that a majority of the submitted works are those that have yet to be published. Other contests, like that of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize are for poets late into their career. Then there are those that fall in the middle or at the beginning, such as the James Laughlin Award and Walt Whitman Award respectively. Of course, some contests reward the poet with publication, but it is the idea of these prizes, tied tightly to career mileposts, like first publications, second publications, mid-career poet, poet who has had a lifetime of achievement, etc, that seem to motivate the art, knowing that something about the consumption or presentation of poems makes it a harder sell than a book.

That difficulty comes from value expectations.

Value expectations are everywhere. Imagine having to pay to consume a meme. Imagine the outrage people have when something that used to be free starts costing money, even though it had always cost money to produce. Poetry is stuck in a similar space. Sharing a poem is much much easier than sharing a book. Consuming a poem is easier than consuming a book. I’m sure you’ve seen Wordsworth poems image posts of his poems against a field of grass or daffodils or some sort of stationery with a wispy cursive font. I’m sure many people have, in fact, only seen the works of Bukowski or Rupi Kaur in a quickly consumable format. Often, not even shared as copy-pasted text, but as an image of text — likely because it is easier, being one click, no highlighting, and you can send it, and that sharing an image often implies lack of authorship on the part of the sharer. They may be claiming to have discovered it, but the majority of content created by the average internet user is likely text and not images, provided you discount images of themselves or friends. (Think: how many of your friends on facebook make their own meme content compared to those who share it? How often might you assume a block of text copy pasted at you was authored by your friend, as compared to an image they sent?)

Poetry by virtue of the details of its consumption is given an assumed lower value. First of all, many of the best poems in the world hardly reach 200 words (for some, not even so many syllables). Second, it is often cast as having a barrier to entry, by way of its metaphors, references, strange layouts, and “depth” or hidden and implied meanings. In a world where length of content often matters more than depth, (just look at how video games market themselves with having “over 100 hours of side content!”) it is not surprising that poetry, with its short length and sometimes high gate of entry would start to fall to the wayside.

I am, however, not here to tell you that it has a value. Certain foundations seem to believe that it still does. Scholars still look to the poems of old, even as they validate new poets every year. Poets still exist and create content (though they tend to have a day job). I cannot tell you that it has a value — all I can do is hope to convince you through my work.