The #Matrix: A Fan Theory That Changes Everything #science #computer #intelligence #emotion #startrek

I’ve have the Matrix movies playing in the background while I work on some trademark matters. I know that many people hated the second and third movies, Reloaded and Revolutions, and I wasn’t a big fan of them either. I find it annoying that no one in the movie can speak in a normal tone of voice, using either yelling or a whisper. No, that doesn’t make you sound cool. It makes you sound like a pretentious idiot who thinks he’s cool. However, I had to watch them again because I wanted to do so within the context of an interesting fan theory I learned by spending too much time reading Cracked.com.

The theory goes like this: What you know as the Matrix is a computer simulation. That’s simple enough; no surprises there. What you know as the movie’s real world is also a computer simulation. The Matrix is a simulation within that outer simulation. What this means is that Zion is a computer simulation, and Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and all the other pretentious serial whisperers are computer programs. The reason for the existence of the layers is that the computer programs (i.e., Neo, Morpheus, etc.) are being trained to think like humans. They’re being taught to express love, to place the needs of others over themselves, and generally to govern their behavior by more than mere statistics. (Think of Will Smith’s monologue in the also-maligned I, Robot. He points out that a human being would have known to save the girl rather than him despite Will Smith being the statistically-correct choice.) The fan theory also explains Neo’s superman powers outside the Matrix. If the “real world” is just another computer simulation, then it’s explainable that a blinded Neo can see the machines, that Neo can affect them with his powers, and that Agent Smith was capable of “possessing” a “real world” character, Bane. Finally, this also explains that the trilogy didn’t really have an ending. Neo just won, not for some logical reason, but because … he just did. All the Agent Smiths just exploded because Neo … I don’t know … infected them? Well, who cares? No explanation for how that happened is necessary. It’s just important that he did. I guess the programs learned their lesson, so it was no longer necessary for there to be a war.

The theory has one downside I see: An anticlimactic ending. If what I’ve described is what was going on the whole time, then as the credits roll, you’ve got to be thinking, “So no one was ever in any danger? This whole thing was essentially an elaborate movie … to the characters _in_ the movie? Awwwwwww, shucks! I was apparently watching some nerd writing lines of programming code for six or seven hours.” On the other hand, that’s what you’re doing in real life anyway when you go to a movie, especially one like Megamind that’s nothing but computer animation.

While I didn’t need to watch several hours of the movie to appreciate the fan theory — I probably could have not watched it as all — it made the movies completely different films at least worthy of the rewatch. Neo, et al. the programs are learning hope, love, forgiveness, and many other things that machines currently can’t learn, but above all else going beyond one’s programming and exercising free will. Perhaps it’s only through “living” these experiences that the lessons can ever sink into artificial intelligence.

Or not. I’m no expert in artificial intelligence. It’s a neat theory, though, and one that makes for decent drama. Just ask Commander Data.

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Why I Love the TV Series, Star Trek: Enterprise

I’ve been revisiting the series Star Trek: Enterprise (“STE“). The episodes are available free on the Star Trek website. In light of last week’s anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek: The Original Series (“TOS“), I thought it would be appropriate to share my thoughts.

STE is a much-maligned series in the Star Trek franchise. Though I can understand why relatively new Star Trek fans didn’t like it, I never quite understood why fans of TOS didn’t. Sure there were problems with the writing; the temporal cold war was annoying and never truly resolved, and they never should have forced the Borg and Ferengi into the storylines. However, for those who’ve been with Star Trek from the beginning, we’ve seen it as a morality play first, and bells and whistles second. The futuristic setting was interesting and important. It was interesting to see where humans were going and important because it told us that somehow, despite the threat of nuclear annihilation, we were going to make it. Nevertheless, the reason we were going to make it was because of our social evolution, not our technological evolution. Greater technology, by itself, simply gives us the means to destroy ourselves. We have to rise above our instincts and insecurities to make it to the 22nd century. Story was what mattered.

So, how did we go from cross burnings to not batting an eyelash when we meet an energy-based being? We can certainly see the first part of that evolution by looking at how our real-world societies have (and haven’t) evolved since the 60s. We can also see how we’ve evolved from the Original Series to the Star Trek: The Next Generation (“TNG“) era, a time at which diversity was so extensive that we threw up our hands and surrendered to it psychologically-speaking. What’s missing is our future. By “our,” I mean those of us living in the 21st century, and those that will live in the 22nd century. What can we and our descendants expect? Star Trek: First Contact gave us a hint. First contact with the Vulcans “unit[ed] humanity in a way that no one ever thought possible, when they realize they’re not alone in the universe.” Deanna Troi, Star Trek: First Contact. That’s great, but it’s also a bit idealistic. Even if humanity no longer hated itself, could we really expect that to mean the end of bigotry instantaneously? STE answered that question, and that’s why I loved it. It told a part of the story we needed to see, both in terms of our social evolution and technical evolution. The jump from TOS to TNG wasn’t nearly as fascinating to me as the jump from right now to TOS, because that’s what will affect people I actually know, including me.

Two of the best episodes in all of Trek history were Demons and Terra Prime, a two-part series starting Peter Weller (a.k.a., Robocop) as a xenophobic human. He united black and white, male and female, gay and straight, and faithful and atheist against a common foe: Anyone who wasn’t human.  It demonstrated that humans are as bigoted as their circumstances dictate. By that, I mean that whoever is most different at the time is the target of our bigotry. Sure, looking at green-blooded, pointy-earned clones of Satan, we’d probably lose focus on how we hate each other, but that focus had to go somewhere, and sure enough it did. Humans developed great resentment towards Vulcans. Of course, there wasn’t much outright hostility, but then again bigotry nowadays doesn’t often result in physical violence, but that doesn’t make the bigotry any less real. Also, humans were getting something out of their relationship with Vulcans, so that helped to mollify that resentment.

Or so my theory goes.

Still there was a story to tell there. You may agree or disagree with my point of view, and you may have preferred a different direction for Star Trek canon. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that we’re analyzing social issues, which is what made Star Trek one of the most important series in the history of television. That analysis is the mission of the Star Trek franchise. Whatever legitimate concerns you might have for the quality of the writing, with Star Trek: Enterprise, mission accomplished.

Unless, of course, phase cannons weren’t glamorous enough for you.

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