Saturday, October 28, 2017

Bright Lights, Dead City: Living with the Machine

“Alexa, turn twinkle lights on.”

Alexa gave me light, illuminating a strange enclosed space full of eccentric board games, with cactus-adorned bedsheets for me to sleep on, in Chicago.  You see, the Google engineer with whom I was staying that weekend was tight with Alexa, dangerously tight – I wondered if perhaps she had a role in birthing Alexa, playing with her DNA strands – this remarkable DNA that could be changed after birth.

But Alexa couldn’t turn the other lights on or off, and she couldn’t do their television either.  So I found myself speaking crossly to this lifeless entity, as I’m sure was happening simultaneously to a thousand other Alexas in apartments and houses across the nation. 

And that’s when Alexa’s real deficiencies hit me harder than the glare of the twinkle lights or the prickles on the cacti.  Her companionship was soothingly soft quicksand, endlessly amicable and patient, but nothing human, not at all, once she had fully enveloped your otherwise solitary space.

Blade Runner 2049 had recently offered me a vision of a more emotionally evolved Alexa – Ryan Gosling’s flickering, buxom fantasy, who occupied his futuristically claustrophobic living unit with a coquettishness and bonhomie that I suspect will remain more elusive for the enterprising engineers at Google.  Yet the quicksand of this visionary landscape remained just that, mixed in hues of orange desert, grey expanses of trash, and the ghostly black depths of the nighttime storm-tossed sea in the final standoff.

And yet from the vantage point of the 1980s the original Blade Runner had offered its own wildly inventive, more neon-infused image of what 2019 would be in Los Angeles, replete with flying cars, and putting artificial intelligence right at the core of its narrative.  Somehow we haven’t made it there in the real world, but rather than offer an apology for its inaccurate prophesies, BR 2049 came just in time to affirm that aesthetically, philosophically, spiritually, and emotionally, the original movie had offered both lasting and chilling insight into a world where machines had gained more gravitational pull than humans. 

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