Avatar and Cultural Theory

Is there a Four Cultures take on that movie everyone except me seems to have seen? If so, please let me know your thoughts by commenting on this post.

For inspiration you could look at what the anthropology website Savage Minds had to say about it, or you could read about the four cultures of science fiction and a cultural theory interpretation of Star Wars.

And maybe I’ll get round to seeing it, although for truly amazing 3d effects I find it cost-effective to hold my hand at arm’s length in front of my face and turn it slowly. Call me old fashioned. I’m holding out for 5d cinema.

Beware – Dangerous Robots!

Dan Kahan of the Cultural Cognition Project has been thinking about the possible ways of reacting to robots that kill. It’s a relatively new set of technologies, but what happens when AI merges with weaponry to produce robots that want to kill you? He thinks the arguments could go in several ways and I tend to agree.

The ethics of this is already being worked out, with the aim of making robots behave ‘more humanely than humans’. There is a summary.

The title of a key book on the subject points to the potential contradictions:

Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots

Governance is great – as long as we’re the ones in charge

The context in which all this is happening is an Hierarchical one: the so called military-industrial complex. Hence the great significance of the term ‘Governing’. For Hierarchy, governing is exactly the correct response to ‘lethal behavior’ – and this applies to all lethal behaviour, not just that of robots, who in a sense are nothing special. The point is, in the Hierarchical worldview violence is warranted, provided it is clear who is doing the warranting. But lethal robots present something of a problem. What happens if they aren’t programmed to be ‘governed’? Continue reading

The Four Cultures of Star Wars

Star Wars - Original ScriptAs I write this on the train home, my neighbour  is watching Star Wars: A New Hope on his portable DVD player. The bleeps and moans of R2D2 and Chewbacca come through clearly on his earphones. Thirty two years after its release, the movie and its myth-making are evidently still going strong. But what is it that gives this particular story its staying power?

I think it works partly because it recognises the existence of the Four Cultures and the endless conflicts and settlements between them.

Here’s how it works:

Continue reading

The Four Cultures of Science Fiction

As a genre, sci-fi is par excellence concerned with culture. What would it be like to visit an alien world? How would its inhabitants operate, and how would they differ from us?

In a way it’s a kind of theoretical anthropology. Think of Ursula Le Guin’s inquiry into a culture of hermaphrodites in The Left Hand of Darkness, or of Iain M. Banks’s series of novels in which he explores the political permutations of a culture that has abolished scarcity – a culture provocatively named ‘the Culture’. Continue reading

Economics of the Singularity

Crooked Timber has been running a ‘book event‘ on the economic ideas of science fiction writer Charlie Stross.

In case you haven’t come across him, Stross is a prolific (300,000 words a year) writer of extravagant ideas who lives in Scotland. His approach to  pulp sci-fi is reminiscent of  Philip K Dick’s.  Sure it’s commercial, but with Stross as with Dick, it’s also art.

Perhaps the thought of economics puts you off an otherwise good read. Or perhaps the thought of science fiction puts you off some otherwise good economics. But for anyone still left in the room, the discussion, including posts by economists Paul Krugman and John Quiggin, as well as by writer Ken MacLeod, is well worth reading.

Warning: cheap joke ahead.

Of course, some might say all economics is fiction…