Serial Experiments Cybernetics Layer 06: KIDS

“I never meant to put the children in any danger.” – Dr. Hodgeson

If I were to restrict this series to cyberneticians alone, this week would cover William Grey Walter. He was the first to discover and categorize brain waves, and he developed robots in the 1940s known as “turtles” complete with “artificial neurons”.

However, this week we shall evaluate a different type of artificial turtle: turtle graphics. Mathematician and educator Seymour Papert’s used a pen attached to the bottom of a turtle robot to create pictures. Papert created the Logo programming language for this purpose. Logo was used in computer education in the 1980s and into the ’90s.

When turtle graphics was first explained to me as a child,[1] it was in a purely digital context: that the software was no longer guiding a physical robot, but rather carrying out the actions of a virtual robot and putting the resulting picture on the screen – if I remember correctly; I was 5.

If you want to try Logo yourself, there are free implementations online. Turtle graphics has also since been incorporated into Python. I have used both to try to revisit my childhood, which also included filling floppy disks with bitmap images and playing around with tessellations of various kinds.

The Japanese video game LSD: Dream Emulator is not the first work to make a connection between psychedelics and digital art. Indeed, one can refer to both “Das Netz” and the Adam Curtis documentary “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace” to learn that the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s was brought new life by the digital revolution, which was reaching new heights in the ’90s. Now, they had a new portal into your home.

The Myth of the 20th Century podcast is the first place I heard about the connections forged at Laurel Canyon in the ’60s – the hippie “counterculture” could very well have been a psyop, and in some respects, it is well-known to be. I shall leave the details in the capable hands of the Myth crew and Jay Dyer. It is a wilderness of mirrors that I am willing only to wade into.

Yet though I might try to stay out of it, it was put into me at a young age. I remember in fourth grade, an art teacher came to show us Surrealism and Cubism. Magritte and Dalí excited and captivated my spongy brain. I was already watching Ren & Stimpy and Rocco’s Modern Life.

These surreal, sarcastic works mean more to a grown person who already has real experiences to compare them to. For a child, they are a lens through which to view a real world that we have not yet glimpsed. They encouraged in me a cynicism and a detachment that I am still recovering from.

Seymour Papert was hopeful. He wanted the computer to enable young minds to open up new vistas of ability and experience, and if you look at the so-called “digital natives” around you, you’ll see that he was all too right in many respects.

He wrote about this hope in a book called “Mindstorms”, a name you may recognize. His work influenced the educational LEGO robot toys of that name. I had the R2-D2, whose movements I was able to code using the same controls I used for turtle graphics.

Papert wrote a book on “perceptrons”, a type of proposed artificial neural network, with the renowned Marvin Minsky of the MIT AI Lab. Minsky is renowned with good cause: his work on artificial intelligence is more than I can recount here. In 1963, Minsky invented the first head-mounted display, an item which has become more and more common in recent years with the surges in VR games and VR porn. [2]

Sadly, Minsky may have had more in common with Jeffrey Epstein than an interest in cryonics. Four months after Minsky’s death, Jeffrey Epstein’s accuser also accused Minsky of knowing her carnally when she was 17.

Notably, this accusation has led to Richard Stallman’s resignation from MIT and the Free Software Foundation. I would not chalk this up to “GNU+Pedophilia Apologism”, but rather a form of hero worship on Stallman’s part, akin to KRS-One’s defense of Afrika Bambaataa.

Through the persons of Seymour Papert and Marvin Minsky we have seen some of the effects of cybernetics on our own generation – Papert with his mindstorms, and Minsky with his head-mounted display. Both have had a great influence on how we view the world around us, or rather, which world we view.

Capital has taken their inventions and urged us on to dive into a virtual, shining treasure trove, where the pixels can take any shape you choose: be it a castle in Minecraft, an informative screed, or often a woman – penis optional in the current year, mandated by 2070.

So good luck out there. I hope to see you next time when will we finally unveil the influence the Bogdanoffs have had on all of this.

[1] If you haven’t listened to the Negative XP song “MKUltra Victim”, please do so after reading this article.
[2] He was also an advisor to Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey – the monolith was nearly a tetrahedron.

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