Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagScience fiction

businessman-working-with-skeleton-in-office-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Businessman working with skeleton in office

Sci-fi Saturday: When “The Workplace” Is Anything But

The short film (less than 10 min) starts with a woman reassuring herself, unsettlingly, “I AM the boss”

“The Workplace” at DUST by Carlyn Hudson (April 1, 2021, 9:32 min) We’ve been warned: “You are very qualified.” For what though? “In a future economy subsumed by technological employment, humans continue to find meaning through their ‘work’ — where the lucky ones get to show up to an “office” from 9-5 and live out their mundane workplace fantasies.” This sci-fi short will appeal to many who have had a job at the corner of Rat and Race and sense that’s a blessing compared to the alternative. It starts with a woman reassuring herself, “I AM the boss,” and cuts to her interviewing a job candidate who seems off-putting at first but appears qualified — and then things get weird.…

saturn-and-moon-in-the-sky-of-a-barren-landscape-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
saturn and moon in the sky of a barren landscape

Sci-fi Saturday: “The Big Nothing” melds sci-fi and whodunit

The combination of the sci-fi and detective genres takes some skill to pull off but this Australian crew succeeds

“The Big Nothing” at DUST by Sharptooth Pictures (March 4, 2021, 37.54) “When the captain of an isolated mining station near Saturn is murdered, Detective Lennox is sent to investigate the three remaining crew members. Centered around a series of interrogations and flashback, Lennox discovers that everyone has a motive to kill. With otherworldly threats approaching and the killer amongst them, will everybody make it off the station?” “The Big Nothing,” a sci-fi detective drama, actually premiered in 2018 as a TV miniseries. The combination of the sci-fi and detective genres takes some skill to pull off. Both genres feature conventions that producers ignore at the story’s peril. For example, sci-fi should feature science. Of course the story can be…

surrealistic-image-with-a-man-lost-in-time-standing-in-a-foggy-street-in-front-of-huge-clocks-set-to-different-times-hour-perception-and-time-travel-concept-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Surrealistic image with a man lost in time, standing in a foggy street in front of huge clocks set to different times. Hour perception and time travel concept.

Sci-fi Saturday: Can We Live In More Than the Present Moment?

When a tech entrepreneur succeeds with time travel, he gets trapped in his own past errors

“Container” at DUST by Film Platter (February 23, 2021, 24:42) “The creator of a time machine becomes trapped inside his own creation where he must figure out the timing of his mistakes.” (Scenes of gruesome suffering so caution re kids.) In this Australian entry, time travelers need a container to isolate the effects of themselves and of time travel on the outside world. On this principle, an inventor finds a way to make time travel work — sort of. Or so he thinks. He achieves six minutes backward. But then he notices two things: The machine is continuing to count backward and there are drops of blood on the floor. He understates, “I’ve missed something here.” Then he notices he…

extremely-detailed-and-realistic-high-resolution-3d-illustration-of-a-grey-alien-standing-in-a-forest-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Extremely detailed and realistic high resolution 3d illustration of a Grey Alien standing in a forest

What If Extraterrestrials Can’t Afford To Take Chances With Us?

That’s the Dark Forest Hypothesis, riffing off the title of one of famed Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin’s novels

In recent months we’ve been looking at science writer Matt Williams’s coverage of the many reasons (links below) people have advanced as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Last Saturday, we considered the Aurora Hypothesis: Given the difficulties and risks of space travel, extraterrestrials with advanced technology may have visited Earth only one in a million years, researchers say. Another hypothesis that Williams has examined is the Dark Forest Hypothesis. He begins by noting that space exploration necessarily conjures up the notion of risk: “Words like Rim, Edge, Fringe, and Verge, Beyond, Perimeter, and Periphery all conjure up feelings of intrigue and anxiety – no doubt, in different measures for different people”: This particular proposed…

concept-of-internet-security-mixed-media-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Concept of internet security. Mixed media

New Sci-fi Dictionary Will Help Us Tell Our Aliens Apart

Not only are definitions of terms provided but many references to their use in sci-fi literature

Sci-fi fans will appreciate this new online resource: The Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction. The field is now very large. Even if you know what a Dyson sphere is (“an artificial structure in the form of a hollow shell surrounding a star”), you may not know where, in science fiction and commentary, the term has been used. Many such examples are right there at the link. Many other terms are defined, like “Anglic” (future English) and “Belter” (resident of an asteroid belt). We may not need the definition if we are reading the book or watching the film but we will if someone uses the term in casual conversation. The compiler is lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower who has worked at the…

video-camera-lens-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Video camera lens

Sci-fi Saturday: What If a New Start in Life Were Two Pills Away?

Would you feel the same about suicide?

“Camgirl” at DUST by Jacob Schühle Lewis (March 9, 20:21) “Dee, disillusioned with life and working as a cam girl to make ends meet, helps a strange client, starting an unlikely friendship that might save them both.” A cam girl is a girl-next-door type for hire for viewing and chat sessions (not necessarily pornography or sex) for lonely people. The filmmaker requested a warning that the film depicts self-harm and suicide attempts and it is age-restricted. Given the declining mental health occasioned by the total lockdown response to COVID-19 in many places, vulnerable teens might indeed be best encouraged to watch something else. Meanwhile… You have to watch it here at YouTube because we can’t display it, due to the…

robot-mirando-al-mundo-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Robot mirando al mundo

Sci-fi Saturday: In a World Run By Robots, a Bot Becomes a Joker

The dull, dystopian atmosphere of an Australia dominated by robots is well done and worth the watch

“System Error” at DUST by Matt Vesely/ Closer Productions (March 11, 2021, 13:12): From the director’s notes: More About “System Error”: Every day, George works his job at a dingy convenience store, desperately hoping for a friend – but George is also an immobile robotic service unit, and immobile robotic service units do not have friends. When human customer Sid tries to tell George a joke, the simple robot is baffled. So, he sets about editing his code to learn how to laugh… Review: It’s 54 years after an alien invasion and the world is dominated by advanced robotic technology. Everything seems run by robots, including a local convenience store in Australia where everything is under the control of a…

illustration-the-terrible-alien-ufo-destroyer-comes-the-combat-begins-realistic-style-scene-wallpaper-design-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Illustration: The Terrible Alien UFO Destroyer comes. The Combat Begins. Realistic Style. Scene / Wallpaper Design.

Sci-fi Saturday: Can an Alternative Universe Save a Lonely Girl?

A girl finds fighting space aliens easier than fighting a brain haemorrhage and a sense of guilt

“CARONTE” at DUST by Luis Tinoco (March 2, 2021, 14:04 min): “A self-absorbed teenager somehow contacts another universe after she’s injured in a car accident.” Language warning. The initial plot development is laudably clearer than that of many short DUST entries. Minimizing spoilers, it’s apparent early on that the heroine is not really a lieutenant in a space force. So what is happening in those scenes is happening either an alternative universe or all in her head. The characters are well imagined and portrayed and the real life scenes are deftly executed. The film ends as it must — not happily but inevitably, and with at least some sense of redemption. Quibble: There is way too much profanity. It gets…

nebula-and-stars-in-deep-space-glowing-mysterious-universe-elements-of-this-image-furnished-by-nasa-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Nebula and stars in deep space, glowing mysterious universe. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Is Real-World Space Travel Just Too Daunting for ET?

That’s the Percolation Hypothesis as to why we don’t make contact with aliens. They can’t overcome the laws of physics, any more than we can

Last week we looked at another reason that has been advanced, as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Science writer Matt Williams has been looking at the reasons (see the links below.) Last Saturday, we looked at the possibility that Earth is unusual in that it is a rocky planet whose intelligent inhabitants live on the surface. Many rocky planets and moons with icy surfaces may have interior oceans that harbor life.: In that case, intelligent life may not think of space exploration. Another hypothesis that Williams has examined is the Percolation Theory Hypothesis, that there are limits imposed by the laws of physics as to what intelligent life forms can do by way of…

mysterious-exotic-exoplanet-lit-by-a-bright-red-star-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
mysterious exotic exoplanet lit by a bright red star

Sci-fi Saturday: “This Planet Is Not in Our Co-ordinates”

A space courier crew gets a surprise when delivering a mysterious machine to a strange planet

“McPherson’s Toys” at DUST by Austin Charlesworth (Jan 23, 2021, 2:59 min): “Two anxious space couriers have to deliver an ominous package to an unfamiliar planet with unexpected results.” Animated. At only 3 min, this one is very short. It will give fast food staff time to prepare your burger. The space couriers find themselves on a planet not expected to be in their co-ordinates. The rest would make a great greeting card. Depending on how you react (the audience is mixed), that may be fun. The animation feels a bit old-fashioned but many viewers will like that. Perfect for nostalgia. Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files: Sci-fi Saturday: A future where dreams have been privatized Unfortunately,…

road-in-dark-forest-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Road in dark forest

Sci-fi Saturday: A Future Where Dreams Have Been Privatized

Unfortunately, the dream Carlos wants is to see his missing family again and that's illegal …

“I Dream” at DUST by Juan Pablo Arriagada (February 20, 2021, 14.25 min, Spanish with English subtitles) “In the future, dreams have been privatized. Carlos will risk anything to have one last dream to see his missing family.” Severe language and violence warning. It’s an interesting concept: “It was just a matter of time before dreams became privatized and became a basic service. Only rich people can afford to dream. The people who can’t pay for it must work double shifts. Or buy this drug that makes them stay awake. And, by the way, it’s made by the same people that privatized sleep.” Carlos, an ex-cop whose family went missing, can afford one last dream in which he wants to…

wooden-toy-model-sitting-on-a-bench-stockpack-unsplash.jpg
wooden toy model sitting on a bench

Sci-Fi Saturday: When Virtual Friends Are a Real Addiction

This animated short begins with the thirtieth birthday party of a rather glum young man

“Best Friend” at DUST by Nicholas Olivieri, Shen Yi, Juliana De Lucca, Varun Nair, David Feliu (Feb 16, 2021, 5:31) “In a near future, a lonely man is addicted to a product called Best Friend which offers him perfect virtual friends.” As is hinted in the title (so this is not a spoiler), we suddenly learn — via an effective plot maneuver — that all of the partying friends are virtual realities. I had already begun to wonder about the animated objects cheering along with the crowd but then maybe in the future our kitchenware will have enthusiasms … But no. It’s all in his head, as long as he keeps replenishing the supply of a chemical cocktail to a…

glowing-yellow-implant-inside-human-head-uses-medical-alien-future-tech-where-monitoring-and-transmission-of-biotelemetry-is-involved-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Glowing yellow implant inside human head. Uses: medical, alien, future tech where monitoring and transmission of  biotelemetry is involved.

Sci-Fi Saturday: Watch What You Wish For. There IS a Tomorrow!

Carl, a lonely guy, is determined to proceed through the warning and try the Luvsik procedure, to make him fall in love at first sight

“Luvsik” at DUST by Norman Bertolino (February 29, 2021,5:00) “A man has a medical procedure done to experience love for the first time.” This short short starts out with a parody promo video for an off-standard medical treatment. It’s just the sort of promo that should — but alas, often doesn’t — send prospective patients fleeing back to their cars, then the freeway. So we know that, if Carl is unfazed, he is pretty serious about finding love. It’s also a clever way of providing the science basis for the story. No spoilers but Carl, the guy who wants the brain implant to cause him to fall in love at first sight, is told that in every case where the…

comb-jellyfish-in-the-dark-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Comb Jellyfish in the dark

Sci-Fi Saturday: We Have Met the Aliens and They Are Comb Jellies

The alien life form, when it appears, is very well imagined

Or something. Here’s “Seedling” at DUST, an Irish entry by Michael Donnelly V and Stevie Russell (October 22, 2020, 08:14 min) “Amidst a huge storm, a couple experience an encounter with an alien species.” The opening scene, showing a complete failure of technology (electricity, radio, telephone, car) and the resulting emotional collapse of the female lead, is a stark reminder of how dependent we are on technology today. A thousand years ago, no one would have noticed that anything was wrong, apart from a rather violent storm (which some might attribute to witchcraft, others to sin). The alien life form, when it appears, is very well imagined. It is not remotely what we might have expected (although there are life…

a-black-cat-plays-with-a-robotic-vacuum-cleaner-that-cleans-the-floorpet-playing-with-robot-vacuum-cleaner-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
A black cat plays with a robotic vacuum cleaner that cleans the floor.pet playing with robot vacuum cleaner

Sci-fi Saturday: The Disabled Robot Vet Gets a Job Grooming Cats

Definitely worth your five minutes, in part in order to see what cartoonists can do in sci-fi with animated stills.

“A Robot is a Robot” at DUST by Danish cartoonists Emil Friis Ernst and Nilas Røpke Driessen (February 2, 2021, 05:49 min) tells a tale: “A disabled robot war veteran finds its home among humans in the tender care of an old lady, and her hair salon for cats.” The story is told, intriguingly, as a series of cartoon stills and animated stills, beginning with the robot veteran begging on the sidewalk, whereupon the old lady takes him in. The robot floats on a single wheel and has a body like a metal tea cozy — a nice change from the more “android” type. She employs the robot to groom cats, who seem to appreciate his work, until he encounters…

newtons-cradle-with-red-ball-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Newton's Cradle with red ball

Sci-fi Saturday: A Girl With Kinetic Powers Faces a Choice

Should she help relatives with activities she knows to be wrong?

“Kinetic” at DUST by Kylie Eaton (February 4, 2021, 05:05 min) “When Aunt Drea solicits her help with criminal activities, young Jess’s emotions spin out of control, releasing powers she’d rather keep hidden.” This “short” short film is well executed. The rural ambience is quite realistic. But “Kinetic” breaks a fundamental rule of sci-fi. For sci-fi to be a classification in art or literature, the key requirement is that the powers or circumstances must have a basis in science. None is offered here except the assertion that the girl inherited the powers from her mother and grandmother. That’s a viable idea in tales of the supernatural but not in science fiction. We have not established how the kinetic powers came…

asteroid-near-earth-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Asteroid near Earth

Sci-fi Saturday: An Asteroid Lingers Near Earth and Devours Time

Or, at any rate, it devours our perception of time, as one man discovers

“Flyby,” a short sci-fi film at DUST by Jesse Mittelstadt (January 28, 2021 13:22 min) “When a passing asteroid begins to affect how people perceive time, one man struggles to keep up with a life that is quickly disappearing into the future.” Note: Language and mature scenes warning. When watching the opening sequence of “Flyby,” it’s hard not to think of space cigarillo Oumuamua, for which Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb made the case that it was an extraterrestrial lightsail. Loeb has recently published a book on these and similar reflections, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (January 26, 2021). Back to the film, which takes quite a different tack, of course, addressing altered perceptions…

safety-equipment-life-buoy-or-rescue-buoy-floating-on-sea-to-rescue-people-from-drowning-man-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Safety equipment, Life buoy or rescue buoy floating on sea to rescue people from drowning man.

Sci-fi Saturday: Rescuing Lost People

Animated, in French, with English subtitles, but don't let that deter you

Here’s a very new (January 26, 2021), very short (5:41 min) animated video from Valérie Bousquie, Joséphine Meis, Côme Roy, Antoine Vignon, and Benjamin Warnitz. In a wild an inhabited desert, a team of rangers is in charge of rescuing people who got lost there. The film is in French with English subtitles (and the promo copy could have used an English-speaking editor). It’s not clear why it is science fiction and I found the story a little hard to understand. But the professional relationships sound pretty real and make it worth the watch. Note: Someone reviewed the film at Filmnosis, commenting, “Staged in a desert, a lot of work has been dedicated to environment and character design, polished framing,…

walking-difficulties-aged-bearded-man-leaning-on-his-walking-stick-while-thinking-about-his-helplessness-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Walking difficulties. Aged bearded man leaning on his walking stick while thinking about his helplessness

Sci-fi Saturday: A Robot Helps an Old Fellow Rediscover Life

The robot is very well done and how he gets a name is charming

The short sci-fi film, “This Time Away” (13:23) is by Magali Barbe Nigel is an elderly man living as a recluse, haunted by his past and memory of the family he once had, until an unexpected visitor arrives and disrupts his lonely routine. No spoiler, the visitor is a robot, abandoned by children in his back yard. The relationships seem a bit unrealistic. Lots of people abandon their elderly relatives, of course. But we are being asked to believe that a robot was the big solution. In this case, it feels like magic. Well, watch it and see what you think. The robot is done really nicely. Worth watching. Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files: Sci-fi Saturday:…

grownup-daughter-soothe-aged-mother-holds-her-hand-feeling-empathy-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Grownup daughter soothe aged mother holds her hand feeling empathy

Sci-fi Saturday: What If an Old Man Could See His Mother Again?

It is a hard film to watch if you lost a loved one, but worthwhile

A bit sad but worth seeing. (4:01 min from Nick Naum & Csaba Nagy) An old man, with a receding memory, pays to view synthetic recreations of his mother and childhood. I had a hard time watching this film because I would so like to see my parents (who died in their nineties) again, especially when they were young. But I can tell you this: My father once got a call from the country for old men. In case you ever wondered, yes, it’s real. It’s too bad if some people are scamming about it. Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files: Sci Fi Saturday: A fight for the winning ticket In a 2040 superstorm, engulfing the planet,…