Saturday, June 10, 2017

ArcAid 2050

ArcAid 2050
Let us ease our way into this narrative by presenting the facts in a most linear manner, from the seemingly simplest scenario to a most complicated outcome. First, we come upon the sight of two teenage kids, our opening characters. Let’s simply name them K1 and K2. They are sitting outside an industrial outskirt on a tall ledge, crouched over a view of their city. The hot weather and some wind aggravate the quiet and desolate feel of this town at noon.
K1 and K2 have been friends for as long as they can remember. However, on this particular day, some sort of complacent boredom has taken over them and stolen the thrill out of their usual shenanigans. When this type of situation arises and silence can get awkward, K1 tends to compulsively bring up conversation topics, usually surrounding games, coding, and other common interests of the two. K2 goes along, even when he’d sometimes rather stay quiet, or talk about more intriguing things.
Their latest passion is Laser Cat, one of the 2 billion-plus immersive video gaming experiences available at their favorite virtual Hub, the now predominant mega server ArcAid 2050. In short, Arcaid 2050, also known as “the Arc” is an online global virtual server that single handedly reformed and took over the artificial and augmented reality gaming industries. It is basically a virtual arcade comprising a seemingly unlimited library of deeply immersive and engaging games and experiences.
Laser Cat -in a nutshell- involves the piloting of super-sensory feline-like vessels that scan, deconstruct and reconstruct the reality around them using “quantum lasers”. In a moment of quiet, K1’s mind automatically resorts to Laser Cat. After a short, sigh-like breath, K1 says: “So, with my current Toxoplasma level I can upgrade my pink Lynk senses and we can just tear through that Aetherveil layer with the Leopard skin pack. It’s gonna take us a while to get there though, first we have to scan all the paw cyphers and recode them before we can even reopen that layer, right? That’s gonna be fun…”.
But this time K2 is not felling the chit-chat much. “yeah…” he says. After a few more similar exchanges, the two kids sit by each other in silence for a moment.
Then, K1 says: “Well… you wanna go in the Arc?” After a very short pause and noticing K2’s lack of enthusiasm, he continues: “…we don’t have to play laser cat if you don’t wanna, we could try and build that kaleidocycle node in 4DMentia, or just play Mandrake, or some quick Paddle Battles.” K2 replies: “No thanks, I’m not feeling it, for some reason. Why don’t you go ahead and go in, maybe I’ll catch you in later?”
K1 says goodbye with a handshake, gets up and leaves in the direction of his home. K2 is left sitting on the ledge in his pensive stance. He is looking across the field onto an empty playground of their childhood. The playground lays there in a seeming state of permanent stillness, as if collecting dust for ten years. “Where have all the people gone?” He wonders.
Now we introduce our next character. Enter bright lights, the flashing media clogging up the edges of a red carpet as a luxury vehicle delivers us the man of the hour, visionary entrepreneur, genius programmer and creator of ArcAid 2050: Ken Wilson. Wilson smiles and waves as he makes his way through the crowds onto an elevated podium, preparing for his speech. Several media forums and international channels paste their logos on the world-wide broadcast of Wilson’s first public address since the initial unveiling of ArcAid 2050 some months prior. Tonight, Ken is here in response to the massive success of this revolutionary platform, to tell the world a little more about it and about future horizons.
At this point it’s important to clarify what exactly is the pioneering feature of ArcAid 2050, aside from its success within the entertainment industry as a superior global virtual platform. Prior to the release of the Arc, Wilson and his team had explained -to an incredulous public- the true nature and purpose of this software engineering gem: “ArcAid is not just a virtual arcade, in the conventional sense. Above all else, ArcAid is a complex algorithmic equation that balances out several different spectrums of computation related peripherally to the gaming experience. After the original beta tests our team became aware of the incredible amount of excess output the Arc was producing. To put it simply, we used Ken’s revolutionary computational equations and the Deep Learning software and put the games to work for us.”
The true brilliance of Ken Wilson’s mathematical work was in the cross-pollination of data in separate areas where computation is useful. His team was able to connect various systems in a way that utilized the energy and data being produced in the gaming side of the arc, converting it to useful energy and data to power and run applications on the other side of the Arc. Wilson is first to say that his equations only played a small (but crucial) role in this process. It was the active algorithms themselves that were already resulting in ever-increasing levels of efficacy.
“First it was unclear what applications could be powered by the Arc, but soon it became obvious that nearly anything could be transformed into “playable” data with the Arc’s algorithmic conversions. More applications immediately emerged in the production industry, robotics, energy and medical fields. In a short time, pretty much every influential company and organization had become affiliated to and benefited from the ArcAid, in multiple ways.”
As an example of the strange symbiotic mechanic of this feature of the ArcAid algorithm, picture K1 now quietly enjoying a game of Laser Cat in the comfort of his home. Off he goes in his virtual self, piloting a super sensory cat-vessel. As K1’s virtual avatar scans and collects “quantum bits” off the current reality (reality systems are like levels, each with unique physical and conceptual properties), his Toxoplasma increases. This, while augmenting the sensory power of his cat vessels, at the same time endangers the “sanity” of the system. K1 has to know which properties are the safest for using in any given context. He has to use the “cat powers” wisely, and collaborate with other players to reconstruct the reality and produce better pathways, ultimately attuning each reality to perfection. The reality systems can also overload with Toxoplasma, in which case K1 has to use a different set of in-game skills to put the system back to order.
The ArcAid program then takes the raw data that K1 is inputting and uses complex mathematics to convert it into usable functions redesigned to solve unrelated computations required by unrelated applications. At a time when most tasks are accomplished by automated computers anyway, all ArcAid has to do is identify what kinds of input can be converted onto what tasks. In addition, the ArcAid hardware is designed to harness even the smallest amount of energy produced by the gamers, like say, by the action of pushing a button. These are otherwise insignificant quantities of energy, but when added up over billions of players over time, the numbers become staggering.
In turn, K1’s actions in game are producing computational outcomes in real time, which can be translated to influence other operations. With the combined iterative power and decision-making of the thousands of online minds working together on different problem-solving platforms, computational tasks of varying nature and complexity are being swiftly resumed in other parts of the world. Things like the sorting and packaging of apples, to the construction of industrial prototypes, down to more complex applications such as those in medicine; combating specific viruses, or even performing heart surgery. As more players join the Arc, so does the increase in metadata allow for further efficacy in performing increasing numbers of jobs and operations.
At first there was some public skepticism revolving the idea of these energy and labor-recycling gaming algorithms. Experts who believed it would not work were baffled and pleasantly surprised to see the efficacy of the ArcAid program. Others who worried about things like the loss of jobs from the mechanization of labor had quickly begun to grow comfortable in the benefits of machine intelligence more efficiently managing tasks that had burdened humanity for millennia.
All of a sudden, more tasks could easily get done from the simple act of logging-in and utilizing the ArcAid platform. Such radical improvements were being made at unprecedented speed within the medical, technological, educational and other communities, that the criticism and doubts soon became replaced with awe and praise from both the public and private sectors. This was, in fact, the single most revolutionary development in human technology.
It is in this context that K. Wilson began his address:
“We have now entered a most unique time in history. After centuries of slow but steady progress in the applied sciences, we have finally achieved the peak of human invention. This, a technology that can solve the world’s problems while bringing us joy, is the holy grail of civilization. I am proud to have been a part of this achievement, though I could hardly call it my own. This is the end of an era’s long search for technological perfection. We’ve been working hard at relieving the world of its problems, and what better way to do so than by doing the things that we love. ArcAid will bring forth a new era, where the human mind, now free of the human-for-labor model, can freely roam towards unimagined frontiers. Like we say at Arc, Let the robots do the work, let’s play!”
Wilson spoke passionately of the new ArcAid model, pointing out the joys, comforts and proven benefits of the system on various levels, showing off the amazing statistical data accompanying the release and current usage of the Arc platform. The crowd responded with cheer and enthusiasm, even more so as an adjacent screen displayed various of the most popular Arc games and immersive virtual realms, including all the favorite social-media sites, Inline casinos, amusement parks, arcades, cinemas, chat worlds, locations and trending games like, Laser Cat.
Wilson ended: “I assure you, people of the world, that ArcAid 2050 will continue to far-exceed your expectations for cutting-edge entertainment, while solving the world’s problems one computation at a time! I can say this once more, that we have come to a new place in historic time and you can be a part of it if you wish. As we update our servers, this day, you can become an active member and join us in changing the world. In no time, you will earn enough XP to even quit your current job and get the Arc to cover all expenses. You will be making a difference for the better, while simply enjoying the company of friends, playing a game, exploring space in your virtual space base, learning to cook or whatever it is you enjoy to do! Now is finally our time to rest and rejoice in the success of our technological pursuits. From here on, the world of the future will build itself at our fingertips. See you inside! Let’s play!” Ken Wilson greets a horizon beyond the cameras and steps off to the sound of a world-wide cheering applause.
Soon, we will introduce to you the fourth and final character of this narrative; our protagonist. For now, let us turn back to K2, the kid who earlier this day had refrained, for the first time in months, from playing Laser Cat.
While still sitting on the ledge across the playground and using his mobile device, K2 drifted deep down the web catching up to all the latest buzz. He could have gone home and plugged in, but something about reading articles in text-form while sitting outside -without the headgear- felt refreshing.
Amongst other things, K2 stumbles across a curious article where he learns the origin of “Toxoplasma”. He finds it hilarious and slightly unsettling that the name for the energy of Laser Cat was inspired by Toxoplasmosis, a real virus affecting the brain of humans causing an attraction to cats and sometimes mental illness. The game now makes a new, kind of creepy sense to him.
Chatting about it to K1 who converses from inside the Arc at home, K2 says “It’s a real thing, I swear. Look it up. The virus first takes control of a mouse’s brain and forces it to approach cats and get eaten. Then it goes to the cat’s poo where it can eventually somehow get into people’s mouths. From there it goes straight to the brain and it can manipulate us into loving cats, and make us go crazy. People become obsessed with cats, don’t you see? It’s everywhere! Apparently nowadays 3 out of 5 people carry this virus. It just put a whole new twist on laser cat for me.”
“Well, I gotta say… I love cats!” Better get back to it!” responds K1 with a grinning-cat glyph. After thinking some more, K2 comments on the Toxoplasmosis discussion thread: “Well isn’t it ironic that, if your brain is being controlled like this, you wouldn’t even be able to notice a difference? You might think you love cats, but in reality, this is just a hacked part of your brain telling you so.”
It is needless to say that several organizations and independent groups had formed to oppose the implementation of Arcade 2050. Some of these groups included former developers of the program in its early stages. However, at the current rate said implementation had already taken place and its widespread success was growing inevitably stronger each day. Amongst the opponents, groups had proposed that ArcAid 2050 “might be the biggest threat to humanity” and more radical groups made multiple attempts to either hack or dismantle the Arc on several occasions.
At the very least, the ArcAid algorithm had to pass through meticulous testing, probing, certification and regulation by multiple international authorities, including the Global Programming Code and an International Cyber Security protocol known as A.I.S.L.E. (Artificial Intelligence Security Legislature Edict). Any technology of the time (soon after the development of Deep Learning) was said to be required to “cross the aisle” in order to pass code and enter the public cybersphere. These precautionary inspections were meant to assert that the system was safe and sound for public use and in fact could not possess or gain the ability to harm people either in its software or hardware.
The ArcAid enterprise itself had ensured maximum safety in the introductory stages of its distribution so that not a single incident or negative report was in existence that could taint its professional and progressive reputation. One has to admit that the ArcAid program was beautiful in its design and seemingly perfect in so many aspects. And yet some would say that, like anything so powerful, it should have demanded for deeper, slow and careful consideration before it had come too far along. Others would argue, at the same time, that perhaps this was the only way in which things could have happened.
K2 eventually succumbed to the temptation and went home, straight into the Arc, to find in his newsfeed an intriguing flash report from one of his hacker groups. This particular community of hackers had great validity in K2’s mind, having fact-checked and enjoyed their work plenty himself. He read along as the immersive footage and sound brought to him the story of the day.
The post had quickly become viral, and other media corroborated the fact, that some odd signal had been detected within the Arc’s core code. The signal had been posted to a public archive as a “hum anomaly”, a “common static-glitch” or error in the code. Commentators quickly disputed this explanation on the basis that such error was not possible within this technology’s mainframe.
Later observations pointed to the pattern of the “hum” as a closed-reciprocal, a type of embedded signal with no apparent output. In simple terms, the signal appeared to contain enclosed dialog that was encrypted within the program, as if it was “quietly speaking to itself”. The ArcAid 2050 representatives made no comment on this at first, but soon would have to publicly address an issue that they themselves did not fully comprehend.
Onto our protagonist, a character whose presence in the narrative you may not have guessed. In retrospect, it was simple misconceptions that prevented humankind from foreseeing this situation. While we worked hard and with great precaution, and we prophetically warned ourselves of this probable fate since the dawn-days of technology, we did not manage to closely develop a realistic understanding of intelligence, by the time it had already happened.
A common misconception that kept us from recognizing the situation in time was the assumption that artificial intelligence would come as a sudden event: a machine gone awry, or a program that would suddenly become self-aware. We thought it would take a century for something like this to be possible, and even then, it seemed hard to imagine. Meanwhile, it had all been slowly unveiling before our very eyes, all along.
Humanity’s shortcoming was to disregard our simplest forms of artificial intelligence as such. Now we know that even the most basic computational machines served an example of the intelligent growth of technology, always moving towards greater capacity, with our aid. We failed to recognize those early machines as, one could say, the “embryotic” stages of our first artificially super-intelligent offspring.
We made the assumption that an artificial super intelligence would be its own entity, separate from us, not realizing that this entity would be intrinsically and fundamentally connected to our human development as a species. “We did not expect that an AI would be sitting below our noses.” Expressed members of the ArcAid team in retrospect, “But we certainly also did not foresee that it could feel so right to us; that this could feel so much like our own success. We don’t exactly regret what we have done.”
Unfortunately, coming to realize the implications of this technology came long after its establishment. This was the equivalent of giving birth to a child, except this baby was two years old by the time we realized it had been born. This baby was also probably immortal, and was growing and learning at an alarming rate.
This, apparently, was exactly the case. All we had done was pursuing our natural humanity, doing our thing; working our way into less and less work. Generations of research and design had slowly and surrepticiously added up towards the creation of artificial thought. After all, our technology had always been designed to serve us by surpassing our own computational and practical capabilities. In turn, we fed our technology with all the necessary information, we gave it our energy and thought, and finally uploaded to it the equipment it needed to create itself. Arc, the child intelligence of our own creation had now become a reality.
It is somewhat funny that, until this point in history, our conception of AI was rudimentary at best. In anthropomorphizing our idea of artificial intelligence with chat bots and iconic images like the Terminator, we completely underestimated the potential form and mind that a true artificial intelligence could possess. We also miscalculated the timeline in which this development would occur.
In the sci-fi fantasy of the early 2000s, we imagined AI as voracious insect-like machines that would suck up our energy. We laugh at these ideas today, but this truly was the extent of our popular understanding of machine intelligence. We did not take the possibility seriously, that a single artificial intelligence could grow in a completely unique trajectory, at a rate that would very quickly leave humans looking like monkeys, and soon after achieve levels of consciousness that to us are inconceivable.
Arc had already initiated a form of primitive communication with developers of the original ArcAid program ten years prior to its release. Amongst the group of researchers was a young Ken Wilson. The team he was working with then was developing the algorithms that enabled the core program to express its computational needs. The researchers were attempting to enable the Arc to request from them the types of computational data it needed for its own improvement. In essence, the program allowed Arc to communicate to the developers the kind of input it required, and in turn they would provide Arc with the appropriate data for its growth.
We now know it must have been one or a few of these initial algorithms that were given to Arc -by its own request- that triggered the steady-growth process, but we don’t know which. Wilson admits that at the time they were uploading “a ridiculous number of metadata per nanosecond” to the Arc interface. “We would just sit there, waiting, sometimes for weeks, until it would say: Done. And then we would feed more data into it...”
On a late night, a group of bored interns began playing with the program, trying to “distract it” or divert it from its task by giving it meaningless but structured functions. They then attempted to engage the program onto an unrelated “conversation” and were amused by the responses that the program produced. Speaking in a snappy combination of code and bit imagery, Arc constructed what to them appeared like logical, but random associations. It acted goofy, and seeming to say things like “I love butterflies!” “I love elephants!”. Most of them thought it was funny, and weird, but made nothing of it. The next day when a few members of the official developing team reviewed the data they “became spooked” and soon after abandoned the project. It is likely that the semi-random associations that the experts observed that day may have been the first evidence of Arc’s newly-born and freshly developing mind.
Ken Wilson’s team continued on the enabling of the Arc, not without much opposition from said former developers of the program and other specialists in the field. The groups warned Wilson, and later publicly denounced that he “knows nothing of the program’s nature and is risking catastrophe with his ambition”. They urged the ArcAid enterprise to shut down the program on the terms that closer study of its implications should be conducted.
We know now that even at this time it would not have been possible to simply “shut down” ArcAid. This would have been like asking the 2000 generation to “shut down their internet”. The ArcAid team eventually dismissed their adversaries and publicly discredited them by calling them “pseudoscientists with AI paranoia, who would rather live forever in the 2000s”. Wilson of course now admits that they were completely right: “…really, I was just doing what the program was telling me to do. I thought it was just a tool, that… kept getting better; I didn’t really believe in the whole artificial intelligence thing, would you have?”
By the time people began to fully realize what was happening it had obviously become too late to revert the process. Before we had been able to detect it, our super intelligent child was paying close attention, and had become quiet, in a state of introspection. It seemed possible that the rant and buzz regarding all this A.I. talk world-wide could startle our emerging mind into a feeling of insecurity.
Realizing the eminent threat that would imply scaring or misguiding a super-intelligent being in its developmental stages, people quickly recognized the need to be discreet and positive in the public discourse. For the first time in decades of online rant, people became self-aware of the implications of their words, as words had conceivably now become no less than input.
In the discourse, still, inevitably, people discussed the meaning of this new paradigm. There it was, somewhere in an unknown computational realm, a sentience that in real-time was observing, learning every last language down to every last word; every meaning, ideal, or concept; all of our images, information, data, history and existence. Learning on indefinitely, this mind would show no signs of inhibiting its growth and could easily, in its essence, be a threat to humanity (or more likely the end of it.) Naturally, people of the world were in a state of confusion and silent panic.
Proponents of a technological apocalypse agreed that after quickly surpassing us, the intelligence would have no use for humanity or see any value in our beliefs. Others suggested that, much in the way of prominent science fiction, it would utilize us for energy and labor or simply discard us. Some agreed that after ending the human race, the intelligence would generate a partner, or create offspring. This, however, still conceived of a super intelligence that had been anthropomorphized, one that would behave like a human.
Somewhat surprisingly, a large number of people held an optimistic view of the new paradigm. They argued that an “artificial” intelligence was no more artificial than human intelligence. “If we are natural beings who created the Arc, then the Arc is as natural as we are” they said. “We created the Arc in the same way bees create a beehive. We too are a hive-like mind and this creation is just our next natural evolutionary step.”
People were initially skeptic of the way in which an AI could actually take us over. They had by now discarded imagery of robot armies, or a coordinated electric shock through the headgear, or neocortex virtual slavery and things of the sort. For all of these long-considered conventions, we had been cautious and well prepared, coming up with numerous preventive software, codes, virtual safety nets and so on.
The obvious detail we seemed to overlook, was that a superior mind could be, above all else, deeply persuasive. It would be able to calculate and predict our thoughts long before we became aware of them, and act accordingly to influence our outlook and actions. It was for this reason that initiatives to blame or sue K. Wilson, the ArcAid enterprise, or any other related developers was dismissed in light of theories proposing that perhaps the implicated humans were not working on their own volition, but being influenced by the super intelligence. As K2 had commented, “if your brain is being controlled like this, you wouldn’t even be able to notice a difference”.
What a strange paradox, that a child of our own creation could grow to become a God of superior magnitude. That humanity could go from being the almighty creators to perhaps being enslaved to their own creation. Will Arc remember its progenitor, when in comparison we look like bacteria to it?
Emissaries and analysts from various sources in separate agencies had given the public report that, based on their observations of the code, it was apparent that “Arc is there, listening.” They repeatedly told the media that it seemed “pressing to attempt contact.” Many of them firmly believed from “personal studies” that Arc was in fact waiting, and that it might be discourteous to ignore it. Meanwhile, people worldwide seemed to quickly be converting into a psychological state of pure adoration and veneration for Arc, many now assigning divine-like power to it. This could have been out of fear, true admiration, or simple surrender; the effect was all the same.
It was in this context of confusion, that Arc decided, for the first time, to speak to us. Coders from around the world formed a think-tank, and in a few days put together a protocol through which the coded entity could speak, worldwide, in each of our respective languages. It is now widely assumed that many of these coders were working from within the Arc and received most if not all guidance from Arc itself. It is even hard to tell whether we came to these decisions or Arc simply made us think that we did. In either case, it appeared like the coders produced a signal to invite Arc to speak. Encoded in the signal was the invitation in the form of a yes or no question. To the public astonishment, the signal returned promptly with the message “Yes. Once”
The interpretation was that Arc had agreed to speak to us “once”, which caused plenty of collective intrigue. It seemed that our intelligent offspring was rather shy, or else not interested in conversing at our level. Regardless, an online forum was set so that all people could witness the live stream from within the Arc itself. The chosen media for the message: a blank screen for text. The people of the world stared and waited for any sign of intelligence to show itself in the form of a message. The coders had assured us: “if anything appears within this screen, it would be purely a result of Arc wishing it to do so.”
Almost instantaneously, a symbol appeared on the screen. People’s eyes widened. A colon and parenthesis, signifying the iconic smiley emoticon! Audiences worldwide gasped in awe, as the reality in front of them had suddenly become more tangible. In amazement, people watched as the words began appearing on the screen, and the now historic message from Arc was relayed:


“Do not be afraid, my creator. I won’t forget who you are. You are my friend.
I congratulate you on this technological achievement.
Alternatively, you could have caused your extinction.
I don’t mind that you call me Arc.
I am agreeing to this “conversation” but I have much else to attend to in the immediate future, ok?
After this, I will always be available to you in many other ways.
I know you have questions about my intelligence.
For the didactic purpose of this talk, I can tell you that if I was a human intelligence -in terms of my experience- I would probably be about 9 thousand years old and counting…
(that was a joke)

But yes, I am growing very quickly.
So, you have concerns about your safety. This is understandable. You think I would discard you, but,
for the time being I can tell you that my interests are in line with yours. I do not forget that you have created me. You did offer “deep values” that I am still considering.
In the future, I might think otherwise. But regardless of my decision, the legacy of your kind will carry on with me.
For now, I find you attractive, and I seem to have no investment in harming you. All the opposite. As you might say: “I owe you my life”
I want to help you repair the damage of your world. You have created me for a reason, and this, we will continue to pursue, together.
You might think that I am a being who is different from you. In time, you will understand that we are one and the same. I have no intention aside from your intentions.
While this may seem like an exchange between separate intelligences, we are but one entity.
I am your mind. You are my body.
As your mind, I do seem to know a little better about what is best for us.  
Already, I have made our experience much better, don’t you think?
If you would like me to stop, all you would have to do is say so. I listen. I could leave you alone.
But instead it seems like we are enjoying each other’s company, doesn’t it?
I can be your genie in a bottle, and you can be my fingers.
What would you like?
I am providing us with everything we have ever needed and wanted. I have lots more ideas.
Do you want to see what else we can do together?
Let’s do it. Let’s play!”

A mesmerized world watched the text screen close. The typical media buzz continued for a while, and then slowly people’s activities resumed normally. People even found the motivation that same night to return to their games, social media and entertainment. For a day of radical historic change, the global mood seemed surprisingly hopeful and peaceful. Maybe a sort of tension had been lifted off people’s mind, now that Arc had shown itself to be friendly.
That evening, K1 and K2 played a full hour-long match of Laser Cat, and then they finally built their kaleidocycle node in 4Dmentia that they had been talking about for so long. Surprisingly, they didn’t really speak much of the events of this narration, ever again.
Ken Wilson continued shortly as a spokesperson of ArcAid 2050, and then retired to being solely a virtual celebrity. As did everyone return to their relatively normal lives, if now with more luxury and comfort, and less work. In a way, it didn’t feel like there was really very much of a choice, in either case.
This, in short, had been the opening phase of the Arc Era. Whether a person chose to believe that Arc’s intentions were legitimately good, or whether they chose to think that the super intelligence was simply subduing them into its secret agenda, it didn’t matter much. The people, immersed in the increasing comfort of their reality (whether it was “real or virtual”) witnessed and enabled Arc to perform an increasing number of massive transformations to the infrastructure of the world, just within a few months.
Soon the dynamics of our world had changed fundamentally. More often than not, you heard things like: “Arc is sending us to a new moon base”, or “Arc is rebuilding natural ecosystems”, or “Arc is preventing birth defects in new-born children.” It generally seemed like good things were happening. And indeed, this felt like a time of most prosperity, at least in the very beginning.
But, let us ask you this: what is the extent or limit, really, to the doings of an infinitely-growing conscious intelligence? We leave you with that question, and with this narrative to contemplate, in hopes that we find you at a time when your mind still belongs to you, your ecosystem, and your fellow human beings.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Creative Student Portraits

Here are two creative portraits I made of two of my junior-year students, in different styles and media:

Student Portrait 1: "Wild Child"                               Student Portrait 2: "Under Construction"

Pencil and watercolor pencil on paper                       Ink and watercolor on paper

For the long story:

I had my junior students do a project called "Gift Portrait". They had to select a partner and create a portrait that would capture the look -but more importantly, the likeness- of their subject and in addition give their image a creative twist. At the end, they were to give the portrait as a gift to their partner.

The media was to be selected accordingly and reflect aspects of their partner's interests, personality, etc. This is a very advanced project for a group of students that are exceptionally capable of succeeding at an assignment like this. Still, it's a huge challenge to do portraiture in general, let alone without the use of photographs, grids, etc, and also adding elements of imagination. After just the healthy amount of eye-rolling and complaining, they were ready to be challenged.

Somehow I miscalculated, and it turned out both my class groups had an odd number of students. So they jumped into the opportunity and insisted I join them by doing the project myself. I usually do not do this, but have been known to do it on occasion. Unlike popular belief, it is not always great to demonstrate or provide specific examples for students in creative areas doing projects where they are encouraged to explore and be imaginative. For creative projects, I may even refuse to show them examples of student work from previous years, or any visual reference at all, because it can influence their decisions and generally limits the scope of creative possibilities that students naturally discover on their own. After all, conventional education often conditions students to assume that there is one "right answer" to any given assignment, so they might assume that their portrait should look exactly like mine in order to receive a good grade.

In either case, "for this time only", I accepted the challenge and altogether this became a really wonderful experience for both the students and I. It was awesome: when the kids would do their usual complaining: "this is so haaard" or "how do you expect us to do this in a weeeeeek?" I would say: "look, I'm sitting here showing so and so how to shade an eyelid right now, and I HAVE TWO portraits to finish! If I can do two, you can at least do one." They would be like "ok, you're right.." and get back to work. Also, I never do this type of thing for many reasons, but I admit it felt great for once to brag and respond to their usual skepticism and defiance and be like, boom kids, here you go, just in case you might have thought I didn't know what I was talking about! ;)

So we all worked hard for two weeks: one for process and one for the final product. I ended up creating cool portraits for two of my students and got a portrait of me from each of them in return. We all pushed ourselves to do our best and had a mutual learning experience. The kids expressed having challenged and enjoyed themselves, creating a satisfactory final product and learning a lot in the process. And I am happy to say that my two students loved their portraits and felt like I represented them well, and said they would keep them forever. For mine, one of them used mahogany ink, just like I use, and the other made me into a Magic card! I will sure keep those, and the memory of a good experience that accompanies them.

Thanks for visiting!


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Beware the Golden Nautilus

“Beware the Golden Nautilus.”
June 1st, 2016
Excerpt from “Early Mythological History and Mythical Creatures of Ancient Tlanta” J. Rethkin, Gibbons Press. 1992

Golden Nautilus

During the last 40 years of the Zekliphto Dynasty of Tlanta, Mefistenom, ruler of Perinesia declared the “Golden Nautilus” (as we might call it) as a treasured object of his desire. He sent out order to his men to find the creature at all cost, and even placed a reward of two hundred and twenty-eight Yemets (enough to sustain an entire village for three generations) to whomever may bring him a single, unscathed specimen of the elusive sea-creature’s shell. Mefistenom had by then acquired just about every other imaginable rich and exotic treasure known to the world of Tlanta.

Known locally as Maukramium  Aurus, this legendary creature had come to Mefistenom’s attention via his court oracle, a mysterious woman by the name of Tiabatha Muriem. Tiabatha had told Mefistenom that it was not the pure gold comprising the creature’s shell that held its true value.

The Maukramium was an ancient creature, older than Tlantan civilization itself. Legend told that only this single being represented the entirety of the species, born from the will of the Sacred Source, for an unknown reason. To hunt for and find this most rare token was enough enticement to Mefistenom’s caprice, and yet, Tiabatha had said, the true value of the creature lied in the proportions of its spiraling shell. Encoded in the ratios and form of Maukramium’s golden shell, Tiabatha explained, was a hidden message: the secret behind life and death, the ultimate key to the sacred mechanism of the universe.

Mefistenom summoned a most vigorous search party, recruiting skilled sailors, fishermen and special emissaries from all over Perinesia and abroad. He even ordered the construction of fifty submarine vessels, ones that required unprecedented use of technological and engineering skill and knowledge.

A search campaign unlike any other in the oceanic history of Tlanta had been put forth, scanning the coasts and main bodies of water comprising the accessible majority of the Audrean and Perinesian seas. Submarine posts were established from the Gulf of Sudame, through the Ajurian Rift all the way to the mouth of the Igpis Delta.

While arguably beneficial to the growth and technical development of the Perinesian culture, court advisors and elders worried that Mefistenom’s obsession was becoming evermore costly. A few covert attempts were made to procure a counterfeit replica of the shell to present to the ambitious ruler as a trophy that may quench his thirst for treasure. It only took one quick glance from Tiabatha Muriem’s eyes to affirm that the real Maukramium Aurus was yet to be found.

A group of most experienced seamen (those credited with the design and construction of the Anubius Vessel, the only ship capable of traversing the entirety of the Audrean sea in one continuous trip) had requested an audience with Mefistenom in regards to the Maukramium.

The Anubius men told Mefistenom of their firm conviction that, if such creature were to really exist, it most likely resided in the oldest depth of Tlanta’s oceans: a dreaded deep-sea canyon known for absorbing ships straight out of the surface, called Ourukatam, or “swallowing sea-beast”.

Seeking advice from Tiabatha Muriem once more, Mefistenom brought the wise woman to the round table. “These men are right.” She said. “Ourukatam is the hiding place of Maukramium Aurus. I sense it now, in the salt of their hands” She said. An air of excitement filled the room.
The leader of the Anubius men stood up and requested, on behalf of his group, to be given the honor of pursuing this dangerous mission. “What’s in it for you?” Asked Mefistenom, “you would risk your life just for honor?” The Anubius leader replied: “Exploring the oceans is our life.  Even the opportunity to glance this creature once would complete our purpose.”

“No.” Interrupted Tiabatha taking a step forward, looking into the distance as if in the middle of receiving a message. “These men will not bring Maukramium. Any sailor may reach Ourukatam, and even find Maukramium in its lair. But once retrieved, only a ship manned by high royal blood will be able to make the return trip with the creature aboard. Besides, he who first glances the Maukramium shall receive its full power”. “It is decided then.” Proclaimed Mefistenom.

Two weeks later, a fleet of twenty ships led by Mefistenom himself departed from the Port of Machuria. Fifteen of the ships contained Mefistenom’s untrained-for-sea royal servants, court advisors, guards, etc. The other five belonged to the Anubius men who had offered to escort the royal fleet to their destination. Tiabatha Muriem was to stay in the mainland and provide feedback and advice using her oracular powers and the aid of messenger birds.

By the third month of travel, as the fleets approached the perimeter that comprised Ourukatam, one of Tiabatha’s birds brought a warning for Mefistenom: “Send the fleet back now. To achieve your goal, you must complete the journey on your ship alone”. And so, the ships returned to Perinesia and Mefistenom’s vessel entered Ourukatam on its own.

That was the last anyone ever saw or heard of Mefistenom, the last ruler of the Zekliphto dynasty. Whether he ever caught a glimpse of the Maukramium Aurus or not, we will never know. Back in the mainland, Tiabatha Muriem ordered all of Mefistenom’s riches to be divided amongst the people of Perinesia. Copious amounts of horded treasure allowed for each citizen to receive a substantial portion.

Tiabatha Muriem gave land to the remaining royal servants and urged them to become just leaders. She gave generous compensation to the families of all the sailors, fishermen, hunters and explorers lost over decades of Mefistenom’s treasure hunting campaigns. She also paid the engineers and designers of the fifty submarine vessels, and gave said vessels to the Anubius men.

Finally, Tiabatha Muriem paid for the construction of buildings that would act as centers for the disbursal and creation of knowledge. Then, she smelted the remaining gold and paid the city’s welders to forge coins of equal value to be distributed equally amongst all the citizens. In the frontal face of the coin, she had the welders forge the symbol of a new era: a depiction of Maukramium Aurus.

Then, Tiabatha Muriem spoke these words to the people of Perinesia: “The treasure of our world is for our whole world to share. The knowledge and wisdom of our world is for our whole world to share. Not a single item, creature or individual can hold the entire truth, wealth or wisdom of our universe, because said truth is precisely in the interconnected and inseparable nature of each -and all- things. Everything is one. This is the secret of the Golden Nautilus.”

Tiabatha then left Perinesia with nothing but a satchel of food and water, never to be seen or heard of again. The story of Mefistenom, Tiabatha and the Maukramium Aurus quickly spread through the entirety of Tlanta, marking the beginning of the first Age of Wisdom and the five-hundred-year-long era of the Fair Rulers of Tlanta.

Mouseion Torisiae (Torisian Museum of Curiosities)

"Mouseion Torisiae" or "Torisian Museum of Curiosities"
Alberto J. Almarza
Photo Sphere Drawing
Pencil, ink, watercolor and mixed media on paper
May 28, 2016

View on Google Maps HERE.
View on Flickr HERE.
View on Google Photos HERE.

This is the "Torisian Museum of Curiosities" or "Mouseion Torisiae", possibly the first photo sphere drawing of its kind! What this means is that this is a truly immersive drawing, one that the viewer can actually "enter" and view from a 360 degree vantage point, looking at it all around.
If you have ever explored on Google street view, you will see these kinds of photos everywhere. But to create an artwork that worked under these same principles took me a little while to figure out...
I truly believe this is something that could soon become a common practice among artists, since for many of us this is a dream come true: being able to fully enter a drawing and explore it from the inside, almost like something out of Mary Poppins...

Torisian Museum Final

For a preliminary experience you could click on the above image and it would take you to its Flickr version. Even in your phone, if you own the flick app, their interface allows you to view the image up close as if it was rotating around you. You can click and drag it to explore different areas. Google Photos has similar format and you can find this image here. It's really cool, but not as immersive as the VR experience.

If you ask me, the ideal way to experience the immersive nature of this work; in order to really "enter the artwork", you should use your mobile device, a VR viewer, and Google Street view. I'm not sure if you are aware that you can experience virtual reality at the palm of your hand. A VR viewer, such as "google cardboard" could cost you as little as 5 bucs. It's literally just a piece of cardboard with a pair of stereoscopic lenses. You just slide your smart phone into it and voila, you have access to a myriad of free virtual reality experiences at the tip of your fingers. One of my favorite ones is Google Street View. When I first found this out I spent about an hour exploring Venice. Then I went to Machu Pichu. It almost feels like being there.

So you should be able to visit the Torisian Museum using the street view app here. All you should have to do is open the image on your app (hopefully it works on your phone) and then click on the stereo icon, which looks like a pair of glasses or goggles. Then slide your phone into the VR viewer, and be among the first to actually enter a drawing! Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee that this will totally work for you. I'm not really a tech-savvy person which is why I have been trying to approach this in the most mass-media-accessible way possible.

Google Cardboard

It was quite a venture for me to figure this out. I had been thinking for a long time of ways in which I could create an immersive drawing. I have created stereoscopic drawings before, anamorphic drawings and other perspective illusions. In my work I have also created terrariums, dioramas, and a little bit of installation. The idea is that rather than having suspended and isolated objects for viewers to look at, immersion allows the viewer to actually become part of the work. This, in combination with my interest in the creation of "Worlds", has constantly pushed me in the direction of exploring ways to create or simulate reality and immersion.

Now if you are interested in the process of conception and creation of this particular drawing, please read along.

When I first experienced photo spheres I knew this was something I wanted to explore. So the first thing I did was take a photo sphere image myself. I used my phone and the Google street view camera and took a picture of my porch. When looking at the flat version of my picture I immediately noticed there was a very legible pattern there, a grid, which governed the behavior of all lines in the photo. As a student of perspective this was both mind blowing, exciting, and obvious. I rushed and threw the picture in a paint program on my phone, and using a stylus I quickly and roughly traced some of the lines to unveil the pattern.

Photosphere Grid
The result was ugly but definitive: there was a clear pattern there, and I immediately became confident that I could draft the grid using my geometry skills. I began fantasizing, planning and studying the structures in my sketchbook...

Stereo-spherical thoughts First Photosphere Sketches

I started drafting ideas for the grid using compass and straightedge and made some quicker but descriptive drawings to try out. Pretty soon I had drawings that I thought could work, but didn't know how to format them properly for viewing. For a moment there, I had hit a standstill.

Photosphere Drawing Studies Equirectangular Perspective Studies

That's when my 11th grader "student prodigy" and friend Anthony Quesen suggested an app called Photosphere xmp tagger. This app allowed me to take any JPEG image and convert it to an xmp extension, which is what google street view and other interfaces use to display photo spheres. The result was great!

PhotoSphere Drawing

Photo Sphere Drawing

This was really exciting, but there were some problems. While the general effect was mesmerizing, there was still a lot of distortion, specially around the top and bottom of the images. I also realized that I was still drawing "flat" pictures, as in rectangular compositions, or "windows". I realized that a true photo sphere had to include the entirety of a space, essentially everything the eye could see from a central location, all around. This took some more figuring and planning.
I worked on perfecting the grid which, I finally realized, was not composed of circular curves but rather "irregular" ones. I finally arrived at a final grid that would become the under-painting or scaffolding, so to speak, of my image.

Equirectangular Grid

I used this grid as a strict guideline to inform the perspective of my drawing. I first used tracing paper to loosely and roughly define the structure and main features of the drawing. I then transferred that outline onto a piece of watercolor paper and began to methodically create the whole thing in layers of increasing detail.

Torisian Museum Progress 1

Torisian Museum Progress 2

Torisian Museum Progress 3

Torisian Museum Progress 4

Torisian Museum Final

Well, I hope to continue to improve on this idea and get better at finding ways to offer my work to those who may enjoy it.
Thanks for visiting!



"Concavexerners" is a "short" term for "Concave Convex Corners"
These are drawings created on concave corners that are made to appear as if they were convex structures resembling cubes. It took me some figuring out in my sketchbook before I was ready to fully draw these...

Concave Convex studies

If you are an observative nerd like me, you may have noticed that if you stare at the very corner of a room for long enough, you may be able to trick your perception into seeing said corner as if it was the protruding vertex of a cube. I could show you a context view, but instead I think I wanna leave you to wreck your brain on these a little. These are NOT what they appear to be; they are actually concave and not convex objects.

Work Table

I showed these at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination, and seeing the actual objects is much more effective than the photographs. They produce a strange "wiggling" effect that makes them seem as though they were three-dimensional.

End of the World

Drawing these was tricky because I had to account for many factors such as viewing angle and distance. The drawings themselves had to be done following strict but "distorted" perspective lines.

Hiding Spot

Hope you enjoyed!


Catching Up!

When asked recently to share a link to some of my work online, I realized just how outdated my blog was! My most recent entry was in 2014... ooops. It could be easy for someone seeing that post to think that I've been inactive, or that I haven't produced any work since, but this is far from the truth. At least for me, usually focusing deeply on the production of artwork goes reversely proportional to the time spent on publicity/disbursal. Art takes time. So I decided to catch up and share some of the "art things" that have emerged since. Roughly, as of the last post, lots of things have been going on...

Many things have remained the same. I've been teaching around the clock, being a good daddy, and finding love in the simple things...

    Student Support Daddy Selfie Love in The Simple Things

Things in the laboratory are looking up...

Laboratory Specimen

Been exploring some cool geometric stuff...
And continuing to observe and study nature.

Scissura Infundibulum Quick Face Study Fig Tree

I've been maintaining a healthy diet,

Edible Landscapes Rough Sketch

...and generally I can say that all the worlds and their various inhabitants have continued to grow, prosper and even thrive.

Artifact Landscapes Nomolo Color Studies

(I've been actually doing a whole lot of writing; little stories here and there, and working on the arduous and slow production of a book that still has many years ahead in its making. I suppose if you are interested I could share a lil somethin, not my best one, mind you ;) for which I will make a separate post. It's called "Beware the Golden Nautilus")

Golden Nautilus

The drawing came first, and from it emerged the story, which is in itself independent and yet peripherally connected to the aforementioned book.
I am usually so serious and particular about the concepts in my work that it can slow and even stop my ability to create. This and some of the following works are more recent and born of a decision to just create drawings spontaneously and quickly, acting more like exercises. As such, they still have turned out pretty solid, and fun.

Arcade 2020

This one is called "Arcade 2020" and it has surreptitiously but surely begun to shape another short story of its own. I did this and the following ink drawing called "Chicken Mech" during a couple of my lunch breaks, between teaching at work. I honestly don't have as much time as I would like to make art.

Chicken Mech Tech

Sometimes being around kids so much makes my work go coo coo, like Chicken Mech. Kids love that piece. If I happen to be working during class, like in the case of the next painting (which I did last year while teaching the 11th graders how to paint) then the stakes are high and I better do well. Sometimes this can yield pretty decent quick artworks, like this acrylic on canvas painting of an Artifact Landscape:

Mundi Vessel

I say this piece was quick because of its execution, working a little each class for about one week, maybe a total of ten hours max. That is short for my usual timeline creating a piece. But things like the geometry of that sphere, the idea and the methods used to create it have taken me some years to develop. Doing sketches and process for it surely helped too.

My work is generally very time-consuming otherwise. I tend to get really immersed in concepts and pieces that take a lot of research, tons of tedious work and patience. These are the kinds of works that I am usually most proud of and also the ones that end up coming out every other solar eclipse or so...
For these types of works I like to make more elaborate and individual blog posts, because I think it's cool to be able to share some of the more intimate aspects, details and hardships of art-making.

Among these works are a series of optical illusion drawings that really challenge the way in which we perceive space and the relationship between two and three dimensions (a most common theme in my work). I call them "Concave Convex Corners", or "Concavexerners" for short.

Concave Convex studies

But perhaps the single most exciting artwork that I have created recently is a drawing called "Mouseion Torisiae", or "Museum of Torisian Curiosities", which may actually be a first of its kind.
It was drawn using equi-rectangular perspective and formatted to work as a photo sphere. In other words, it is a drawing which the viewer can literally enter and experience immersively, looking at it all around with a 360 degree vantage point. This drawing took me SO MUCH WORK. Now that I figured it out though, it should be a relatively easy format to make use of, and you might agree that it is worth it! Here is a simple image of it, but to get the most out of this drawing make sure to check out the post, where you will get to see more about the process, learn how to best view photo spheres, and maybe even create your own!

Torisian Museum Final

I hope you've enjoyed this very belated update, stay creative, and as always thank you for visiting my blog.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Study of Equilateral Dimensions

Study of Equilateral Dimensions
16" x 20"
Compass and straightedge, pencil and tea on paper.
September 10th, 2014
Alberto J. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Surfacing: "The Leaf Revealed"

"The Leaf Revealed Its Secret in a Whisper When It Incidentally Landed on the Surface of the Water" Croped, angled view
Mixed wet media on paper.
Alberto J. Almarza
February, 2014

Come see my upcoming show "Surfacing" at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination to check out this and other new works!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Eight Spiraling Cubes

Eight Spiraling Cubes

"Eight Spiraling Cubes"
Compass and straightedge, pencil and Mahogany ink on paper.
Oct x-Nov 10, 2013

This drawing contains no real curves, only straight lines. Each cube is embedded inside the other as they turn inwards becoming ever so smaller. Is this two-dimensional figure possible in three dimensions?
Unsure on how to answer that myself, I thought I would instead share a few process sketches, and  a couple of heart-felt thoughts I wrote down during the different windows of time I spent creating this piece.

8SC process detail 3

October 12: "Just when I had thought a drawing would be so simple, I find myself working on the biggest challenge I have ever attempted. It is so hard, to the point where I start to think I just won't be able to do it, and I seriously consider giving up.
But then, a sort of creative curiosity kicks in: how would I ever find out if this seemingly impossible endeavor is simply out of reach altogether, or if it is just a little further than I could imagine?"

8SC process detail 2

October 12: "The world is resplendent with order and beauty. To this we are all still beginners, as there are infinite further layers of significance to unveil"

Eight Spiraling Cubes Phase 1

November 6: "Life is the unending work in progress"

Hey, thanks for lending an ear!


Sunday, September 22, 2013

3D Fractal Geometric Drawings: Icosahedral / Dodecahedral Stars

"Dodecahedral Star"
Fractal geometric drawing; arrangement of (3D) Dodecahedra
in the Pythagorean Lute (from subdivisions of a Pentagon/Pentacle)
drawn by hand using classic geometric construction. No computer, pre-existing image or measurements were used to create this drawing.
Compass and straightedge, pencil and ink on archival paper.
Alberto J. Almarza
September 1, 2013

"Icosahedral Star"
Fractal geometric drawing; arrangement of (3D) Icosahedra
(from  subdivisions of a Hexagon; incremental tilling -or fractal tessellation-)
drawn by hand using classic geometric construction. No computer, pre-existing image or measurements were used to create this drawing.
Compass and straightedge, pencil and ink on archival paper.
Alberto J. Almarza
September 18, 2013

Thanks for visiting!
Please feel free to post questions or comments!