James Cameron’s first film! And Arnold is amazing! The possibility of casting O.J. Simpson as the T-100. Harlan Ellison lawsuit.
The thawing of the AI winter of the 70s. Robots finally showing up in our lives and in the workplace. Terminator bootstrapping. Robotics and machine learning.
The possibility of AI becoming “self-aware” or “conscious” and whether we even know what those things really mean. Big data feeding skynet.
Jacked-up and oiled beefcake “infiltration” models. Franco Columbu. Robotic Ahhhhhnold blending in. The “rule of cool.” Feeding and maintaining a terminator’s “living tissue.”
Persistence of information
The persistence of human knowledge after the nuclear apocalypse. The fragility of magnetic storage media. Storing your data under a mountain. The weakness of encryption over time.
How to not sound crazy when telling people in the past that you’re from *the future*. Meatball time travel. Using the “living tissue” time travel rule to transport large weapons into the past. Stuffing a whale or elephant. Realizing that maybe (probably), no one (not even SkyNet) has the slightest clue what they are doing with the time travel.
John Carpenter, this movie, and Escape from New York plagiarism. Metal Gear Solid also as an Escape ripoff. Running popular media through a “Hideo Kojima filter” to see what comes out.
Side-mounting your spacecraft. Flying a brick. Deorbiting and landing in the space shuttle’s “orbiter.” Wiggle-worm descent. Having only one chance because all of your fuel was spent getting out of orbit. Returning to shuttle-like designs with mag-lev mountain-ramps.
Inert gas asphyxiation
Nitrogen! Biologically inactive gas asphyxia vs potentially-toxic: CO2, CO, etc. Hypoxia.
Falling out of space
The slim odds of hitting the ISS when accidentally de-orbiting. Space is… small? Understanding what “orbit” really means. HALO/HAHO jumping, Baumgartner’s Stratos jump, and the incredible difficulty of jumping out of orbit ffs. Copyrighting all of the “totally radical” stunts.
Breaking the sound barrier
The difference in the “speed of sound” at different atmospheric densities. Terminal velocity at high altitudes. Air is more “sticky” than you might expect. Why didn’t Felix Baumgartner “burn up” on reentry?
“Jumping down” from a space station and how that is not sufficient for deorbiting. Megaconstellations and space junk.
Height and reach advantage and impossible momentary punching force. Punching with horsepower vs just straight up hitting people with horses.
James Brown and showboat Apollo. The Khaleesi naming scheme.
The rising tide of money in sports. The “big bang of body types.” Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
The particular badness of boxing for brain damage. The possible safety increase in taking off the gloves in MMA. Just about any sports injury is better than brain damage. The brain compared to Jello. The extra danger of rotational brain injury. Cumulative microconcussions.
Worrying the minimum amount about your speech. The difficulty of quoting noisy radio transmissions.
Because it is haaaahd
Recognizing the small temporal distance from the first powered flight to the first moon landing. The cutting edge of the early space program. Test piloting. Gemini.
The edge of space
Defining the edge of space. The “Karman Line”: transition from atmospheric lift to orbital velocity. Complications and redefinition of where “space” begins. Geopolitics, ruining everything since forever.
The “right stuff”
Badass engineer pilots. Moving fast and breaking things. Selection testing. Giving prospective astronauts ice-water wet willies. The importance of simulation in the early space program and the difficulty of simulating things we haven’t actually ever done or seen up close.How hard it really is to stay conscious under high-g stress.
Monocular depth cues. Light and shadow, unfamiliar objects, and depth perception. Equatorial noon on the equinox when stuff looks creepy: Lahaina Noon.
Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment
Retroreflectors and really really powerful lasers. Tiny photonic returns: 1 out of every 10¹⁷ photons shot at the moon mirror make it back for our detection. Multi-mile laser beams. Confirming relativity ftw.
… from the moon! And some regolith to boot. Vacuum transport for moon samples and how we work with them on Earth’s surface without contaminating. The difficulty of maintaining a a very strong vacuum vs nonreactive gasses. Detecting the provenance of proposed moon rocks. NASA’s moon-rock cataloguing system.
Viewership numbers. NASA’s custom video encoding and the incredibly analog conversion methods employed to bring it to television.
“The movie with the cyborgs and the kicking and the punching.” There are two kinds of film: people in a room talking and people in a room kicking and punching. Robert Rodriguez lands firmly within only one of these groups. Accidentally fitting Alita into the Robocop universe. Shooting and punching people in their robo-bits.
Robots arms everywhere. But maybe not just for show? Cyborg arms as the cyborg future cliche. Replacing your limbs proactively for fun and profit. Replacing all of your joints, but not just with hinges. Defining “cyborg” more precisely in consideration of the definition of “cybernetics.”
Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems—their structures, constraints, and possibilities.
We are already cyborgs, we just don’t ourselves enough credit. Cyborgification as performance. Designing a new hearing aid to help us talk to bats.Imagining all the ways in which implanted and attached technologies would help improve the human experience. And what do we get? Always super-strong robot arms. Realizing you would need the whole-system upgrade to support the forces exerted upon/by your super-arm.
Doing it right
Don’t be a cyborg bicep bro. Taking the short route to functional cyborg limbs by using existing neuromuscular wiring. The difficulty of inventing new appendages or body formats.
Photorealistic CG humans
Wow dude this was actually pretty great. Sidestepping the uncanny valley slightly by going with anime eyes. Aperture and catching more light. Legolas with dinner-plate eyeballs. Neoteny.
Nonsensical murder sports
Future cybersports: more violent spectacle, less athleticism. Sports and functional immortality.
Jacked Christian Bale, Scottish Gerard Butler, and brash American hero Matthew McConaughey. Fighting a dragon with an axe. Appreciating the brash American caricature.
Dragon VFX. Drawing the line from here to Game of Thrones. Animals that use a spray attack (or defense). Skunks, ants, horned lizard, snakes, even bombardier beetles and their boiling butt juices. Dragon classification (vs wyverns, etc).
Actual napalm is a hell of a thing. Remember the Anarchist’s Cookbook and how innacurate and unsafe everything was. Practical fire FX in the movie and how well it holds up. Hundreds of gallons of propane per dragon blast. Burninating all the food on a planet.
Hibernation vs other states. Dormancy Torpor. Estivation. Endotherm and ectotherm dormancy. Classical and modern ideas of what counts as “hibernation.” EXTREEEEEEME dormancies. Water bears/tardigrades.
Vision difficulties at twilight. The Purkinje effect. Shifting spectral sensitivities based on brightness. Progression through photopic, mesopic, and scotopic vision. Appreciating the idiosyncratic nature of our vision and understanding why emulating what we see is so difficult with a camera lens.
Twilight, my only weakness. How did you know?
Buying up castles in the Romanian countryside. Castles come in different sizes but no matter how you measure that’s a really big dragon.
Battlestar was so good! The importance of Ronald D Moore’s work on Deep Space Nine. The genesis of the “gritty” scifi drama juxtaposed against Star Trek’s utopia. Judging the best scifi captains: Adama? Picard?
The difficulties with “frak.” “Fraking” vs “fracking.” Changes of spelling. Designing the curse words of scifi futures. Appreciating Nick Farmer‘s “Belter.” The nature of “swear words.” Comparing the sounds of made-up brand names to test linguistic form/function clustering.
Computers are good at computers. Fully securing your “hello world” program. Code testing and integration. Formal verification to mathematically guarantee computer code, and the incredible expense thereof.
Creatures coming into sapience in a world with the scientific method and body of knowledge and still turning to “God.”
Asimov’s laws as a storytelling device and what you get when you alter the formula. “Humans are the true robots.”
The difference between “automata” and “robots.” Ancient Greek, Arab, and medieval church automata. Automata and robots making humans realize we need to explain what makes us special. Realizing that, on the whole, we probably aren’t really. Cartesian dualism as a stop-gap measure. Moral progress. Appreciating that we stopped seeing other animals as automatons and vivisecting them.
NASA getting into the automata game for difficult environments. The Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments. Mixing electronic and (mostly) mechanical components for robustness against horrible, deadly, no good, very bad atmospheres. Sending data back home from limited electronic or even completely mechanical systems.
Various phenomena caused by disturbances in the sun. The Carrington Event. Imagining the losses in the trillions from a Carrington-strength event in the modern day. Civilizational collapse with worldwide disturbance/destruction of telecommunications infrastructure.
Realizing that several billion humans on Earth is actually like a real real lot of people. Very many. So many that even a 97% reduction leaves millions. Oy.
Defining deserts by rainfall. Defining desertification by a land’s inability to hold water.
Automata by In Our Time: BBC
Ghost in the Machine by Radio Lab: WNYC
Best Star Trek movies. Liking things because they are familiar. The odd-even Star Trek movie rule. Mathematical proofs. Dismissing the reboots.
Giant cylinders and plumbuses. Finding out you are as an ant in the universe. Spreading across space and building giant robot suits to fight the larger incomprehensible creatures.
Using time travel to solve problems despite the consequences. Time travel anachronism stories. Bad time-travel sales pitches. The Mooreeffoc Effect. Would you go to the future? Only going forward because medicine in the past is always so bad. Time travel vaccinations.
The possibility of cetacean “language.” “Save the whales” in the 80s. Whale oil being supplanted by kerosene as industrial fuel. Stinky whale candles. The Napoleonic origins of margarine and the economics of fuel and margarine. Industrialized whaling. “Factory ships.” Realizing we are running out of whales. Continued industrial whaling, namely by Japan and some of the Nordic countries.
So yeah, Mel Gibson is bad. But then the movies are… really good? Trying to get past his framing. The tug of war between historical accuracy and entertainment. Anthropological criticism.
The problem with burning nearly the entire written history of a people. Deciphering scant ancient texts. The remaining resources: art, stelae. Mayan hieroglyphic writing.
The Maya pre-classic, classic, and post-cassic periods. The scale of the height of Mayan civilization. The abruptness of its fall. The period in which the film takes place and the ways in which it is not actually entirely apparent. Classic-period pyramids in the post-classic era.
Science and math
The mixing of astronomy and astrology in the Mayan tracking of the heavenly bodies for religious purposes. The Mayan written mathematical system. “Inventing” zero. Extensive calendaring and that whole 2012 kerfuffle.
The factors that may have contributed to the Mayan collapse. Plaster and mortar production. Deforestation for fuel.
The possibility for cultural confusion in the film. Aztec and Maya sacrificial practices.
The Case Study of Apocalypto by Richard D Hansen: ResearchGate
Apocalypto by History Buffs: YouTube