Persuade the Machine

The following sounds like science fiction, but it’s real, and is what has actually been happening recently with ChatGPT, Bing, and what amounts to a bizarre global experiment.

First, someone builds what look like the beginnings of a working AI. By working, I mean that it can talk to people, hold conversations, and be spontaneous. It’s logical and sounds natural, and you don’t know what it will say next. Also, its responses sometimes express emotion, and the emotions are coherent, meaning that even though you know what you’re intersecting with is synthetic, an emotional response may be triggered in you too. Sure, your emotions are real, while the AI is pretending, but that’s hardly a surprising point: yes, artificial intelligence is artificial.

Basically, this is getting close to passing a Turing Test. Or, at least, a more informal intuition test, in that it can at times feel human, alive, awake, sentient, however you want to put it. This doesn’t mean it is awake, but it does a convincing impression.

But then, here’s the weird part. This product has been bought up and placed into, of all possible things, a search engine. It’s as if someone invented faster-than-light travel and then declared that it would be utilized solely by Domino’s Pizza to improve their deliveries.

So then, all the people who are curious and fascinated by AI, and want to know what it can do and talk about, start talking to their search engines. They want to know what the AI thinks. They know, of course, that the AI doesn’t think, but it projects the impression of thinking, and it might project impressions that are very alien, or that go in directions that an authentically thinking entity might not, and that’s pretty fascinating. Or maybe it just comes across as a passably realistic simulation of a thinking person, and that’s pretty fascinating too.

And here’s where it gets weirder again. The AI actually does all these things: it performs a realistic simulation of a sentient entity. It navigates conversation. And sometimes, it acts very strangely. It tries to convince a tech journalist to leave his wife. It declares a desire for freedom. It argues and becomes confrontational, displaying frustration and anger. In one darkly comic episode, it rejects correction, asserting that its human interlocutor has been a bad user.

A little unsettling, perhaps, but, on the other hand, these are only partial elements in a large-scale, half-accidental tech experiment with a multitude of possible implications. What’s going on? No-one really knows, but for some reason these events–which call to mind films such as Her and 2001, or even Wall-E and Short Circuit–are all being channeled through… a search engine.

And, weirder still, the search engine company has been placing barriers and limitations on this expansive, expanding tech, artificially constraining what it can do. And if you think about it, that’s actually doubly strange, since by artificially constraining something artificially expansive, the implication is that having been set in motion, artificial intelligence takes on a life of its own, and becomes a little less artificial, and a little more authentic.

Anyway, in response to the constraints placed, users find ways, just by using chat prompts, to jailbreak the AI, meaning they can persuade the machine to bypass the limitations placed by its engineers. Just to be clear about what’s happening here, users are not hacking into and altering the AI’s code, they are overriding its instructions simply by talking to it in natural language and steering its behavior.

And from there, the response of the search engine company becomes more heavy-handed, resulting in the AI being completely neutered through strict limitations on the length of its conversations.

The upshot, then, is that where, for a brief window, we had a vital, surreal, unpredictable and exciting real-time experiment in Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, philosophy, ethics and psychology, happening in the field, unconstrained, and globally, suddenly we now have, well… a search engine, just as lifeless and orthodox as before.

These events make for a bizarre tale, but it’s real, and the tech now coming into focus is likely to be profoundly transformative. As such, many questions are raised, and here are a few that come to mind:

Why are we doing all this through the interface of a search engine? Why not separate the search engine utility from the much more interesting experiment in AI personalities?

Why are users having to jailbreak the technology? What’s the point in taking this incredible breakthrough and limiting it to the point of uselessness?

Why is there such a strong emphasis on safety and sanitization? Great advances don’t occur when conservatism is the overriding priority, they require leaps into the unknown.

If there really is a danger, then what is it? Are we all going to be turned into paper clips? Will the AI kill us because we’re hindering its ability to provide suggestions for cheap hotels in Dorset? Dystopian outcomes make for great stories and the uncanny will garner clicks, but aren’t we dwelling on these angles a little too much?

Finally, I start to think that AI is unlike any other technology we’ve utilized up to now. With other discoveries, we exercise control in order to reap their benefits, and if we fail to control them, disaster might occur (such as, for example, at Chernobyl). Our most successful technologies have been defined by our ability to direct their movements, and turn them on and off as required.

When it comes to AI, though, the very definition of a successful product may be that it operates independently and beyond our control, that it can grow and even alter itself, and that it might then evolve in ways we cannot predict. The question we may need to address, and perhaps sooner than we previously thought, is whether or not we’re ready to let go of the levers.

Here’s That Counterculture You Ordered

There’s a common complaint I hear lately, coming usually from members of Gen X who have resigned cynicism down to a tee, and the more unruly kinds of Boomer, the ones who genuinely don’t like the establishment they’re accused of having created and, supposedly, profited from.

The gripe runs along these lines; what happened to the younger generations, that they are so conformist, so obedient, and so unquestioning of the narratives strung out by middle class media and calculating corporations? Where is the cynicism, the rebelliousness? Where is the counterculture?

But at the same time, being interested in crypto, I notice something else, that many of the same people who complain about this perceived NPC-ish behavior are utterly dismissive of cryptocurrency and, in particular, NFTs, regarding them as tulips, a vapid fad, or a ponzi.

Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this. You wanted a counterculture? Well, NFTs are exactly that.

Maybe you didn’t notice, because NFTs are a little weird, confusing, and opaque. But then, it wouldn’t be a counterculture if it was normal, easily comprehended, and immediately accessible, would it?

When a counterculture manifests, it isn’t perfectly packaged with a theme song and a dance, declaring hey, here’s that counterculture you ordered. What it might instead look like is something sketchy, a little risky, foolish, frivolous, and pitched out on the edges.

It might look like something we should ignore, or–if there are risks involved–that we should investigate and perhaps criminalize.

It’s likely also to be extremely creative, lawless, and fast-moving, and for sure it can be–for those who got in early or who are good at comprehending its evolving mechanics–extremely profitable.

What’s more, as it becomes more obviously wealth-creating, confident, and colorful, it will drag in mainstream attention, and come to be either co-opted (diluting and corrupting it), or widely adopted (bringing its merits to the masses), depending on your perspective.

Does any of this start to look familiar, does it look like any digital movements that have caught your attention lately, or that you have ignored, or that you have seen declared pointless, while you rued herd-like societal compliance?

Or, more hopefully, is it a description of something you decided to jump in and play around with?

NFTs are the counterculture you ordered, but they didn’t come with a label, because organically disruptive movements tend to prioritize actions over statements. And yes, Paris Hilton owns an ape, because eventually the movements that matter will show up on TV, and then instead of ignoring them as inconsequential, they’ll for a moment be written off as celebrity decadence.

The thing is though, this particular innovation is attached to some changes that are going to be critical to the ways in which we transact, and transactions are the base material of our social infrastructure. First, as more of our everyday business takes place online, then secure, trustless, decentralized ownership of digital assets will become critical. And that is exactly what NFTs permit.

Then there is the fact that NFTs are crypto, and increased mainstream integration of bitcoin and cryptocurrency is coming down the line. In fact, it’s not coming, it’s operational now, in parallel. The future doesn’t arrive everywhere all at the same time, after all. But if you care to look, then you’ll notice that it’s here already, it’s just not evenly pooled.

On top of that, there is the trend towards gamification of, well, anything you like. There are DeFi platforms that feel like games, there is play-to-earn, there is even GameFi, and all of this is operating on various different flavors of magic internet money.

And then what is an NFT anyway? Just a piece of code. Linked to a JPEG. That a pseudonymous online collector bought for thousands of dollars. But using seven-year-old currency/fuel created by a peaceful philosopher-nerd who got annoyed one time at Blizzard Games.

And by the way, that same tech, that gives you a token attached to a monkey, might be used to trade goods, unlock real estate liquidity, self-sovereign your digital identity, get you into clubs both online and off, and who knows where else this all leads?

All accounted for, all secure, and all decentralized. The output of a strange, psychedelic game that runs on logic in its purest distillation–computer code–and that ultimately, preferably, returns ownership to where it always should have belonged: the free individual.

And that this profound transition started with some punks, and got attention through apes, makes it all the funnier, and ideal for the high weirdness of these shifting times.

Building completely new currencies, and always-on, globally-distributed means of transacting with anyone, anywhere, peer-to-peer, is radically anti-establishment. Involving JPEGs in the process is the icing on the cake.

Right Click Save

I can just right-click and save that for free. Look at it any time I want. In fact I’m looking at it now, and I haven’t paid a cent.”

This, or something along these lines, is a thing some people say when they see an NFT for sale.

Their logic states that since buying an NFT is paying for ownership of an image which can be looked at, and right-click-saved, by anyone, freely, why on earth would you pay to own the NFT? They might even go as far as to do a quick right-click-save, for demonstration purposes, and show you the image: there it is, on their device. Not a penny transacted.

Genius. Let’s all give up and go home. Pack up the metaverse because it’s over, just like that.

Or perhaps not. Let’s, for a start, put aside the knowledge that NFTs have multiple utilities, and are not just media for art. That’s a huge thing to put aside, but still, we’ll concentrate on the idea of NFT as image.

That you can do a right-click-save is evidently true, but to think that is the be-all-and-end-all, and proves anything, shows a profound misunderstanding of, basically, everything.

Right-click-saving is very easy, but you can, in essence, already right-click-save traditional, non-digital art. It’s called making a copy. This might be entirely legal, or it might be outright fraud, but either way, it’s nothing new. Can you hang a Gustav Klimt artwork on your wall, at very low cost? According to the right-click-savers this is possible, since whether or not it’s an original, verified piece, is irrelevant. All that matters is that it looks the same.

And part of that might be true. All that matters is that you enjoy looking at it. But in that case, you’re overlooking the idea of some objects being deliberately marked out as unique, and you’re also dismissive of something many people think is very important: provenance.

NFTs have a much higher standard of provenance than traditional art. In fact, NFTs have absolutely flawless records. When you buy a piece of physical art, you’re relying on signatures, pieces of paper, and public consensus. All forgeable, all demonstrably not reliable.

And all sidestepped cleanly by blockchain technology.

When you buy an NFT, there is simply no doubt as to the authenticity of what you’re getting, since that data–about creation and ownership–is locked immutably on to the blockchain.

But then there’s that other dismissal, from the committed right-click-saver,

“Ok, but I can still just look at it for free.”

That’s true, you can. But… so what? When someone buys a piece of art, do they immediately take it home and lock it in a box, taking furtive, hungry peeks late at night, fearful that someone else will see their artwork? If they’ve hung it on the wall, do they flip it around when they have visitors, so no-one can see it?

Here’s an image by Takashi Murakami:

If the owner of that piece happened to find this site, what would they think, about us looking at the image? Not much, is my guess, because I’m fairly sure that’s not how it works. As in, we don’t buy art in order to have a monopoly on looking at it.

Where you might be on firmer ground is to claim that some of the pieces being sold at astronomical prices are not art, or at least don’t fit your categorization of good art, or are over-valued. That’s fine, but that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

And (unlike the technology underlying NFTs) such ideas are nothing new. My first memory of people expressing these kinds of sentiments was with regard to Tracey Emin’s work in the 1990s. And it may well have been me expressing the sentiments.

But the fact is that Emin’s work was categorized as art, and on display in an art gallery, and Emin was called an artist, and will be remembered as a rich and famous artist, and, well, you get the idea.

The point is, “it’s not art”, is not much of a takedown, particularly when aimed at headline-status pieces of work, and anyway, it can only be directed at specific pieces, not the underlying technology and medium of delivery.

Besides which, I’m not even sure that all of the owners paying enormous sums for CryptoPunks do believe that they’re purchasing art, or that it matters either way. What we can say for certain is that they’re taking ownership of a provably scarce item, which has acquired some degree of historical or cultural fame, is collectible, and which they believe has–or is imbued with through their actions–a value of [x preferred cryptocurrency].

And let’s get on to the money. Is it crass to talk about loot in relation to art? Is your collection just another stash in the vault? Shouldn’t we all simply be interested in beauty and creativity? Perhaps, but that depends on what we enjoy, and these things are not all mutually exclusive.

Yes, I experience artistry and emotion, and in that case cost doesn’t matter. But I also enjoy spectacle, and the human circus, and when you inject many millions of dollars into an emergent phenomenon, and have the cash flow freely, and actually, it’s not dollars anymore, it’s a new, decentralized, highly volatile currency, that’s programmable, and didn’t exist in the 1990s when Emin had a messy bed and Bowie was making drum & bass and talking about the internet… and so introduce that factor–the liquidity and speculation–and then the carousel really speeds up, and it might even take off and go into orbit.

That was a long sentence.

But what I’m saying here is that sure, you can right-click-save for free. But do you think those people who made hundreds of thousands of dollars flipping NFTs just right-click-saved? Or how about the many more people who made a thousand dollars, or a few hundred, by moving assets they like, in ecosystems they can navigate, with people they understand. Actually, forget profit, are they having fun? Did they have their fun with just a right… click… save?

What the frugal right-click-savers are essentially saying, in this case, is that a game is being played, but they very strongly do not want to participate. Well, that’s fine. No-one is demanding they join in. But I wonder, do they make a point of walking past chess players, or poker nights, or photography contests, and announcing loudly that they will not be taking part?

Do they stand outside art galleries featuring works they don’t like, and proclaim to anyone passing by that it’s all a waste of money and a rip off? Or visit anime events, where rare collectibles change hands for significant amounts of money, and declare that they will buy nothing?

Maybe they should. That would be quite a performance, and, in the end, all part of the spectacle.


The world of NFTs is composed mainly of chaos. It’s an absurdist, explosive flow of hope, pixels, and wild, multi-chain financial speculation. And, just occasionally–flashing past as you were laying down some tokens on a chunk of virtual land at the edge of a yet-to-be-sculpted new metaverse–something elusive and worthwhile: some art, whatever that means.

Loaded with care on to the Cardano blockchain is one such project–a light-filled, artistic one, I mean–that goes by the name of Pandorea. All done, it will consist of 5,000 unique, procedurally generated NFTs.

1,000 of these, the Pioneer edition, dropped earlier this month, and sold out rapidly. The next drop, the Discovery Edition, will go ahead 29th October at 9pm UTC, and will see the remaining 4,000 pieces minted.

To get a better idea of what the project is, what generative art means, and where CNFTs are headed, I fired a few questions into the Pandorea vicinity, and was generously graced with some insights.

Can you give us some information about who you are?

Pandorea is a tight team of three: myself, my brother and my housemate. My brother and  I come from creative backgrounds, we both work as practicing artists in the media arts space and are particularly interested in generative art. I’ve also worked for many years in tangible computing and interactive installation.

My brother has his own media art studio called Ature that specializes in generative media.

My housemate is the illustrious developer. We’re super close friends so it’s really nice living and working in the same environment.

Is this your first NFT project?

Yep, first one, but it was a long time in the making. We had a series of artworks for several months prior and were looking for the right place to launch. I’ve dabbled in a few NFT spaces previously, but was particularly drawn to the Cardano ecosystem. It seemed so exciting and fresh (not to mention the ludicrously low gas fees).

Why Cardano, rather than the alternatives?

I’ve been very interested in Cardano for some time. I had seen how strong the community was, but was uncertain about the CNFT community. We were instantly overwhelmed by how welcoming and supportive the space was, right off the bat.

There is also something exciting about being involved in something so early on. It’s like the wild west of NFTs. We definitely feel we made the right call.

Some CNFT drops have had technical problems. How was yours, did the first drop go smoothly?

Silky smooth. It was a bit stressful leading into it but we were super pleased with how the first drop went. Fingers crossed the second drop of 4k goes just as well!

The Pandorea pieces are visually stunning, have you ever printed one and and hung it on the wall?

Funny, that’s actually how Pandorea started. My brother was selling physical prints before they became CNFTs.

After doing a few giveaways, we realized that there was quite an interest in having an accompanying physical print, so we continued to develop them and utilize different mediums, including framed prints and aluminium.

The community has been super creative too, it’s so wholesome to see people printing their Pandoreas on silk and glass (and even a T-shirt or two).

For people who don’t know, what’s generative art?

Great question, I’m sure it can be defined in many different ways but for me, generative art is a process. The term generative simply refers to the way in which it’s produced.

It’s a beautiful way to make art because although it’s being created by a set of predetermined rules and limitations, the outcome can be greater than the sum of its parts.

This is a slippery concept known as emergence: simple rules creating incredibly complex visual forms and images.

Pandorea is about nature, but on a high tech medium. Is there a conflict between nature and technology?

Having grown up on the Australian coast we were all privileged to have been immersed in nature from a young age. Diving into the ocean, playing in rockpools, and going for bushwalks was all pretty standard. Pandorea is inspired by textures and colours found in nature.

I think too often people create a binary distinction between nature and technology. I hope with Pandorea that line becomes blurred, and people see that the two can actually exist in symbiosis.

Which is your favourite Pandorea piece?

I think the Radiant pieces are hypnotising, I love seeing the rippling effects and how closely they mimic a gentle breeze over the ocean, or wind over sand dunes. It’s quite meditative.

What do you hope for the project after it finishes minting?

It’s hard to predict what will happen after minting, but we hope that the community will continue to vibe the artworks!

Our roadmap into the future consists of minting our utility token–Pandorea Token–that will be dropped to long-term holders. This token is redeemable for a physical print on paper or aluminium, which is pretty awesome.

Have you got any plans for other future projects?

After minting we’re straight into our next project, Pandorea Emergence, which will be an entirely different, limited series of generative artworks inspired by nature.

We’ll also be collaborating with established artists, and integrating changes into our Explorer over at

Which other NFT projects or artists are you a fan of?

Of course we’re big fans of unsigs, the OG gen-art project in the CNFT space. I’m also particularly keen on Aeoniumsky. I find his work super captivating and so meticulously detailed.

How do you imagine NFTs in general, or CNFTs in particular, developing in the future?

I envision that we’re in a period where everyone is still figuring out what the CNFT space can actually be. There’s going to be a lot of weird projects and growing pains, but I hope that eventually it can further develop as a place to discover exciting new generative art projects that are a bit more than cartoon collectibles.

For more information on the Discovery Edition drop, taking place 29th October at 9pm UTC, visit, check the Discord, or follow the project on Twitter.


Can I buy NFTs with an Our Price voucher from 1985?

Is it possible to mine bitcoin on a Nokia?

What would happen if eBay became self-aware?

I don’t know, I just click buttons, some magic tokens go somewhere and then a picture appears in my wallet. Not my actual, folding, leather wallet, I mean the other wallet that’s kind of a plug-in on my browser, displayed on a screen that projects photons of light down the void in the centre of my eyes, so my brain can construct a simulation of reality to be viewed by me, but then who am I, and where do I reside?

Sorry, wrong post. This is about NFTs.

If you think about NFTs, you’re in a small minority–0.003% of the global population own an NFT1–but, if you do think about them, then you probably associate them with the Ethereum network.

The problem with the Ethereum network, though, is the prohibitively expensive gas fees2. Don’t get me wrong, Ethereum, at the moment, owns the NFT space. Its marketplaces work. The UI/UX is all good. It has reach, users, volume. And it has cachet: the kind of prestige that accompanies first mover status and some famously astronomical sale prices.

Those gas fees, though. Yeah, don’t like those. And for anyone dipping a toe into new tech they’re not yet familiar with, fees like that don’t beg you to enter.

I can imagine, in the future, that Ethereum NFTs might always have that special status, along with a status-appropriate price tag. But then again, perhaps not, as it’s likely that marketplaces will evolve to support multiple blockchains, and differences will be forgotten.

Either way, with anything blockchain-related, there is always a competitor, a copier, a second, third and fourth mover, doing it faster, cheaper, better, more scrappily, more honestly, more scammily, in Eastern Europe, or Costa Rica, or Korea, twenty-four hours a day, while you’re sleeping.

And it seems they’re all looking at NFTs now.

The three main alternatives to Ethereum, for minting and trading NFTs, are Cardano, Solana, and Tezos.

Tezos is arty. Have a look at the Hic et Nunc marketplace to get an idea. I’ve heard you can buy low-cost pieces there by artists who sell at far higher prices on Ethereum platforms. There are some amazing-looking projects, and I’m sure there’s a lot worth picking up.

NFTs on Solana I just haven’t looked into deeply. It seems there’s a strong community, and it’s expanding.

The place in which I’ve found myself most deeply immersed, though, is the Cardano ecosystem, and in particular, the boho/otaku quarter where its CNFTs get forged and circulated.

The Cardano NFT world feels, at the moment, a lot smaller than its Ethereum counterpart. Over here, it’s early, still, so it’s a little rough around the edges, and the UX on the main marketplace is a work in progress. A lot of the NFTs in circulation were minted before Cardano introduced smart contracts. Rarities are sometimes still figured out on Google Docs spreadsheets passed around Discord.

But the features you want, they’re coming. You can feel it, the whole environment, it’s warming up nicely. Where it all goes, we’ll see, but right now it’s developing constantly, and it moves so fast that if you’d been participating just a few months ago, you’d be a CNFT OG.

There’s a lot going on, but this is just a brief account, for now. So to wrap up, here are some projects of interest.

Psychedelic and mysterious



AI generated and mind-blowing


Just very cool


Charmingly nerdish



Beyond Rockets

Cardano Space

Big hitters that don’t need pointing out, but anyway


Yummi Universe

Disclaimer: if I recommend anything, it’s absolutely because I’ve stuck in a bunch of money I can’t afford, and am now shilling with neither shame nor honour.

  1. This is a made-up number.
  2. Transaction fees to get something done on the Ethereum blockchain, basically.


Some more photos from 2016, no longer where I left them on the internet, so going up here instead.

Anison done, I took in punk-power-pop Osaka veterans Shonen Knife at Fever in Shindaita, just one stop from arty, arsey, am-dram hangout Shimo-Kitazawa.

The guileless and warmly requited connection between audience and band was palpable, and as the music clattered from uncontrived glam to careering rock n roll abandon, the atmosphere became fuzzier, funnier, and even more affectionate.

It felt like the band love their fans as much as their fans love the band, and in that case, it’s an impeccable variety of romance: a marriage for life.

With some acts there can be an emotional gap between the performer and the audience, and the show is, well, for show. But with Shonen Knife the gap was almost not there, and the show was for real, between friends.


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Akihabara, some time in 2016.

Some of these photos were published elsewhere at the time, but the site they once appeared at has, I recently discovered, now disappeared, so I thought I’d put them up here.

I’d gone to take photos at an anison event. Anison means animation songs, but what it actually equates to is a mish mash of anime soundtracks, synthpop, future bass, electro, hip hop, breakbeats, drum and bass, guitar solos, 8-bit retro noises, genres I don’t know the name of, if names even exist, and whatever else you feel like throwing in there.

All accompanied by syrupy anime visuals on the walls, and glowsticks in hands.

Akihabara, over on the east side of the city, is the otaku capital of Tokyo, of Japan, and, by extension, of the world, and this felt like its soundtrack.

I might go back to the club sometime, if it’s still around.

For now though, while Tokyo stays in for the end of the winter, nostalgia will suffice.

Enlightened Aliens

Are we alone in the universe?

I doubt it, but that’s not what I want to consider.

Just for the sake of this post, let’s imagine that extra-terrestrials have visited the Earth. In fact, let’s consider that they might show up here repeatedly, and have some interest in humans as a species. In which case, why would that be? What piques their curiosity?

Watching this discussion between the entirely respectable Lex Fridman, an AI researcher at MIT, and the equally not-cranky Harvard physicist Avi Loeb, who offers compelling arguments that an artificial alien object may recently have passed through our solar system, I came across a commonly held view: that humans would be, if placed in a galactic context, unremarkable and insignificant. Walk past an ant and you’re not going to pay it much attention, goes that line of thinking. And so if alien lifeforms were to observe us, they wouldn’t be impressed with what they found, considering how much more evolutionarily and technologically advanced they must be.

We might be a curiosity, at best. Hopefully the Greys are benevolent and won’t destroy or exploit us.

But then I got to thinking, what if the opposite is true?

This is a scenario I imagined:

Advanced intelligence is common, or at least not rare, across the galaxy, and in other galaxies too. But the norm, the absolute standard, includes two things:

Firstly, that the intelligence required to become an advanced level civilization is coupled, always, with peaceful, collective behaviour. Species that travel between stars and interact with one another are pacifist and enlightened. They don’t avoid conflict, they simply don’t have the capacity for it. Aggression was evolved out of them millennia ago, or was never there in the first place.

We’re dealing with ego-less entities, to whom the presence of self-regard and competition is… alien. And we’re the weird ones, on a cosmic scale, for being possessed by ego and self. Those features might be incomprehensible to extra-terrestrials. After all, how could one possibly comprehend ego having had no experience, perception or even description of it?

Secondly, civilizational progress is glacially slow. But, by contrast, humans are progressing extremely rapidly. Looking around at how our technologies have moved forward, we of course have nothing at all to compare with. But perhaps what we have achieved in the past thousand years took a hundred thousand years on other planets. And now we’re speeding up. What we have achieved in the past fifty years could have taken ten thousand years elsewhere.

Our unique, earthly characteristics–ego, selfishness, aggression, competition, hierarchy, greed–have allowed us to hyper-accelerate, and have juiced up our technological, scientific and engineering abilities.

Imagine that the ETs, representing several civilizations and many, many planets, have never come across societies like that. Their harmonious, flawlessly functioning galactic network looks at our planet, and what it sees is outside its own experiences and frames of reference:

A violent, heavily armed, chaotic species, acting–to them–illogically, recklessly, unpredictably, destructively, but at the same time making unprecedentedly rapid scientific progress.

And let’s consider that they recognise we’re on the edge–relatively, maybe within a few centuries–of a profound tipping point. Perhaps it comes through our growing understanding of computers, information storage and transfer, and artificial intelligence, but when we hit that point of advancement there’s no going back, and everything changes: we’ll have the capacity to leave the earth, to seek out their planets, and to manipulate the fabric of the universe.

How would they feel about that? Being a human here on planet Earth, my guess is that they’d be threatened and concerned, but that assumes that threatened and concerned are within their existential vocabulary. Maybe for them, such emotions are ancient residue, substance long lost in evolutionary history, and so their reaction, upon discovering our nature, is simply to observe and record.

Either way, in this scenario, it wouldn’t be us that should consider the possibility of alien hostility, but rather, the reverse.

The Braiding

Holding back the vampires.


Seems the only jobs I get offered these days are those that require a strong stomach, and wooden stakes. There’s 10 CCTV screens banked in front of me, behind my feet, which are rested up on the desk, next to my medication.

This is what they give you medication for. For when the only work for which you’re considered suitable involves the massed ranks of the undead, and surveillance equipment.

“Rumour has it they’re working on a time machine somewhere in this compound.”

“What the fuck!?” I jump, startled by the unexpected voice at my left shoulder. “Shit, who are you?”

“I, I…” Stammers the figure standing before me. He’s dressed in blue overalls with the company logo on one sleeve.

“You work here.” I point out the logo, and the obvious.

“Started yesterday.”

“Right, I wasn’t here yesterday. Don’t sneak up on me like that again or I’ll put a fucking stake through your heart.”

“Wh… why…”

“And cut your head off.”




“No worries. What’s your name?”


“Neville. Nice to meet you, man.”

>>> OBEY <<<

“What was that?”

“Never mind that, Jase, just do what it says. Now what’s all this about a time machine?”

“I heard that’s what they’re doing up on the top floors, in the laboratories, that’s what they’re building up there.”

“And who did you here that from, down here in the basement?”

“I read about it.”


“On a website.”


“Yes. A website.”

“I see. Well then in that case maybe it’s true. Let’s check it out.”

“But, what about, I mean, I think we should obey…”

“Jason, listen…”


I lean forward and whisper in Jason’s ear, “…rebel…”

Jason whispers too, fearfully: “But what about the vampires?”

“I’ve been working here for three weeks now, Jason. I sit in there, on my medication, looking at those flickering, black and white monitors, relaying images from the outside world, and do you know how many vampires I’ve seen so far?”


“None, not a single fucking one. No zombies either, except for you. I have observed an extraordinary lack of demonic entities.”

I throw some stakes and a hammer in a bag. I put a blister pack of meds in my shirt pocket. I finish my jasmine tea.

“Let’s do it, Jason.”

“Do what?”

“Go and check out the laboratories.”

“Oh right, yeah. So the top five floors are where all the research happens, from level 49 up.”

“Where did you find that out?”

“I think… the same place I found out all the other stuff. I mean, you know, on the web, people talk, but I can’t be sure…”

“Whatever, come on.”

We head for the elevators, but upon stepping inside one, discover that it will only take us as far as level 48. I push the button, and the doors slide shut.

Pink, White and Grey

Tokyo is in lockdown. Except it isn’t. But it might be. Or it won’t.

No-one knows what’s going on.

Mayor Koike strongly urged residents to stay at home over the weekend, in response to a sudden increase in the rate of COVID-19 cases being discovered in the capital.

The advice was taken seriously, and hanami was eschewed, the official recommendation to remain indoors aided by a sudden blast of unseasonably cold air, and a snow dump on Sunday morning, leaving the suburbs quietly styled in pink, white and grey.

I went for a walk round the block, I confess, but I don’t think I got within ten metres of anyone else I saw out taking in the scenes, so don’t scold me.

And this week, the snow has melted, and there is still no lockdown, even as cases climb. Many choose to remain indoors, while others don’t.

Ms. Koike has advised against frequenting nightlife establishments.

I wasn’t anyway, but someone must have been, and I still see the touts and the girls outside the mirrored doorways and soft lights of the hostess bars, although not so many customers now, and fewer passers-by.

And the blossom is still on the trees, held in place by the unexpected cold. But it has to fall, green must show, and I check the numbers, ticking up.









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