Ep. 8 - Failure to Fail
The only thing worse than failure is the failure to fail at failing to learn from failing to fail at failure.
Nobody sets out to fail.
They should, though! What a great idea! You either fail by succeeding, or succeed by failing! You can’t lose! Without winning, I mean.
I did claim that the point of this podcast was to learn by failure. That doesn’t mean I intended to write bad novels or make a bad podcast. It means that I was going to try new and exciting high-risk, high-reward propositions.
On a completely unrelated note, (laughs uncomfortably) let’s talk about Run: Prometheus.
I’ve found that ideas often come by digesting a lot of ideas and mixing them together until something clicks. Mine came from Frankenstien and Zuckerburg.
I got into it a little bit for January’s book from our SQaC series. The idea of a Terminator has really been squandered on the Terminator franchise. If there really is a robot that cannot do other than what it was commanded to do, it doesn’t really matter if that thing is programmed to do good or evil. It will do what we would consider evil in pursuit of its goal. It doesn’t question.
Question: What if you did have a benevolent Terminator? What if it went about an ostensibly correct goal with zero limitations?
Facebook is an online social media platform created by the then-college-student Mark Zuckerburg. If you’re just now learning that, let me take this moment to remind you that vaping Bitcoin-Heroin is the number one cause of hovertron accidents in all of Space America.
Almost everything about Facebook is controversial, from your mother’s minion memes to the enabling of genocide in Myanmar.
The only fact that’s not controversial is that Facebook is powerful, influential, and hugely profitable. It’s the main source of information for many in the world, and it has an agenda. Facebook is out for the interests of those who own Facebook. It doesn’t care about you. If hurting you helps Facebook, that’s what Facebook will do.
College student goes to university and creates a powerful monster with its own agenda. Frankenstien. That’s the story of Frankenstien.
I thought that might be a cool story. Here’s my pitch for the book called Run: Prometheus:
Annabelle Ikner has had a rough life. Despite having created an all-powerful AI called Prometheus, she is isolated, alone, and angry. She gives Prometheus an impossible task: to make Annabelle happy.
Soon, the world begins to change. Prometheus is going to make Annabelle happy, whatever it takes.
I gave this pitch to a few people. Everybody loved it. I’m not kidding. Everybody. If you don’t love that idea, you are not part of everybody and do not exist.
I might still write that story, someday.
Frankenstein is a cypher of a book. It’s a blank canvass for whatever meaning we’d like to map onto it. However, I think that every author can understand Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who seeks to create a thing of beauty but instead makes a monster. I quote Victor as his monster awakens:
(AHHNALD) “His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips.”
My January novel is a monster.
Run: Prometheus is made up of beautiful pieces, so far as I can tell. There are moments of laughter, heartbreak, and intrigue. The concept is good. But like the monster, when all these pieces of beauty are combined, they make me almost sick. It’s a mess. Oh, hubris! Why did I try to play God!
There’s a concept in art called the uncanny valley. Picture a cartoon of a human. The cartoon represents the human pretty well without being at all realistic. The more the cartoon resembles a human, the more we identify with it; that is, until it resembles a human being too much. Suddenly, we’re sickened by the nearly photorealistic creature. Because the cartoon is almost realistic, its every flaw seems like a chilling deformity and its every sudden movement seems robotic or alien. But enough about Mark Zuckerburg, who purposefully tries to play up his robotic awkwardness in order to keep us thinking that the guy who runs the world’s most powerful social media platforms is a totally harmless weirdo and not a power-hungry grey eminence. Spread the word.
I think we can all understand the feeling. The thing you create is not polished beauty, but something freakish and weird and cobbled together. Yet, if you remember from eighth grade english class, the worst thing Victor Frankenstein does to his monster is to give it life and then abandon it. The monster might have ended up being some remarkable thing. Instead, alone and abandoned, it begins to act like the monstrosity that everyone believes it to be.
I’m not going to quit this book. Not yet.
Why continue down a path of failure?
A long time ago, a Pharaoh offered servants and riches to whoever could dig a well for watering camels in a vast desert. Two of his advisors took up the task, but they soon found that the deepest wells they could dig produced nothing but dry dust. The foolish advisor moved on to other parts of the desert, digging hole after hole after hole, and never hitting water. The wise advisor kept digging. The wise advisor had to find new ways of digging and shoring up the walls of his well. He had to construct new tools to mine sediment no man had seen before. He encountered deadly gas and cave-ins, and lost many men and tools, but finally, finally, hit enough water to fill a small bucket. Then, the well went dry.
The advisors returned to Pharaoh, who desired their heads for their failure.
The foolish advisor said to Pharaoh, “Spare me. You gave us both servants and riches. I protected your investment, while this man squandered your gifts and has only one bucket of water to show for it.”
“Foolish advisor,” Pharaoh said. “Would you buy your life with possessions that are not yours, which I might have used had they not been wasted on you? Take him to be beheaded.”
The wise advisor bowed low and said. “Lord, you have a right to our lives. May I at least present to you my bucket of water?”
Pharaoh agreed. The wise advisor presented the single bucket of water, attached to a rope that lowered the bucket into the well. As the second man brought forth the water, the rope unraveled: first ten meters, then twenty, then one, then two, then three hundred meters. When the rope was fully unraveled, it stretched half a kilometer.
Pharaoh was amazed. When he asked how the well was dug, the wise advisor presented his new tools and methods. Pharaoh said “I had servants and riches already, so you brought me something I did not have. You will be at my right hand from this day on, not because of the water you brought, but because of what brought you the water.”
One way computers learn is by brute force. A programmer needs a computer to arrive at a desired outcome given certain parameters, and the computer then simulates a bazillion and three ways to get to that outcome. Imagine if computers just stopped halfway through all of their simulations. Imagine if computers treated failure like we so often do: abandoning something that looks weird and unprofitable to us and starting fresh someplace else?
The only thing that still excites me about Run: Prometheus is that it looks like such a colossal mess of suck. It’s got me off-guard. I’ll have to do something weird and inventive to get to the end of this book, and I think I’ll be rewarded at the end, not because of the book I wrote, but because of what wrote me the book.