The First Status Update

This article is a part of Issue #2: Breath. You can get your own physical copy of the zine through our store, or see the full page spread for free at our Patreon!

When technology augments the natural limits of human communication, there are often unexpected side effects. When Sharp first decided to bundle together a phone and a camera into the same device, they didn’t know they’d laid the foundation for Instagram, or the rich visual ecosystem of mobile content. At the time, uploading images to the internet in a community of users was 10 years away. Similarly, when Casio created the first commercially successful answering machine capable of playing an outgoing message in 1971, they didn’t realize that they had effectively given a broadcasting platform to the answering machine owners.…   [continue reading]

Inside the Mysterious Bots of Beau Gunderson

With 16 bots and hundreds of other coveted projects to his name, Beau Gunderson is a prolific developer and valued contributor to the open source community, responsible for adding thousands of unique artworks and text snippets to the Twittersphere. And Twitter really is the ideal gallery for this form of expression; ideal for audiences because it allows them to become immersed in the bot’s stream of consciousness, and ideal for developers as an easily-accessible sandbox in which to store and evaluate new ideas quickly.

Since the earliest days of Secret Cave, we have been obsessed with the art of bots and the motivations of their creators.…   [continue reading]

Exploring in Plain Text: Zork, SHRDLU, and Colossal Cave Adventure

Misplaced hype over the recent generation of chatbots and “AI” applications shows just how much technology comes full circle. Lauded as the next big development, most conversational user interfaces are actually more primitive than some programs developed in the 1960s and 1970s. Sure, Slack’s Slackbot (~2014) can interpret natural language like “tomorrow” and “next week” instead of being fed perfectly formatted dates, but check out the capabilities of 1968’s SHRDLU — a conversational program that had the user ask the computer to interact with a world of 3D shapes around it:

Person: Can a pyramid support a pyramid?

Computer: I DON’T KNOW.

…   [continue reading]

Antz and the Hero’s Journey

Does the use of ‘z’ as a plural mark something out as being shit? Boyz II Men certainly had me thinking so. But, through snippets and half-memories, I’d gathered that Antz had the kind of political undertones that set it aside from your run-of-the-mill ’90s kids film that plays fast and loose with plurals.

Even though I’d seen the film’s “another ant film” counterpart, A Bug’s Life, as a child, I wasn’t prepared for how much graver and sincere Antz would be. To say that it has political undertones would be a childish reading: The film’s opener contains a sign that reads “Free Time Is For Training”; not the first jab at dehumanization in the industrial age, and certainly not the last.…   [continue reading]

The Work of Art in the Age of Microsoft Paint

This article is a re-formatted extract from Issue #1: Birth, which you can read more about here.

As Microsoft throws Paint into the digital wasteland with the rest of the internet’s abandonware, it’s hard not to get nostalgic about the simple graphical editor that influenced the “shit is good” aesthetic of the early 2000s internet. Its influence on internet culture is huge, with obvious examples being rage comics, stoner comics, and any image macro with awkwardly superimposed text and graphics.

Digital art that looked like shit started out as a necessity, yet slowly became a preference. Even today’s memes hark back to the days where the best material was thrown together on Paint in a matter of minutes.…   [continue reading]

Decentralized Social Media and The Fragmentation of Control

The architecture of a social network doesn’t just affect a bunch of invisible server-whirrings and documentation jargon. It’s directly responsible for how the network’s users interact — what they’re allowed to say, what they’re likely to see, and who controls these factors.

A good example to start my examination into centralized/decentralized social networks is Twitter.

The name “Twitter” and the platform’s relentless bird imagery isn’t an arbitrary choice — it actually makes a lot of sense with regard to how the network works.

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Starlings, for example, flock in groups of 10,000 or more, unified and communicating as a network. Birds learn to sing by listening and imitating, which often means that groups of co-existing birds learn the same patterns, inflections, and memes.…   [continue reading]

Archain Interview: Building an Uncensorable Archive of Human History

This article ties in to a podcast we recorded with the Archain team, available here.

Unreliable permanent storage is a problem that most people don’t know exists, but will have likely experienced first hand.

Under my desk, I store my fine collection of bricked laptops with the hope that one day I might salvage them for parts — on the hard drives of those long-dead machines, there are hundreds of gigabytes of lost data. Old music project files, documents, and other things I should’ve been smart enough to back up online.

However, storing files on the cloud isn’t totally safe.…   [continue reading]

Trolls, Crusaders, and Internet Territories

The conditions that enable and encourage trolling aren’t exclusive to the internet, but they are more prevalent online than off, mostly thanks to the ease of anonymity and effects of crowd psychology. Territorial behavior — based either on platform loyalty or tight-knit communities — is amplified when geographical constraints no longer play a part. Internet crusades targeting other groups or individuals have become so commonplace that major platforms like Twitter have had to rethink their stance on free speech.

The internet population is growing, but it’s also fragmenting as real world issues polarize mainstream and fringe subcultures alike. In this article, I’ll examine the phenomena of internet territorialism and those who coordinate trolling on a large scale.…   [continue reading]

Computer Vision: How Bots See The World Around Them

In my piece on neural network art, I looked at how bots generate images based on their existing ‘knowledge’ of shape and form. These computers are trained on large data sets of images, all classified and tagged so the machine can make sense of them. Google’s Deep Dream, for example, uses a set of ImageNet material with 120 dog categories, explaining why almost everything it hallucinates has some kind of dog, however subtle.

Projects like Deep Dream are more of an artistic side-project than a useful tool, but the tech it’s based on is a bridge towards computer programs being able to make sense of the world around them — whether that’s an image tagger for a search engine, or a robot with nuanced spacial awareness.…   [continue reading]

Three Months as a Softcore Sex Worker in Latvia’s Capital

“I saw women broken by it. I saw girls crying at the end of the night. The only reason I could deal with it is because I had no sense of self worth.”

Past the grand churches and 14th century mansions, the bewildering side-streets of Old Riga are lined with failed bars and shuttered clubs. Every week, bars are bought, sold, and shut down by the police, only to reappear soon after with a new name and logo. This harsh environment, coupled with Riga’s legacy as a sex capital of Europe, leads establishment owners to employ young Latvian women with the job of bringing foreign men in off the street and giving them an expensive fantasy for the night.…   [continue reading]