Generation of Bits

Tales of shame and degradation in the Big Idea Lab

by Hunter S. Negroponte

Too Many Bits

The other day I was thanking my good friend Former President Bush (or ``George'' as I call him) for pulling some strings to get my brother out of that Iran-Contra mess, and he asked me if I knew any hot technologies he could sink his Presidential Pension into. In my opinion, the smart money is on filters. It's getting so you can't read Usenet without seeing that ``Dave Jordan'' Ponzi letter followed by forty replies from dickless wannabes threatening to mail-bomb the poster's sysadmin for the ``innapropriate post.'' Of course, I personally have my staff of Elegant British Women pre-edit my .newsrc for me (God how I envy the British), but that option is not open to the unwired masses outside the Media Lab.

One way to eliminate the blather while keeping the First Amendment intact is to create active ``Filter Agents,'' as I like to call them, that presort my Netnews articles and eliminate the tiresome pseudo-commercial posts. Can you imagine what the net's raw content will look like when all the half-literate morons in the U.S. can publish any text that their tiny minds ooze? The very thought makes me want to refill my glass with the '56 Chateau Lafite. America's Intelligentsia will need some serious Digital Butlers guarding our Offramp on the Digital Highway's Mailing Lists (damn metaphors) when this comes to pass.

The Big Lie

Media Lab critics (there have been a few) have occasionally questioned the practical application of our work. Well, have you heard about the Holographic Television? No longer a device found only in the back of comic books, we've actually made this sucker work. An honest-to-god motion-picture hologram, produced in the Media Lab basement on a 2000 pound holography table by computers, lasers and mirrors spinning at 30,000 RPM. It's real! It works! Life Magazine even came in to photograph it in action (of course, they had to fill the room with smoke so the lasers would show up on film). Practical application? Sure, it requires a 2000 pound air-suspended rock table and a Connection Machine II to run, but hell, everyone knows the price of computing power and 2000 pound rock tables is cut in half every year. My point, however, is more mundane: we have created a demo literally from smoke and mirrors, and the Corporate World bought it. Even my good friend Penn (or ``Penn,'' as I call him) Jillette would be proud.

In fact, I'm a few points up on Penn. You may have heard of the Interactive Narrative work that is proceeding in the lab. Folks, I'll be honest with you for a moment. I know as well as you do that it's a stinking load of horseshit. Roger Ebert said ``Six thousand years ago sitting around a campfire a storyteller could have stopped at any time and asked his audience how they wanted the story to come out. But he didn't because that would have ruined the story.'' You think Hollywood would have learned this lesson from the monster ``success'' that Clue, the Movie enjoyed several years ago. But no! I've repackaged the ``Choose your own Adventure'' novels of childhood as Digital Information SuperHighway Yadda Yadda crap, and again, they bought it! Sony right this minute is building an interactive movie theater, with buttons the audience can push to amuse themselves as the story progresses. Dance for me, Corporate America! I'm SHIT-HOT!

Why, just the other day I listened to a member of my staff explain to potential sponsors that we had spent \$US 4,000,000 of Japanese sponsor dollars to construct a widescreen version of ``I Love Lucy'' from the original source. And HE SAID IT WITH A STRAIGHT FACE! CAN YOU FUCKING BELIEVE THAT? Boy, I bet those Nips wish they had their money back now! Earthquake? No, we can't do much to rebuild your city, but we SURE AS HELL can give you a 1.66:1 cut of Lucy to fit all those busted HDTVs of yours! HA HA HA!

A Sucker Born

Last week I was off the coast of Greece on my yacht ``Nippo-bux'' (I put the ``raft'' in ``graft,'' as I always say) with my close personal friend Al (``Al'') Gore. He asked me ``Nick--er, Hunter, how do you do it? You maintain a research staff of, in the words of Albert Meyer [an underfunded Course VI professor], `Science Fiction Charlatans,' yet you never fail to rake in monster sponsor bucks? I could fund Hillary's socialized medicine boondoggle in an instant if I had that kind of fiscal pull.''

I told him that it's merely a matter of understanding our sponsor's needs. Our sponsors are represented by middle-aged middle-managers who need three things: Booze, good hotels, and hookers. Keep 'em busy with free trips and the slick dog and pony shows, provide them with pre-written notes for their upper-managment, and the money will keep rolling in.

Do I worry that one day some sponsor will wake up and say ``Wait a minute--what the hell did I do last night? Did I shell out a million bucks to fund a LEGO Chair in the Media Lab? Tequila!'' Over the years I've learned not to care. I could pull the cigar out of W.C. Field's mouth and sell it back to him at a profit. And he'd thank me for the deal. I'm that goddamn good.

Obligatory Plug

By the way, if you enjoyed this article, you can read it again in my upcoming book: Being Gonzo -- Life on the Digital Information SuperHighway Fast Lane. Buy one now.

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Original Source of the above story: Voodoo
Current Function: a small part of Philip's Career Guide for Engineers and Scientists

More from Building E15

"I used to be sad when I reflected on the fact Mozart died before he could get down to work on an operatic version of Faust, with Goethe writing the libretto," noted acclaimed composer Tod Machover, Professor of Music & Media at MIT's Media Lab. "But not anymore. With the Brain Opera, I've achieved all of Mozart and Goethe's artistic goals plus a lot more."

But let's not forget WIRED magazine

Here's part of an open letter from Nicholas Negroponte and Michael Hawley (then the X-Consortium Assistant Professor Of Computer Science & Media Technology at MIT) to Newt Gingrich in the May 1995 issue of WIRED:
"Dear Newt, ... Alvin and Heidi Toffler are dandy advisors; good for you for listening to them! ... The Library of Congress is a giant dumpster full of atoms ... "

Reader's Comments

Fantastic article, where can i buy the book? :)

-- Andrew B., February 24, 1999
As quickly as Hunter's and other media-geek visions are delivered to the rest of us, most of the added internet bandwidth will be claimed by multimedia pay-per-view productions, elaborated advertisements and other mindless diversions. Providing agents to filter out what we don't care about will guarantee that we can reinforce our prejudices and avoid learning anything truly surprising. That isn't the future I have in mind for the information highway: I want to access more diverse connections and deeper thoughts, not cooler commercials and new tolls.

-Max Entropy

-- Geoff Dutton, March 8, 1999

I'm not certain I will be able to view the world of technology the same again! I was led to believe the type of cynicism I just read was left back in the 80's. Obvously it is alive and well in the techno- society. How utterly sad.

-- Nancy Chivers, May 7, 1999
HTML and GUI browsers are doing the very same thing for Internet communications that Citizen's band has done for two-way radio communications. Specifically, to aid morons to pack rainbows up each other's ass.

Once upon a time, getting a transmitter license required the applicant to display some technical proficiency and a little skill on a CW keyer. Once, using a computer required some intellectual activity and a little skill at the keyboard. more.

The best thing about popular browsers is that they still need expensive hardware. But soon enough, lots of "two-digit" folks will get LINUX and use a browser on a 486 box. Net congestion will continue to worsen. These new folks have less discretionary income and will attract a "different breed" of advertisers.

Look at the proportion of good, bad, and ugly stuff on television. Then think, "Do any y'all folks know if Jerry Springer has himself a web site now?".

Serious Netizens need a software or hardware "Bullshit Filter" and a speedy way around social traffic. Pray that the great MIT, or anybody, will provide an affordable solution soon.

-- Charles Miller, May 30, 1999

MIT has no monopoly in this area: Carnegie Mellon University (which prides itself as being as recognizable a CS giant as MIT and Stanford ... But does the world?) had an active interactive multimedia research program a few years ago, presumably competing for some of the play money Mr. Negroponte mines so skillfully.

One project consisted of boiling down two narrative videos, totalling 90 min, to 30 "interactive" minutes on an videodisc, somehow "gaining" information/value along the way!

Another placed the entire known output of an artist (along with some forgeries) on a videodisc along with hundreds of pair-wise comparisons (in dreadful NTSC) even though printed illustrations, with a far higher resolution, could easily be compared side-by-side by hand.

The suggestion of seeking funds to conduct efficacy studies establishing the advantages of "interactive multimedia" over conventional media (if any) was met with dirision and incredulity, because, after all the whole exercise was a lark taking a free ride on the gullibility of those willing to pay to be on the "bleeding edge".

-- Nicholas Spies, June 21, 1999

I observed a couple of years ago that the Information Age needed some basic principles a la Azimov's laws for Robots or Newton's for Mechansical Systems.

My proposed three principles of the Information Age are:

1) The cost of Production, transmission and storage of Information is decreasing rapidly toward zero

2) Because of 1) all value in Information is asymtotically found in its intelectual property (IP) thus the creation not the manifestation is where the value is located

3) The Less it costs to P, T, S, and for the IP of the Information the greater the quantity of Information that will be in circulation

Corollary -- Unfortunatly, Like Gresham's Law -- Low IP value information will dominate over high IP value information. An thus trash rules -- get a really good filter and batten down the hatches -- its going to be a bumpy milllennium


-- Ted Kochanski, July 10, 1999

Media Arts & Sciences are evolving from Computer Science in the same way Electrical Engineering "morphed" from Physics. We are in the dawn of the new age of Agent Aquarius. The world's press clings onto the Media Lab's tours, demos & video blurbs like fireflies on organically grown & excreted waste. Keep it up Hunter, you rock the webbed world!

-- Ed H., August 25, 1999
My cat's paw smells like cat food.

-- cliff vick, June 15, 2000
Cliff! Stop sniffing your cat's paw!

Oh, the site you pointed to down below? Mystery Meat Navigation. Flanders would beat you with a wet mouse cable.

-- Marty Schrader, October 26, 2000
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