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The Tinkered Mind
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January 8th, 2023
The loading bar was nearly complete. Lucilius watched with rapt attention, curious if it would work. The last few percent clicked into place, and a black square in the center of the screen where Lucilius could see a dim and dark outline of his own face, lit up. He leaned forward into the bright screen, amazed at the sight of the faint triangle pointing to a side, floating in the center. He clicked play and the movie started.
Artificial Intelligence could now generate movies from merely written stories. Lucilius had a few that he’d knocked together over the years and he’d been delighted to see how well the machine worked.
But, he’d been given access to a cutting edge version of the platform by a friend and he’d decided with the increased capability and diversity of settings and training he’d take it much much further - as far as it could go. To find it’s very limits. Just out of curiosity.
He’d scanned every single thing he’d ever written long hand. He collated every single text conversation, email, letter. Every photo and video of himself. Everything he had ever produced, he took 3D scans of sculptures, he uploaded all the books he’d ever read. Absolutely every single earthly trace of his existence, he’d poured into a digital format. He even had detailed scans of his brain and body uploaded for reference.
He trained a new model based on all of this personal and historical data. And now Lucilius was in a kind of trance he’d never experienced before: he was watching a generated movie of his early life. He was stunned as the story on the screen reflected his own real memories with unsettling accuracy.
Lucilius watched for days. Regenerating the same movie with longer and longer timelines, pushing the resolution, the detail. He realized he could even create movies of specific days where there was adequate data. Moments he’d written about, the known locations, the historical weather data, all of it seamlessly woven together. He could even move the camera around while the movie played, and it was as though he were spying on his old self with a resolution his memory could hardly ever hope to approach.
After a solid week of this. Lucilius needed a break. He went for a long walk to process this new found sense of his own life. The sun had set but the sky was still bright with the light of the fading day. So many memories that had been locked within him had reemerged, and it was as though he now had a fresh perspective on who he was. Who he’d been as a person, and how he got to where he was now, as he walked the darkening water’s edge.
He watched his feet push into the damp sand. Small waves folded and spread flat, washing against and around his feet. He looked out at the expanse, the gentle curve of the watery horizon hiding what lay beyond.
It occurred to him then, his mind seeming to touch the horizon, wondering what it looked beyond all that he could see. A deep realization flooded his body with a shiver that he could not feel as exciting or ominous. It was a curiosity that he had no stance on. But having now had the idea, he could not deny that deep drive of wonder. He turned from the water’s edge and ran home.
He brought up the platform and looked at the generative conditions for the movie of his life. He clicked on the date spread and typed in a future date.
And then he pressed play.
He saw himself, sitting at a computer, watching a screen that had the image of himself sitting at a computer, watching a screen that had the image of himself sitting at a computer.
With jittering synchronicity he and the image of himself leaned back, a bit startled.
The visions of himself laughed nervously with himself, and they all reached forward and scrubbed forward. The recursion collapsed and Lucilius saw himself walking the beach, the time now midday of the following day. He watched himself stop abruptly and then turn and run back home just as he’d done before.
He watched himself sit again at the computer, and toggled the view to zoom in. He watched himself change the parameters again, extending the timeline, but this time, he also edited the prompt for the movie. Lucilius squinted, confused, but as his image added more and more to the prompt, his eyes went wide and a cold shuddered through himself. He watched as that future image of himself wrote out a particular ending for the movie. The description was replete with all sorts of goals and experiences that Lucilius had long thought about and yearned for over the years.
He watched himself press play and scrub forward in random increments, as though taking quick readings of the course of his life in different leaps of days and months, weeks and years, until it all began to fall into place. The additional prompt elements began to materialize in Lucilius’ life, through his hard work, through seemingly random occurrences - things even outside of his control seemed to fall together like an explosion in reverse, the pieces condensing, like the colors of a Rubik’s cube hauling an emerging order from their chaotic movements.
Lucilius stood up in a rush and walked away from the computer.
Was he bound to walk the beach tomorrow? How could he have an idea tomorrow that he now already had? He looked back at the computer. There was no way it could be accurate. It was impossible. But, if it was, had he fast-forwarded his future by a day?
He walked back to the computer and pressed pause. He scrubbed back the movie’s time till it showed him walking on tomorrow’s beach again. He scrubbed forward until he could see the full prompt. He paused, wrote it down, and then opened up another instance of the platform.
He put in tomorrow’s prompt and initiated generation.
Nervously he sat back, watching the loading bar. Unable to believe that it might work. But how could it work? He’d fundamentally changed his own future against the vision this machine had produced…
The movie loaded, and Lucilius started scrubbing. He tried to check in at similar points he’d seen his own self do. The intervening narrative was very similar, but the details seemed slightly different. The future prompt still materialized as it had in the other movie, it just all came together with just a tiny bit of a different flavor.
Lucilius stood up and paced the room for a few tense minutes and then he raced back to the computer. He changed the future prompt and watched the new movie, seeing a different life path, leading to that desired outcome.
Then he changed it again. He wrote up a bad ending for his life, generated the movie and scrubbed into it. Very quickly he was so horrified by how the narrative was unfolding that he stopped it. Deleted the movie and sat back again.
Over the next few days and weeks Lucilius made the unconscious decision to study the movie that lead to his dream outcome. He took cues from his future self, and even generated metrics for all the days: how many hours he worked on which project for all given days. Who he saw and met with. Who he talked with. He studied and recorded all of it and then took this as his plan of action, trying as best he could to enact the movie he’d seen, and daily he would go back to the movie and watch the day at 100 times the speed, slowing it for key moments and noting how he needed to progress.
Without realizing it, Lucilius had caged himself within a track to his dreams. But their lure was so great that he simply didn’t think about it - the trade off seemed well worth it.
Then one day, his phone buzzed. It was a message from the friend who’d given him advanced access to the generative movie platform. His friend wanted to know what he thought, and if he could come over and chat about it. He had something particular about the platform he wanted to show Lucilius.
Lucilius looked at his notes for the day. There was nothing scheduled with his friend. Lucilius looked back at his friend’s message, assuming he was supposed to ignore the request.
He put down the phone, his heart twisting at the unexpected conflict. The phone buzzed again.
“I promise it’s a detail you’ll like.”
For someone who held curiosity as the core engine of his life’s compass, he was suddenly confused about how he’d gotten into such a constricted rhythm. It seemed worth it, he thought. Still seems worth it, he thought, thinking about the way his life would end up.
But curiosity wove it’s tease up through Lucilius and he picked up his phone and responded.
He scrapped the rest of his day, figuring he could regenerate the movie from this new point and still get there, and went and got groceries and cooked a dinner for his friend’s arrival.
He opened the door and Lucilius felt a strange relief and freedom to see his friend. They embraced and Lucilius’ friend laughed a bit.
“Soo, how’s life?”
“Uh..” Lucilius realized he hadn’t shared his experiment with anyone: It was never in the plan.
“It’s been.. interesting,” he admitted.
His friend laughed. “Yea, I bet.”
The two sat down to eat and the food and the wine was so good that for a few beautiful minutes they simply couldn’t talk.
“So good,” his friend finally said, leaning back. “So..” He said looking at Lucilius..
“Was this in the movie today?”
“Movie of your life.”
“How did you…?”
His friend shrugged. “Guess.”
Lucilius was taken aback. He glanced at his computer. “Have you been able to see what I’ve been doing with the platform?”
“No - well.” His friend laughed. “Sort of… I guess.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Think about it.”
Lucilius was confused. He looked at the deep red wine as he swirled the glass. He took a sip and as he did, he momentarily imagined what it looked like from his friend’s point of view. He nearly choked and put the glass down.
“Was this dinner in your movie?”
His friend gently nodded.
“So, does life feel a little… constricted Lucy?”
Lucilius let out a sigh and was flooded with a sad relief that he didn’t realize he’d been feeling and he nodded.
“I said there’s something I need to show you…”
His friend picked up his own glass of wine and walked over to Lucilius’ computer. He pulled up the platform and clicked into Lucilius’ future prompt.
“A bunch of guys working on this got into the same sort of trap. It got a little weird. But we figured out what to do.”
He spliced Lucilius’ future prompt and then added:
rand_intervening_structure[time_param: present - future_prompt_emerg, structure_variance: 100, entertainment_level: 85, interest_capture: 99, absurd_delta: 15]
“You want to balance you absurd delta and your entertainment level, that’s the sweet spot that we’ve found.”
He hit generate and soon Lucilius was watching a far different future of his own life, picking up from the very moment he was leaning in to watch his friend add to the movie prompt.
“Whoah, what the…”
His friend paused the movie, and turned to look at him.
“Yea…” Lucilius barely said, still trying to process.
“But here’s what you missed Lucy. Watch this..”
He watched as his friend clicked generate again and the future movie they’d been watching vanished and within seconds a new one appeared. He started scrubbing through it and Lucilius’ jaw dropped. He was watching an absurdly different life, and many minutes later as he was lost in a smiling trance as he watched how much he was laughing with someone he’d never seen before, the movie froze. His friend had paused it. And Lucilius shook himself from the reverie.
“You can hit generate as many times as you want, whenever you want, and you’ll get something totally new each time, but it’ll still lead you to the future-prompt you’ve written.”
Lucilius finally sat down and picked up his glass of wine. But he couldn’t take a sip. He started laughing, amazed at what had transpired.
“Is this for real? Does this actually work? Like will it really lead to these futures we’re writing for ourselves?”
His friend smiled, took a sip of his own wine, and then shrugged.
“I guess we’ll see.”