James Cameron

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Probably because I came before smartphones, I often catch myself thinking of them as not exactly a fad but as future artifacts of a period that will ultimately pass. I’ll be happier once people stop staring at them in a daze, living inside them, once this epidemic has ended. It must be a temporary form of insanity. In those moments it seems similar to the opioid crisis.

Of course, that’s not going to work out as my fantasy would have it. The shape of the tool may change—perhaps disappear entirely—but we’ll come to realize belatedly that we were in their pockets all along, not the other way around.

James Cameron, a truly miserable man in so many ways, is right when he tells the Hollywood Reporter that the machines are already our overlords, the emergence of superintelligence not even necessary for the transition of power. Then again, living under even the most soul-crushing machines would probably be preferable than having to answer to Cameron. The interview of the director and Deadpool helmer Tim Miller was conducted by Matthew Belloni and Borys Kit. An excerpt:


The conflict between technology and humanity is a theme in a lot of Jim’s movies. Does technology scare you?

James Cameron:

Technology has always scared me, and it’s always seduced me. People ask me: “Will the machines ever win against humanity?” I say: “Look around in any airport or restaurant and see how many people are on their phones. The machines have already won.” It’s just [that] they’ve won in a different way. We are co-evolving with our technology. We’re merging. The technology is becoming a mirror to us as we start to build humanoid robots and as we start to seriously build AGI — general intelligence — that’s our equal. Some of the top scientists in artificial intelligence say that’s 10 to 30 years from now. We need to get the damn movies done before that actually happens! And when you talk to these guys, they remind me a lot of that excited optimism that nuclear scientists had in the ’30s and ’40s when they were thinking about how they could power the world. And taking zero responsibility for the idea that it would instantly be weaponized. The first manifestation of nuclear power on our planet was the destruction of two cities and hundreds of thousands of people. So the idea that it can’t happen now is not the case. It can happen, and it may even happen.

Tim Miller: 

Jim is a more positive guy [than I am] in the present and more cynical about the future. I know Hawking and Musk think we can put some roadblocks in there. I’m not so sure we can. I can’t imagine what a truly artificial intelligence will make of us. Jim’s brought some experts in to talk to us, and it’s really interesting to hear their perspective. Generally, they’re scared as shit, which makes me scared.

James Cameron:

One of the scientists we just met with recently, she said: “I used to be really, really optimistic, but now I’m just scared.” Her position on it is probably that we can’t control this. It has more to do with human nature. Putin recently said that the nation that perfects AI will dominate or conquer the world. So that pretty much sets the stage for “We wouldn’t have done it, but now those guys are doing it, so now we have to do it and beat them to the punch.” So now everybody’s got the justification to essentially weaponize AI. I think you can draw your own conclusions from that.

Tim Miller:

When it happens, I don’t think AI’s agenda will be to kill us. That seems like a goal that’s beneath whatever enlightened being that they’re going to become because they can evolve in a day what we’ve done in millions of years. And I don’t think that they have the built-in deficits that we have, because we’re still dealing with the same kind of urges that made us climb down from the trees and kill everybody else. I choose to believe that they’ll be better than us.•

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Of the two things that could transform the world, Tesla and SpaceX, the former is far more plausible to succeed in its goal, which would be to environmentally remake the home and roads, but Elon Musk sees each as equally necessary for the human race to survive. Bloomberg has published an excellent segment from Ashlee Vance’s new book about Musk in which the writer makes clear how close the industrialist/technologist came to losing both the electric-and-solar empire and a shot at colonizing Mars.

SpaceX began with a dream of sending mice to our neighboring planet in a rocket purchased from the Russians, but consumer frustration forced Musk to build his own mini-NASA start-up, and for his ambitions to grow exponentially. 

An excerpt:

Elon and Justine decided to move south to begin their family and the next chapter of their lives in Los Angeles. Unlike many Southern California transplants, they were drawn by the technology. The mild, consistent weather made it ideal for the aeronautics industry, which had been there since the 1920s, when Lockheed Aircraft set up shop in Hollywood. Howard Hughes, the U.S. Air Force, NASA, Boeing, and a mosaic of support industries followed suit. While Musk’s space plans were vague at the time, he felt confident that he could recruit some of the world’s top aeronautics thinkers and get them to join his next venture.

Musk started by crashing the Mars Society, an eclectic collection of space enthusiasts dedicated to exploring and settling the Red Planet. They were holding a fund-raiser in mid-2001, a $500-per-plate event at the house of one of the well-off Mars Society members. What stunned Robert Zubrin, the head of the group, was the reply from someone named Elon Musk, whom no one could remember inviting. “He gave us a check for $5,000,” Zubrin said. “That made everyone take notice.” Zubrin invited Musk for coffee ahead of the dinner and told him about the research center the society had built in the Arctic to mimic the tough conditions of Mars and the experiments they had been running for something called the Translife Mission, in which there would be a capsule orbiting earth carrying a crew of mice. It would spin to give them one-third gravity—the same as Mars—and they would live there and make babies.

When it was time for dinner, Zubrin placed Musk at the VIP table next to himself, the director and space buff James Cameron, and Carol Stoker, a planetary scientist for NASA. Musk loved it. “He was much more intense than some of the other millionaires,” Zubrin said. “He didn’t know a lot about space, but he had a scientific mind. He wanted to know exactly what was being planned in regards to Mars and what the significance would be.” Musk took to the Mars Society right away and joined its board of directors. He donated an additional $100,000 to fund a research station in the desert.

Musk’s friends were not entirely sure what to make of his mental state at that time. He’d caught malaria while on vacation in Africa and lost a tremendous amount of weight fighting it off. Musk stands 6-foot-1 but usually seems much bigger than that. He’s broad-shouldered, sturdy, and thick. This version of Musk, though, looked emaciated and with little prompting would start expounding on his desire to do something meaningful with his life. “He said, ‘The logical thing to happen next is solar, but I can’t figure out how to make any money out of it,’ ” said George Zachary, an investor and close friend of Musk’s, recalling a lunch date at the time. “He started talking about space, and I thought he meant office space like a real estate play.” Musk had already started thinking beyond the Mars Society’s goals. Rather than send a few mice into earth’s orbit, Musk wanted to send them to Mars.

“He asked if I thought that was crazy,” Zachary said. “I asked, ‘Do the mice come back? Because, if they don’t, yeah, most people will think that’s crazy.’ ” Musk said that the mice were not only meant to go to Mars and come back but they also would come home with the baby mice, too.•

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A bunch of rich guys, including James Cameron, Ross Perot, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt and Peter H. Diamandis, may be announcing tomorrow that they are getting into the business of asteroid mining, extracting precious resources from zooming space rocks. From Forbes:

“Diamandis has been interested in asteroid mining for a long time, and it sounds like this might be his time to put a plan into action. There are staggering amounts of gold in them thar asteroids, even if they are sort of far away.

‘The earth is a crumb in a supermarket of resources,” Diamandis told Forbes earlier this year. “Now we finally have the technology to extract resources outside earth for the benefit of humanity without having to rape and pillage our planet.'”


Hyperspace, not free of risk, is nonetheless a handy option:

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Beatrice Wood came to art late but with gusto. (Thanks Documentarian.)

From Michael Kimmelman’s 1999 remembrance of Wood in the New York Times: “The time is summer 1917, the place, Coney Island. Beatrice Wood is seated on a fake ox while behind her, in an oxcart, against a painted backdrop, sit Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. They have come from the roller coaster. ‘With Marcel’s arm around me,’ Wood recalled years later, ‘I would have gone on any ride into hell with the same heroic abandon as a Japanese lover standing on the rim of a volcano ready to take a suicide leap.’ In the photograph she looks more queasy than lovestruck, clutching her hat as if afraid it might still blow off.

Wood, who died this year a few days after her 105th birthday, flirtatious to the end, became a potter of luminescent talent, having taken up ceramics in her 40’s when she failed to find a teapot to match some plates she had bought in Holland. Her fame, which mostly came later in life, stemmed from a combination of her art, her longevity and her sheer verve.

When she was born, Cezanne was still a little-known painter and Grover Cleveland was President. When she died, she was, in a sense, just coming into her own, having had a full-scale museum retrospective in New York City a year earlier and having been named a ‘living treasure’ by the Governor of California a couple of years before that. Through a friend she’d lately been introduced to a film director who decided to base a character in a new movie on her. The director was James Cameron. The character was Rose in Titanic.

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