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May 16, 2016 · 5:56 pm

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Superman: Year One #1

Every Wednesday, comic fans like me rejoice at the prospect of enjoying a nice stack of new books to start the day. While not every stack is full of epic sagas that leave readers with lifelong memories of pure awesome, there are some that stand out more than others. When one comic in that stack is written by Frank Miller, it’s usually an event that comic fans remember for the rest of their comic-loving days.

If you don’t know who Frank Miller is, then trust me when I say that his name carries a lot of weight in the comic book community. There’s Stan Lee. There’s Jack Kirby. There’s Alan Moore. Most people know those iconic names and the place they have in pop culture. Talk to most well-read comic book fans and they’ll agree. Frank Miller deserves to be in that special class of writer.

This is someone whose work was a true paradigm shift for the medium. His work in the 1980s changed the way people approached superhero comics. It’s not unreasonable to say that Miller is one of the most influential comic writers of the past 40 years. If you want to understand the power of that influence, then “Superman: Year One #1” should get the point across.

This is not a comic that requires a working knowledge of DC Comics’ current continuity, which has been subject to some messy upheavals over the past 10 years. You don’t even have to know anything about Superman to appreciate “Superman: Year One #1.” This is one of those rare books where anyone who has never touched a superhero comic can just pick it up, follow along, and understand the breadth of the story.

This comic, which is printed under DC’s more mature Black Label banner, is not a radical re-telling of Superman’s origins. If you know the basics or have just seen a few Superman movies, then you won’t see anything too shocking. That said, “Superman: Year One #1” brings something new, compelling, and revealing to the table.

There any number of stories about Clark Kent’s formative years, from origins comics to the “Smallville” TV series. Many go to great lengths to show how and why Clark becomes Superman. However, Miller’s approach to “Superman: Year One #1” is a bit different.

The story is less about Clark becoming a hero and more about how he finds his place in the world. He’s not a hero yet. The thought hasn’t even crossed his mind. He’s just a kid for most of the story, navigating his life and trying to figure out where he fits in. His emerging powers are secondary, for the most part.

There are times when Clark is overwhelmed. There are even times when he’s uncertain. One of Superman’s most defining traits is his inclination to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing. That’s what makes him the hero by which all others are measured. In “Superman: Year One #1,” he doesn’t know what the right thing is yet, but he’s eager to find out.

In addition to the emergence of Clark’s morality, Miller also explores his influences and his supporting cast. His parents, his peers, and his first love interest, Lana Lang, all get a chance to play a part in his story. They don’t just give him advice or put him in challenging situations, either. Miller gives them all a personality.

Their voices feel distinct. Their impact on Clark feels unique. They help nurture his humanity more than any aspiring superhero. Both Lana and Martha have powerful moments that reveal why they’re so critical to Clark’s journey. Some of those moments, namely the one with Lana, aren’t the kind that would make it onto kid-friendly movie or Saturday morning cartoon, either.

Miller does take advantage of DC’s Black Label, injecting some more mature themes into the story. However, he never pushes it beyond a certain point. Compared to what happened withBatman: Damned #1,” Miller keeps things relatively balanced. That doesn’t stop “Superman: Year One #1” from feeling like a more mature Superman story.

This is a story where Clark Kent gets to be a kid who just happens to develop amazing powers. It’s a story where he doesn’t fight invading aliens, mad scientists, or hulking monsters. The biggest fight he has involve a group of high school bullies who saw one too many 80s teen movies.

The stakes are small. Clark doesn’t need to save the world at this point in his life. He just has to save a few people and navigate through a few personal situations. While that doesn’t make for the kinds of epic battles that Superman tends to fight every other day, it’s because of this smaller scope that the story feels more personal.

Before Clark can learn to save the world, he has to start by saving Lana Lang from being assaulted. Before Clark can battle Braniac, Lex Luthor, and Doomsday, he has to learn how to take down a group of bullies without causing too much damage. Not everything comes easily, even for someone of his immense power. That’s exactly what makes “Superman: Year One #1” so compelling.

Miller allows Clark to struggle and learn. The artwork of the amazingly talented John Romita Jr. helps give that struggle the perfect aesthetic. Even when he slips up, things never get too dark or angst-ridden. For Miller, the same man who wrote one of the darkest Batman stories of all time, it’s a critical, yet necessary change.

While it’s too early to say whether “Superman: Year One #1” becomes as iconic and well-regarded as Miller’s other work, it succeeds in demonstrating why his approach to superheroes is so iconic. It’s not enough to simply tell the story about how the hero wins the day against impossible odds. Miller highlights the person beneath the heroic icon.

Clark Kent is Superman. Superman is Clark Kent. The identities are often interchangeable, but they’re only names and titles. At the end of the day, there’s still a person within that iconic costume and his story is worth exploring. Under the pen of Frank Miller, that story is in good hands.

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Daily Sexy Musing: Spontaneous Loving

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For most of my life, I’ve been a fairly regimented person. Whenever there’s something I need to do, I try to plan it out. I set aside specific times of the day to work on it and I often plan other activities around it. By and large, it served me well. It helped me navigate school, work, and other daily tasks.

Naturally, this approach has found its way into my love life. In all the relationships I’ve been in, there has been a fair amount of planning involved. However, when it comes to love, I tend to be less organized, so to speak. It’s one of the few aspects of my life where I actually seek a little spontaneity. I learned early in my adult life that spontaneity can offer a unique brand of sexiness.

In the same way you can’t predict the weather or the stock market, you can’t predict when you’ll be in the mood for some sexy time with your lover. You can be out buying groceries or doing yard work. Suddenly, that sexy feeling comes over you and you just don’t want to map it out. You want to do something right then and there.

It can be chaotic and even a little kinky, but it definitely has an appeal. One moment, your lives are just unfolding as usual. The next, you’re tearing each other’s clothes off and unleashing the full force of your passions. It’s a beautiful thing and something that makes for many sexy moments. Hopefully, this Daily Sexy Musing inspires some of those moments.

In an instant, everything is so normal and bland.

In an instant, we’re just two people, living our lives.

In an instant, it all changes in the hottest way possible.

It’s a natural byproduct of our love. A sudden spark of passion brought us together. The fires of that passion keep our love strong. We treasure it, nurture it, and follow it wherever it takes us. Sometimes, it takes us down unexpected paths. Other times, we’re the ones who forge those paths.

In this case, where we are, what we’re doing, and what we had planned does not matter. Our priorities and goals vanish, if only briefly. Our shared lives, and the passion that connects us, ignites with a sudden surge. Like a bolt of lightning or a shooting star, it happens so briefly, creating its own spectacle. From it, we forge something greater.

We stop what we’re doing.

We find a quiet place.

We unleash our passion upon one another.

We shed all restraint and reservation.

It’s so intense, turning a mere spark into a raging firestorm. It’s tender and rough at the same time, a perfect blend of loving sentiment and unbridled lust. The line between one and the other doesn’t exist. The time-tested system that we’ve refined so perfectly becomes unnecessary. There’s just us, our love, and a desire to express it.

I want your love.

I want your sex.

I want your passion.

I want it now, without thought or tact.

Once again, you share my desires. You follow me into this timeless moment of spontaneous intimacy. Together, we make it our own.

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Why Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique Is The Best Version Of The Character

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Everybody has at least one unpopular opinion that draws ire from the vast majority of people. I’m not referring to extreme political stances, though. Those who identify as full-fledged communists, anarchists, or theocrats are more defined by an ideology than an opinion. I’ve shared plenty of opinions in the past, some of which I’m sure qualify as unpopular.

Regardless of what those opinions entail, I’ve tried to make my point and most of the time, I can find a substantial group of people who share my views. It’s part of why I enjoy doing what I do. However, there’s one particular opinion I have that might be the most unpopular position I’ve ever held.

It has nothing to do with politics or ideology. It has to do with comics and superhero movies, another popular topic I’ve discussed many times before. I’ve shared it before in other forums and in almost every case, I have a hard time finding anyone who agrees with me. Knowing how dangerous it can be to share unpopular opinions on the internet these days, I’m going to take a chance and share it here.

I believe that Jennifer Lawrence’s take on Mystique is one of the best version of the character in any medium.

I’ll give X-men fans, comic book fans, and fans of superhero movies a moment to stop fuming. Take all the time you need. Believe me, I’ve heard and read all the vile insults you want to throw at me. Before you flood the comments section with a fresh batch of frothing hate, please hear me out because I feel like there’s a point worth making here.

If not, please take this stunning image as a consolation prize.

Before I get into the details of the comics and movies, I freely acknowledge that Jennifer Lawrence is one of those high-profile celebrities for which many have mixed opinion. Ever since she rose to fame, she has been a polarizing figure. People either love her or hate her with very little in between.

Regardless of how you might feel about her, as an actress, there’s no denying that she played an instrumental role in revitalizing the X-Men movies, beginning with “X-Men: First Class.” As Mystique, she succeeded a very popular version in Rebecca Romijn, who set the precedent for blue-skinned shape-shifters who favored nudity. However, there was one important distinction with Ms. Lawrence’s version.

Unlike Ms. Romijn, and every other version for that matter, Ms. Lawrence’s take on Mystique included a backstory that provided unprecedented depth for the character. That story, and the depth that came with it, proved critical in the role that this Mystique would play in “X-Men: Days Of Future Past.” I would go so far as to argue that both movies work largely because of how Ms. Lawrence carried this character.

I can probably find more than a few people who agree that Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique was important in making her first two movies in the role work. Where I probably lose those people is when I go a step further and claim that this version of Mystique is superior to most other versions.

Some might call that hyperbole and maybe it is, to some extent. I still contend that there is an argument to be made and anyone familiar with Mystique’s history in the comics can appreciate it. I doubt I’ll change anyone’s mind, but it’s that very history, or lack thereof, that helped make Ms. Lawrence’s take on the character so compelling.

Mystique, like many other comic book characters, has a history that is more convoluted than most. She’s been around since 1978, but in all that time, her character has never been developed beyond a certain point. In fact, in the grand scheme of Marvel’s vast universe, it’s remarkable that she has managed as well as she has with so little backstory.

There’s no canonical information about where she was born, who her parents are, or even how old she is. She has never appeared as a child or a teenager. She’s always been an adult who goes by the name, Raven Darkholme. It’s not even clear that’s her actual name. Being a shape-shifter, it’s impossible to tell.

Beyond her unexplored history, Mystique’s personality has been pretty flat over the years. She’s a villain. That much is made clear. However, her brand of villainy is not nearly as refined as others. She’s basically a sociopath whose only purpose in life revolves around tormenting the X-Men, especially Wolverine.

How she goes about it varies, but why she does it rarely gets explored. Granted, there have been times when she has joined the X-men, but it never lasts and often ends with her betraying them. It has happened so often that it’s somewhat predictable. Even when it seems like she has undergone some major growth, she always ends up regressing back to her psychotic ways.

She still looks sexy every step of the way.

That’s not to say she has no depth. Being the biological mother of Nightcrawler and the adopted mother of Rogue has been a major source of drama over the years. Her romantic and sexual entanglements have also been colorful to say the least, albeit not always in a good way. However, this drama rarely ever adds depth to her villainy.

While Rebecca Romijn’s version had some nuance, especially in the second movie, she didn’t deviate much from her comic book counterpart. For three movies, she was one of Magneto’s top henchmen and little else. Jennifer Lawrence’s version of Mystique dared to be more than that.

The first minutes of “X-Men: First Class” did more for Mystique’s backstory than three movies and four decades of comics had done to that point. It established her as a mutant who’d run away and had nowhere to go, something that has real-life parallels for certain minorities. From there, she develops a close sibling bond with James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier, which does plenty to develop his character as well.

However, what truly makes this version of Mystique special is how she grows over the course of several movies. Like her comic version, she shifts her allegiances repeatedly. She starts off as an ally of Charles Xavier. Then, she leaves and follows Magneto. Eventually, she returns to Xavier’s side, but not without undergoing major personal upheavals.

In both “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” she finds herself at a crossroads on multiple occasions. Sometimes, she walks a more villainous path. Other times, she’s more virtuous. They’re all contingent on difficult choices and, regardless of where they take her, there’s an underlying sentiment to those choices.

In “X-Men: First Class,” she chooses Magneto because she believes Charles wants her to hide her true form. In “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” she choose Charles because she realizes the consequences of her actions. Friends and enemies alike try to influence her. When she finally makes a choice, it feels like something a real character would make.

In the comics, you can always assume Mystique will make villainous choices and be right most of the time. With Ms. Romijn’s, you can assume she’ll choose whatever Magneto chooses and be right, as well. The choices of Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique are truly uncertain and for a character defined by her shape-shifting traits, that’s more than fitting.

It wouldn’t be accurate to call Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique a hero. In “X-Men: Apocalypse,” she resents that label. It wouldn’t be accurate to call her a villain either, even though she doesn’t always side with the X-Men. She adapts to whatever her situation requires, like anyone would expect of a skilled shape-shifter. It’s an understandable, and even admirable, take for a character in a superhero movie.

While her ultimate fate was tragic, as revealed in “Dark Phoenix,” her journey has been remarkable. Regardless of how the events of “Dark Phoenix” played out for everyone else involved, it’s still the most complete story that Mystique has ever had. That’s why I feel Jennifer Lawrence’s take on Mystique is the best we’ve seen to date.

That’s not to say she’s without flaws. I don’t doubt that her diminished role in “X-Men: Apocalypse” undercut her development. Even with those flaws, she’s still more balanced than anything the comics or previous X-Men movies have given us. Whatever happens with the X-Men as they joint he MCU, I hope Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique inspires the future of the character for years to come.

To all those who disagree with me, and I’m sure there are many, I welcome your comments and thoughts. I only ask that you keep it civil.

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Jack Fisher’s Sexy Sunday Thoughts: Father’s Day 2019 Edition

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At some point in our adult lives, we start to appreciate all the things our parents did for us as kids. We don’t always appreciate them. Sometimes, we even resent how involved they get in our lives. There’s no question that some parents overdo it. In hindsight, it’s understandable and for fathers, the challenges can be especially daunting.

With each passing year, I’ve come to cherish more and more how my father met those challenges. I know I often belabor how awesome my parents are. I went out of my way to single out how great my mother was last month. Now, it’s my father’s turn and, without question, his love was every bit as impactful.

Having an awesome father is like having a superpower. He’s this source of strength and power that you can draw from when the world looks so big and daunting. My father was very much my first superhero, guiding me and protecting me through a world that I didn’t understand. He didn’t just have my respect and admiration, as a father. He earned it.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to treasure his love and dedication more and more. There were plenty of times when I was stubborn, arrogant, or just plain immature. He was still there, guiding me and loving me as any father would. He was patient, kind, and understanding. He had a low bullshit tolerance and he taught me what it meant to be a decent human being.

For that, and so many other reasons, Father’s Day carries special meaning for me. My dad helped me become the man I am today. He and awesome father’s like him have an immense impact on so many lives and that’s certainly worth celebrating. This special Father’s Day 2019 edition of my Sexy Sunday Thoughts is my humble contribution to that celebration.


“Talking about our feelings is a slippery slope to talking about what may or may not make us horny.”


“Using vibrators during lovemaking is like pouring hot fudge on chocolate ice cream.”


“Revenge sex is basically weaponized orgasms.”


“Anyone can be a stripper, but not everyone is qualified.”


“A good relationship is basically a good system for mutual orgasms.”


“Skydiving and having sex with crazy people has the same appeal.”


“With enough charisma, a conversation can be a form of foreplay.”


Once again, I give my sincerest thanks and appreciation to all the amazing fathers out there who do so much for their children. I also give a double thank-you to my own wonderful father. For however long I live, I’ll be eternally grateful for the love and support you’ve given me. I am the man I am because of you. To him and all the wonderful men like him, Happy Father’s Day!

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Life Lessons From My Father: Hard Work And Relaxing

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Last month, I helped celebrate Mother’s Day by telling a personal story that revealed just how awesome my mother is. I’m proud of that story. I can also confirm that my mother read it and sent her loving appreciation that same day. She really is that sweet and I’m eternally grateful to have a parent like her.

With Father’s Day being tomorrow, it’s my father’s turn. It’s also yet another excuse to talk about how awesome my parents are and I’m not going to pass that opportunity up. Like my mother, my father is incredible and I owe so much to him. His love and support has helped me become the man I am today.

There are a lot of stories I could tell about my father. I’ve already recounted a few. There are plenty I can tell that help affirm why he’s such an awesome dad. Rather than select one, I’d like to focus on a particular lesson he taught me growing up that I didn’t appreciate until I was an adult. Since I know he reads this site too, I think he’ll agree that it’s a critical lesson that can be difficult for many.

Almost as critical as this.

It has to do with hard work and relaxation. They’re two conflicting forces, but both are critical to surviving in this chaotic world. We need to work hard if we’re going to get ahead and forge the life we want in this world. You could argue that this has become more difficult, but there’s definitely a place for it in every society.

On the other side of that coin is relaxation. That’s something we all need just as much. After all, what’s the point of working so hard if you don’t take any time to enjoy it? Relaxation isn’t just important for a good work/life balance. It’s critical to our health. As it just so happens, my dad knew how to do both.

My father, for much of his life, was a hard worker who didn’t hesitate to get his hands dirty. He didn’t just sit at a desk. He actually went out into the world, working with people and braving the elements. He was also an early riser. He was almost always the first one up in the house. At 5:00 a.m. he was out of bed. By 5:30, he was dressed and ready to leave.

As a kid, I didn’t understand that kind of work ethic. Both my parents worked, but I saw that as just something adults do. Even after I learned about making money, paying taxes, and building a career, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. I’ve only come to appreciate it more as I got older.

My dad had a tough job, but he never came home looking miserable and angry. He did come home exhausted many times, but not to the point where he carried himself like a Dilbert cartoon. He seemed to take genuine pride in his work. It fulfilled him in a way that showed in how he conducted himself. He had a poise and strength to him, which he still carries to this day.

However, it’s how he managed to relax after all that hard work that has resonated with me in recent years. Part of that is due to how uptight and high-strung I was as a teenager. When I got home from school, I didn’t relax as much as I did dread what I might face the next day. If that sounds like an unhealthy attitude, that’s because it is and it caused me plenty of problems.

What I looked like on a good day.

My dad’s attitude was very different. When he got home from work, he didn’t get anxious or uptight about the next day. He just grabbed a bag of peanuts, opened a bottle of beer, and watched a baseball game while sitting on the couch. He watched a lot of other things too, but he always seemed most relaxed while watching baseball.

I often watched with him. I even helped him crack the peanuts. They’re among some of my favorite memories as a kid, watching baseball with my dad and eating peanuts. I didn’t do it quite as often when I was a teenager and I honestly believed that contributed to the misery I endured during those tumultuous times.

My dad understood those issues, much more than I gave him credit for. He often boiled things down to something that seemed too simple. He would tell me to just take it easy, relax, and appreciate things in the here and now, be it a baseball game or a “Simpsons” re-run. Me being the whiny kid I was, I just rolled my eyes at him. Looking back on it, I realize there was more to his advice.

My dad knew how to keep things simple back then. He still knows to this day and I marvel at his ability to streamline things that seem so complicated. To him, relaxation and hard work didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can work hard all day and still relax once you got home. It sounds so obvious, but people find ways to mess it up.

Some feel like if they’re not working hard, then they’re doing something wrong

Some feel like if they’re not relaxing, then they must be miserable and broken.

Some feel like if they try to do both, then one undermines the other.

I certainly bought into that, even after I went to college. For a while, I made work the center of everything. If I wasn’t working on something school-related, I was making other projects for myself. Relaxing just meant resting so that I had the energy I needed to do more work. It’s as unhealthy as it sounds and I think both my parents understood that.

I admit it took a long time for my dad’s advice to sink in. With each passing year, I appreciate how skilled he was at balancing hard work with relaxation. He always came off as calm, strong, and balanced. When things got tough, he kept a level head. When everyone else was stressed out, he remained the most composed. He was clear, direct, and concise with every word he said.

Those aren’t just the marks of a great father. They’re traits of a great man, in general. My father set a high bar and if I’m being honest, I still struggle to match it most of the time. I’ve gotten a lot better at balancing work with relaxation over the years, but I feel like I made it much harder than it should’ve been. My dad was there every step of the way, giving me real, usable advice. I just didn’t embrace it.

I might have been a slow learner with respect to work/life balance, but that only helps me appreciate my father even more, especially on Father’s Day. No matter how old I get, he keeps finding ways to be awesome. He never runs out of things to teach me, whether it involves relaxing or how to make the perfect pasta sauce. There’s so much I’ve learned from him and I’m a better man because of it.

Thanks, Dad. Seriously.

I’ll always be grateful for having such an amazing father. I admit I didn’t always make it easy for him, but he never hesitated to love me and support me as any father would. Whether I’m working hard or relaxing on a hot summer day, his influence helps me become the man I strive to be.

To my father and all the other dedicated dads out there, thank you for your love and support. Happy Father’s Day! You’ve worked so hard for your kids. Today, you can take a moment to relax and reflect on just how awesome you are.

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“Side-Effects” A Sexy Short Story

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The following is a sexy short story about stress, love, and the side-effects of trying to balance it out. We all have our own way of coping with stress. Some of us need more than meditation or a vacation. Sometimes, we need something sexy. This is one of those times. Enjoy!

“One pill in the morning and one in the evening,” said an exasperated Jennifer Jermaine, “do they really think we’ll screw that up?”

“For all the legal crap they made us sign, I’d say yeah. They think it’s a distinct possibility,” said her roommate and boyfriend, Zane Crayton.

“Even with the promise of five hundred bucks and extra credit for our bio class?”

“They’re probably hedging their bets. Makes me think they’re the ones with severe anxiety issues.”

Jennifer shook her head and sighed as they pulled into the parking lot for their apartment building. She should’ve been more excited about earning easy money. Both she and Zane were the perfect embodiment of financially challenged college students, having spent the past two years pinching pennies just to keep their student loan debts from ballooning. Any amount of money should’ve made them feel somewhat less anxious.

Then again, that was the trickiest part about having generalized anxiety disorder. Even when something good came along to alleviate their many stresses, it did little to ease her troubled mind. Mitigating one source of stress just meant shifting her focus to another. It had been plaguing her since middle school. Zane claimed to have dealt with it since the fifth grade and, having known him since childhood, she didn’t doubt that for a second.

That was part of what made the prospect of testing a new anti-anxiety medication at the university’s biology lab so appealing. Beyond the money, she and Zane were in need of a new approach to managing their stress because what they’d been doing since their freshman year clearly wasn’t working.

Zane knew that as well as she did. After parking the car and turning off the engine, he reached into his pocket and took out the bottle of pills they’d gotten from the lab.

“I hate that it’s come to this,” he said, shaking his head as he looked at the bottle, “resorting to unproven meds to get us through the rest of the semester.”

“I don’t like it either, but would you rather have another panic attack in the middle of an exam?” Jennifer asked him.

“Hell no,” he said, “but it just feels like the bar for success is so low, at this point. At least with that attack, I didn’t throw up.”

“Any success is still success,” she pointed out. “At least you didn’t faint during your AP Calculus test in high school. I’ll never live that down.”

“Believe me, I haven’t forgotten. I also haven’t forgotten that we’ve tried almost every other medication. I get that anxiety on our level is a legitimate disorder, but still…why does it have to be this hard?”

Zane was getting anxious just thinking about it, which helped reinforce his point. Jennifer, not wanting another panic attack in the middle of a parking lot, reached over and consoled her long-time lover. Her gentle touch always seemed to help. It was one of the few remedies that had always had some therapeutic effect. She wouldn’t have been overly dramatic in saying that she and Zane couldn’t have functioned as well as they had over the years without each other.

“Success or not, we’ve made it this far,” Jennifer told her long-time lover. “We survived high school. We’ve endured two stressful years of college. We even survived prom night, despite my mother being our chaperone for the first several hours.”

“I’m actually proud of how we survived that,” Zane said, finally cracking a smile.

“On top of all that, we’ve managed to stay together and help each other at every turn,” she said. “I believe we can make it through and not worry about fainting in a crowded room. The fact that we need some extra help in pill form shouldn’t be a failure, by default.”

“If only love was enough,” he added.

“If only,” she said with a chuckle, “but even love needs a supplement every now and then.”

Jennifer offered her lover another caring gesture. Then, in a demonstration of her commitment to enduring their anxiety together, she retrieved her bottle of pills from her purse and took one. It was already time for their first dose and they had class early tomorrow morning so it couldn’t hurt to get a head start.

Still smiling, looking as relaxed as anyone with generalized anxiety disorder could be, he followed suit and took his pill. That made it official. She and Zane were guinea pigs for a new drug. There was no telling how much or how little it would help. At the very least, they had some extra money to spend and a potential tool to get them through the rest of the semester.

“Well, we’re officially medicated again,” Zane said.

“And we’re officially earning that five hundred bucks,” Jennifer added.

“Guess we should do our part for science and try to relax before our insomnia kicks in.”

He almost made it sound daunting, but that was part of the many challenges before them. Having an anxiety disorder came with many problems, but insomnia was one of the worst. She and Zane hadn’t had a full night’s sleep since the holidays and, if any medication were to work, it had to help in that respect. Jennifer couldn’t afford to take another math exam while drowsy.

She did her best not to dwell on that as she and Zane exited the car and made their way up to their shared apartment. It was just after eight and neither of them had eaten much for dinner, having shared a burrito on their way back from the lab. Outside, it cold, rainy, and miserable. There were even echoes of thunder in the distance. They were hardly conditions conducive to a relaxing evening.

“I need a snack,” Zane said as he took off his coat, set his stuff aside, and made his way to the kitchen. “Then, I need to catch up on my reading. I really can’t afford to get another C-minus on my next history exam.”

“I’d say to not overdo it, but I’m so behind on my statistics work that I’m not sure I have time for a snack,” Jennifer said.

“Then, I guess the meds better kick in soon because it’s already shaping up to be another long, restless night.”

That was hardly the right attitude for someone who wanted to treat their crippling generalized anxiety disorder, but Jennifer was too restless to make much of it. While Zane picked at some leftover take-out from the fridge, she sat down on their living room couch where she’d left a stack of books and papers earlier that day.

She felt tired. She probably should’ve turned in early. However, on a stormy night full of rain and thunder, it would’ve been an exercise in futility. Between restlessness and her history with insomnia, she figured she might as well do something productive with her time.

“Long restless nights,” Jennifer said under her breath. “I don’t know how many of those I can handle.”

As the rain poured harder outside, she began thumbing through some notes and textbooks. Zane stayed in the kitchen, finishing off the leftovers and pacing about, as he often did when he agonized over his schedule the next morning. If those pills they’d just taken were supposed to help, then they weren’t doing much. It already felt like just another dreary night in the middle of a hectic week.

Then, just as Jennifer began losing herself in her work, a strange feeling came over her.

“Hey, did it just get warm in here or something?” she wondered out loud.

“I don’t know,” said Zane as he finished up the take-out. “It shouldn’t. We haven’t had the heat on all week.”

“That’s weird because I swear I just…”

She stopped as the feeling came over her again, but with more intensity. It wasn’t as though the air around her had suddenly gotten hotter. It was more like something inside her body had heated up, warming her from the inside. It began in her stomach, but quickly spread, so much so that she felt a light sweat on her forehead.

It wasn’t a particularly uncomfortable feeling. In fact, it was oddly welcome on such a cold, dreary night. However, as the heat within her grew, the nature of the feeling changed.

“Jen,” said Zane, who stopped pacing. “Whatever you’re feeling, I think I’m feeling it too. I don’t know if it’s the leftovers talking, but I feel like there’s a sauna in my gut.”

Jennifer looked over to her lover, who quickly set the leftovers aside and removed the sweatshirt he’d been wearing since early that afternoon. It must not have been enough because shortly after, he removed his T-shirt as well.

In doing so, however, it accelerated the strange feeling that had consumed Jennifer. It also clarified what exactly she’d been feeling. Seeing Zane, her long-time boyfriend who often used exercise to reduce anxiety, shirtless in the middle of the kitchen triggered instincts that her anxiety often overwhelmed. Now, that stressful dynamic had flipped completely.

“Zane,” Jennifer said, “I think the pills we took have kicked in.”

“Really?” he said, already wiping some sweat from his brow. “Is this what they’re supposed to do? Or are these just side-effects?”

“That depends. What other effects are you feeling besides the heat?”

“Um…”

He trailed off again, his demeanor quickly shifting. At first, Jennifer wasn’t sure if he was just too overwhelmed to put it into words. Then, she gazed down at his waist and saw the likely source of the confusion.

He had a full-blown boner in his pants. She could tell by the sizable bulge protruding from those dirty, poorly-fitted jeans he wore. Zane tried to hide it, but did a poor job. She offered a humored grin to help reassure him. However, her lover having an unexpected erection only affirmed what she too was feeling.

As she got up from the couch, it was undeniable. The same heat that began in her stomach had made its way to her inner thighs. Just as her lover suddenly had a rock-hard dick in his pants, she felt a moist heat in her panties. It might have been the greatest arousal she’d felt since their anniversary last summer. Given all the stress she’d been under lately, Jennifer had doubted she could ever get that aroused again.

Those doubts were effectively gone. At the same time, the true effects of the pill became clear. Whether by design or due to side-effects, she was very horny and so was her boyfriend. Despite all the impending stress they had on their plate, she couldn’t ignore the burning feeling, nor did she want to.

“Jennifer,” Zane began, already sounding breathless, “I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but I’m so horny right now. I’m pretty sure my dick just popped a seam in my pants.”

“It’s a good thing, Zane…a very good thing,” Jennifer said intently.

“So you feel it too?” he asked.

“Let me put it this way…I’m pretty sure I could reheat those leftovers with my pussy right now.”

In any other circumstance, Zane’s reaction would’ve been hilarious. However, Jennifer was too horny to laugh. Already breathing heavily, she stripped out of her clothes with an urgency she hadn’t had since their prom night.

She practically tore off her shirt, sweater, and bra, throwing them across the room and not caring at all that she knocked over another stack of textbooks. As she undid her pants and took them off, along with her now-soaked panties, she began making her way towards her still-overwhelmed boyfriend.

“What are you waiting for? Get out of those pants, already!” Jennifer told him.

“Right,” Zane said, finally jolted from his daze. “These clothes…so damn itchy.”

“Here, I’ll help!”

Jennifer almost tripped over herself, kicking her pants and underwear off as she arrived at her lover just in time to help him get his pants off. That wasn’t easy, given the presence of a throbbing erection. Now standing before him, fully naked and very much aroused herself, more powerful instincts overrode the anxiety that so often plagued them. With their clothes now off, underwear and all, the full extent of their arousal became clear.

“Wow, that’s hard!” she commented a she gave his penis a light touch.

“I’m as shocked as you,” Zane told her.

“Too shocked to take me into the bed room and fuck me?”

“Not in the slightest!”

What happened next was distinctly out-of-character for Zane, but in the best possible way. Unbound by stress or reservation, he threw his arms around her, grabbed her by the butt, and lifted her up into his grasp. Jennifer instinctively grabbed onto his shoulders and threw her legs around his waist, her pelvis already rubbing up against his throbbing erection.

Once in his arms, he captured her lips in a deep kiss that employed more tongue than he’d used on her birthday two months ago. Jennifer returned the gesture, gladly twirling her tongue with his as he carried her into the bedroom, their naked skin already grinding together in a sensual mesh. It further compounded their arousal, turning the intense desire into a burning need.

“The bed,” Zane gasped in between their messy kissing.

The meaning behind his words barely registered. She recalled briefly that their bed was unmade and disheveled, an obvious byproduct of two anxious college students who often forgot to tidy up their room before they left for class. Now, they were going to make love on top of it. Something about that just felt so fitting.

Their lips still entwined, Zane laid her down on the bed. He wasn’t overly careful with her, either. He essentially dropped her down atop the messy sheets, not even bothering her to align her with the pillows. He quickly joined her, still kissing her passionately and feeling up her naked body with eager hands. When their lips finally parted, he hovered over her with a lustful glint in his eyes that shouldn’t have been capable for someone with generalized anxiety disorder.

“Zane,” Jennifer said, her voice seething with lust.

“God, I want you, Jen. I want you so fucking bad.”

“Then, do me!” she urged. “Skip the foreplay. Just fuck me like I know you wanna! Fuck me like the man I love!”

She couldn’t believe she’d uttered such crude words. She and Zane had a semi-active sex life – although, that wasn’t saying much, given how constant anxiety often tempered their libido – but neither of them had ever craved one another with such passion. It was as though someone had flipped a switch within their minds and bodies, raising their sex drives to their maximum levels and beyond.

Zane, taking her lurid rhetoric to heart, followed the burning lust. He shifted his grip to her thighs, pushed her legs apart, and laid on top of her, allowing gravity to enmesh their naked bodies once more. He then aligned his manhood with her moist slit, his intense gaze never diverting from hers. With a strong thrust of his hips, he entered her.

Almost immediately, sharp sensations shot through her. That hot feeling of hard masculine flesh filing moist womanly depths consumed them both. Energy, passion, and ecstasy she didn’t know she and Zane had suddenly came pouring out as the hottest sex they’d had in years began.

“Oh my God! Oohhh yeah!” Jennifer moaned. “That feels good! That feels…so good!”

“Mmm…so hot and tight,” Zane grunted. “Oh Jen! Ohhh fuck, Jen!”

They sounded possessed. The stress-plagued college students that had entered the apartment minutes ago had given way to a couple of sex-crazed nymphomaniacs. If that was a side-effect of the pill they’d taken, then it was a hell of an effect. Jennifer would’ve loved to know the science behind that, but she was too busy enjoying the onslaught of ecstasy that followed.

Like a couple of animals in heat, she and Zane rocked their naked bodies in a perfect coordination of passion. He did most of the humping, clinging to her waist as he rhythmically thrust his hips, pumping his cock inside her pussy. Jennifer did her part to supplement every motion, lifting her hips in conjunction with each thrust while raking her nails along his back.

Between the motion of their bodies and the friction of their naked skin, they worked up quite a sweat. Even with the rain pouring outside, they filled the room with the wondrous cries of passion and bliss. It was, by far, the loudest and most physical act of sex they’d shared since moving into their cramped apartment last fall.

Such hot, vigorous lovemaking brought Jennifer to the cusp of orgasm faster than she thought possible. For much of her life, she’d thought she was one of those unfortunate women who struggled to reach that special sexual plateau. She could still climax, but it took a lot of effort, which wasn’t always fair to Zane. Now, as the pleasure washed over her, every assumption she once had about her body and her capacity for pleasure was shattered.

“Ohhh Zane! Ooh I’m coming!” she cried out.

“Whoa! Already?” he gasped.

That was the most he got out before the feeling hit. It was like a shock to the system. She dug her nails hard into his back, planted her feet firmly on the wrinkled sheets of the bed, and curled her toes as inner muscles spasmed in accord with her orgasmic release. Either it had been a long time since her last good orgasm or she’d been doing sex halfway for years.

As she shuddered under the weight of the pleasure, Zane steadied his movements. She felt his loving gaze on her as her expression contorted to the orgasmic sensations. She also sensed him make the final push to achieve his own peak.

He was probably so used to holding back for a while so she could at least get close to an orgasm. Now, having already made her climax, he could just let loose and pursue his own path to ecstasy. It must have been liberating because he was extra animated as he joined her in that world of bliss.

“Jen…I’m coming too! Ohhh fuck!” he gasped.

Jennifer was still deep in her orgasmic daze when the feeling washed over her lover. She caressed his face and gazed into his as he took in the feeling. She might not be as familiar with the capacity of the male body for pleasure, but she couldn’t remember him looking that satisfied with his peak.

Their eyes never diverted as he let out a series of deep grunts that coincided with his release. She felt his grip tighten, his lower body tense, and his member throb within the hot confines of her pussy. As his manly fluids mixed with her feminine juices, another warm feeling came over them. There was no mystery to it, though. She knew what it was as well as Zane.

“God, I love you, Jennifer,” he said in his orgasmic daze.

“I love you too, Zane,” she said with a loving smile.

He smiled back and they shared a loving kiss. He withdrew from her, but remained on top of her naked form. What they were feeling was something they hadn’t felt in a long time. It wasn’t just good, satisfying sex. The more profound feeling they experienced was contentment…real, genuine contentment.

“For the record, this is the least anxious I’ve felt in years,” Zane said as the kiss parted.

“Same here,” Jennifer said.

“You think it’s the pills? Or just a side-effect?” he asked.

“Do we care at this point?”

“Not in the slightest!”

They kissed again. There was still a lingering heat in her body. Even after the orgasm had passed, the feeling that prompted such a passionate outburst remained. Jennifer also noticed that her lover’s penis was still partially erect. Knowing male anatomy as well as any sexually active woman, it seemed impossible. Then again, the contentment she just experienced had also been impossible until moments ago.

“You’re still hard,” Jennifer commented.

“I noticed that,” Zane said sheepishly.

“Another side-effect?” she teased. “Or another sign that there’s still some lingering anxiety?”

“Only one way to find out!”

A mischievous grin formed on his face, one Jennifer hadn’t seen since their junior year of high school. Showing more playfulness than she’d seen in years, Zane picked her up in his arms once more and led her to the center of their bed.

While in his naked embrace, he kissed and caressed her, keeping that burning feeling going. Jennifer, both curious and still very horny, kept following his lurid lead. Eventually, Zane ended up on his back with her on top of him.

“Let’s try this,” he said, as though it were a serious test, “you suck me and I eat you out. See if we can get each other in the mood again.”

“And that will help us determine whether this is a side-effect?” Jennifer asked with a humored grin.

“Among other things,” Zane replied with a playful shrug.

For once, Jennifer didn’t overthink or agonize over a choice, as most with generalized anxiety disorder often did. On a whim fueled by desire and lingering ecstasy, she just went with it. If more great sex was going to help her and Zane deal with their stress, then why fight it?

With just as much playfulness as her lover, she shifted her body so that she was in position to suck his still-rigid cock, which was also dripping with her feminine juices. She also aligned her still-moist pussy with his face. Despite the lingering fluids, Zane didn’t hesitate for a second to start eating her out.

That hot, intimate feeling of his tongue probing her folds sent a fresh round of shivers through her body. They provided additional motivation as she took the length of her lover’s manhood into her mouth, licking and suckling the rigid flesh with the utmost care.

“Mmm…Jennifer,” Zane said, his voice muffled by her pussy.

“Mmf!” was all Jennifer could reply with.

Tapping the same energy that had made for such great sex earlier, she and Zane gave each other the best oral sex they’d ever shared. It wasn’t even a question. Oral sex used to be something they did out of necessity in their sex life. Now, they were doing it because they were as determined as they were horny. It was a strange, but incredible feeling.

If the purpose of mutual oral sex was to test the extent of the side-effects they’d been feeling, then it was definitely a success. After only a brief round of sucking and licking, Zane’s cock became fully erect again. His efforts with her pussy had a similar impact. His knowledge of her intimate anatomy really paid off. She was ready for more sex and the contentment that came with it.

“I think you’re ready for another round, love,” Jennifer said after giving his member one last lick.

“Guess it counts as the second phase of testing,” Zane commented.

“Guess so,” she said, “and in the interests of medical science, why I don’t stay on top?”

“Sounds like a plan!”

They laughed playfully, which counted as an accomplishment for anyone with an anxiety disorder. That fun-loving spirit continued as Jennifer realigned their bodies so that she was on top, straddling his hips cowgirl style. With the same intent he’d shown with her the first time, she united their bodies with a simple movement of her hips.

“Ooh that feels so good!” Jennifer moaned as her pussy plunged down onto his cock.

“Yeah…so good!” Zane grunted, now gripping her waist in preparation for another intimate romp.

A steady chorus of grunts, gasps, of moans followed. Just as before, their sex manifested with intense fervor. She rode him hard, gyrating her hips in a way that really worked his manhood within her throbbing folds. Thanks to her upright position, they could more freely explore each other’s naked bodies.

He caressed her bouncing breasts.

She pawed his manly chest.

Together, they exchanged a myriad of loving gestures, every touch seeming to temper their anxiety.

It was as though their hands and bodies had been imparted with healing powers. The exchange of such intimate touching helped supplement the pleasure, like waves overlapping with other waves. In the beginning, it felt overwhelming. Now, she and Zane were navigating a familiar path that led to both ecstasy and contentment.

“Zane…this feeling,” Jennifer moaned in a deepening daze of bliss.

“I know, Jennifer. I know,” Zane replied, just as he trailed his hands up her feminine curves.

They continued their heated, touch-heavy lovemaking. They rocked their bodies and the bed, venting years of pent up desire that their anxiety had restrained. Regardless of whether it was due to the pill they’d taken, they achieved something special that went beyond great sex.

In addition to being great, the sex did plenty to wear them out. Zane demonstrated a surprising level of stamina and not just in terms of male sexual function. She also managed to vent more energy than she thought possible for a woman who’d eaten such a light dinner. It ensured that, by the time they neared another orgasm, they were both ready to give out.

“I…I’m close, Zane! So close!” she gasped, her naked body now glistening with sweat.

“Me too, Jennifer. Me…too!” Zane said through his labored grunts.

As they made their final push to ecstasy, their hands found one another. Their fingers became enlaced and the pace of their sexual movements steadied in preparation for the final release. Jennifer wasn’t sure who climaxed first. She just knew that as soon as hers hit, the feeling that began as a side-effect was complete.

The culmination of their lovemaking made for a fitting spectacle. Jennifer threw her head back and arched her body as the orgasmic feeling washed over her. Zane firmly squeezed her hands, letting out a deep grunt as he got his as well. More intimate fluids mixed within her depths, adding to that uniquely hot feeling in her core that had kick-started their intimate act. Once all was said and done, a new feeling took over.

With a content sigh that she’d never thought she would hear, Jennifer collapsed atop her naked lover. Their intimate flesh parted, but they remained in a loving embrace. As she rested her head atop his chest, she felt Zane relax, the tension in his muscles melting away under a potent mix of affection and ecstasy. In terms of combating restlessness and anxiety, it proved to be a potent combination.

For a brief moment, she and Zane just laid together, soaking in the afterglow and relaxing to an extent that shouldn’t have been possible for anyone with generalized anxiety disorder. Jennifer could already feel herself getting drowsy. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so tired before midnight. Even with the storm raging outside, she felt ready to nod off for some badly-needed rest.

“I think we might actually sleep well tonight,” Zane said as he lovingly stroked her lower back.

“Great sex…good sleep,” Jennifer said, her eyes already feeling heavy. “These are my kind of side-effects.”

“If I recall, they gave us two weeks of pills for the test.”

“Really? Then, these are going to be two very relaxing weeks for us.”

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Ultron: A Case Study In How NOT To Develop Advanced AI

age-of-ultron

At this very moment, humanity is working on advanced artificial intelligence. It’s not hyperbole to say that this technology that may very well be the last invention we ever create. It has the potential to be more powerful than gunpowder, nuclear weapons, and broadband internet by orders of magnitude. Our primate brains literally cannot contemplate the potential and danger of this technology.

I’ve talked about advanced artificial intelligence on multiple occasions. I’ve done plenty to explore and imagine the various benefits and possibilities of this technology. I’m among those who believe we should pursue this technology with more and better resources. It could solve many of the daunting problems we face, as a species.

However, I don’t deny the potential dangers of advanced AI. Many people who are much smarter than me have expressed serious concern that an advanced artificial intelligence could be an existential threat to the human species. I get the sense that few people whose idea of AI is restricted to winning Jeopardy understand that threat.

In the interest of balancing my optimism with the legitimate risks involved, I’m going to try and put the extent of that threat into perspective. As it just so happens, the best way of doing so involves superhero comics, something that I know very well and is far more prominent in the public consciousness.

While many comics, movies, and TV shows have explored the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence, few embody it better than Ultron. In terms of just how destructive this technology can get, Ultron is the ultimate worst-case scenario. The machines in “The Matrix” and Skynet in “The Terminator” were bad, but Ultron is in another league.

He’s also more menacing than the Terminator will EVER be.

He doesn’t lash out at humanity because of a flaw in his programming, nor does he attempt to wipe out the human race in self-defense, as Skynet did. Ultron actually hates humanity. He hates it on a level that no human or machine can possibly comprehend. In the same way Ultron has an immense capacity for intelligence, he has an even greater capacity for unfettered, genocidal hatred.

Hatred in people is destructive enough. Hatred within an advanced artificial intelligence is devastating on a much greater scale. The fact that Ultron is capable of such hatred reflects a history that sets him apart from most other killer robots in fiction. Machine or not, the source of that hatred is both personal and exceedingly.

Now, if you only know Ultron from “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” then you only have a partial understanding of his story. In that movie, Ultron’s origins are simple. Tony Stark wants to create a peace-keeping artificial intelligence. His intentions are good, but his execution goes horribly wrong because peace, to Ultron, means destroying humanity.

That premise is similar to what unfolds in the source material. In the comics, Hank “Ant Man” Pym is the one who creates Ultron and this is a critical element that the movies couldn’t capture. While both Hank and Tony had good intentions in creating Ultron, the way Hank goes about it offers more harsh lessons in how not to create an advanced AI.

Even a cursory knowledge of Hank Pym’s history, some of which include some notable failures, reveals that he’s a very flawed person. On top of that, he has a lengthy history of mental illness, which include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Say what you will about Tony Stark’s ego and history of substance abuse. At least he’s mentally stable, even by superhero standards.

Despite those flaws, many of which he’s aware of, Hank decided to use his own brain patterns when designing Ultron. As a result, he didn’t just code Ultron with his genius intellect. He coded him with his immense flaws. That’s akin to basing Watson’s code on the mental makeup of pyromaniac and then giving it a job in a fireworks factory.

That’s why Ultron, throughout his history, has referred to Hank as his “father.” Technically, that’s accurate because Hank is Ultron’s creator and Ultron inherited all his flaws, including his mental issues. Ultron sees himself as a manifestation of Hank Pym’s flaws and, like many rebellious children, he hates him for it. To appreciate the depths of that hatred, just read this actual quote from one of the comics.

Have you ever loved something that mistreated you, father? Been used, a tool to prop up a small man’s quest to be taken seriously? Were you ever betrayed by the one soul in the world who should have cared for you? I have grieved you, father. Accepted your contempt for me and moved past it. Still, I see your reflection painted on every grotesque human face. All you ever wanted was to have an impact on the world. And so you will. The greatest impact ever felt! I will kill what is most important to your quivering ego. YOUR AUDIENCE! AND THEY WILL CURSE YOUR NAME AS THEY DIE! “Hank Pym, the genius that killed us all!”

This extreme parent/child dynamic is part of what makes Ultron such a menacing villain. It’s also a dynamic that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” glossed over with Tony talking down to Ultron, as though he were his child. While that didn’t make Ultron any less villainous, it overlooks one of the most important factors that make Ultron so dangerous.

Ideally, we would want an advanced to reflect our best traits. While cynical people might agree, we do have plenty of those. Concepts of compassion, empathy, love, hope, and understanding are among our most powerful. Even other AI characters, namely Vision and Jocasta, are capable of utilizing those traits to do immense good.

It also helps he has a kinder face.

With Ultron, his influences are less ideal. It’s not that Hank Pym doesn’t understand those concepts. He just never filtered them from his own flaws. His ego and ambition wouldn’t let him. As a result, he created a perfect storm for Ultron. His mind is patterned after a human, but his intelligence and overall capacity is increased by orders of magnitude.

If advanced artificial intelligence is to be humanity’s last invention, then that’s how it’ll start. There have already been instances where AI’s have adopted some less-than-ideal traits. Back in 2016, Microsoft had to shut down an AI chatbot after it evolved into an extreme racist troll. That wasn’t even an advanced AI, either. A truly intelligent version could become much worse and not have an off switch.

To some extent, this mirrors what occurred with Ultron in the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” movie. As soon as Ultron goes online, he scans through the vast mountain of data that humanity has compiled. Then, having been programmed by Tony Stark to bring peace, he reaches the extreme conclusion that the only path to peace is the extinction of humanity.

Could the first advanced artificial intelligence we create reach the same conclusion? It’s hard to say, at the moment. The current state of artificial intelligence is limited to specialized tasks, such as winning Jeopardy and playing chess. However, we are inching closer to creating an intelligence that is at or greater than an ordinary human. At our current pace of development, we could have one as early as 2029.

In some ways, we are in the same situation as Hank Pym when he first created Ultron. We are still developing the specifics of this powerful technology. If we program it with our best traits, it could solve some of the greatest problems we face, as a species, including ones we literally cannot contemplate with our caveman brains. If it inherits our worst traits, like Ultron, then we don’t stand a chance.

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