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

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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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A Fitting Endpoint: My (Spoiler-Free) Review For “Avengers Endgame”

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Starting an epic journey is a daunting challenge. Keeping people engrossed in that journey for over a decade is exceedingly difficult. Ending that journey in a way that’s dramatic, appropriate, and satisfying is damn near impossible. Despite those insane stakes, that’s the primary goal of “Avengers Endgame.” It attempts to cap off the story that began in 2008 with “Iron Man.”

Without spoiling the many dramatic details of this three-hour cinematic experience, I can safely confirm that it did. “Avengers Endgame” achieved that seemingly impossible goal of completing a decade-spanning story that included 22 movies, a cast of top-notch actors, and one talking raccoon. It’s one of those feats that shouldn’t be possible, even with Disney’s deep pockets, but Marvel Studios pulled it off.

It isn’t hyperbole to say that “Avengers Endgame” is a historic cinematic achievement that fundamentally changes the standards for just how bold a movie can be. All the praise from fans and critics alike that this movie has garnered is well-earned, but still doesn’t do justice to what this movie achieved.

It’s not just another step in the ever-expanding saga that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This movie does not set the stage for another sequel or lay the groundwork for the next big battle between the Avengers and the next Thanos-level threat. The movie is true, polished ending that manages to beautifully encapsulate the scope and scale of the story it told.

As a life-long comic book fan and a fan of superhero media, going back to the days of Saturday morning cartoons, this movie was both satisfying and impactful. I came out of the theater with my heart still racing and my mind still reeling from what I just witnessed. Part of me was sad. Part of me was elated. In all, though, I felt like I’d completed a journey alongside these beloved characters.

Even if you’re not a fan of comics and only know these characters through the movies, “Avengers Endgame” still succeeds in terms of raw storytelling. Years of world-building and character development really come to ahead in this movie. The shared journeys of characters like Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Bruce Banner provide plenty of dramatic weight to everything that happens.

Make no mistake, though. A lot happens. This movie will test your bladder almost as much as it tests your heart. There are so many characters to juggle and many of them have their own arcs. Tony, Steve, Thor, and Hawkeye are all in wildly different places throughout the story, literally and figuratively. Coming together again in a cohesive plot takes time and effort, something the Russo brothers do not shy away from.

As a result, “Avengers Endgame” is very different structurally from “Avengers Infinity War.” Whereas “Avengers Infinity War” played out like unfolding battle with Thanos leading the charge, “Avengers Endgame” is very much a reaction to the aftermath of that battle. To say it left some traumatic scars would be the understatement of all understatements.

There’s no getting around it. Thanos won and the Avengers failed. Before anyone can even contemplate undoing the damage, these characters have to adjust to a world that has been decimated on an unimaginable scale. Processing, exploring, and reacting to that decimation is a big part of what makes that final showdown sufficiently epic.

That means are sizable parts of this movie that don’t involve Hulk smashing things, Captain America fighting Hydra agents, or Iron Man blowing stuff up. “Avengers Endgame” puts much more time and energy into character moments and interpersonal drama, which were fewer and less developed in “Avengers Infinity War.” However, none of this time ever feels wasted or drawn out.

It helps make that final showdown all the more meaningful. It’ll get you to cheer, gasp, cry, and cringe every step of the way. I can even attest that there are moments in this movie that got the people in the theater out of their seats and cheering. In all my experience with superhero movies, I can’t remember the last time a movie got people that emotional.

There’s a lot I can say about how “Avengers Endgame” succeeds in making the emotional investment of the past 22 movies pay off. I don’t think I need to belabor how important this component was in making this movie work in a satisfying, climactic manner. While the movie succeeds in this critical aspect, there are other noteworthy details.

In terms of pure entertainment value, it is not as great as “Avengers Infinity War.” I would even argue the first “Avengers” movie had more spectacle and was more cohesive, overall. There were times when “Avengers Endgame” felt somewhat chaotic, due to all the character arcs it had to balance. While it managed to juggle them all effectively, there’s only so much that can be done to keep that narrative concise.

It’s also worth noting that some character narratives were managed better than others. I won’t cite specific characters for spoiler reasons, but they fairly obvious within the first hour of the movie. I’m sure fans of certain characters will be conflicted by how things play out, but I doubt those same fans will be too disappointed.

Fans of the distinct humor that often shows up in Marvel Studios productions will also have plenty to laugh at. Granted, the bleak circumstances of the movie make that tricky, but moments are there and they never feel too forced. They’re not quite as numerous as they are in other MCU movies, but given the various plots of the story, I’d say there’s just enough to balance the overall tone.

There are some other flaws within this movie, but the extent of those flaws is never more than minor. It would require an extreme level of pettiness and nit-picking to use those flaws to undercut the movie. “Avengers Endgame” is not perfect, nor does it try to be. Its primary goal is to end this era of the MCU and it does so beautifully.

The ending will leave many with tears in their eyes, both from joy and sorrow. There’s equal amounts of tragedy and triumph. Certain characters get a happy ending. Others must deal with loss and tragedy. Overall, it’s a perfect blend of satisfying conclusion and bittersweet finality. It reinforces the notion that these characters are true heroes.

For a movie that begins under such bleak circumstances, the ultimate conclusion really solidifies “Avengers Endgame” as an incredible cinematic experience. If I had to score the movie, I would give it a 9 out of 10. It hits all the right dramatic notes, evokes all the right emotions, and succeeds on a level that few could’ve imagined 11 years ago.

Like Captain America himself, this movie was willing to do whatever it takes to complete this superhero saga for the ages. Moving forward, it’s hard to say what will come of the MCU, especially in wake of the Disney/Fox merger, but it’s safe to say that “Avengers Endgame” has set a bold new standard for just how great a superhero movie can be.

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Reflecting On The Balanced (But Bland) Romance In “Ant Man And The Wasp”

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Whenever I go into a Marvel movie these days, I often wonder whether this will be the movie that finally derails the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s unprecedented winning streak. Whenever I to go to see any other kind of superhero movie, I just wonder whether or not it’ll fail miserably. For some, the extent of that failure can be pretty egregious.

It says something about the brand that Kevin Feige and Disney have created when the quality of a movie is assumed by the audience. Ever since the first “Iron Man,” the MCU has found ways to raise the bar, match it, raise it again, and make billions in the process. The brand is so strong that it can turn obscure comics involving talking raccoons into a global phenomenon.

It’s for that reason I wasn’t at all surprised when Feige and our Disney overlords turned “Ant Man” into another successful franchise. Granted, he’s not nearly on the same level as Iron Man or Captain America, but he doesn’t have to be. The fact his first movie made over $500 million is proof that even obscure characters can play a part in the MCU’s winning streak.

For the most part, I thought “Ant Man” was a decent movie. It was fun, but not on the same level as “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Thor: Ragnarok.” However, what really got me excited for the inevitable sequel was the promise of a more meaningful romantic sub-plot between Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne.

When I heard that the title of the sequel was “Ant Man and the Wasp,” I grew even more hopeful. The first movie did a lot to establish the connection between Scott and Hope. Unlike the other romantic connections that have emerged in the MCU, this one had the potential to become something more than just a standard plot device.

It’s an understated, but emerging issue in the MCU. When it comes to romance, Marvel movies have a frustrating tendency to only go so far. Sure, it has romantic moments between Captain America and Peggy Carter, Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, and Black Panther and Nakia. However, those moments rarely go beyond moving the plot forward.

With Ant Man and Wasp, there’s an opportunity to inject a more refined level of romance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Beyond just giving characters added motivation, this is a relationship that can function more like a partnership rather than a plot catalyst. A good romance, after all, is an exercise in developing quality partnerships.

This is what I was hoping to see with “Ant Man and the Wasp” in addition to Paul Rudd finding new ways to be hilarious. Being a self-professed lover of romance, I wanted to see this romantic evolution happen on-screen and within the context of a larger story. Looking back on it, I might have been hoping for too much.

That’s not to say my hopes were dashed for this movie. I’ll gladly go on record as saying that “Ant Man and the Wasp” is a solid movie that improves on its predecessor. At the same time, though, I felt this movie was a missed opportunity to give the MCU an element that it has been sorely lacking for a while now.

Ever since Thor’s relationship with Jane Foster was unceremoniously cast aside after “Thor: The Dark World,” Marvel movies have been doing the bare minimum when it comes to romance. I would argue that has been part of a larger trend within superhero movie not involving Deadpool.

From the beginning, “Ant Man and the Wasp” sets itself apart by having Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne operate as an equal partnership. They both have plenty of moments where they show off their skill. Hope gets to show off early by really shining as Wasp. Scott contributes later on in ways that are both cunning and hilarious.

In my opinion, the most important achievement of this movie is establishing how complementary Hope and Scott are as a duo. On their own, they show they’re plenty capable. However, they can only achieve what they want when they work together. That, in essence, is the foundation of any meaningful romance.

Unfortunately, “Ant Man and the Wasp” doesn’t do much to build on that foundation. There are a few romantic moments, but they’re very small and usually involve puppy love glances. There aren’t any instances where Hope and Scott get that intimate. They work together and they work well, but it’s exceedingly basic.

There’s never an impression that their relationship deserves to be elevated above a relationship like Thor and Jane. Even though Hope and Scott is a lot more balanced in terms of how they function together, it’s not necessarily the kind of love story that will strike an emotional chord.

They work well together and they’re attracted to one another. Their romance is basically not that different than a typical office romance. In many respects, their relationship is overshadowed by the one between Hank Pym and his missing wife, Janet. That ends up being a more compelling love story, which is saying a lot given the complications of their relationship in the comics.

Even that romantic element is relatively basic, though. Much of the conflict revolves around Ant Man and Wasp’s efforts to save Janet from the quantum realm, where she’s been trapped for years. It creates plenty of family-driven drama, which certainly has its appeal. In terms of overall drama, though, it only goes so far.

Outside those romantic elements, “Ant Man and the Wasp” does everything it needs to in order to maintain the brand of the MCU. It’s coherent, concise, and entertaining. The movie relies heavily on the comedic elements, which fits perfectly for a character who rides around on ants.

Ant Man is not Black Panther, Captain America, or Thor. Wasp is not Black Widow, Gamora, or Peggy Carter. They don’t try to be more than who they are. They stick to the core of their character. In an era where superheroes try too hard to be like Batman, this counts as an accomplishment.

In this same era, there’s a similar effort to develop more balanced female characters who aren’t Wonder Woman. Wasp definitely counts as progress in that effort. She can hold her own, kick ass, and complement those around her, whether that’s Scott Lang or Hank Pym. She’s still no Wonder Woman, but Marvel may be saving that effort for “Captain Marvel.”

In terms of the villain in this movie, “Ant Man and the Wasp” manages to get by with Ghost. While there is some intrigue with her character, she does little to make herself memorable. Compared to Erik Killmonger, who stole the show in “Black Panther,” Ghost was more an obstacle than a villain. She still got the job done and did so with personality.

Overall, if I had to score “Ant Man and the Wasp,” I would give it a 7 out of 10. It’s an all-around solid movie that’s fun, entertaining, and satisfying. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air after the grim circumstances surrounding “Avengers: Infinity War,” at least until the post-credits scene. However, the romance lover in me still feels that it left much of its potential untapped.

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