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14 months. The Soul of a New Machine. Evil Robots, Killer Computers, and Other Myths. War for the Planet of the Apes. Once Upon a Time in the West.

Luna // 14 Months

Luna is now fourteen months old, an interesting age that exists in the space between babyhood and toddlerhood. She is old enough to want to wander the playground, but too young to navigate its equipment. Old enough to climb on couches and stairwells, but too young to do so without constant supervision and support.

Luna's communication skills are also in transition. Her limited vocabulary is struggling to keep pace with her mind. One recent morning, she walked over to me with purpose, her small feet padding against the floor. "More!" she declared, her eyes wide and insistent. But more of what? More milk? More water? More toys? I offered all of these to her, none seeming to be the solution she was seeking. The question hung in the air, unanswerable. She couldn't find the words to articulate her needs, and I couldn’t decipher her limited toddler code.

In so many ways, fourteen months is an age of almosts and not-quites. She is almost a toddler, but not quite finished being a baby. Sometimes, I catch glimpses of the person she's becoming. A certain tilt of the head, a fleeting expression, a burst of laughter that seems to come from some secret place inside her. These are the tender shoots of selfhood taking form, fragile and miraculous.

I know there is so much more to come.

What I Read

The Soul of a New Machine is a compelling snapshot of the early 1980s computing scene, but in hindsight it feels like a prelude to the real revolution that was about to arrive.

Reading it today, there's a sense that the author was chronicling the last gasp of an old order, not the birth of a new one. The engineers at Data General were pushing the limits of minicomputer design, but their machine was still a bulky, expensive piece of hardware aimed at businesses and institutions. The truly transformative shift was happening elsewhere, in the garages and homebrew clubs where tinkerers were experimenting with cheap, accessible microprocessors.

In a way, the book's focus on the minicomputer feels like a missed opportunity. The real soul of the new machine was being forged in the personal computer revolution, which would soon make computing a mass-market phenomenon and change the world in ways that few could have predicted.

Of course, it's unfair to fault the author for not being prescient. He captured the drama and human stakes of a specific moment in tech history with great skill and sensitivity. But from our vantage point, it's clear that the minicomputer was a doomed transitional technology, not the future of computing.

Perhaps that's the curse of writing about technology: no matter how insightful or well-observed, any account is bound to feel incomplete in hindsight. Innovation moves so quickly that even the most astute observer can only capture a fleeting moment in an ongoing story.

Which is why I found myself also underwhelmed by Evil Robots, Killer Computers, and Other Myths, written in 2021 just before the LLM race kicked off. The author’s core argument — that the real threat comes from authoritarian misuse of technology, not the technology itself — is certainly valid, but he seems to underestimate the potential for these tools to fundamentally reshape our relationship with information, creativity, and even our own cognition.

The sheer speed and magnitude of recent breakthroughs makes the future of AI harder to anticipate or control. Like The Soul of a New Machine, this book captured a specific moment in the evolution of AI when the ultimate trajectory was hard to discern. But we now know that language models weren't a dead-end like minicomputers turned out to be — they are rapidly maturing into a transformative technology that may be every bit as disruptive as the microprocessor.

Of course, it's possible that the LLM hype will fizzle out like so many tech trends before it. Perhaps AI will hit a wall, and our current crop of chatbots will come to seem as quaint as Data General's Eagle. But something tells me we've crossed a significant threshold. So while Evil Robots offers a helpful rebuttal to the crudest forms of AI doomerism, it may be too quick to dismiss the scale of the challenge ahead.

What I Watched

Having watched the first two of the three Planet of the Apes trilogy awhile ago, and with a fourth installment now out in theaters, I thought it was time for me to finally watch War for the Planet of the Apes. The movie, about Caesar and his tribe engaged in conflict with humans over misunderstandings that have gone too far to ever be repaired, is a fascinating blockbuster.

The film is less interested in the mechanics of its genre trappings — the military posturing, the explosive set pieces — than in the existential struggle at its core. It's a summer spectacle that dares to be introspective and deeply sad.

So too was another film I watched: Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. Set in a mythical version of the American frontier, the movie pairs Charles Bronson's nameless protagonist, playing a mournful harmonica before every fateful confrontation, against Henry Fonda's icy-eyed villain.

Like War for the Planet of the Apes, this film is attuned to the human toll of empire-building, to the lives swept aside in the name of progress. Bronson is an avenging specter, less a man than a manifestation of long-delayed justice. Claudia Cardinale's widow becomes the resilient heart of the story, and through her eyes, the promise of the frontier seems tainted, the dream of a better life out of reach.

Both movies are revenge stories, and in the end, they both offer a glimmer of hope, a suggestion that there may be a way to break the cycle of violence and find a measure of peace. For Caesar, it comes in the form of a new home for his people, and for Bronson's character, it comes in the form of a final chance to lay his demons to rest and move on. Very different conclusions, both valid in their own way.

That’s all for now.

From the present moment.

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