Entries in movies (2)

Sunday
May312015

Asimov by Way of Japan

I recently enjoyed revisiting a favorite anime series, Time of Eve. There are a couple of things that stand out about the series. First, it’s by Yasuhiro Yoshiura, who is a brilliant director of short animated works (like the earlier Aquatic Language). Second, the format was really unusual, it was a series of six fifteen-minute episodes released online, later compiled into an (almost identical) movie. Third, it’s straight-up Asimovian science fiction, Three Laws of Robotics and all.

I really like Asimov stories, in large part because they’re generally stories about friendly AI. Not that I dislike stories about unfriendly AI, but it’s easy for a story about unfriendly AI to fall into the same tropes as other monster or disaster stories. A lot of the Asimov short stories are straightforward mysteries, but there’s also room for telling tales with a lot more ambiguity.

The story is set in a world where robots are at a casual glance indistinguishable from humans, save for their rigid patterns of speech and behavior and the holographic status rings that hover above their heads. A high school student notices an odd entry in the log of his house android, and follows that to a strange cafe, Time of Eve, with a single rule clearly posted at the entrance: “In this cafe, make no distinction between humans and robots.”

Many of Asimov’s stories focus on issues of industrial activity or political struggle. But the Powell and Donovan of this series are not industrial debuggers but high school students. The story has strong themes of conventions of behavior versus a desire to express one’s true feelings and to understand the feelings of others. The cafe of the title is a place where one can enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation, amidst an epochal change in society that has not quite become manifest, not yet.

If you’re a fan of Asimov’s robot stories or would enjoy an interesting take on that sort of setting, I definitely recommend this work. The first episode can be viewed for free on Crunchyroll (though splitting up a 15-minute episode with ads is rather unfortunate), paid members can stream the rest (but there’s a free trial). The movie can be purchased here.

Monday
Sep192011

Second City Epidemiologist

I watched The Interrupters this weekend, and I second this review, it’s well worth seeing.  The documentary chronicles the front-line agents of the organization CeaseFire, the Violence Interrupters.  CeaseFire’s founder, Gary Slutkin, is an epidemiologist who formerly worked for the World Health Organization, and he takes very seriously the analogy of the “violence epidemic”.  The approach is similar:

  1. Identify outbreaks (violent incidents)
  2. Respond at the center with a focus on limiting transmission (discouraging new retaliation by those not already involved)
  3. Build long-term resilience with vaccinations, sanitation, and so on (change norms)

A more comprehensive approach also fits into this analogy:  Infected are quarantined (criminals captured) and treated (rehabilitated) or institutionalized.  CeaseFire’s efforts, though, are mostly focused on the above, particularly step two.

On the non-metaphorical health front, similar efforts have been similarly sucessful.  An example from The Checklist Manifesto was particularly vivid in my mind while watching the movie, a study in which soap was distributed, along with simple instruction on handwashing methods and habits, to impoverished communities.  The results were dramatic.  But those results relied on the cooperation of those participating in the program, and it would be a mistake to assume that their behavior was influenced primarily by the mere availability of soap.  The instruction was also a factor.  But one factor found in follow-up study as to why that program had been more successful than some similar efforts was that the soap used was particularly high quality.  Smelled good, felt good on the hands.  Washing with it was pleasant.

One question for CeaseFire is not just how best to educate about nonviolence, or how to bring social pressure to bear in favor of nonviolence, but how to make nonviolent conflict resolution “smell good”.  (The movie contains some interesting ideas in relation to this question, I think, though it doesn’t address that directly.)

For further reading, see this post on CeaseFire as applied anthropology.  Also related to the topic of violence in Chicago and the source of the title of this post, this blog.