Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Jurassic Jaws Jones

This week, Futures is heading off to the movies in the company of Hal Y Zhang and her story Jurassic Jaws Jones. Life as an actor has never been easy, but, as Hal reveals, it’s going to get a whole lot worse. You can find out more about Hal’s work at her website. Here, she talks about what inspired her latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing Jurassic Jaws Jones

When we think about career fields that might be replaced by machines, the arts are not usually what come to mind first. But the resurgence of neural networks is a watershed moment in artificial intelligence and computer science, and neural AIs are particularly adept at certain tasks that were previously believed to be easily doable only by humans.

The basic concept of a neural network is quite simple: make an artificial neuron by multiplying each input by a weight, add them together, then apply a nonlinearity filter, which very roughly resembles signal propagation in a real neuron. By assembling these units into webs and optimizing the weights, we’ve made neural AIs that meld the style and content of artworks, generate new Bach cantatas and play video games expertly without instructions.

These are tasks that were widely thought to require some amount of undefinable ‘humanness’, yet are now easily performed by networks with a minuscule fraction of the 100 billion neurons in the brain. I don’t think it’s absurd to envision a near-term future where much of our entertainment and more comes from machines, and that’s not exactly an entertaining prospect.


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