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February 3, 2010 4:37 AM   Subscribe

Neil Blomkamp’s TED Talk starts with the question of does he feel his aliens in his film District 9 are a realistic depiction of what extraterrestrial life might actually be like... (SLYT)
posted by fearfulsymmetry (27 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
A little Fukuyama-heavy, but he tempers it with some well-deserved pessimism at the end. There are plenty of other points of discussion when it comes to the viability of extraterrestrial life. For example, perhaps such life is common, but life prone to escaping its planet is rare. Super-earths (an apparently very common exoplanet) demand much more powerful technology to escape their gravitational pull, and ocean planets may only generate forms of life with little or no interest (or capability) of entering space.

And after all is said, it's a terrible time to be a futurist. We discovered exoplanets less than 20 years ago and have already found over 400. The rate of discovery will only increase. I'll just admit my ignorance and wait and see what we find.
posted by mek at 5:52 AM on February 3, 2010


Why is he answering the question of whether his creatures are realistic? Is he a biologist? A better question to ask is, "Are your aliens a realistic depiction of the Vortigaunts from Half-Life?"

A better follow-up question would be, "Why does Hollywood insist that video games are not an artistic medium but nonetheless feels compelled to blatantly steal ideas from them?"
posted by Pastabagel at 6:02 AM on February 3, 2010


Why is he answering the question of whether his creatures are realistic? Is he a biologist? A better question to ask is, "Are your aliens a realistic depiction of the Vortigaunts from Half-Life?"

The creatures themselves, given what we know of the Vortigaunts in, are quite a bit different, though I thought of them too while watching the movie. The Prawns aren't wise, magic sage creatures.

As for the creature design... Yeah, the two are kinda similar, but they're both built around fairly common alien design tropes. It's like... I don't know. Calling out someone for making a creature desgin for Satan[1] that is red, has horns, goat legs and a tail for being too similar to one that doesn't have the tail.

[1] - (hail satan)
posted by sparkletone at 6:21 AM on February 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


And after all is said, it's a terrible time to be a futurist. We discovered exoplanets less than 20 years ago and have already found over 400. The rate of discovery will only increase. I'll just admit my ignorance and wait and see what we find.

Heh. I remember wondering how many exoplanets we knew about and looking at wikipedia. Keep in mind, when I went to school it was "mercury, venus, earth, mars, jupiter, saturn, neptune, pluto" and I remember hearing the news about Eris (called Xena when it was discovered) and hearing some news about planets in other systems. I thought there might be like one or two super-Jupiter or something.

Then I looked at wikipedia and it was like 370 or something at the time. Now it's 402 with 308 "candidate objects". Crazy. And now it looks like there have been 10 discovered so far this year (through Jan 27!).
posted by delmoi at 6:30 AM on February 3, 2010


given what we know of the Vortigaunts in

"given what we know of the Vortigaunts in the HL games" that should've been, of course.

This is what I get for commenting before having had any tea this morning!
posted by sparkletone at 6:45 AM on February 3, 2010


A better follow-up question would be, "Why does Hollywood insist that video games are not an artistic medium but nonetheless feels compelled to blatantly steal ideas from them?"

Neither Hollywood nor District 9 have anything to do with artistic media , either. So it all works out.
posted by aswego at 7:42 AM on February 3, 2010


Considering how quickly technology advances and how big the universe is, it seems unlikely two aliens will ever meet or indirectly discover each other. I love how in science fiction, alien races are all at about the same level of technological and social progress. Ships, outposts, democracies, etc. Thats just a stage, and I doubt it lasts very long.

In District 9, the aliens were simply humans with slightly better toys. Magical machine guns instead of regular machine guns or mechs instead of tanks. When discussing real life scenarios, I doubt fate will be so considerate as to make sure all intelligent races are forever stuck in the "machine gun/spaceship" stage or even have an incentive to find alien life.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:50 AM on February 3, 2010


A better follow-up question would be, "Why does Hollywood insist that video games are not an artistic medium but nonetheless feels compelled to blatantly steal ideas from them?"

Can you give me an example of someone in hollywood "insisting" that they're not? I mean, all I ever hear are video gamers complaining about that perception, I've never heard anyone actually espouse it.
posted by delmoi at 8:00 AM on February 3, 2010


Neither Hollywood nor District 9 have anything to do with artistic media , either. So it all works out.

Oh, please.
posted by Scoo at 8:06 AM on February 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


aswego: "Neither Hollywood nor District 9 have anything to do with artistic media , either."

You don't like it, so it ain't art. Got it.
posted by brundlefly at 8:26 AM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a bit "state of play of Hard SF 1980-2010", which is a shame because I'd have expected something a little more exotic of him, but it's still fun. I like that he flat out admits that the Prawns are not anything he'd expect to exist right at the start.
posted by Artw at 8:38 AM on February 3, 2010


There's also a buit of "District 9 isn't really SF" in there, which if it isn't next to nothing on film is, so I'm just going to assume he meant "isn't really hard sf" and that he isn't getting all Atwood on us.

Also technically Kardashev scale and Dyson Spheres are both 60s concepts (well, 1959 for Dyson Spheres) , but it feels like it wasn't till the 80s that they started popping up everywhere in SF.
posted by Artw at 8:52 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think what I particularity liked about it was going in I was expecting something on film making or politics not something quite so cosmic. I hope his next film project lies in those directions.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:59 AM on February 3, 2010


He does seem to be oddly humble and really interested in things, which are unusual qualities in a filmmaker.

His accent is a lot more American than I would have expected.
posted by Artw at 9:02 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let me just say, I really hate Blomkamp. The dude's only a year older than me and his first feature was nominated for best picture. Seriously, Neil... screw you.

/only jealous... really happy for him
posted by brundlefly at 9:07 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


He's four years younger than me.

/sulk
posted by Artw at 9:11 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kardashev/Dyson ---> Kurzweil in about a minute and a half. Good overview (in my opinion) of how science fiction, and to some degree the wider culture of futurism, has shifted its gaze from massive engineering projects and starships to a strong fixation on accelerating computational power.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:49 AM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder if the Singularity will arrive before I have to meet my next deadline. That would help.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:21 AM on February 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was doing some experimenting with evolutionary algorithms around the same time as watching a few sci-fi movies. Also did a bit of research into the earliest mammals. I couldn't help but think that there would be a good application of a solid and realistic evolution simulator in creature design for movies.
posted by chrillsicka at 10:58 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


When discussing real life scenarios, I doubt fate will be so considerate as to make sure all intelligent races are forever stuck in the "machine gun/spaceship" stage or even have an incentive to find alien life.

By definition, intelligent races do not (or should not..) rely on the concept of fate when they plan their futures.
posted by mannequito at 12:59 PM on February 3, 2010


Now it's 402 with 308 "candidate objects". Crazy. And now it looks like there have been 10 discovered so far this year

Planet-finding used to be hard. It's getting easier, and a lot more automated. Also, we now have two active space missions dedicated to planet-finding -- COROT and Kepler.

Considering how quickly technology advances and how big the universe is, it seems unlikely two aliens will ever meet or indirectly discover each other.

I'm more of the mind that they may be so wholly different they have difficulty noticing each other. For example a post-singularity civilization might be nearly completely disinterested in any pre-singularity civilization it encounters. Think of the Borg when not in attack mode. (I don't believe the Borg are really a good way to delineate a post-singularity civ, though. Especially later in the series they were brought significantly down to earth.)

Anyway, I don't think this was much about what he thinks aliens will be "like", more as an answer to the meta-question about why he won't answer the question about why his aliens are nothing like what he expects real aliens to be like. I'm sure there are a number of people for whom these basic concepts are pretty new and this was a short and entertaining introduction.
posted by dhartung at 3:54 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


brundlefly, Artw: I feel the same way about Blomkamp. Although we could still catch up with him in terms of total number of movies made by 2030 or something, though, so no point in slouching. We should all get to work.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:08 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I liked his touch about universal singluarity and an all encompassing, all consuming universal consciousness. Part sci fi, part new age. Also, I'm not a fan of the rare earth hypothesis either, I think the most likely explanation is, as he says, they all destroy himself.
thanks for the link.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 11:52 PM on February 3, 2010


One point: This is Tedx, not Ted. It's not a Ted talk, but a "Ted-like experience".
posted by Baldons at 3:31 AM on February 4, 2010


The diet coke of TED...
posted by Artw at 7:55 AM on February 4, 2010


What I don't get about his talk is how he's equating the shift from a T0 to a T1 civilization with the death of the host species. Is there some synthesis between the supposed technological singularity and the shift to a T1 civilization that I just don't get? I hate to reference Skynet in a subject that I love, but presuming we do create "AI" why does this necessarily mean that the human race would cease to exist in any meaningful way? Blomkamp mentions that the Tech Singularity theory posits the conversion of all matter on a planet to thinking machines. Is this just a bad reinterpretation of "Gray Goo", or is there more out there to flesh out this idea?

Why the doom and gloom surrounding the shift to a T1 civilization?


On to my pet subject; my favorite "hard" SF author is currently Iain M. Banks. Given that The Culture seems to have ruled out Dyson Spheres, and Niven Rings, as a viable use for the materials of a solar system would The Culture be considered a T1 or T2 civilization? Certainly, I would consider The Culture to be post Tech Singularity. But, ostensibly The Culture does not absorb (and doesn't appear to need to absorb) the entire energy output of a single star just to power itself. In addition, I feel that I remember reading in one of The Culture novels that the concept of moral machines is put forth. IIRC, Banks presumes that any culture smart enough to create "AI" would do so in such a way that the first Minds they create wouldn't kill off their parent culture in a fit of pique, paranoia or malice.


ok... ramble off. I'm using "AI" in quotes because I like to hope that the first Intelligence that the human race creates would then spawn off other intelligences like itself. Which throws the whole idea of artificial out the window. I'm not a fan of the, what I view as anti-technological, stance presented in the Terminator movies our The Matrix movies.
posted by Severian at 8:18 AM on February 4, 2010


I am in the camp of people who believe that there is definitely life elsewhere. That said, I do think we neglect the spectrum of time.

For instance, if we look at the history of Earth, only a fraction of the history has life on it, and only a fraction of that time where life is on Earth is sentient multi-cellular life. If some alien species was searching for life on Earth, they could have looked long before life started and assumed that there was nothing here. I think the same thing is relevant elsewhere. We've only started looking for life since we've had radio and the capability to measure light and radio waves from space- that's well less than 100 years. There may have been sentient life elsewhere in our own galaxy or even in our own solar system but it could have come and gone a long time ago, or might arrive after we've finished our time on Earth.

Let's not forget how fleeting the length of time life has been on Earth when we consider how hard it is to find life elsewhere in the universe. It makes the search that much more discouraging but again considering the fact that entire civilizations may have come and gone millions of time before we started our search, and could come and go again millions of times after our own time on Earth is over is, to me, a pretty heady idea.
posted by gen at 7:18 PM on February 4, 2010


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