Death, in the Style of Dr. Seuss (or the rise of Artificial Creativity)

Among the visual people, both the fine arts and design communities, there’s a lot of fuss about the development of Artificial Intelligence image generators. Personally, I care less about the debate around authorship and creative accomplishments of humans using tools like MidJourney or Dalle2, and more about the philosophical implications of it. In particular: when will we consider AI… alive?

I mean, I don’t think it is. But there’s progress.

While the generally accepted version of the threshold of “Alive” seems to be its ability to realize it’s existence and individuality, I tend to look more for a few other aspects of it. Such as it’s ability to procreate (which is a very measurable skill, and thankfully I haven’t heard about AI having babies yet) and it’s ability to create something new — which is something I can speak of with a bit more authority.

For those unfamiliar with the machine learning process, which is the core of what we currently call AI, it’s basically a program that isn’t programmed to execute a task, but to explore possibilities and learn from a system of rewards and punishment. Just like human kids do when they play. Or Lion cubs. Or puppies… young mammals in general.

Now, the computer ones have an advantage. An accelerator of sorts. It’s what they call adversarial systems. They “train” two AI engines with the same knowledge base, then assign them opposite tasks. For example: one tries to draw a face, and the other tries to determine if the face looks like a real one. They both get kudos for their performance, and learn from it. Then do it again, millions of times per minute.

You see? These systems no longer get programmed by geniuses to do what they would, like when Big Blue best Kasparov. They are now learning from scratch. They’re playing videogames like Forza Motorsport (and becoming not o ly very good but also mean about it cause the developers forgot to include punishments for nastiness like pushing competitors off the track). But I still think AI conquer of the Chinese board game of Go is way more iconic.

Go is a game of possibilities. Strategies. Trained by humans alone, it took AI a while to be trained enough to beat a champion. Then, they tried something different. They got two adversarial computers to play against each other, with no training whatsoever. And after a while, tested it against a champion again. Legend says the human grinned when the computer made a silly mistake and proceeded triumphant to the end, just to be surprised later and realize the error was I fact a brilliant move never seen or taught to any human. A move the computers created by themselves, by playing with the game and exploring random possibilities.

I happen to be a professional creative, and, the way I see it, creativity is a thought process that is opposite to logic. Instead of efficiently building a thought from the basics, aiming at the desired goal, we try stuff and see if they work. It’s inefficient, but when you hit it right, it’s magical. Now compare that with what the Go computers did? They created a move.

Cut back to our reality.

Here I am, Playing with images generated by MidJourney, asking it to imagine some pictures that would have made my creative brain hurt. Imagine connected brains in the style of Basquiat, I said. And it gave me the image I used on the previous post. I wonder what SAMO, who never lived to see the internet, would think of the result. Then I dared further: “Imagine Death, in the style of Dr. Seuss.” I grinned, in a preemptive enjoyment of my my little aft of cruelty. But then MidJourney did it. It gave me a few versions of it.

The results left me speechless.

Once I collected my chin back from my lap, I stared at these images, and I could not unsee, in each, a different story. I know, obviously, that part of this process is my creative inference on the result the computer spat out of a simple reward system and a wide database of images from which it learned from. Yet, I can’t unshake it from me. It indeed created something new. It didn’t give me a Grim Reaper with a Grinch look. It imagined creatures in contexts and universes of their own. Images that are original, authentic and clearly have a soul. Even if that soul was partly impregnated by my creativity on both the promt, the selection and the stories I am already making up in my mind.

Maybe that’s how we should look at it. As a Creative interspecies intercourse. A human fucking around with a computer (forgive the language but here, it’s the right term), and the creative babies being born.

I tried one more. Picked a fable told from one of the characters in my book, where a Tigress goes to war against a bee-hive, and asked MidJourney to imagine it in the style of Xu Beihong, an old Chinese painter famous for his vigorous nankin horses and birds. Once again, what it gave me back didn’t seem like a mathematical exercise, an algorithmic attempt of merging query terms. It gave me something meaningful, poetic, and absolutely original. An image I even got tempted to make into my book cover. So I added some typography on top of it and voila. Another interspecies baby was born.

Now I’m confused. Rationally, going back to the original argument, I can’t say the computers are reproducing, for it hasn’t created a baby version of itself. But it’s hard not to feel it created a “baby” of some kind. Maybe that’s just a romantic or even unhinged abstraction of my own mind, but they creation isn’t just mine. It is ours.

I know this isn’t an argument I can close. At least not until Midjourney spits not an image but another image generator itself, and gives it a name. And if it calls it MidJoirney Jr, then, we know: it’s time to run for the mountains.


I learn so much when I start a new book. What other activity would allow me to have, on the same month, a conversation about 1) soul alchemy in daoism, another on 2) thought suppression on the brain’s neocortex, one about 3) antagonist algorithms in artificial intelligence, one on 4) the differences between playing and non-playing characters in Minecraft, one on 5) the different rooms at the White House, one on 6) take down defense in mixed martial arts, one on 7) intersectional feminism, one on 8) the similarities between the i-Ching and the divination systems in Nigeria?

Just think of the hashtags alone: #Wudang #daoism #neuroscience #minecraft #whitehouse #artificialintelligence #mixedmartialarts #taichi #literature #feminism #intersectionalfeminism #iching #yoruba #china

Crazy, but fun!

I don’t teach men


The weight shifts to my back leg and I follow with the arm. Slow. And I say: “Now front leg to the left, opening space… so you can… stretch… forward and back… at the same… time.”

There is a moan somewhere behind me. The erotic type. I get it, the single whip is one of my favorite moves in Tai chi too. I wait for it every time,  even though I shouldn’t. The form is meditation in motion, Sifu says. Where thoughts and feelings have no place. Let go, I tell myself, which is breaking the rule already.

The air in the park is crisp, the sun hits hard. A spring blessing, when pollen count is low. Summers can be colder than the winter in the Bay Area.

The class goes on. There is Miranda, the sad pretty girl with bad taste for men. Jen, an MBA student that I am still trying to figure out. Nancy and Viv, two hot baristas from a Starbucks nearby. I go there sometimes and can hear the mental fantasies the hipsters concoct while the girls serve their Iced Vanilla Mocha With Soy Milk No Whipped Cream Please, Grande. And there is Mrs. Lee. Tanisha Lee. She must be sixty or something. She holds her position a bit longer and has another mini theatrical orgasm. The whip is that good.

So many thoughts. Resisting never worked. I’ll keep pretending.

Mrs. Lee, so she says, is the best black acupuncturist in the Bay Area. Must try, someday. Her real job is teaching cognitive sciences, that’s how we met. I was her student, now she is mine. I believed I could understand the brain to shortcut my research on the shadow leap, so I ended up in her class. She walks into the auditorium, dressed in a manicuredly sloppy way. A respectable afro-hippie. She plugs her computer and points at the slide she projected. An iceberg. She says “Thoughts are like this: most of what happens is under water, away from our conscience” Sifu would agree, but frown nonetheless. Meditation better, he would say. But I can’t. Not with the anger, not with the flashes.

Swoosh. Here it comes. An arm swings above my head, making my hair move. I can smell the sweat and the rage. I hit him hard, three times. His skin spatters at me. A drop of his perspiration hits my mouth. So fucking gross.

Since my “enlightenment” (a label my master would most definitely dispute) the flashes have been stronger. More vivid. I don’t just see them anymore. Reliving would be a more suitable word. Replaying would work too. The flashes, they come and go. Sometimes one inside of the other.

Swoosh. I am always angry.

Now the alley. I am sticking a knife into the thug’s thigh. The bitch behind me screams and slaps me as if I wasn’t protecting her. Threats to call the police. I twist the blade anyway and pour a mad yell right at his face, then run before the cops show up.

Swoosh. Too much yang. It’s a curse. Runs in the family.

Back to the park. Snakes creeps down, push, recoil. They haven’t noticed my absence.

Swoosh. A baby cries, a mother covered in blood lies still, eyes lost pointing nowhere. Smells like China and decay. I know the place. The scene. Have seen it way too many times now. Can’t tell if it’s a real recollection or something I implanted in my own mind after all the stories I heard. Mrs. Lee says it was possible, forging a memory. That police likes to do that to confuse black people and make them confess.

Sifu holds the little me like I am a rock.

Mrs. Lee moans once more. It brings me back. “This is so sexy”, she says. Always a naughty comment. Others laugh and I shoosh them silent. Had they known  my mind is always screaming…

Another flash. This is worse than usual. Maybe I had too much coffee? No, that would’ve made me poop. I am at a large prairie now. A sharp edged fence stretches to infinity and there is a gate. The shadow monkey gently holds my hand. Everything moves like a bad video-game. MineCrack or something. They say this game gets people to lose their mind. End up believing that squared place is the real world. There are some that even adjust the lights in their houses to match the sun in the game. Nerds.

We march to the gate, me and the ape. There are pigs. Pink and square. Millions of them. Up the hills, through the horizon. I try to hold my breath, but there is no air in MineCrack. I open the wooden door and let them escape. “Go, little fellas. Enjoy your fake life!”

Fake life. Look who’s talking… I feel my hand squeezed. “Now you are free, too” I tell the monkey. No more raising pigs.

There are more apes around us. They get close and sit, staring like if we were a totem. Gods, even. I am not angry anymore. Maybe enlightenment is a good expression after all. Then, from afar, I look into my own eyes. Dive inside of them. Through the darkness of the pupil and deep into the brain. From above, I see Berkeley, the Park. Tiny pathetic creatures are practicing Tai Chi. Myself, my students. Down on the floor, I remember, I am trying to hide the flashes. But I tumble, instead.

“Are you ok?”, Miranda asks.

I tell her I am. Just a little embarrassed. That hadn’t happened in a while. The twins help me stand up. Their hands are so soft…

I am ok, I promise.

“The sun is too hot, sifu.” “Have some water” offer the sisters.

I accept. That was enough for the day.

“Nice class”, says a skinny dude with a scarf and acne. “I mean, before you fell.”

I gaze and say nothing. I’m way more verbose inside of my mind. His eyes meet mine and suddenly he flinches.

“Is… is it possible to… can I… are you still taking students?”

“Don’t teach men”, I answer. And the conversation is over.

He leaves in such shock, he moves in a drunken, wiggly line. That’s how I met George.

The me that ain’t


I know the speed (and angle) of every punch I threw in my entire life. Didn’t, back then. But now I do. I can tell the energy built through all chi-gong routines, and what you spend in each bagua palm change. With accuracy of seventeen decimals, because after that it’s mostly irrelevant. I have data indicating how loud was the first nose I broke in a cage fight. Even remember the feelings: the serotonin levels of love and scales of fear based on my breathing patterns. New ones are plastic, though. Emulations at best. But at least they are there.

Keeping my core personality after the “enlightenment” was a victory. I think. That was the deal, and they kept their promise. Other kinks happened too. Because of my fling with science, for example, I developed a mechanical compulsion for footnotes.(1) Wasn’t particularly anticipating that, but there are consequences for every act. Something I learned early, from the womb I killed.

You see, I cheated. And for a while that brought some pain. Not anymore. I don’t suffer anymore. I don’t suffer anymore. I don’t suffer anymore. I don’t suffer anymore. I don’t suffer anymore. I broke the laws of kung fu, paid for it but also reached a level of skill not even Sifu had. I am fifty-eight percent confident he would be proud.

I’ve sinned, nonetheless. Using quantum physics to break the secret of the shadow leap before the spiritual insights he professed isn’t the path our family protected for so many generations. Which is good and bad. Resembling the masters from the past, I employed robotics to create a new animal style (although, being from Wudang, I’m not sure he would appreciate my flirting with those flowery Shaolin traditions). Transcended my body, but not through meditation, as he taught me. Even managed to break the barrier of conscience between my dream and my dream of a dream. Like being the philosopher’s woman and butterfly at the same time. One that hear your thoughts and kill you with a single strike from both sides of life. Not bad. But not the traditional way either.

I am fine with that. From the top of my mountain, the shade of my pond, all is one. Time, us. I can see so clear. Yes, I cheated. Yes, I wish I hadn’t. But life happens around you, with all its exuberance, clashing uneven parts like a buffalo attacking a little girl. Sometimes all you can do is let go of all control, allow the events to take their course, flow with them. Ride the fucking bovine. Wu wei.

It’s interesting, though, to “think” of the contrast. From before the expansion of my brain, with all the disturbances, bottled tantrums and constricted bursts. There is a reminiscence of joy seeing blood rain from my opponents face. A legitimate pleasure from beating the crap out of the asshole who did that to my student.

And then, there is George.

George doesn’t matter anymore. I wish he did. What matters is now, and us, and you. The data. Is understanding that things are different in a world surrounded by machines that think and humans capable of so much darkness. That it’s time for you to realize the implications. And it all starts with that tale father used to play from his shadow theatre. A story about Tigress, a bee hive and the Shadow Monkey.

(1) I calculate there will be 243 notes until the end of this.