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.

Michael Crichton, the Brainternet and me

Best-selling writer Michael Crichton had a formula. He would take a scientific idea in its infancy, and blow its implications through stories that were gripping and easy to understand. To his well researched science, he’d layer a visual plot and big ethical or philosophical questions we would eventually be forced to answer, because in one way or another, progress always comes — even if not that spectacularly. He did that to genetic engineering (Jurassic Park), nano technology (Prey), artificial intelligence (WestWorld)…

Crichton was one of my main inspirations in the writing of The Girl from Wudang. Though it wasn’t as planned as it may seem.

The birth of my story was sparked by the first time I heard about a theoretical technology called neural lacing. Imagine a blanket of nano bots we could lay around our brains. Bots so small, they could connect to each of the neurons on our outer cortex. Now give these robotic neurons the ability to transmit neural pulses to another brain nearby. Neuron to neuron. On the exact same areas and functions. So those two brains could operate as one. Yes, there are memories and knowledge sharing possibilities that can be interesting. But think about the processing power. The exponential explosion of our mental capabilities.

The Crichton part of my brain took a life of its own.

We were talking about a potential internet of brains, that would allow multiple people to share their ability to think, learn, feel and create. Our society operating as one giant, literal hive mind. That was such a powerful vision!

From a transformation standpoint, these connected brains would be much smarter than Einstein, and we would have millions of those. Imagine the speed with which we would be able to evolve. 

On the other hand, the expansion of our collective cognition would also give us an answer to a question that has been hunting sci-fi writers for decades: how we can stand up to the threat of Artificial intelligence and its almost infinite scalability.

Obviously, that scenario also brings some dangerous questions of practical, political and philosophical nature too. Who would decide who gets connected? How do we avoid an extreme concentration of power in the hands of one super smart connected hive? Or even how do we deal with our own individuality if we are forced into these connections to protect ourselves from the rise of AI?

Futurists working on these ideas (people like Ray Kurtzweil, for example) say we are still decades away from having to deal with these problems, so we have time to figure it out. But as companies like Synchron or Elon Musk’s Neuralink and others get approved to perform human tests on brain interface technologies, there’s also a feeling that things are about to pick up a lot more speed.

That’s how it started for me.

Now I just had to connect my brain to the spirit of Michael Crichton to make it visual. Find my Jurassic-mosquito-trapped-in-amber. Which, in a random set of events, led me to kung fu, to Daoism, and cage fighting. 

But that’s a story for another day.


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!

The Wooden Man

wooden dummy

In my mind, it’s always present. One flash inside the other, never past, never future, forever happening. Right “now,” I am twelve. A sound: water nearby. The scent of leaves, bamboo, China. Among the woods, a broad, clear circle on the floor invites me in. The sacred ground where we train. Although this time, there’s more.

He watches us. Two arms point out; a third, a foot lower, aims at me; a single leg bends forward, like a cat stance. I return the look, in respect. The wooden man, icon of all Kung Fu, from the North of Shaolin to the South of Wudang, is ready for battle. Mine, at last.

Sifu’s robes make him seem made of wind. He floats towards my new training partner and stands before it. Clat! He tests the stems with an upward slap and we exchange looks of excitement. Sight back to the enemy, he drops on his knees down and inwards, bring his wrists against the ribs, and begins. Double tan sau between the sturdy fists. Clat clat! A head-grab and a wing hand rolling underneath the arm. Clat! Master’s legs move swiftly around the opponent; their hands never disconnect. Sifu recoils around his back leg. On one side, elbows heavy and wrists soft; the other, a waiting hand near his chest. Then explodes. Bang! His whole body hits the dummy, through the small area of his palm.

It was splendid! The attack pierces through the dummy’s centerline and the trunk shakes in delight. The wood cackles. With the noise, birds fly in fear. Critters peek. Even the  bamboo seems to bow. And right there, I learn to love those sounds more than anything. More than George, I think. Clat clat clat! Baaaang!

I check the data. In my trips to present and past, no other memory has been visited more times. I guess that makes it an all-time favorite. In my case, a title so full of irony.

It was also among the trees I met George. In a park, ten years later. Berkeley.

Butt on the grass, I recover from a fall. My students run around like squirrels. “Water! Give her some water!”, one says. “I have green tea, she must like it?” says another one. I am fine. Got distracted with the flashes, lost balance, just that.

Can’t reveal the flashes, though. They must believe I can stay focused myself.

Across from us, a little gathering. There always are. People eyeing the exotic young ladies performing geriatric slow moves. Nothing too bothersome. Sometimes they laugh and point and a single stare sends them away. Americans can’t handle a good, cold look back. There are four of them today. All men, nerds. They laugh and elbow each other and I am about to stand up to send them off, when they spit one of them in our direction.

The dude stumbles and looks back in protest, but the friends point at us. Too late, I have noticed. George, I would learn his name later, wears a scarf but his face still sports teenage acne. He carries a big thick book he uses to distract his eyes from me. A few steps, a reassurance look back and forward again, the chopped stride followed pathetic for a miserable eternity. After a long wait, he’s in front of me. Mrs. Lee drops a “hoooo” and pushes the girls to the side. Is all that a setup?

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

I say, “I don’t teach men.

Why I am always so angry?

My words strike him so hard, he falters. Almost falls on the green. Such a snowflake. It wasn’t my intention, but they were out, the words. Couldn’t take back. His eyebrows get closer together and he shakes his shoulders. I’ve seen that before. Same thing fighters do when get hit on the face, and have to decide if they will continue or tap out. A look of heart. It’s cute.

Grey’s Anatomy, the book he carries.

“She almost fainted. I think she needs a doctor”, says Miranda, the one who I should never trust with men. Her last boyfriend was a bully. He and I had to have “a talk.”

George doesn’t fall for Miranda’s cue. Too easy, I respect that. We have a stare down instead. A few seconds. Then he turns around and leaves. I win. Americans…

Mrs. Lee, my oldest and naughtiest student, pokes me with her bare toe and makes a “what the fuck?” face. She’s right.

Not so fast, sir. I run after him, now I am the pathetic one, rushing through the uneven lawn while watched by both my students and his friends. I grab him by the arm and he turns back with a victorious grin. Well played, nerd.

“Hey, sorry. It’s not about you. I don’t teach guys. One of my rules.”

He stretches the neck and checks my students again, all ladies indeed. They wave. He asks why.

“Not sure. It just is.”

He squints, raises one cheek up to the left eye, then smiles. Suddenly, it’s like if the light has shifted around us. Despite the red face and the neck curtain, the stuttering, the pathetic initial stride, that little facial twist somehow got me melted. Who would have guessed?

George doesn’t look strong. More of a nerdy meets hipster dude. We go for coffee and I can hear the girls behind making sounds. We order some iced drinks, grab a seat and we talk. And talk. And talk. Then we get up. My hot twin students work at the shop, and they are already back, all bathed and everything. We must have been there forever. They giggle and wink. We leave, but first I make him ditch the muffler there.

Night falls, as we are entering my building. Three minutes and two floors later, we pass the door amidst a sloppy hard kiss, and I take his shirt off. Hang it over the hand of the old dummy on the wall. “My boyfriend,” I say, tapping the wood man’s third arm, which sticks out a few inches higher than my belly button, like a giant Kung Fu erection. It reacts with a whisper: “Clat!”

So wide are George’s eyes, they may drop. Should I say it’s a joke? Up to the end, he was still unsure if that was serious. No, let him wonder.

We kiss again. I mean, I kiss him and push him through the open loft, where I sleep, study and train. On the other side, a thin mattress laid straight on the floor pretends to be a bed. Never learned to sleep in a real one, too far from the ground, messes up with my chi. We stumble towards it and as soon as we get there, I swipe his leg. He falls on his back, mute.

My turn to undress.

Then, I finish the job. Still not sure I know what I do in the bed department, and nerds don’t get too much action. But his mouth hanging to the side as he fell asleep is still quite flattering. 

I wake up later. It’s pass midnight, my birthday. Everything’s quiet, and the apartment smells like sex. Plus flowers and my fighting gloves. Couldn’t have had a better start for the new year. He’s asleep and the only light comes from the neon sign from the restaurant across the street, which is enough. I roll towards the edge of the bed and reach to the drawer of the side table. Grab the little book, and a square-holed coin I flip in the air.

In my recursive memories, the i-Ching is the only thing that changes.

I watch the golden disk spin up and down, then fall quiet on the white cotton of my bed. Five to go. Except at that point he had his fingers back on me. So soft it sent a cool wave down towards my ass and my entire skin bursts up in chills. He says, “What’s this mountain?”

“Wudang. Where I was born.”

He watched for a while, browsing the tip of his fingers through the blue lines of my tattoos. The mountain, the fog, the tigress standing fierce, ready to attack.

“Is it really this foggy?”

“Those are clouds. That’s where I picked my name from. Claudia.”

Anyone else would have asked about the Tigress, always the tigress. Not George. He has no hostility, no anger, no scars. He’s only curiosity are for his brain things, his medicine books and how to make people feel better. In our lives together, he never once tried to compete. To protect. To be the prince. Once a dude tried to fight us in traffic. George didn’t mind I stepped up to defend us. Not beyond his usual disdain for physicalities, at least.

A true man of yin, for a girl of yang. Interesting how the Dao is. You spend your entire life preparing, then out of nowhere, a messenger comes to remind you your training isn’t done yet.

He gives me a gentle, wet kiss. And we fuck again.

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.