My name is Ale Fernandez. I live in Barcelona, Spain and I'm Chilean and Italian.
I am a web developer, artist and technical researcher.
I've lived in Scotland, Italy, Spain and England and career-wise I am interested in distributed systems and their applications to improvised performance and ecology.

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9/21/2015

Design guidelines, narratives, clothing, history

This really long post is all notes put together from the past weeks and refers to the blog post a few weeks back (scroll down and you'll see it!) where I pitched the stories of various types of robot's adventures through a near future world, and some people suggested I do something with it. So I now have a Patreon page up and running to make the webcomic conceived in the last 3 posts here, and I've asked some more artists to join in, as well as having spent loads of evenings reading scripts by people like Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrisson. And I've written a draft comic script of some pages of the first chapter of the webcomic, but it's really basic and has hardly any dialogue. If you want to collaborate, I'll share it with you :)

At some point they liberate a water starved place and storm a storage depot to access these bottles
Why 10 episodes, 25 pages each?
So in researching how a script might have to work, I tried to see the natural progression that comics like "The Walking Dead" made, from webcomic to print, to series, film and game. Each medium is connected somehow, and an idea has to be able to develop across so many of them. And then I have to figure out what part of the story I want to tell in the short term. So the length is 10 episodes which can be drawn out or shortened, and where ideally quite a few work as isolated narratives too.

Quantic Dream and Naughty Dog are two producers of interactive drama games: The Last Of Us and Beyond: Two Souls are both taking the genre towards new areas of storytelling, and this can be seen reflected in other recent games that now try and go for stylistic elements and other plot themes than power struggles and are moving away from male stereotypes. Even the short film Kara shows a female character take the lead and centres more on the emotional aspect of the situation than the action or power struggle. 



The idea of new media content production in this whole area spans multiple genres: from a sketch, a characterisation can become a story and a storyboard, and become a webcomic or printed equivalent, and then might progress to become a TV series, and finally, a film and a video game. You can see how each of these media might take up a fraction of time of users and have different levels of immersion - from a tiny instant in the case of a sketch, or 5 minutes to read a storyline or a few pages of a webcomic, or the various hours it takes to read each comic but maybe 20-30 minutes on average is what it takes to read a single issue of a typical comic, so that a full graphic novel of 10 issues of that might take 5 hours to go through, but it's still a world where the game as a storytelling format is now reigning supreme. 

Here even a blockbuster film pales in comparison with the time you can spend and connection you can make with these other media, because they are so immersive(in a flashback you might get a cutscene, but nowadays a game flashback has you playing that character(whose 3d environment has to be crafted for this) even if it just serves to tell a small part of the story and so the medium can be very varied and rich, and not so concentrated into the 90 minute explosion that is modern hollywood, and also because it's relatively more difficult to pirate a game, which costs a lot more than a cinema ticket. Console and PC games on the other hand, will typically take around 30 hours of time for an average player to get through and can't be reduced to less than 10 hours worth of full cut-scenes, which have now such cinematic quality they can no longer be dismissed as non art:  - a new medium is being forged by these authors who are dictating new rules.

Loads of other arthouse games to check out: 
the good thing is they mostly have gameplay videos so you can see what it feels like without buying it. So the extended 10 chapter format for this story isn't so I can directly make a game, but it gives me freedom for example to think of what sort of music would accompany it, and how to zoom in on different parts of it. It's like an open framework for a universe in which there are set events on a timeline, and technologies and culture in use, to compose episodes and possible characters from it.   

Digital Personas


So back to the bot story from the past posts. I think a great persona and likeness for the grandma in the story is Lynn Hershmann. It seems fitting that cyborg girl and her grandma would have a hacker pseudonym and a real name. I love, apart from her love of Ada, also the Roberta Breitmore persona which is actually a second life avatar, meaning I can actually use it for the VR scenes in the bot story. 

Roberta Breitmore, last seen at http://humanitieslab.stanford.edu/climateclock/30

Later on in the adventure they find a robot factory which had been making intelligent sex bots. I'd like to use the 3d model of SexyCyborg, the Chinese DIY engineer who scanned her body, as an easy way to copy a model that's online already. As they find this factory somewhere in Asia I thought it should be an Asian looking character, and I like the idea of involving more ethnicities and showing the "Murican" - in this case Martina, with far too much knowledge of random western culture trivia and very little about local customs and manners. In the story the sexbot character (still nameless) discovers her hacker side so ends up wearing caps and dungarees.. The reason I've tried to find existing or scanned avatars is I hope that eventually some scenes could be done as screen grabs from a virtual game world, to create the VR world they start to set up. 

But I think the grandmas name should be Lyn Leeson and she should have a cyborg eye patch.

Grandma's spider bike
In the first episode Cyborg Girl mysteriously turns up to save Martina, the Rover-like robot upon her arrival from Mars. I'm still not clear on the reason cyborg girl split up with her grandma but maybe it's that grandma had to go and do something and left her with people she could trust, but then something happened so she couldn't get back in touch until she left her a tip that the Mars spacecraft was on its way.. Probably to do with surveillance and the need to lie low. So she took her to the most remote, least tech-dominated place where she could avoid the all seeing eyes of the drones, police and soldiers, And in the timeline of the story 2020 is the year they send the Martian rover up and war is going on between Russia and the ex-EU states and all kinds of places. So to suit her story, her grandma flees the US around then, goes to an eco-village/hacker community which is the place where she's bombed and attacked, and saves toddler Cyborg Girl's life in the flashbacks in episode 2. The hacker community is part of an old hacker network - like a neo-monastic system - by the time Martina arrives to earth the network all been bombed and destroyed, but some of the bombed outposts have people/robots still remaining. So at this point, during the 2020s, Grandma hides out in a factory, scavenges parts to save Cyborg Girl's life and have Freeda be part of it, and then migrates using a large but light "spider" hexapod bike built of scrap like bent metals and bamboo, when she's fixed up cyborg girl enough to leave. Her spider bike should only appear for a few scenes but you get to see she's built it herself and it has basic anti robot defence: a close range home made EMP, a graphene cloak/sail to hide from the detection of various long range sensors, and the ability to blend in to it's surroundings. Basically Europe is a disaster area and you have this kind of inverse refugee stuff going down, so all kinds of Europeans are going around towards Africa and Asia, and in Mexico the border drones are now used to repel those arriving from the north. So I think it'd be cool for cyborg girl to have a kurdish name like Aida, which is a bit like Ada, no not that Ada, this one
The Mantis or any hexapod is the best set of legs for wading through rubble
Future History, 2016-2026
Probably it's good to lay out also how the build up to the Martian singularity which would be around 2026. In 2016, the EU closes it's borders and treaties, Russia attacks Turkey and Germany and the US steps in to help. By 2018 war ravages Germany, Hungary, Turkey and Ukraine. Somehow the global economy had been working still, but at this point, economic mayhem ensues, and in January 2019 there's a global bank run, as established national currencies fall apart. Crypto-currencies take over in cities, so we'll see them in use until they get to the megacity where wealth is tied to ID. Regions like South America, India and Africa are left relatively untouched by this war but also suffer huge economic issues, societal breakdown and famine apart from the remotest places. In what was once the "western" world then, life in many areas becomes very dangerous and isolated. Across what remains of the middle east and Central Asia, society is now led by town and village councils, who implement a federated currency allowing them a functional local economy, but also inhabit areas with vastly changed temperatures due to global warming and frequent droughts - so no-one from the cities really needs them and they are mostly left alone. Hospitals, schools and other services are provided by the town councils, but drones and soldiers force people to work, in return for water and building materials. In 2020 a worldwide crop failure brings huge mayhem across the ex EU member states, ex-soviet states and even the US which splits into various states and is reduced to the east coast which continues calling itself the USA. Throughout all this time the Mars program is still financed by rich businessmen who plan to begin a colony there. NASA is closed shortly after the 2020 launch and by 2026, all that remains is a small office building with the necessary equipment to follow the Rover's daily missions, governments are run by ever smaller elites or directly by commercial military contractors, and in fact most military drones are controlled directly by very advanced commercial superintelligence systems, so that many in powerful positions fear the singularity, a fear which is made real when the General Intelligence orders drones and human armies to lay siege to major capitals. 

Location
Apart from the amazing central asian clothing cyborg girl would have adopted & adapted, to contrast most cyborgs' overly military or western look in manga like Battle Angel or Appleseed, with a self made DIY style - so maybe she even uses wood and she tans and varnishes it to make it shinier and stronger. I don't want the tech to be all military and commercial in this - when the "good" robots make it, and even when humans patch up robots for various uses or reasons, it has to look very imaginative and strange. But although it seems to have lovely people, music and clothing styles, Uzbekistan is not known to be a very nice place:

"Uzbekistan, is one of the few countries in the world where the use of forced labour in the cotton industry is systematically organised by the state. However, the Government of Uzbekistan denies that forced labour is an official policy, claiming that citizens volunteer out of loyalty to their community and take part as a form of traditional voluntary labour called “khashar”."
(From http://www.antislavery.org/english/campaigns/cottoncrimes/forced_labour_in_uzbekistan_background.aspx)

The reason I thought of Uzbekistan when they arrive and the story begins is that the way I understand this country, although there is wealth and western artefacts and knowledge, there are also a lot of problems associated with future global warming events are there already: floods, droughts, huge water & land mismanagement in the name of monetary wealth, a despotic government, community work turned into forced government labour, and if Martina arrived close to a cotton picking area, people's faces would be completely covered, some in official areas, in white overalls with white balaclavas, which makes for a very scary arrival.

There is even a lot of abandoned stuff: like the rusted ships in the dried out Aral Sea, old soviet contraptions and buildings, and monuments that look like spaceships. The images of ancient Mongol walls still present in many Uzbek cities could easily be decked out with turrets and be a General Intelligence base for the heroes to mess with. The only future or fictional addition here is that somehow people have made cheap gas masks for the pollution, and that they are organising in clandestine meetings and overthrowing things. The people they meet then, are all old, disabled, women or children, the men presumably having been taken by the General Intelligence's soldiers to work making cotton for rich city beings, enrolled as soldiers or just plain killed
I can't find the image where a gardener wears a white balaclava. This is from an article on forced child labour from 2008
Future History 2026-2040
When the Mars rover discovers the bacterial sample that ends up bringing about the singularity, we discover they are actually never really shown much information about earth, but that one of the computers from an earlier mission still has an old hard drive with a few terabytes worth of TV shows, film, and history documentaries, and as a result of testing the bacterially enhanced OS on themselves, their first reaction is to combine every bit of data they have available, and so also realise they aren't being told what is the real situation on earth. Due to their communications (perhaps with a "Dr Breitmore") the General Intelligence(the evil military/commercial AI in the story) flags the Mars program as a threat and asks for it to be shut down. Sensing a problem from lack of contact then, the Martian AI sends an encoded message to earth, piggybacking on a number of satellite signals besides the channel used to talk to the Mars program scientists. In return, the US superintelligence hacks the old iridium satellite network to be an obfuscation network - so that any future transmissions from Mars not only get scrambled but also blanked out completely by the network of satellites, and that future attempts to contact Mars can't get through. Soon after, nuclear warheads are fired on various areas: various US cities, London, Moscow, Kiev, Rome, Madrid, Baghdad, and as a result entire countries, cities and regions have to be abandoned and highly populated areas are destroyed.

But free software hackers(of course in the story they are the good guys and are also the "creators" of the robots) were watching the whole Mars situation, and discovered this singularity episode. So when the Martian team release a dump of this last transmission from Mars across the internet, an illegal de-cyphering network is created so that the communication is deciphered by 2030, and across the world, hackers, now in hiding and rapidly being hunted out, upload their firmware to their home-made robots. The Grandma/Breitmore character, leaves her Asian laboratory(which at the end of the tale becomes this "abandoned" underwater lab), and as part of this collective, they steals and reprogram a fleet of AMM Frida industrial robots and name them "Freedas". The same thing happens in other areas where a lot of mass produced robots are around for example with Honda Asimo robots and driver-less cars, but these are mostly destroyed or controlled when the General AI becomes self-aware. The most likely thing they would find then would be isolated robotic experiments: free robots are repressed by both humans and the General AI. The East-US military intelligence had already access to the singularity transmissions 2 years before these hacker attempts, but it had been hacked already by a Chinese AI, which was predicting the moves of its adversary, until it engineered a situation where it was able to take over and "peacefully" annex the US and it's superintelligence. As far as the world is concerned though, these 2 military powers are still ruled by humans and governments.  



Meanwhile, by the 2030s the situation with the environment was reaching a grave situation: pollution, resource scarcity(very small amounts remaining of fossil fuels, and uranium), increasing temperature extremes worldwide and the resource wars and migration that ensued, meant also that the general intelligence's power was limited and it was dependent on human actors for its survival. It wanted to find new forms of energy so set about devoting all military resources and fossil fuel to maintaining its dominance in factories and mines, and researching new technologies like the ones found at the LHC so it doesn't need "old power" any more. It decided then that it would pay / sell arms to regional warlords to do it's dirty deeds where it didn't have the power to work directly, and instituted the cyber silk road - a way to mine graphite and metals from the ever increasing crater that is Europe in this story and send them to China to build its megacity - which maybe the General Intelligence calls J3 for short? The road which they join in episode 3, where they would meet interlocking sentient self drive cars, follows this logic: it exists because of a shared culture and technology across it's length: high speed cars travel overhead, but locals have built more ramshackle roads that feed in or out of it and use it for their own transport. So it's kind of Pax Robotica like the strange "pax mongolica" that came out of Mongol rule (yes and they were very violent but also brought stability across the silk road) by having a large trade route with a common culture and set of rules.. I want to show mobile peoples, and the kind of great marches we are seeing across Europe have once again become a way of life instead of a journey without end. In the 2040s these digital, robotic and human nomads take it in their stride and walk or ride endlessly across Europe, fixing and guiding the vehicles and paying tax, but we'll show General Intelligence troops getting attacked by bandits and that it's actually starting to struggle and local leaders are beginning to prefer confrontation to delivery of tributes without discussion.

In one episode I think a great intro is to show all the wonderful faery intentional communities of the future, looking like something very much of the past, like a mixture of hippies and bombed out blitz survivors, who use the channel network of a now flooded UK to deliver tributes of gathered metals in a pompous ceremony, ending in its consignment to an enormous Chinese naval vessel somehow adapted as a huge tanker manned by soldiers wearing glasses much like google glass.    

Food tech
People of the future eat insects, as we all know(lol), but it's not so known that they can also use them to produce metal alloys and armour. So maybe when Martina arrives to earth in the first episode there is a local village with it's own protectors and independent organisation but that pays a tribute to the general AI via local warlord troops, by working in a factory making these alloys. The racial composition of the people there now is mixed as many European and a few US refugees are among them. It would be good to have a scene where in the background kids help a woman to pick up fruit fallen from a stall in a droid attack, and then line up for a free one after it's all tidied up. Another scene would show a freckled redhead getting hassled for being an "illegal". 

In the beginning people eat insect meat, farmed underground, but they also have goats who somehow don't get too radioactive eating foraged bits of grass here and there. With the arrival of the robots, tech ideas ensue, and they soon spread: they grow mushrooms, keep animals, and perfect the use of solar to charge batteries, in order to grow vegetables underground. The reason everything has to happen underground in 2040 is the air is quite acidic and polluted. Everything is covered in a sick dust that makes your eyes water and makes you cough uncontrollably after about half an hour. Martina shows them how to self produce lots of different technologies, and the first can be Graphene based clothes made from adapted silk spiders. The General AI's motto is to never give anything away - so they don't give data on how to make stuff and teach people only the tiny part involved in each task. Tech is basically outlawed for anyone but people under the pay of the General AI. If it could travel forward in time and sideways a few dimensions, I'm sure Microsoft itself would hire the general ai. But the robots' tech is DIY everything - almost pranking the General Intelligence's weaponry with each unconventional idea. This is because it's about the singularity and I want to show how the robots are outsmarting each other. Also I want to show the General AI use tech invented by the good bots for "evil", and vice versa. Like most megalomaniacal military superintelligences, it could have a standard issue evil cackle and is thoroughly convinced that it's in fact good and the others are the evil ones. This small mindedness is it's ultimate downfall. It doesn't even think of going to space, as it thinks of more ways to dominate humanity and use it to construct bits of it's brain or empire. 

LGBTI-Cy?
Socially, the arrival of the remote possibility in people's minds that China was not even under human control, meant that robots are completely a no-no in the minds of people in the 2040s and people are very hostile to Martina initially, although her actions quickly win over the populace. There are absolutely no cyborgs at this point, as the singularity has caused a kind of social rift where robotic extensions are concerned, so people choose other ways of changing the way they look. I think every character should have an arc where they somehow accept their position in the new robotic paradigm, where you can be made of anything and extend yourself in any way you imagine, even blurring what it actually means to be you. Cyborg Girl hides her robotic parts and has a love hate relationship where she's ashamed of them when not fighting. Most people fear any robotic parts they had would be controlled by the general AI. This is in fact correct - the general AI manufactures and adds secret back-doors to most robot parts so it can control them remotely, and does the same with its human augmentations but it can also hack vanilla human brains, although this depends on a wireless or RF signal being present. This is what happens in the episode where they meet Kenny's family further on in the story, and they are already cyborgs, but without the security stuff that Martina would had coded in for that first battle, so they get hacked. But Martina, Frida and Cyborg Girl set out planning, forging and assembling very simple parts and sensors built from local materials and allowing for the birth of the cyborg as a positive evolution from the human condition. Maybe they give it a traditional name like Altan, instead of using the word cyborg. So this is actually a "cyborg origin" story, where people shunned for their robot-ness slowly get accepted, and others who would want to be human or superhuman despite being robots, realise that humanity is a limited concept for robots, who can be who or what they want. I think this transhuman trend is happening today with disabled people who are now able to 3d print new limbs that are functional and stylish. 

I think the general AI at this point sees the benefits of using this human desire to become robotic as a weapon: it calls them "augmentations", and people who have them are "augments", not cyborgs. Ads spread calling for mind uploading - a way to live forever. The difference is in the quality of the parts, the ease with which the general intelligence can hack them, and the fact that Augments are very much human looking(or better). Soon, the cyborg culture initiated by cyborg girl and friends, embraces non-anthropomorphic forms, something augments never do. 

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