Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Wrack and rune

Yesterday I stumbled upon a post claiming that someone had programmed an artificial intelligence to cast magical spells, and that sent me down a rabbit hole that was way deeper than I'd expected.

The post was this:

So I googled "AI magical spells," and that was the last anyone saw of me for about four hours.

The first thing I ran into was an article in Vice about a GPT-3-powered AI interface called "Norn" that co-authored (so to speak) a book called A Chaos Magick Butoh GrimoireButoh is a Japanese dance form that incorporates "playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, and extreme or absurd environments," but I haven't found any indication that it's connected with magic or the occult, so that's peculiar right from the get-go.  Alley Wurds, the human half of the co-authorship of the Grimoire, apparently tied it in by practicing Butoh moves until exhaustion and then going to the computer to see what Norn could create about the experience.  "GPT-3 has read a huge amount of stuff that it cuts and pastes together in a stream of consciousness free association manner, due to its lack of long term memory," Wurds said.  "So GPT-3 is like the subconscious mind of the internet expressing itself through cut-ups. I’m using my experience in the occult to direct this subconscious mind, rather than just my own."

This resulted in disquieting shit like the following:

The knowledge ritual involves chanting a mantra.  The mantra must be repeated while walking deosil [clockwise] around the boundary of the circle, and then stopping at each of the four cardinal points to meditate upon the knowledge you seek...  You sit down, repeat the mantra, and visualize a pentagram glowing with light.  Once this pentagram is fully visualized, you must carve the pentagram upon your flesh, and repeat the mantra yet again.  You carve the pentagram upon your chest, and feel the blood trickling down.  Repeat the mantra.  Once you are ready, you then pick up your ceremonial blade and stab it through your chest, killing yourself.  You repeat the mantra as you die.  This causes your soul to be released from your body.  The knowledge you seek will appear in your mind.

So, upside: you get to find out the knowledge you're looking for!  Downside: you're dead.

Unsurprisingly, the hyper-religious and hyper-paranoid (the Venn diagram for those two sets would have considerable overlap) are seriously freaking out about stuff like this.  Allowing soulless machines to learn how to cast magic spells and summon demons and whatnot is going to open a portal to hell and release Cthulhu and activate the sigils of evil and the gods of the underworld alone know what else.  But I was having a hell of a time trying to find out where the original post -- the one about the AI casting runes -- came from.  There was a lot of shrieking hyperbole about how evil it was and how we were all doomed, but no one seemed to know for sure where it had originated.

It took me an inordinate amount of time to figure out that the runes weren't created by an AI at all, and had, in fact, zero to do with AI.

They were a set of rune designs developed by author Brandon Sanderson for his Cosmere fictional universe.

Emphasis, of course, on the fictional part.

I shoulda known.  Just last week a woman in Texas became internet-famous for posting on Facebook that parents shouldn't let their kids watch Hocus Pocus 2 because the characters in the movie "could be casting any type of spell [that]… could be coming through that TV screen into your home," and that it could "unleash hell on your kids."

Ignoring the fact that once again, Hocus Pocus 2 is a work of fiction.

So yeah.  That's how I spent my afternoon yesterday.  You'd think I'd have learned by this time.  Run into something like that, immediately say, "It's the conspiracy nuts freaking out over fiction again," and forthwith moving on to some more productive enterprise, like attempting to explain quantum physics to my dog.  But I guess I should look on it as a public service.  I delve into these things so you don't have to.

You're welcome.


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