Electron Dance
7Apr/2010

A Hundred Cyborgs: Mathematics

Chris Bateman published his book The Virtuous Cyborg back in 2018 which explores how technology is not morally neutral because our behaviour - being the cyborgs in the book's title - is shaped and influenced by the technology we augment ourselves with. Technology in this context does not mean circuitry or even software, but a tool for changing the way we deal with the world. It can even be conceptual.

So when Chris asked if I wanted to contribute to his ongoing A Hundred Cyborgs series, where he looks at the impact of one technology in a brief 500 word post I thought, okay, yes, but I'm not noted for my 500 word constraints :)

And it's done, it's out there, it's 500 words of real. You can read my contribution, entry #81 in the series, on mathematics as technology on Chris' site.

For many people, mathematics is that thing you do with numbers. In reality, it is an enormous, constantly evolving subject from which new concepts spring every year, the applications of which are rarely obvious at first. The square root of -1, the “imaginary number”, turns up in electrical engineering. Group theory, which is essentially an analysis of addition, turns out to be important for encryption and crystallography. Who knew.

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  1. Great article, Joel! I think this text would easily fit in a video, with images of people running down the streets, scenes of city from above, images of industries, slowing getting empty, people with masks, scientists, doctors, hospitals, then a panel of green letters and numerals like in matrix and in the final line talking about Covid-19 and the distrust in mathematics (i.e. science in general) it appears the image of a sad Boris Johnson.

  2. Thanks for giving it a read, Pedro! Maybe it would make a decent video, but your suggestion reminds me a lot of Koyaanisqatsi, which is of course something I would aspire to make…

  3. It is indeed exactly the shape of what I imagined. Who knows, maybe you should give it a try some day! When you become a famous and immortal filmmaker remember those who inspired your path to glory.

  4. I should keep the faith that I will indeed become a famous filmaker. Hopefully it won’t be posthumous recognition.

  5. Have you seen Koyaanistocksi, which is Koyaanisqatsi but with stock footage? Though that also seems like it could describe the Under Pressure video.

    OK well you know where I’m going with this one but I feel like I should say something thoughtful about your excellent essay. Maybe later. Though the crowd scenes remind me of Chantal d’Akerman’s d’Est, and that reminds me that I was up far too late last night watching some of Jake Eakle’s world-record Cinco Paus run, which I later realized was something I did because it was basically the Chantal Akerman of gaming videos. Also then today I blew up my own run in an incredibly stupid fashion on the last screen of the 33rd game, when I would’ve been able to just walk to the exit.

  6. Matt, I hadn’t heard of Koyaanistocksi but thank you for sharing it! I’m currently working through Puddle Knights more than anything, easily eats up those moment of the day.

  7. And I knew exactly what was going to happen when I foolishly clicked on your tubedubber link.

  8. I’m not sure whether that link counts as Schmuck Bait. I didn’t even tinyurl it to conceal its tubedubberosity.

    I obtained Fidel and had to adjust my expectations–it’s not a “roguelike with undo,” it’s Cosmic Express meets Desktop Dungeons, and you should expect to erase your entire path a lot. But it also has a thing where sometimes if you don’t get enough XP on the early levels you’re doomed at the end, and that walking dead phenomenon is the thing that upsets me most. Except I don’t mind Turn One Dick Move puzzles at all. I wonder why? Part of it is that you can always reset the puzzle and try again, but then again that was true of the bits of Celeste that bothered me (where if you don’t maneuver precisely at the beginning, you run out of time at the end) and those reset too.

  9. I haven’t looked into Fidel at all. Is it roguelike? Or is it a roguelike puzzler/dance puzzler (a la Ending, Rust Bucket, DROD)?

  10. It’s not precisely a roguelike/dance puzzler as I understand it, because the enemies don’t move for the most part. I don’t seem to be able to dig up the original Rogue and the Artiste newsletter but IIRC that’s a big part of what bugged you about them, since everything moves it’s chaotic (in the technical sense) and hard to plan ahead.

    I should just explain the mechanics: You play a doggo on a leash that has to make a path through a dungeon. You can’t cross over the leash so you have one continuous line (that’s the Cosmic Express part). The dungeon is full of monsters that mostly stand still and attack back in deterministic fashion–one dead monster = 1 HP damage to you, generally. (That’s the Desktop Dungeons part.) You can always undo to plot out a new path (Cosmic Express part again) though if you die twice on a level a ghost will sweep you up and end your game (this is neither CE or DD, I think originally the ghost served as a timer until Bemergui realized that sucked and exiled it to an unlockable game mode, but honestly I don’t like it even this much). You have to find a path through that gets you enough XP to level up and get deeper into the levels (DD-ish, though the tricks that apply are totally different).

    I dunno, it’s perfectly cromulent, sometimes I enjoy the puzzle modes/daily puzzle challenges a bit more because I know there must be a way to succeed as opposed to me having failed to gather enough XP, but sometimes that is like a less legible Cosmic Express. It’s clear why in CE you lay your track and let the train go while in this one you take it step by step (besides a couple mechanics that go beyond path-drawing); in Fidel it would be dreadfully tedious to look at a path and try to work out whether it was survivable.


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