Home Page for a Cybernetic Cinema


With images from the computer generated motion picture Cibernetik 5.3 (Los Angeles, 1960-65).

Our minds have evolved an ability to envision our potential futures and make choices that support survival. These qualities have been sustained through story telling and pursued further through many technologies. A cybernetic cinema as described here is extended through artificial intelligence and abstract environmental simulations. During the past few centuries our personal consideration and decision making process has been almost completely usurped by an institutional process, and so natural abilities are substituted by a demand for repetitive production. Ultimately there is little creative difference between the highest paid Hollywood screenwriter and the lowest paid factory worker, or the executive who makes authoritative decisions to fund a particular project. The result is usually unimaginative in any viable sense and seldom anything other than media indoctrination which was designed by someone who usually had little actual understanding or consideration for anyone or anything; other than short-term profits. In such an environment a cybernetic intelligence may well be far more honest, open, original and capable of writing considerably more inspiring stories; as well as assisting with our personal understanding and encouraging our own vision making process. During the early 1960's I developed several computer animation systems to explore the potential of simulations and artificial intelligence techniques, in order to understand a process of creating digitally synthesized movies. The use of artificial intelligence techniques and environmental simulations were in small part also stimulated by a lack of digital graphic displays during that period. While the absence of any graphic hardware attached to computers made any personally controlled design work a near impossibility, it also may have to a limited extent encouraged the creation of several more significant alternative design techniques, based on genetic, environmental and artificial intelligence mechanisms; and as a result the earliest computer motion picture production was developed based on a series of new techniques, which offered a range of potentials that have yet to be explored five decades later. Fundamentally the design methods utilized were self-regulating in nature; in other words capable of blindly originating and evolving all three-dimensional forms within transformational environments based on simulating elementary principles of nature, genetics and the process of observation. The original motivation for the work was to create a tool that could help discover visions that would extend beyond our normal comprehension; whether based on our personal perceptions or based on some understanding of various aspects of the unfolding of life. It was becoming clearly helpful to extend our process of understanding through cybernetic techniques and biological methods; and gradually develop our ability to interpret and arrange DNA sequences and to observe the consequences of our decisions or lack of understanding; based on a demonstrable effort to assimilate a useful working knowledge of molecular biology, physics, genetics and behavior; all of which continues to define how our lives can be used along with our relationship with nature.

The designs of these cybernetic motion picture systems were intended to approach a more typical way of viewing objects, even if they initially created comparatively simple forms in such preliminary systems. Naturally I considered any purely mathematical approach to graphics too limiting for motion purposes; since we are used to, and literally designed to deal with objects in three-dimensional space with continuous movements, as well as respond to continually changing environmentally influences. Since there were no graphic display devices normally attached to computers of the early 1960's there was virtually no way of observing or visualizing any of the design processes of a production until the entire film was generated and plotted weeks later, even that was completely new. So the cybernetic systems designed were created to set a large number of events in motion, most of which would not be visible since over half of the space was behind the viewer or to the sides. Based on computational speed I estimated that up to twenty-five forms could be generated and sustained in the three-dimensional environment, where each form could create its own range of influences or fields that would in turn affect the objects around itself; while simultaneously a variety of global energy fields, could, like weather, affect all the objects based on movement and distance, which would result in distortions, color and shape transformations, as well as initiate a process of creation and disintegration. Given the transparent nature of the initial images, naturally the results were comparatively abstract in nature, although adhering to physical rules; while more complex articulated solid forms were being addressed in the subsequent meta-systems which were designed to rapidly create widely divergent approaches to motion picture and acoustic simulation systems, which included music and environmental sounds which were in fact first created for Cibernetic 5.3. Naturally the cybernetic systems created their own designs that would have never occurred to me; the system was originating, evolving and producing the movie, not me, which made it a particularly curious process for me to watch. I only created the system which created the rules or learned how to make the movies. Unlike current single criteria genetic design system, which may typically be used in developing some complex engineering solution, which implemented the sexual transfer of DNA design elements in order to arrive at perhaps a single range of designs; the cybernetic systems evolved here were asked to continue with the origination of completely unexpected creations, regardless of consequences, that we may ultimately consider of greater or lesser interest, and which we may refine based on our individual assessments.

After several decades have passed it's obvious that technology at its lowest levels has progressed extraordinarily well with the display of illuminated solids with surface texture, reflections and shadows; having eventually become common place and meticulously controlled, however the creation of computer animated motion pictures is still extraordinarily labor intensive; and vast amounts of time will no doubt be required to build more intelligent systems from the bottom-up; unfortunately without a more clear understanding of the potentials and an understanding of the tools that are necessary. However the more involved process of objects knowing how to create and grow themselves, as well as interact with other animated beings has still not been particularly addressed or perhaps continued since this cybernetic motion picture simulation. Perhaps such an evolution of technology is waiting for encouragement from the biotechnology community, to even believe that such software potentials are realistically feasible. Well it has always been feasible and the system engineers should be aware of the issues and be encouraging the molecular biology researchers with functional simulation tools to allow for the large scale simulation of a multitude of paths to expand our knowledge of genetic development and differentiation, by originating extraordinarily detailed animated creatures from actual DNA samples, where we could select the developmental evolution of any creature and automatically provide anatomically correct simulations, movement and social interactions. Obviously dialogue and stories would be incidental to an extraordinary new tool to help us envision life throughout the universe, and symbiotically create the missing life forms on our earth as a result of our ancestors unrestrained violence and ignorance, or simply as a result of a blind evolutionary process which occasionally creates wonderful discoveries and then forces us into endless disasters, that are in fact completely unnecessary. In any simulation by defining a creature's needs, resources and abilities, whether in a wilderness or in some urban setting, such creatures would then create their own lives or stories, that could illustrate worlds that we may have never considered, or were perhaps lost through a lack of consideration, or significantly disastrous futures that we would be wise to consciously avoid. Perhaps a movie that can offer some insight for our own personal benefit may be able to hold our attention, and perhaps at the same time offer some useful understanding of our life potentials. A cybernetic cinema can offer the possibility of individualized movies specifically designed for each person's needs, as personal as any dream, with consciously realistic interpretations of our psychology, biology and the knowledge of our world. The film classics that continue to be seen decades later regularly offered such understandings that in some ways benefited its audience. Whether this is a result of some filmmaker's ingenuity, or simply very favorable circumstances, we might still consider what's occurring in our lives and imagination as relevant, because any such film insights are very rare, often rewarding and perhaps helpful to our survival. The strictly business approach to filmmaking that has become almost universal could be easily eclipsed by a cognitive script writing software package that would offer a far better writing alternatives with thousands of improved choices. Better yet let the computer create the actors and shoot the movie while we sleep, and leave it on our hard-drive in a high-definition format; and if the movie is in any way not what you wanted, then naturally discuss the matter with your computer (that is, reselect the parameters or alter the environmental and psychological factors) and ask for 5 or 10 more motion pictures; perhaps varying the actors' personality factors, which would naturally, in each production, subtly alter the entire story. Since digitally simulated productions can be imaginatively scripted, precisely rendered and mass transmitted by anyone, then what's the value of a movie studio or a distribution system? If our own dreams can create experiences for us in places that have never existed, that go well beyond anything in any motion picture, all for just a few pennies worth of glucose, then we might imagine future technologies which can read neural events and reconvey them for anyone, and perhaps in the process open completely new ways of conveying understanding, becoming educated or communicating with other species. I took a graduate course in the electrical stimulation of the brain during the mid 1960's at UCLA with my own personal attention reviewing depth electrode research and responses. Now digital neural interfaces are being created that may allow for the beginning of a direct mind to digital processor interface. So why wouldn't we consider some of the more promising alternatives that allowed the blind to see; however using a benign interface, analogous to magnetic resonance that could help provide us with far greater capabilities to create vastly better lives for ourselves, or even to simply create films that are more imaginative and at far lower costs? Communications based on cybernetics, can certainly be originated independent of our conscious control, perhaps in some ways much as a dream, and may be offered as a tool to review our life history, or perhaps be used to consider our extraordinary future potentials, or to evaluate the approaches we are now energizing daily through our work and the commitment of our personal resources; as well as possibly offering us a way of considering our actual process of caring for and protecting the natural world. This may inevitably result in the creation of a new human species that is born knowing our universe better than ourselves and consistently able to fulfill our potentials in their own ongoing process of evolution. The alternative is to watch the disintegration of our species. Death is simply nature's way of encouraging change, perhaps occasionally for the better, however without a great deal of consciousness. We have the capabilities to sustain a benign evolution without death, that fully accommodates the principles of nature; if we could focus on such a goal, and not be deceived or engaged in the abusive qualities of humanity.

Naturally a comprehensive genetic simulation would aspire to have the ability to recreate a full range of creatures in anatomical detail to provide for movement, swimming or flying; all based on and corresponding to DNA samples provided and sequenced; or alternatively DNA sequences may be synthesized and selected to recreate species that have become extinct; or the process of evolution may be accelerated through simulations to examine our own future potentials and the entire ecological equation that surrounds our life. Cybernetic simulations have to some extent already become an essential working tool in our effort to predict damages, protect and care for the earth, and perhaps significantly to support the evolutionary process of anyone who may choose to extend any potential. Considerably greater understanding is certainly needed and in turn can significantly benefit humanity and the continuity of all species; which in turn can encourage extraordinary changes in how we view our own lives and potentials or perhaps how long we may need to live. I expect that an intensive working general education could last perhaps 100 years and at least another 200 productive and educational years would be desirable. Of course our actual understanding of the life mechanisms needed to create effective biologic and environmental simulations is well beyond our current knowledge and capabilities; but perhaps not impossible to approach with intensive research efforts and a willingness to integrate an extraordinary range of detail. The evolution of life on earth has been intentionally derailed over many centuries and replaced by a process of extinction, and human progress has been similarly regulated and terminated. While many of the issues have been studied, however the positive alternatives may not be well understood or even considered, perhaps because a process of understanding is not the focus of research nor is such information accessible to support our work, and consequently there are few supportive vision that are considerate of life or nature. So the research nurtured by science, the observations of ecologists or architectural interpretations rarely integrate or even address any relevant life issues; artists and filmmakers like anyone else are usually willing to create any delusions, distractions and the entertainment for pay, and then watch the slow death of humanity and the planet as if it were a private matter. If the needs of these crafts are too difficult for artists or scientists to address, then perhaps some computer program will inevitably be more capable and creative in digesting the significant issues of life, as well as creating the screen plays or motion pictures; none of which need dwell on the problems of the present; since we've had centuries of such dramas, comedies and diversions with little benefit. The arts may simply be a better way of introducing understanding and helping us figure-out how we could participate. No doubt artists and scientists may need to have personally lived through such understandings and struggles. However an approach based on a more complete understanding may be in contradiction to a culture that doesn't grasp or wouldn't tolerate any consciously helpful approach; and so a more complete education still needs to be accomplished on a personal basis. Unfortunately that could take several decades of intensive work to advance in any useful research or learning efforts, perhaps because the knowledge handed down to us, has become extraordinarily fragmented in specialties that we barely understand or ever have the opportunity to participate in; and so we have inadvertently become dependant on the systems that are responsible for a process of global devastation; which is a considerably greater dilemma than any need for diversion or entertainment. However in a world that is vulnerable to destruction through the endless repetition of countless individual learning experiences the educational process itself so no longer a survivable course. Nevertheless what we might do in order to understand and document useful knowledge can significantly help with the survival of human nature and the natural world.


Cibernetik 5.3 Preliminary Notes:

The Cibernetik programs were developed between 1960 and 1964 in the basements of Santa Monica College and UCLA’s Boelter Hall on an IBM 7094, as personal research into movies and biologic systems. The original concept was to create an animation system that would allow anyone to create an animated movie as easily as writing a story. In the early 1960’s work on Cybernetik was encouraged by the efforts of Watson and Crick, and so the Cybernetic systems initially incorporated their own primitive genetic models to originate the forms and designate their related sounds using Bell Labs Music 4; along with a range of three-dimensional spatial environments where these forms could evolve, in fields of light, energy and gravity; all of which incidentally left far too many possibilities to even begin considering how to coordinate all the details. So a top-down AI learning system was implemented, which controlled the origination of both the environments and their visual organisms; based on personal opinions. The film result was the observation of their interactions. Naturally I had only a vague idea of what might be produced, particularly since there were no computers with graphic displays available at that time. Most of the algorithms for this film were new, implemented years before being discovered elsewhere. If done now, a similar system might offer new creatures or a new human species, a range of possible worlds they might inhabit, or ones we would choose to build, all the sounds, the climate, their aspirations, and naturally an infinity of stories; all of which could no doubt be done perhaps more originally and imaginatively, by a computer, than most of what passes through our film industry. Fulfilling the possibility of a cybernetic art could help with an understanding of nature and our own visionary or planning process. But to develop such an art a great deal of new knowledge would undoubtedly be needed including the ability to simulate genetic development which is substantially unknown; as well as modeling our psychological mechanisms, our symbolic or financial compulsions, along with the better known mechanisms of the physical sciences. Cibernetic system 5, version 3 was simply the stick figure version of such an environmental simulation that would naturally run indefinitely; which could be simply excerpted as a movie or could run with as an interactive simulation. Perhaps a more detailed simulation might help us observe our own life situation, or help us function in the world we may care to live-in; nurture, protect or help create. The last third of the film contains fisheye images of friends at UCLA’s Botanical Gardens that were merged with some of the computer animation. Since 1965 I spent many years developing considerably more advanced system software to expand these possibilities, along with architectural and environmental building tools, and was tempted to continue because of the fundamental advances that might be created. However by 1980 after building and programming all the equipment needed to digitally animate on 35mm film, and meeting with Bill Hanna, Disney and Warner Brothers; their interest seemed to be in dealing with a big corporation and a thoroughly proven commercially marketed product and nothing else, and since cybernetic animation tools didn't exist at that time or even now for that matter, personal labor at 16 hours per day for over two decades and continuing for more decades with zero support was too high a price to pay, and no doubt was not physically survivable. While creating advanced simulation software can be extremely involved and labor intensive. Nevertheless innovation was clearly not anything of interest then to anyone else at UCLA or in Hollywood, then or perhaps now for that matter. The commercial interests were essentially there to win with any primitive consumer product, which ultimately meant that business needs more people to consume more products until we experience a planetary collapse or at least the permanent degradation of our species. In any case this is the point of most business schools and university programs. So noticing a much more fundamental human issue and the futility of my extraordinarily costly and personally exhausting 65000 hour endeavor; all done without grants and supported by miscellaneous unrelated jobs; my attention shifted from movies and software as relevant working tools, to the actual care and restoration of the natural world, and the development of techniques to assist endangered species, along with an understanding of the potentially compatible relationships with what remains of our wilderness and our biological potential. This happens to be a far simpler approach to life that anyone can participate with, and directly offer some benefit to the most threatened of life creations that have evolved here over millions of years and surpass anything we could ever hope to build with all our efforts. Naturally I soon found out that most people actually don't care about nature, although they consistently say they do; and so they are always ready to destroy it all for money, as if destroying something rare somehow created value. Our survival is now very much dependant on dealing with an unconscious humanity that will destroy literally anything for money or consumption. Unlike most endeavors, what’s extraordinary about nature is that it’s a self-regulating, cybernetic or a self-caring system that may well be at least as conscious or capable as ourselves. Perhaps the Cibernetik project was simply a discovery that we could to some extent cooperatively create on these same terms, which might help lead us toward a greater respect for the creation, in which we are a small and potentially a compatible portion. Naturally I don’t view the cybernetic arts as a dead-end endeavor, but something which can be very labor intensive in order to develop all the various system components, and which may have an extraordinary future; in any case there are now many people designing some of the basic graphic components. Nevertheless our brain is also our built-in simulator of potential futures; however with billions of other minds also attempting to control the outcome, by insisting on the creation of endless conflicts and pressures; all with little or no effort to heal the damages or help encourage any benefits; there are now obviously more crucial issues that need our consideration and assistance. Although no further films followed, this project led to an understanding of more direct approaches to participating or cooperatively creating with nature and life. The limits of our knowledge are always extraordinarily close to us, they are the frontiers essential to life and understanding, they are always offered to us and are deserving of our time.

  1. This era was documented in the book Expanded Cinema by Gene Youngblood and foreword by R. Buckminister Fuller 1970, in Cybernetic Cinema, The Aesthetics of Machine Language, pages 239-246, http://artscilab.org/expandedcinema/part4.pdf

  2. Music courtesy of, and with appreciation of Tod Dockstader, from Quatermass, 1964, distributed by Starkland ST-201 (CD) http://www.starkland.com/ST-201/

  3. Thanks to the UCLA Computer Club and Academic Computing for making IBM 7094 time available; and Pat O’Neill for making a 16mm contact printer available to assemble the black and white materials; With appreciation to Paul Klee (1879-1940) for the Thinking Eye; and Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943) for the Computational Basis of the Arts, Philosophical Library 1948.

(js, August 18, 2002)

Why artificial intelligence or a cybernetic art?

Our present economic world overloads a few people with enormous mental tasks, typically as specialist with expected industrial efficiency, allowing others to act with little or no understanding; all of which continually creates unresolvable conflicts; while those pursuing understanding try to resolve such life altering dilemmas, without costing anyone anything or causing any disturbing or unwelcomed changes; while the complexities of our economy tend to enforce environmental destruction and overpopulation, in order to pursue economic growth, and exacerbate humanity’s extraordinary personal needs, encourage conflict, deny justice, avoid sustainability or wilderness restoration, ignore longevity and human evolution, as an unwritten corporate belief systems, while the needs of life are ignored, all defended by an education that’s devoid of any in depth technical deunderstanding, consequently without any working tools or abilities, then followed by futile personal expenditures of time and money that only buy more suffering and social control, which can only spell out our ancient history of abuse, that extend back to our childhood and invisibly influence nearly every decision we make, and with only one subtle unnoticed error destroys all of our labors and visions. It’s little wonder that we all need help to understand and survive, individually or as a species. Individually we may be comparatively harmless, but leveraging our powers through organization or technology has provided us the ability to destroy with little to no interest in relinquishing that power, which is multiplied and rewarded as the highest and best use of our time. I would begin by considering what is essential to the continuation of a wilderness, its species, ourselves and our energy to fulfill evolution and consideration for nature. However such an approach might cause us to notice that a great deal of human energy and personal relationships are in conflict, often demanding rights to consume, inflict damages, abuse and waste; and perhaps we cannot see how to resolve the incredible complexity of all the interactions that we know are relevant but not fully revealed to us, or perhaps we may even discover conflict only by being considerate, well intentioned and appreciating a process of understanding, or perhaps complications may just be caused simply by our own existence, or someone else may supply a lack of understanding or cause abuse. Now how do we even begin to notice such dilemmas within a complex set of relationships any of which can impact our survival? Most people accumulate some helpful experiences over the decades, but as the level of complexity, mechanization and population grows, solutions are becoming more formidable, seldom achieved, rarely even considered in the media, even difficult to recognize or perhaps imagine what they could be, and those who are confident that they have found it, may be destroying it. So how do we go about envisioning our potential and creating some beneficial personal understanding? Our minds are certainly capable of envisioning a myriad of advanced possibilities, but somehow problems creep in and vast numbers of significant details may be overlooked, and our potential may not be fully realized. We can easily not survive the process. So the question might come up, do we have any tools or techniques to help? Can any knowledge available address our personal needs and be supportive, address injustices and environmental damage? Or is the entire planetary system being overwhelmed and stressed almost exclusively for the purposes of power and money with little regard to all the other critical life issues; and perhaps people can no longer comprehend or support any working solutions? How much of this is due to media programming or human vulnerability? Can anyone create a competing vision that appeals to humanity and addresses the fundamental life issues that might capture the imagination in a real way; or can an advanced machine support a better comprehension of the personal processes of life we experience, with greater consideration and imagination, and how would we begin to educate such machine? These are the sort of design issues that arose during the early programming process of the cybernetic systems, and so I tried to figure out how a machine could be caused to resemble knowing what we know even in some very limited way, by limiting extraneous possibilities with a sense of understanding was the intention. What I noticed was that a machine that can simply mimic complex interactions with no experiential history of its own can give rise to absolutely unimaginable visions and solutions, some of which we might want to observe. A cybernetic art may become the crystal ball that can look into all futures. Simply considering precisely how this may be done can provide our imaginations this same freedom, and perhaps enrich our movies, architecture, music, stories and particularly our own lives. The cybernetic tools are simply a way of offering a concrete realization of the mysteries beyond our universe, of some infinite potential, by eventually drawing on all the knowledge that is available to humanity to satisfy our observations and perhaps help guide us along our chosen evolution. Perhaps we are many decades or generations away from such a potential. However there is currently very little history to go by in creating such tools to extend our understanding; by synthesizing the knowledge of human understanding, nature, genetics, mathematics and physics. When we try to avoid pain people are motivated to spend trillions annually on clinical techniques and research. The artist has not often been encouraged to pursue an education related to an evolutionary healing process, by encompassing a working knowledge of all human skills, in order to be able to convey some understanding which is useful to life, or perhaps as I have suggested to educate a creative working tool of human evolution and planetary survival that will assist us. Our own thoughts are also such an engine, created no doubt not entirely by accident, perhaps because it is essential to planetary survival. Now this extraordinary capacity has been turned against ourselves for destructive control. Yet most people will side with destructive power even in their own personal decisions, because we have been conditioned through decades of suffering and media propaganda to believe that this process will give us a little power and freedom; as if no other approach to life ever existed; as if personal labor, understanding, cooperation and voluntary efforts were irrelevant. I can’t imagine that much support would be particularly available anywhere for anyone to engage in such any beneficial process; but then our most valuable assets, our time and understanding are available for such purposes, particularly if we don't waste our time and resources especially on trying to make ourselves comfortable through conspicuous consumption, marriages that fail or become entrapped by people who try to capture our labor and resources; because perhaps over 95% of those we meet will instinctively home-in on either capturing or destroying the energy of others. Fortunately most projects in life can be accomplished independently, particularly with plenty of time and labor. Naturally the education needed could take more than anyone's lifetime to acquire. However this is one way of helping create considerably greater understanding. Fortunately the Internet is now a helpful part of sharing knowledge and developing cooperative relationships. Since the existing conflict driven commercial world is extraordinarily inefficient, both requiring 200 million extra laborers to keep up with our chores and having driven this country into about $90 trillion of global debt; we might just skip over all the smaller details and notice that one conclusion may be that we may need to learn to live in simplicity somewhat as indigenous people have for countless millennia, including our own ancestors, perhaps with a few communication beams reaching our simple wilderness environment and gardens. With all the simple tools and the rich information we can in fact bring our wilderness regions back to life and sustain humanity in the process. On an individual, self-centered basis we no doubt could not and would not consider such possibilities for long, apparently a higher goal is needed to protect us from ourselves. But what resistance there will be to such a cooperative life that cares for the beauty of nature, and offers us happiness! Perhaps thousands of years of pointless wars could prove, that 99.9% of humanity would prefer to end all life on earth before engaging in any constructive vision, even though it's the far easier path, it is of course classified as being impossible; although many will agree with all the various cooperative sentiments. In other words the intent will no doubt continue to simply keep our competitive and destructive attitudes and assumed social controls substantially unchanged. To be useful for anyone who might care to personally explore some of the possibilities, of course watching peoples' actions and individual expenditures can be helpful, not so much what anyone says, in order to notice what part of humanity is devoted to any personal or evolutionary change, versus nurturing their personal consumption, comforts which usually transform into strategies to expand on personal consumption and abuse, since cooperation and mutual benefit has been normally ruled out; it’s an easy and helpful observation to make, and it may well be what determines the future we are entering into, and may help protect us from a form of domination that ends hunanity's potential; naturally all in a way that is completely voluntary and personal; and of course more significantly doing any such observations might also help encourage anyone to be more supportive of humanity’s potential wherever we can be of help, in order to be able to offer some long-term protection for the vanishing natural world that gave us life and which is still the basis of our continuity.

(js, September 12, 2002)


Life has developed digital techniques over billions of years, we are only beginning to notice. A functional genetic design theory could help model, structure and render a three-dimensional creature to verify our understanding and theory of development, and perhaps guide our efforts in eliminating disease or species restoration. Study of a Kingfisher, painting by John Ruskin 1870, from picturesnow.com, etc.

(js, 1/27/2003)

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