The Witch Who Came From Mars
Published September 5, 2016
44 min
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    Today we do something weird, in honor of the end of the second season! Instead of coming up with a future and then finding experts to talk about it, I asked an AI to write a future for us. And the AI apparently wants us to talk about space travel, witches, and the occult.
     So here’s what happened in this episode. I asked Mike Rugnetta, the creator and host of PBS Idea Channel and Reasonably Sound, to help me create a script for Flash Forward. Mike had done this for his own channel a few months ago.
     Around the same time that Idea Channel video came out there was this short film that came out called Sunspring which was written by an AI named Benjamin. The guys behind Benjamin fed a neural network a huge corpus of science fiction scripts, everything from Avatar to Armageddon to Resident Evil to Spiderman. And they asked that AI to write them a script. And then they spent one day with a cast, filming the movie that Benjamin wrote for them. I totally recommend watching it.
     And so I thought, what if, I fed an AI all the future scenes we’ve ever done on this show, and asked it to write one for me? And then, I have to figure out what that future is, and how we would get there. So that’s what we’re going to do on this episode. I compiled all the futures we’ve ever traveled to on this show, and sent them to Mike, and he fed them to this neural network he already had set up to make his video. And he then sent me the results. And what came out that first time was just complete nonsense. Because the system really needs more material than I had to feed it. On the show we’ve traveled to 41 futures, which in the grand scheme of things actually isn’t all that much text. So on top of all the futures we’ve done, I added two big chunks of text: the script for The War of the Worlds, and the script for the 1979 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio play.
     And here’s what the AI wrote. You can see the full script (and leave your interpretation of the AI future) here.
     I will confess that my first thought when I read the script was: “what the hell am I supposed to do with this?” But, I am never one to back down from a challenge, even if that challenge is self imposed, so I sent this little intro to a bunch of smart people, and asked them what future they saw here. 
     First we talk to Miriam Kramer, the senior space reporter at Mashable, about how easy (or hard) it would be for witches to travel to and from Mars. 
     Then I called up Annalee Newitz, to get her take on the witches and how the themes in this scene fit in with the broader science fiction landscape. (Fun fact, Annalee is the person who first asked me to do a podcast for Gizmodo, and thereby birthed Flash Forward! Yay Annalee!)
     Then we turn our attention to the witches, and bring back Damien Williams, who you heard on our episode about conscious AI. Damien writes a lot about technology and the occult (I recommend this 2015 Theorizing the Web panel about it, featuring him and lots of other smart people) and he weighs in on the future of witches, how tech and magic aren’t all that different, and what the AI might mean by “behanding.”
     And last but not least, we talk to the brains and voices behind Spirits Pod, a new podcast about mythology. Julia Schifini and Amanda McLoughlin have been best friends since childhood, and co-host a podcast all about myths and legends that I very much enjoy. And the two of them had all sorts of fun and interesting stuff to say about this witchy future.

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