Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius

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imageOne day king Genius, a monarch with a philosophical bent, commissioned from Trurl the constructor three story-telling machines that were to amuse him. Their multi-layered stories within stories, „One Thousand and One Nights” of the cybernetic age, grotesque and philosophical at the same time, are woven of encrypted clues, allusions, literary references and scientific hypotheses. One of them features Karl Marx, hidden from the censorship of then- communist Poland under the name of Malapusticus Pandemonius. The result of putting Malapusticus’ social utopias into practice results in — quite expectedly — „chaos and carnage, and a devastating decline in the vital voltage, an enervated emf and energy dissipation everywhere.”

For in the Beginning there was naught but Formless Darkness, and in the Darkness, Magneticity, which moved the atoms, and whirling atom struck atom, and Current was thus created, and the First Light… from which the stars were kindled, and then the planets cooled, and in their cores the breath of Sacred Statisticality gave rise to microscopic Protomechanoans, which begat Proteromechanoids, which begat the Primitive Mechanisms. These could not yet calculate, nor scarcely put two and two together, but thanks to Evolution and Natural Subtraction they soon multiplied and produced Omnistats, which gave birth to the Servostat, the Missing Clink, and from it came our progenitor, Automatus Sapiens…

After that there were the cave robots, the nomad robots, and then robot nations. Robots of Antiquity had to manufacture their life-giving electricity by hand, that is by rubbing, which meant great drudgery. Each lord had many knights, each knight many vassals, and the rubbing was feudal hence hierarchical, progressing from the lowly to the higher-up. This manual labor was replaced by machine when Ylem Symphiliac invented the rubberator, and Wolfram of Coulombia, the rubless lightning rod. Thus began the Battery Age, a most difficult time for all who did not possess their own accumulators, since on a clear day, without a cloud to tap, they had to scrimp and scrounge for every precious watt, and rub themselves constantly, else perish from a total loss of charge. And then there appeared a scholar, an infernal intellectrician and efficiency expert, who in his youth, doubtless owing to some diabolical intervention, never had his head staved in, and he began to teach and preach that the traditional method of electrical connection—namely parallel—was worthless, and they all ought to hook themselves up according to a revolutionary new plan of his, that is in series. For in series, if one rubs, the others are immediately supplied with current, even at a great distance, till every robot simply bubbles over with ohms and volts. And he showed his blueprints, and painted paradises of such parameters, that the old circuits, equal and independent, were disconnected and the system of Pandemonius promptly implemented.

from The Cyberiad, translated by Michael Kandel

“Summa Technologiae” – Lem’s grim, sober Singularity

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Summa Technologiae Stanislaw LemIf Summa Technolologiae had been translated to English immediately after publication, some of the neologisms coined by Lem for technologies that didn’t exist at the time would be still used today. So Google would do “ariadnology” (a guide to the labyrinth of the already assembled knowledge), virtual reality would be “phantomatics,” neuroscience would be “cerebromatics,” and artificial intelligence would be “Intelectronics.” In all cases, Lem imagines developments more advanced than today’s technology – for example phantomatics and cerebromatics provide full stimulation of all senses via direct neural interfaces with instant feedback loops, influencing mental processes while bypassing afferent neural pathways, and intelectronics achieves consciousness and intelligence amplification in machines.

see full review

“Robot…” – a graphic novel

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lem_robot“Timof comics” has published a graphic novel entitled “Robot…” – an adaptation of two stories by Stanislaw Lem. The drawings are the work of a Polish couple living in London. The artists’ previous achievements include a well-received comic adaptation of Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita”.

Danuta Schejbal, a graduate of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and a stage and costume designer of the Cherub Theatre Company adapted “The Uranium Earpieces” from Lem’s “Mortal Engines”.

Andrzej Klimowski, a graphic designer, illustrator, painter and creator of animations is a professor at the Royal College of Art, London. His contribution to the volume is the interpretation of the climatic story “The Sanatorium of Dr. Vliperdius” that takes place at an asylum for mentally ill.

The book was published as one of the projects of the Polish EU Presidency Cultural Program 2011 in both Polish and English. A trailer by the artist Agata Wawryniuk and composer Szymon Orchowski is available on Vimeo:

Forgotten Masterwork

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Stanislaw Lem’s forgotten masterwork Summa Technologiae, now in English half a century after publication, is a heady mix of prescience, philosophy and irony.

lem_summa_technologiae_minnesota_pressThe collection of Stanislaw Lem’s philosophical essays “Summa Technologiae” was first published in 1964 in Poland. The English translation however – the work of Joanna Zylinska, professor of new media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London – appeared only in 2013, i.e. almost fifty years later. How does a book dealing with problems of the future pass the test of time? Astonishingly well, actually. According to New Scientist (May 20, 2013) “Stanislaw Lem’s forgotten masterwork (…) is a heady mix of prescience, philosophy and irony.” It is amazing “how much Lem got right or even predicted” in fields of artificial intelligence, theory of search engines, bionics, virtual reality, nanotechnology and technological singularity. The reviewer quotes an essay by biophysicists Peter Butko who describes “Summa” as an “all-encompassing discourse on evolution: not only… of science and technology… but also evolution of life, humanity, consciousness, culture, and civilization”.

see full article from “New Scientist”: A brilliant trip back to the technological future

This book’s title alludes to Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologiae” for a reason. In effect Lem creates an entire atheistic paradigm for the Cosmos with God replaced by Reason; the latter, a creative force independent from biology, drives the evolution towards its own, enigmatic goals.

prof. Jerzy Jarzębski