JJ Abrams Passes the Turing Test… Barely
I’ve had a theory for a while now that JJ Abrams is robot. Well, an Artificial Intelligence actually, one designed to recognize human emotions and reflect them back to the user in screenplay form. And it’s very advanced, one able to pass the Turing Test so well very few notice.
For those nerds who read my blog and yet somehow don’t know what the Turing Test is, it basically boils down to the machine passing as human if a human is unable to tell if their conversational partner is a machine based on text only responses.
And if you don’t know who JJ Abrams is, well the AI program went through a long beta phase the early 90s under the moniker Jeffrey Abrams until going wide as JJ.0 with the screenplay to Armageddon. It operates under a schema called The Mystery Box, one utilized infuriatingly effectively during Lost and Fringe eras before returning to film to reboot/ save such franchises as Mission Impossible, Star Trek and Star Wars. Its popularity just goes to prove the JJ AI is by far the best pattern recognition software out there, but over the years I’ve noticed there’s very little real emotion to the characters. And the more I watch, the surer I am this is because JJ.0 does not actually understand human emotions, hence always equating MORE with BETTER.
Star Trek was the first time I noticed the pattern, though I was not the first to do so. Red Letter Media pointed out that in Trek all he did was distill down the characters to one defining trait then amp it up to 11: Kirk was known to be reckless, so now he breaks every rule there is without thinking twice. Uhura was a communications expert, so now she can speak every language; Scotty was a mechanic, so suddenly now he can figure out how to teleport while in warp; Sulu once held a sword, so he’s now a world class fencer!
So yeah, no real depth to the characters rather than a recognition as to what they’re supposed to be and then increasing that by a matter of amplitude. And being as there was no real emotion behind it, I think that’s why the now almost-robotic Spock was probably the best character. Because the program finally found something to identify with.
This picture will make sense in a second, I promise.
But nowhere has the AI’s pattern recognition software pattern become more pronounced (and recognizable) than in Star Wars The Force Awakens, which I just watched again for the third time last night. I knew I was in trouble the moment Kylo Ren’s ship showed up in that first scene because of its wings and similar design to the Emperor’s transport ship in Jedi. In true JJ.0 form, the program recognized that the Emperor’s ship was distinct because of the length of its wings. So it decided the obvious course of action would be to create a similar ship for the new villain with even LONGER wings.
Well, that’s a pretty superficial similarity, thought I as I poured myself a whiskey to calm my jangled nerves. Tell you what, thought I again, let’s just take a sip every time JJ.0 gives us another striking similarity but just increases the intensity of the experience. My fairly non-comprehensive list:
R2D2 is iconic because he’s an adorable droid. So let’s make BB8 so adorable your teeth might rot!
R2 had some pretty handy attachments… So let’s give BB8 a zippo and grappling hooks! *
Vader was frightening because he wore mostly black with one glowing red dot. So let’s make Kylo Ren entirely monochromatic!
But Vader did have a scary red lightsaber. Solution = Scarier red lightsaber!
Luke was pretty talented at several things. So Rey should be talented at everything!
Luke shows promise in the force when he heard Obi Wan at the end, so let’s have Rey demonstrate EVERY force ability by the end of this episode! Including hearing Obi Wan!
The Emperor had a scary big hologram. Ergo Snoke (worst name ever!) should have one several stories tall!
The Empire had some fascist overtones, what with their Storm Troopers and SS outfits for commanders, so let’s go full heil Hitler with General Hux’s speech and their salute!
Thought the Sarlacc had some uncomfortable vagina dentata imagery? Well this time the monster can actually chase you!
Thought the cantina scene was cool? Well this time “don’t stare,” because it’s going to be even more awesome!
Psychedelic dream sequences complete with symbolism your thing? Well then hang on to your magic mushrooms for this one!
Thought Yoda was a enigmatic, short sage? Well now he’s yellow. And a woman!
The original Oedipal overtones weren't enough for you? Well let's just get that father-killing out of the way quickly!
Just look at the balls on them for attempting this one.
But the most egregious (and frankly lazy) example was Starkiller Base, which was so blatantly just the Death Star on steroids that they tried to lampshade it to save face. And while on the surface, it just being a larger Death Star seems to be the end of it, I want to point out that Lucas already recycled the Death Star threat in Jedi, so really JJ.0 is doing double amplitude duty here by recycling what’s already been recycled!
And it's so obvious in retrospect, it's almost meta.
Anyways, I’m sure there were loads more amplitude adjustments in the movie, but my memory got pretty hazy due to my impromptu drinking game. Yet I was still capable of pattern recognition, which should put me on par with JJ.0. But then again, audiences are rewarding JJ.0 for robotically producing the same thing but bigger again and again, so we can’t fault the program for doing as it was designed any more than we can the scorpion for stinging.
Honestly, the fault lies on us as the audience for either not recognizing the obvious patterns or obviously not caring when we do.
Footnote: In JJ.0’s defense, I think Batman has definitely proven that everything is better with grappling hooks!