Episode 26: Transcript

Our Opinions Are Correct, Episode 26

Transcription by Keffy Kehrli

Charlie Jane: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about the meaning of science fiction. I’m Charlie Jane Anders, a science fiction writer who’s inspired by science.

Annalee: [00:00:08] And I’m Annalee Newitz. I’m a science journalist who writes science fiction.

Charlie Jane: [00:00:13] Today we’re going to be talking about nuclear war and the fact that nuclear war used to be a huge thing back during pop culture of the cold war era including a lot of science fiction. And in the past, like, 30 years, it’s kind of fallen by the wayside. We don’t obsess about nuclear war the way we used to. But, surprise, it’s coming back! And how is science fiction going to respond? We’re going to talk about it.

[00:00:37] Intro music plays: Drums with a bass drop and more science fictional bells and percussion.

Annalee: [00:01:03] It really is true that when I think about apocalypse in science fiction now, nuclear war almost never comes up, even though it’s not like we’ve run out of apocalypse or dystopia in our science fiction. I mean, there was the TV show Jericho, which was on a number of years ago, and that’s pretty much it. Especially in terms of TV and film.

Charlie Jane: [00:01:24] There’s the video game Fallout, I guess. And like—

Annalee: [00:01:26] Sure.

Charlie Jane: [00:01:26] —pop culture doesn’t deal with nuclear war the way it used to. And you know when you look back at pop culture of the 1950s through 1980s it’s just a constant focus. It’s like, everywhere. Spawning giant monsters, like Gojira and the giant ants in Them. It’s causing radioactive mutants. It’s causing apocalyptic—

Annalee: [00:01:44] It’s causing an alien to come to earth in The Day the Earth Stood Still to like, teach us a lesson about how terrible we are for arming ourselves with atomics. And then of course in the 1980s as the cold war kind of reinvigorates under the Reagan Administration in the United States, we get a whole fresh crop of nuclear fantasies, a lot of which are actually connected with computer science and artificial intelligence, which is really interesting.

Charlie Jane: [00:02:10] Mm-hmm.

Annalee: [00:02:10] And then, there’s this kind of silence. I want to say starting really in the ‘90s, with, you know, things like Glastnost and like, this feeling that we’re at the end of the cold war history.

Charlie Jane: [00:02:22] Yeah, and it really did used to be everywhere. Like, here’s a clip of Tom Lehrer, like one of my favorite geeky musicians just singing kind of a campy, satirical song about a mom sending her son off to a nuclear war.

Tom Lehrer Clip: [00:02:34] I’ll look for you when the war is over, an hour and a half from now.

Charlie Jane: [00:02:45] That kind of goes along with Dr. Strangelove and a lot of other pop culture that kind of took a campy look at this incredibly horrifying, almost too awful to contemplate specter of potential annihilation for the human race, which we came awfully close in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s. There were a few occasions on which we came like, within a hair’s breadth of a giant nuclear conflict and we still kind of don’t even fully realize how lucky we were and how lucky we still are that we haven’t nuked ourselves into oblivion yet.

Annalee: [00:03:14] What’s happening right now that made you think, “Oh, we’re gonna be coming in for another round of nuclear fear stories in science fiction?”

Charlie Jane: [00:03:25] Right now, the Doomsday Clock which is this sort of symbolic tool that scientists use to kind of convey their fears about potential apocalypse, the Doomsday Clock sits at two minutes to midnight, which is an Iron Maiden album, but also a really scary concept. It’s been at two minutes to midnight for a couple of years now and this is the closest to midnight, the closest to doomsday that we’ve been since the 1950s and there’s a lot of stuff going on.

The Trump Administration has been kind of abandoning all of our nuclear weapon treaties with Russia. And kind of preparing to kind of like stockpile more nuclear weapons. We’re already working on developing new low-yield missiles… And meanwhile, the Trump Administration put out a nuclear posture review in 2018 which basically said that everybody is going to be adding to their nuclear weapons stockpiles. Everyone’s going to be building new and worse nuclear weapons and the US has to be at the forefront of this. We have to be developing our nuclear arsenal again and building up our capabilities because we don’t want to get left behind in this new arm’s race.

[00:04:21] It’s kind of an arm’s race that only exists because we think that it exists. It’s something that we’ve kind of all decided. Oh, there’s going to be a new nuclear arm’s race, and meanwhile, the other thing that non-proliferation experts that I’ve talked to are really concerned about is this sense that things have gotten destabilized in general in the international scene. There’s a lot more information warfare, there’s a lot more cyberwarfare. There’s a lot of places around the world where people are more twitchy and tensions are being ratcheted up, partly because of cyberwarfare…

Annalee: [00:04:49] Including in the United States.

Charlie Jane: [00:04:50] Yeah, and we’re slowly chipping away at the institutions that were supposed to prevent that, like the United Nations. We’re kind of taking away their legitimacy. And, India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers that have some of their worst tensions since the Kashmir war. And just in general, there’s a lot of tension out there and also, people are worried about cyber attacks, like cyber attacks that might make people think that there’s a nuclear attack when there actually isn’t one. So, there’s a lot of reasons to be scared right now of nuclear weapons. And, you know, pop culture still isn’t really focusing on that at all.

Annalee: [00:05:20] Yeah, it’s really interesting. I was just going to add that like, we’ve also abandoned our weapons treaty with Iran, and of course, as we are recording this, President Trump is meeting with Kim Jong Un and the idea behind that is that we’re somehow defanging North Korea as a nuclear power. Which, of course, is not really happening. And, it’s funny because, of all the places to get stories about this, there was a movie that came out a couple of years ago by Seth Rogan called The Interview, which was all about North Korea and their nuclear capabilities, and Kim Jong Un is a character. It was actually not a bad movie, it was a little bit, I think, trying to be in the vein of Dr. Strangelove, except with, like pot smoking Seth Rogan. It’s not… I wouldn’t call it a biting satire in quite the same way. It’s more of a broad, slap-sticky kind of film.

Charlie Jane: [00:06:11] So, instead of our precious bodily fluids, it’s our precious sticky resins, basically.

Annalee: [00:06:16] Yeah, kind of. I mean, kind of. It’s just—it’s very. It’s a very different kind of satire. It’s a lot more on the nose in some ways, because it’s about actual people instead of sort of a made-up Dr. Strangelove character. But what we have to think about as we kind of move forward into a time where politically it feels like nuclear war is on the table, is think about how is it that we responded historically to this? Certainly, there’s the ways we responded politically, which, as you said, are kind of being dismantled. Having international treaties, having international organizations governing the proliferation of nukes or trying to deproliferate nukes. But then, also, how did pop culture play into this because I think there are kind of sign posts in pop culture where certain movies and books really had a huge, outsized impact. And I think in the 1950s, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a really good example of a movie that kind of had that impact.

Charlie Jane: [00:07:17] On the Beach, the book and the movie were huge in the ‘50s.

Annalee: [00:07:20] Was that written by an American, or…

Charlie Jane: [00:07:22] I’m not sure. It takes place in New Zealand, but I think it was actually written by an American.

Annalee: [00:07:27] You know, it’s a story about people surviving a nuclear attack who know that they’re really not going to survive. So, they’ve kind of survived the first wave of the attack. And then, I think, as we get into the 1980s, we get things like Terminator, but also the TV movie, The Day After, had this huge, huge impact even though as a film, it’s incredibly cheesy. But as a kind of social document it was a little bit like Roots, which was another big TV event in the ‘70s. Totally not to do with nuclear war, but it opened up a conversation about US history and African Americans in the same way that The Day After kind of opened up a conversation about nuclear war and what it would really mean.

Charlie Jane: [00:08:07] Yeah, and we actually have a clip from The Day After. This is the moment where the nukes are being launched.

The Day After Clip: [00:08:10] *computer noises and beeping*

Roger, we’ve got 32 targets being tracked and 10 impacting points. I want to confirm. Is this an exercise? Roger, copy. This is not an exercise.

Roger, understand.

Major Reinhardt, we have a mass—

Annalee: [00:08:25] And that’s the kind of tension-filled scene that’s really haunted nuclear science fiction, or atomic age science fiction since the ‘50s. That kind of moment of, “Holy shit. The missiles are on the way, and that’s it.” There’s nothing you can do. I think we see it again and again and we see it in the movie War Games as well. Also, a sort of famous ‘80s film, but it takes a different tack. So, let’s listen to a clip from War Games, and then I want to talk a little bit with you about the difference between how War Games stages the scene and how The Day After does. So, in this scene, the computer hacker who’s kind of meddling with the nuclear launch computer—

Charlie Jane: [00:09:05] Matthew Broderick…

Annalee: [00:09:07] Matthew Broderick in his breakout role—has been meddling in, unbeknownst to him, with a defense department computer. It’s in danger now of launching nukes and so he’s teaching the computer that basically there’s no way to win a nuclear war by forcing the computer to play tic tac toe. And so, this what the computer says.

War Games Clip: [00:09:23] Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

Charlie Jane: [00:09:29] I love how it just sounds like a speak and spell. It’s got that speak and spell voice. It’s not like, you know. It’s kind of random.

Annalee: [00:09:36] But that was the voice of the computer in the early ‘80s.

Charlie Jane: [00:09:39] I know…

Annalee: [00:09:38] I feel like in the ‘60s. It’s funny. In the ‘60s, the voice of the computer was Hal. And that was—

Charlie Jane: [00:09:45] And also Majel Barrett-Roddenberry.

Annalee: [00:09:47] And Majel…

Charlie Jane: [00:09:49] A little bit. There was that, “Computer.”

Annalee: [00:09:50] Yeah. And both of those voices were way more human sounding than this computer, which is in fact, in many ways a much more humanistic computer than Hal, because it figures out, oh, actually, nuclear war sucks ass. Let’s not do that. The question I wanted to ask you was, I feel like these two stories, The Day After and War Games kind of represent, like two threads in stories about nuclear war. So, let’s talk about like, what’s the difference? What are we seeing in the The Day After, and then what are we seeing in War Games?

Charlie Jane: [00:10:21] I mean, I’ve been working on a piece about this and it seems like, to me, there are two main strands as you said. One is kind of post-apocalyptic horror about what it would be like to live through the after-effects of a nuclear war. And, The Day After, On the Beach, I mean, there’s a bunch of schlocky horror movies that are about post-apocalyptic mutants. I guess, Mad Max to some extent—

Annalee: [00:10:41] For sure.

Charlie Jane: [00:10:41] There’s a bunch of post-apocalyptic ravaged landscape storylines in a bunch of science fiction shows, including some of the big franchises will at least touch on that from time to time.

Annalee: [00:10:51] Terminator is about trying to prevent that from happening.

Charlie Jane: [00:10:53] Right, and then that’s the second strand which I think Terminator really belongs to, which is the strand of how do we prevent a nuclear war, but also delving into the decision-making and the apparatus that leads to a nuclear war and kind of trying to take apart the twisted, ridiculous bizarre logic behind nuclear war. That’s where Dr. Strangelove and War Games, but also the movie I know that’s close to your heart, Real Genius, and also the Terminator franchise come in. It’s about, like, what kind of systems do we build and how could they lead to a nuclear war, and actually I’ve got a little tiny clip from The Terminator where they talk about this.

Terminator Clip: [00:11:28] Defense network computers, new, powerful, hooked into everything. Trusted to run it all. They say it got smart. A new order of intelligence and then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. Decided our fate in a microsecond. Extermination.

Charlie Jane: [00:11:50] And that’s Kyle Reese, kind of talking about how Skynet was given control over nuclear weapons and immediately decided that the whole human race was its enemy and boom, that’s the end. And that’s the kind of thing, like, there’s no real logic behind deciding to start a nuclear war. And, so, when you kind of explore that in fiction it always kind of delves into the absurdity and bizarreness and weirdness of nuclear war. And it’s also things like Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, kind of also kind of gets into that a little bit. And, you know, talking to these non-proliferation experts that I’ve been interviewing, it’s very clear that on the one hand, there was all this pop-culture deconstructing nuclear war and warning us what it would look like if we did have a nuclear war. Like, those two different kinds of approaches to the subject. But then, on the other side, there was decades of activism. There were marches, there were protests, there were people in the streets constantly trying to raise awareness on that side, and I think it was—those two things went together. I think that the activism and the pop culture impact played into each other and maybe helped to make nuclear war like, everybody I talk to feels like things like The Day After, things like Dr. Strangelove, or whatever, helped to make nuclear war a little bit less likely. And maybe saved our bacon? I mean, that’s all it took.

Annalee: [00:13:02] Or saved our vegetarian bacon. Um, and…

Charlie Jane: [00:13:06] Our soy bacon.

Annalee: [00:13:06] I mean, we have a long history of using storytelling to engage in political debate and to kind of show people the human cost of something like nuclear war, which is incredibly hard to contemplate as an individual.

[00:13:23] I remember when I was in high school, we read John Hershey’s book, Hiroshima, which was a first-person account by an investigative journalist of what happened in Hiroshima after the bomb dropped. He was there. It reads like fiction in the sense that it’s very evocative and the language is very poetic. It is that warning of like, this is what’s going to happen. Bodies will be falling apart in front of you, and he talks about radiation poisoning and what that does to people and like, flesh is falling off their bodies and—images that I will never forget that I read you know, decades ago.

Charlie Jane: [00:13:52] And, you know, in a similar vein, there’s that manga, Barefoot Gen which is about a first-person account of Hiroshima, I think, that was translated into English in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and it had a huge impact on a ton of people I know. And, Annalee, you obviously were involved with one of the great activist organizations that was trying to help people understand the risks of nuclear war and the computers that were controlling the missiles. What can you tell us about your time as president of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility?

Annalee: [00:14:18] Yeah, so I was actually the last president of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. It was a group that started in the 1980s, you know, when I was a child. What the original goal of the group was, it was to think about exactly what you’ve been saying. The decision making that goes into nuclear conflict and the concern that this group of professors and software developers had who were based largely at Stanford, was that so many of our weapons systems were computerized and this was a huge push in the 1980s under Reagan that we would have what he referred to as the, “Star Wars Defense System” but was known among wonks as the Strategic Defense Initiative. And the idea was that we would have an automatic launch as defense. So, if missiles were incoming to the US, we would have an automatic defensive launch of missiles to stop those missiles in their tracks before they landed. And what the leaders in CPSR wanted to point out and did point out very successfully was that computer systems are incredibly fallible and having the keys to global death in the hands of a computer that like is sort of just learning how to play tic tac toe as in War Games, is an incredibly bad idea. They were pointing out things that the public had not thought about before, like, how does a software bug affect the way a computer works? And what happens if you have a bug in the code that is launching missiles.

[00:15:58] Again, these were really new concepts for people in the 1980s. We thought of computers as kind of infallible machines and didn’t think about the fact that if you put death in the hands of a machine that that could actually be a lot more dangerous than putting it in the hands of Dr. Strangelove, weirdly enough. And I think this is the same kind of moment that we’re having now with things like AI, where people have this myth that AI is infallible, and in fact, of course, it’s just as biased and fallible as humans. And so, CPSR throughout the ‘80s put out a number of papers, testified before Congress, did a bunch of activist work among the kinds of people who were designing the systems for these kinds of nuclear launch devices. And so, what is interesting to me is how that real-life work kind of got reflected in pop culture, in movies like Real Genius or War Games. Where the point of the story is not to say, well, if we have a nuclear war, you’re all going to be fucked and you’re all going to be, like, living on a beach with your skin falling off. It’s to say, like, let’s talk to the people who are doing this, who are programming these things or building these things and kind of get through to them and say, like, “Look, there’s a human cost to what you’re doing. This isn’t just building a neat piece of software. Like, there’s actually going to be incredibly dire consequences if your software doesn’t work or if your software’s used at all.

[00:17:15] By the time I was involved in CPSR, the group mostly just needed to have its materials archived. So, that was really fun. We went through all of the archives of CPSR, which are now at Stanford, so you can see the whole history of the group and how effective they were, and how they got involved in a lot of other issues around governance and software. The only thing really, I have to say after this, Charlie, is tell us about how the music of Prince fits into this whole issue.

Charlie Jane: [00:17:44] Prince, among many, many songwriters in the ‘80s, had a lot to say about nuclear war, and Purple Rain, I feel like a lot of people believe that Purple Rain is about nuclear fallout falling—

Annalee: [00:17:54] Nobody thinks that, Charlie!

Charlie Jane: [00:17:55] Everybody thinks that.

Annalee: [00:17:56] Really?

Charlie Jane: [00:17:58] Yep. That Purple Rain is about nuclear fallout.

Annalee: [00:17:59] I did not know that, okay.

Charlie Jane: [00:17:59] It’s an apocalyptic scenario and he wants to see her in the purple rain, you know, he wants to be there with her at the end of the world.

Annalee: [00:18:10] Whoa.

Charlie Jane: [00:18:10] Then, you know, there’s this amazing song, where Prince kind of explains in a very visceral way the danger of non-proliferation.

Prince Clip: [00:18:15] Everybody’s got a bomb / we could all die here today, uhhhh / But before I let that happen / I’ll dance my life away.

Charlie Jane: [00:18:32] So now I wanted to talk to you, Annalee about what would it look like if 21st century pop culture, and like, books and movies and TV shows and everything engaged more seriously with the threat of nuclear war. Like, what would we expect to see and what kinds of things—how would it be different from ‘80s pop culture?

Annalee: [00:18:49] That is such a great question and I think that partly we aren’t going to know until it starts happening. I wrote an article many years ago about the connection between social upheaval and zombie movies. And, I had this hypothesis that zombie movies are often used to express fear about social change and I think it’s pretty well borne out. And I found that certain kinds of social upheaval like war and disease outbreaks and just sort of general social unrest like mass protests, usually came about a year to two years before the pop culture about it. So, you’d see like, some kind of wartime event and suddenly you’d get, like in the ‘40s, a whole bunch of zombie stories or stories about the undead, which is actually when you first start seeing zombie stories.

[00:19:40] Or in the 1960s, you see tons of social unrest and suddenly you get Night of the Living Dead and all of its progeny. So, I would say first that we’re not gonna know for a couple of years because I think that right now we’re going through a period of people realizing again that nuclear war is a possibility and this is a great danger. And actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did affect zombie stories because we already are still stuck in the zombie narrative. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of these stories took place in traditional zombie landscapes, like crumbling cities, for example. Places where people go because that’s where they once lived and so they kind of cling to it. So, you get a kind of Omega Man type thing. Which, I think actually, Omega Man does have an element of nuclear mutant…

Charlie Jane: [00:20:32] I feel like there is something in there, yeah. I mean, it depends—there are a lot of different versions.

Annalee: [00:20:37] Well, yeah, but I meant the ‘70s version Omega Man.

Charlie Jane: [00:20:40] The ‘70s, like, Charlton Heston version, yeah.

Annalee: [00:20:42] Yeah, because I think they are maybe nuclear mutants. I could be wrong about that, but I definitely feel like it’s kind of calling on that idea. So, I think some of it will feel just a little bit like zombie stories. What are you thinking? I mean, how do you—when you imagine a future nuclear sci-fi, do you have any ideas? Things that you might want to write?

Charlie Jane: [00:20:59] I mean, I’m definitely thinking about it and I think that it’s something that we’re all going to be thinking about more possibly if things keep going the way they’re going right now. I was talking to this non-proliferation expert this morning who was basically saying that some of the stuff she would love to see pop culture dealing with is kind of the knock-on effects. Like, if you nuke a city, there’s going to be environmental consequences even if it’s a relatively “limited” nuclear strike. The environmental consequences for a huge area around and basically for the entire world are going to be severe. She was talking about potential impacts on the food supply. Potential famine that might kill millions more in addition to whoever’s killed in the first nuclear strike. Like, even apart from whatever fallout there is, the food supply might be severely impacted by a nuclear strike. Stuff like that, that people don’t necessarily think about and that people haven’t really gamed out that way.

Annalee: [00:21:50] And also, things like pandemics. You know, because what’s going happen if you have, say, limited nuclear strikes is huge, huge migrations and whenever you have mass migration as we know from American history with indigenous people, I mean, enforced mass migrations, you always get pandemics. It just goes together. And, of course the Spanish Flu in the early 20th century. It wasn’t a mass migration, but it was a mass movement of soldiers around the world and that was what made the Spanish Flu so—why it spread so quickly around the world. So, I think that would be great.

[00:22:26] I also think—it’s funny, because—

Charlie Jane: [00:22:27] That would be great…

Annalee: [00:22:28] That would be great as a story. That would not be great as an outcome. It would be great for people to be thinking, though, about the fact that like—

Charlie Jane: [00:22:35] Right, it would be very helpful for people to be thinking about, sure—

Annalee: [00:22:36] About how this is like the knock-on effect. And, let us not have a pandemic, or a nuclear war.

[00:22:44] It’s tempting to say that like, today’s nuclear fiction might want to engage with stuff like digital warfare and artificial intelligence. I mean, it’s funny because we were just talking about how the 1980s wave of nuclear horror fiction dealt a lot with that already, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it kind of came back and we sort of had nuclear cyberpunk type stuff. I feel like that’s less the fear now, although it’s true that Battlestar Galactica also kind of starts with cyborgs nuking humanity or whatever the people are supposed to be in Battlestar Galactica.

Charlie Jane: [00:23:19] The Capricanity.

Annalee: [00:23:22] The Capricanity, exactly. So, I think, you know, that could definitely be a possibility. I would be more interested to see the knock-on effects. I’d be interested to see things like nuclear winter, people really thinking about how this is like, part of climate change, basically, that this would just be a way of accelerating and creating a really horrific type of climate change.

Charlie Jane: [00:23:44] Right, and actually, on the flip side, part of what we’re talking about is that some of these 1980s nuclear war stories are actually weirdly a little bit optimistic, like War Games, for example. And I would love to see that come back. I would love to see more stories about how we can avoid nuking ourselves, how we can actually work together and, you know, part of why it’s such a scary time right now is because all of these international institutions are being slowly taken apart and undermined by our president and by other leaders around the world. There’s this swing back towards authoritarianism and really the best cure, the best answer to the fear of nuclear war is more international engagement, better communication. More, kind of, predictability in terms of everybody kind of knows what’s going to happen in their international stage, and more democracy.

[00:24:32] One of the experts I was talking to was saying that the more unpredictable things seem and the more it seems like anything could happen, the more likely people controlling nuclear weapons are to believe that there’s been a nuclear attack because they just don’t know what’s going on.

Annalee: [00:24:44] Right. It’s so unpredictable. Yeah, I’m so glad you said that because that is really true. What we need is a new literature of non-proliferation. And I don’t mean literature like fancy-ass books, I mean just like fucking storytelling about it because new ideas about how we build bridges to prevent this stuff from happening. One of the things I love about the show The Americans, which sadly is over now is that it’s set in the ‘80s and it’s about these Russian spies pretending to be Americans, but all they want to do is prevent nuclear war. Like, that’s a constant refrain in the story is that how they are working either covertly or overtly with American spies, with their contacts, to weirdly, to keep covert communication open so they don’t have nuclear war. And everyone is on the same page. People who are not on our side are on the same page that we don’t want nukes to go off. So, I would love to see more stories about clever ways that we prevent nuclear war. Ways that we engage in disarmament.

[00:25:49] One of the things that I find really hopeful is that in the tech community, where a lot of people are working on the kinds of systems that would be involved in the nuclear war, there has been a kind of—since the 2016 US presidential election, there’s been a real awakening of activism and a lot of thoughtfulness about how software is being used. Google employees had a mass protest against developing software for the government for use in drones. And that was successful. And Lee Honeywell who is an activist and software developer, helped create the Never Again pledge, which a bunch of tech workers signed on to promising to quit their jobs if they were asked to create software for racial profiling of Muslims, which is just another way of tech workers thinking about the impact of their work.

[00:26:38] So, I have a lot of hope that, you know, like some kind of War Games scenario is possible, that like, hackers are thinking about this stuff and saying, actually, know, I don’t want to work on your fucked-up weapons system. I want to do non-proliferation. So, I think those are all good sources of hope.

Charlie Jane: [00:26:54] Finally, do you think that there’s room for a new organization like CPSR to come up? Some sort of new organization of geeks that’s possibly going to get people thinking about this more in the tech community?

Annalee: [00:27:04] I think it’s already happening. I think there’s a need for it. I would love for—I mean, all of the folks who were involved in CPSR are still around. A lot of them are still active and engaged and are teaching or writing and I think we’re entering a phase where, like I said, tech workers in Silicon Valley are already thinking about that stuff so, I would—yeah, I would love to see that. I would love to see a new group kind of come up and say, we refuse to build this kind of technology. And, in fact, on a positive note, we are actually trying to build technology that’s aimed at preventing this from happening. So, I don’t know what that would look like, but that would be great.

Charlie Jane: [00:27:40] It would, yeah.

Annalee: [00:27:41] So, just don’t do the thing that happens in like the Vernor Vinge novels from the ‘80s, where they invent the Bobble technology where they like imprison Lawrence Livermore Lab in a weird distortion of spacetime so that it’s frozen in time for 10 million years or something like that. Don’t do that. Although it does—the story is called The Peace War and it does in fact create peace. But it’s yeah. It’s a little upsetting.

[00:28:10] Segment change music plays. Drums with a bass line including bass drops.

Annalee: [00:28:24] And now we come to our segment called What I’m Obsessed With. So, Charlie, what are you obsessed with?

Charlie Jane: [00:28:31] Right now, I’m obsessed with a new music video that came out recently called “Nights Like This” by Kehlani featuring Ty Dolla $ign. It is an amazing music video. It’s like the sort of thing that back when we were doing io9, I always tried to post music videos that were cyberpunk or spacy or sci-fi in some way. And it’s basically about a female android who shows up at this woman’s house because she’s like breaking down. And the woman takes the android in and fixes her up. And it’s like, really kind of beautiful. It’s beautifully shot. It’s like, kind of an answer to Ex Machina in a way where this female android finds a female roboticist who helps her. Then there’s a twist, which I don’t know if I should give away. It’s only a 4-minute music video anyway.

Annalee: [00:29:12] Yeah, I think we can have spoilers. Tell me the spoiler.

Charlie Jane: [00:29:15] But then the android wakes up and basically steals the other woman’s body and like downloads her brain into the other woman’s body.

Annalee: [00:29:21] What? Wait. So, the cyborg destroys—

Charlie Jane: [00:29:23] It’s an android.

Annalee: [00:29:24] So the android destroys the scientist who helped her.

Charlie Jane: [00:29:28] Yeah, I mean, I think that they kind of can communicate telepathically and then, basically the android kind of takes over Kehlani’s body at the end, kind of transfers her brain into Kehlani’s body. So, it’s like—I don’t know.

Annalee: [00:29:40] Do you think—is that like, dark? Or that more like, this is like a beautiful hybridization?

Charlie Jane: [00:29:44] I don’t know. I mean, it’s—I have to keep rewatching it endlessly and then I’ll figure it out, but—

Annalee: [00:29:48] Okay, so let me know if you decide that it’s—

Charlie Jane: [00:29:51] But I like the aesthetic of it. I love the parts where this woman who may also be an android and this android that she’s found are sort of forming this connection and understanding each other, and rebuilding—you know, the woman’s rebuilding the android, and I love that part. Like I said, it’s kind of explicitly, I feel like, a response to Ex Machina and things like that, where it’s like, “Men and women androids and like…”

Annalee: [00:30:13] Yeah, and how there’s like this eternal hatred between them.

Charlie Jane: [00:30:17] Yeah.

Annalee: [00:30:17] But let us not forget the fantastic movie Technolust, which—

Charlie Jane: [00:30:22] Technolust, yeah.

Annalee: [00:30:22] —deals with that. Has a female mad scientist with like, a bunch of androids who are her—

Charlie Jane: [00:30:26] That is my favorite Tilda Swinton role ever.

Annalee: [00:30:30] It’s the greatest.

Charlie Jane: [00:30:31] Number one of with like a million bullets.

Annalee: [00:30:32] If you haven’t seen that movie, that’s like a subheading of like what you should be obsessed with. You, plural.

Charlie Jane: [00:30:38] Everybody should be obsessed with Technolust, it’s true. What are you obsessed with?

Annalee: [00:30:41] I’m sort of perennially obsessed with the Science Magazine podcast, which I really just want a chance to plug because I don’t know if people realize that Science Magazine, which is a kind of premier magazine for publishing scientific research. It’s kind of an industry—not an industry magazine, but it’s like, it’s an academic magazine for scientists, and they have a section where they do kind of news for the general public. But basically, it’s science nerds. It’s hardcore stuff.

[00:31:09] The podcast is aimed at a general audience. You definitely do not need to be a PhD to get into it. And in fact, the host, Sarah Crespi is delightful. She has a bunch of contributors who come in and often what they do is interview scientists about their work. Sometimes they interview contributors to Science who’ve written about recent work. It’s a great opportunity to hear from scientists about how they make discoveries and they always pick fantastic topics. Like, they’re always topics that have been covered in Science Magazine, but like, I’m just going to give you an example. The one that just came out this past week deals with a paper on spotting slavery from space, how do you use satellite imaging to find places where people’s labor is being taken from them without compensation. They had a great podcast on how to improve potatoes, and the genetics of that. Things like, how do you measure pollution from pot plants. And all of these things sound great on their face, but then you’ll come away from it—for example, measuring pollution from pot plants, you’ll actually learn all about, like, well how do we measure pollution in the first place? And like, why do plants emit CO2 and what difference does that make?

[00:32:24] I just find it great. Every episode is just about half an hour long and you usually get two big stories and then they do book reviews and they interview authors. Yeah, if you’re looking for an in-depth science podcast that is delightful and unexpected but always very accurate and scientifically valid. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s just called Science Podcast, it’s the AAAS Science Podcast, and yeah, check it out.

Charlie Jane: [00:32:53] I feel like potatoes have a lot of room for improvement. I feel like potatoes could actually be improved a lot.

Annalee: [00:32:57] Yeah, well, they talked all about like, do you want to improve where you can grow them? Do you want to improve their food value, and like, it was really funny because the host kept saying like, “But potatoes are perfect, I don’t understand?”

Charlie Jane: [00:33:08] No, they’re not. They’re the most boring food.

Annalee: [00:33:12] And the other thing about potatoes, too, is that when they did the study, the researchers went down to South America where potatoes were cultivated the earliest in the world, and they have like, 90 jillion varieties of potatoes that we just never get in the United States and in most parts of the world. And it’s like, the genetic diversity is incredible, and types of potatoes are like really varied, and so, it just kind of made me want to like, it made me want to eat more potatoes, which is not a really—it’s not hard to twist my arm to do that.

Charlie Jane: [00:33:42] I guess we’re just on the opposite sides of the potato question. I just don’t like potatoes.

Annalee: [00:33:46] Yeah, what the hell, Charlie? I never even knew this about you. What’s your starch?

Charlie Jane: [00:33:48] Rice…

Annalee: [00:33:50] Rice? Noodles?

Charlie Jane: [00:33:50] I’m a rice person. Noodles. I’m a noodle person.

Annalee: [00:33:52] I’m glad that you and I are—

Charlie Jane: [00:33:53] We’re going to have noodles later on today.

Annalee: [00:33:53] I know… You and I, I think that’s one of our main sources of—

Charlie Jane: [00:33:57] We share the love of noodles.

Annalee: [00:33:57] Yeah. Of bonding. Noodle bonding.

[00:34:01] All right, so, that’s our episode.

Charlie Jane: [00:34:01] Thanks so much for listening. Thank you for everyone who supports us on our Patreon. If you want to support us, we’re at Patreon.com/OurOpinionsAreCorrect. Also, if you like our show, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else that people review podcasts. You can subscribe to us everywhere.

[00:34:18] Thanks to Veronica Simonetti from Women’s Audio Mission for producing this, and thanks to Chris Palmer for the music. And thank you so much for listening.

Annalee: [00:34:24] Bye!

Charlie Jane: [00:34:25] We’ll be back in two weeks, bye!

[00:34:27] Outro music plays. Drums with a bass line including bass drops.

Annalee Newitz