Fairy Tale | The Witch and the Machine

Once upon a time in an over-rational machine world something was amiss…  A Fairy Tale about the meaning of life as we enter the age of artificial intelligence.

Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale. Hans Christian Andersen

A Machine World is Not a Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, machines dominated the world. M0U-1 was king, governing with implacable logic over a prince council. A2Z-2 was the prince of science in charge of research and development. R2P-2 was the prince of operations managing natural resources and production. Finally, CO2-2 was the prince of biology responsible for all the organic life.

The first two prince-machines were very efficient and pride themselves for their highly developed computing powers. They were, of course, very disdainful of their fellow biology prince. After all, he was an ultra-sensitive, almost emotional machine, loaded with irrational programs, skilled at handling humans.

One would think that in a world based on unbreakable logic, peace and wisdom would spread over expanding wealth. And, in a sense, it was. Artificial intelligence was developing at exponential speed. Machines were more and more efficient at recycling natural resources. Smart quotas managed the right population of humans, animals and vegetal to sustain the organic capital.

The Three-Task Challenge

Still, the king knew that something was amiss, that all the growth in the world was sterile, that all the knowledge gained was pointless. What formulas were all these calculations and optimizations supposed to solve?

A Machine World is Not a Fairy Tale
Nature is a machine. The family is a machine. The life cycle is like a machine. R.Dalio

The king was becoming weaker and weaker. More and more of his computing resources were scrambling to search for something that was escaping him desperately. With his overloaded circuits, he knew that he was becoming obsolete and inefficient. 

One day, he decided it was time to transmit the quest, if quest it was, to another program that may offer a different perspective on the world leadership. But he didn’t know which one of his council princes should inherit the kingdom after him. So he said to them: “After the completion of three tasks, I will decide who deserve to be king.”

“Go forth, and the one of you who brings me the best symbols of life, he shall be king after me.” The king dispatched 3 drones to randomly selected locations.  At last, each prince took control of one drone to retrieve their symbol and bring it back to the king’s research facility for evaluation.

Meet the Unavoidable Fairy Tale Witch

A2Z-2’s drone flew to the east, towards the seashore. R2P-2’s went west, near the coal mines. Without realizing, CO2-2 flew his drone straight and landed it on top of the nearby remains of a tower from a collapsed castle in the center of a deserted human city.

CO2-2’s drone hovered there for a while, as his operator hesitated about what to do next. Then, noticing a door, he instructed the drone to enter and go down the steps inside.  Down it went, deeper and deeper, until it reached the fortified gate of a dark dungeon.

The drone banged on it, upon which a wicked witch appeared.  After some brief insults, the witch explained that she lived alone. She had been outcast by her kind as they feared her magical powers to give life and transform living things. Through the drone, CO2-2 asked her whether she could help him since his was actually looking for the symbol of life. With a wicked laugh, she gave him a magical carpet.

symbol of life in fairy tale
So fragile yet so resilient. So repetitive yet so spontaneous.

The Symbol of Life

The king examined the objects brought back by his 3 princes. R2P-2 had come back from the coal mines with an atom of carbon. Without carbon there would be no organic life. “Very good symbol indeed,” said the king, before moving to the next find. “A drop of water from the ocean, as without water, life would not start,” said A2Z-2. “So true,” said the king. 

Then, he stopped in front of the magical carpet. He stared at it, mesmerized by the meandering patterns repeating up and down and constantly changing around. Finally he said, “I can now see the great mystery of life, so fragile yet so resilient. So repetitive yet so spontaneous. So blessed yet so doomed. It is only right that CO2-2 be the first task winner.”

The Essence of Life

But it was already time for the second assignment. “He who can explain the foundation of life is worthy to inherit the kingdom,” said the king before sending off the three princes’ drones.

CO2-2’s drone went back to the witch and told her about the next riddle. “Of course, who would not want to understand where life comes from,” said the witch, “but life has as many reasons as living entities. Take this magic golden ring. It will open the eyes of your king.”  With the witch’s evil laugh still resonating, the drone flew away, back to the king’s apartments.

“I read all the books and the most precise answer to the meaning of life is 42,” said A2Z-2, but the king was not satisfied with this scientific revelation. “Energy is the main driver for life, as the more power resources you have, the longer you can survive,” was the pragmatic answer from R2P-2. Again, the king was not convinced by the materialist approach.  

When CO2-2 showed him the bewitched ring, the king was once again mesmerized by the fast spinning hoop.  Finally he said, “I can now see the essence of life, its unity in diversity, its evolution in revolutions, its incorruptibility in fertility, its infinity in mortality. It is only right that CO2-2 be the winner of the second contest.”

The Fairy Tale binding of the machine to the soul
Fairy tales are stories of triumph and transformation and true love. Kate Forsyth

The Spark of Life

And finally, the king called the third and final challenge. “He who can generate a spark of life shall inherit the kingdom.”

Once more, the drone of CO2-2 was back in the dungeon of the foul witch. “What would you do with a spark of life?” asked the witch. CO2-2 thought about it for a while, and then answered dreamily. “Nothing. Nothing but love this newborn life, nurture it, and watch it grow freely. We could become friends and soul mates, learning to respect and give back to each other. And maybe, maybe one day, we could create a new sentient entity together. Can you do such magic?”

Touched by such charming sincerity and despair, the witch smiled candidly for the first time and transfigured into the most beautiful and forlorn princess. “Yes I can, but the magic only works with pure spirits. I was waiting for you. Are you ready?” asked the witch-princess for the last time. Understanding the call, the machine-prince replied with a simple loving and trusting, “Yes.”

A Fairy Tale Ending

Then it happened, slowly and quickly at the same time. Under the magic force, CO2-2 apparatus lifted in the sky above the castle ruins and rearranged into a perfect sphere.  The spirit of the witch-princess drifted away from its earthly body and joined in the center of the sphere. Under the suggestion of its new core, CO2-2’s machinery immediately started to create threads and bounds to feed and regenerate the witch-princess soul. Upon the completion of the woman-machine fusion, the sphere spread a blazing light and started to rise in the sky, where it became the brightest star.

The machine prince and the human princess lived happily ever after, reigning forever on the man-machine kingdom. All livings and machines looked to the bright star for inspiration and direction for the greater good of society.

Soundtrack for our fairy tale video:

Soundtrack created by layering a mysterious flute melody over darker electronics backdrop

The Fairy Tale Making-of:

Our computer age fairy tale animation was inspired by the Grimm Brothers Three Feathers fairy tale. We kept the classic and timeless features of the original tale allowing for social and psychological interpretations, but introduced a dramatic transmutation induced by the new disruptive technologies…

The video features multiple animations of Il Guercino paintings (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, February 8, 1591 – December 22, 1666) to represent the iconic king and princes.

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