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All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (TV series)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
Written by Adam Curtis
Directed by Adam Curtis
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 3
Production
Executive producer(s) Dominic Crossley-Holland
Producer(s) Lucy Kelsall
Adam Macqueen
James Harkin
Andrew Orlowski
Running time 180 minutes (in three parts)
Production company(s) BBC
Release
Original network BBC Two
Original release 23 May (2011-05-23) – 6 June 2011 (2011-06-06)
Chronology
Preceded by The Trap (2007)
Followed by Bitter Lake (2015)

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace is a BBC television documentary series by filmmaker Adam Curtis.[1] In the series, Curtis argues that computers have failed to liberate humanity, and instead have "distorted and simplified our view of the world around us."[2] The title is taken from a 1967 poem of the same name by Richard Brautigan.[3] The first episode was originally broadcast at 9 pm on 23 May 2011.[2]

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Transcription

We've glossed over this console in a few other videos, as it was really released in the prime of console competition and innovation. Everything on paper about the Jaguar should have send it hurtling to startdom, but it remains a lesser known machine of the 90s. We've covered the past of Atari in previous videos along with the ST, so let's wade into this Jaguar laden jungle, beginning in 1985. Technology wise, a hell of a year to be alive. Atari had been known as a gaming company for years and after buying out Atari's Consumer division, Jack Tramiel wasn't about to let go of that heritage. With existing Atari stock on his hands, his first job was to push out existing console stocks of the Darth Vader style 2600's and the Atari XL Series, based on the original Atari 8 bit home micros. This kept money coming in whilst they finalised and launched their new Atari ST machine; the system Atari Corporation's future depended upon. But Tramiel also recognised there was room for budget video game consoles to compete with the reignited games market thanks in part to the Nintendo Entertainment System. In late 1985 Michael Katz was poached from Epyx to run Atari's new Entertainment, Electronics division. In 1986 they would re-launch the Atari 2600, as the 2600 Junior alongside the upgraded Atari 7800. Somewhat aging hardware, but they ignited nostalgia amongst fans and both offered a vast array of easy to use home titles thanks to backwards compatibility. In 1987 the XE Games System was launched. Based on the aging 8 bit Atari line, this machine offered high compatibility with original software and peripherals, but was sleeker and furnished to fit in with the recently released Atari ST. It also sported some new titles such as Barnyard Blaster and Bug Hunt along with various repackaged existing titles. Blessed with a trusted name, the initial production run of 100,000 systems was sold over the Christmas 1987 season. However the specifications of these machines were basic, and although the range was selling reasonably well, they weren't really kitted for competing with the current systems in the console market, let alone new hardware on the horizon. Forward to 1989, Jack Tramiel had retired from daily operations of Atari and his son Sam was now in charge, although Jack still remained on the Atari board. Atari's ST are selling well, but there's still plenty of room in the advancing gaming market. This year would mark the entry of two significant machines to the Atari line designed to plug that gap. The first would be the Atari STE; an upgraded ST model featuring a blitter chip, improved graphics and enriched sound. The second would be a device pitched to them from Michael Katz's former company, Epyx. Designed by Dave Needle and RJ Mical, formly members of the Amiga design team, along with their CEO - David Morse - also from Amiga. Epyx first approached Nintendo regarding their new handheld device, called the Handy in 1987. However, Nintendo had already began work on the Game Boy and weren't really interested. Epyx then approached Atari, with whom they already had software licensing deals in place, to request funding and were pleased to find Jack Tramiel was very interested. Atari had attempted to produce their own portable machine - The Atari 2200 - but were experiencing a few issues around design and implementation. But blessed with many innovative features, the system showcased by Epyx was at the cutting edge of design, poised to have a colour LCD screen and incorporate 16 bit design elements. It was agreed that Atari would manufacture and market the handheld and Epyx would supply the games. This allowed Atari to enter the handheld market with very little work or investment. With a handheld in the bag which would soon adopt the Lynx name, it was time to look at the console market once again. Given that Atari already had the basis of a games machine in their ST computer, they began work on a prototype in 1988 called the Super XE. The Super XE was conceived to be an upgrade to their XE Games System; a cross between the ST, but with a double clocked Motorola 68000 CPU and a Transputer Blossom video card - this was based around a parallel microchip design by Bristol company, Inmos, and was in effect a pre-cursor to multi-core processors. This technology was later incorporated into the extremely rare Atari Transputer Workstation. However Atari would again look externally, this time to find a company to complete and implement their chip and circuit design, and fortunately Richard Miller from Atari's Texas R&D division had connections with a gent by the name of John Mathieson. Over in Cambridge, England, Martin Brennan, Ben Cleese and John Mathieson, had established a company called Flare Technology in 1986 after the demise of their previous company, Sinclair Research. Their first business was developing a technology demonstration system for Amstrad called the Flare One. This system was intended to become a games machine with high end audio and video capabilities and was rumored to share design aspects from an abandoned Sinclair machine, the Loki - a ZX Spectrum derived home computer based around a Z80 CPU but with custom sound and graphics chips designed to rival the upcoming Atari ST and Amiga machines. The Flare One ended up being used in some arcade cabinets including some quiz machines produced by Bellfruit. It was also further developed for use in the Konix Multisystem Slipstream prototype and had some impressive capabilities; It could move sprites and block graphics faster than an Atari ST with up to 256 colours and could even handle 3D models akin to the 32 bit Acorn Archimedes. But Konix sadly experienced financial difficulties and it was not to be. Thankfully Atari's connections to Flare, along with their gained expertise allowed Atari to hand the Super XE over to them for completion in 1989, the same year Michael Katz would move to Sega and push the Genesis. Flare would push the design of the Super XE incorporating a dedicated object processor called the Panther after the car owned by Martin Brennan's wife; a Panther Kallista, alongside an Ensoniq sound processor. The setup allowing a huge 8,192 on screen colours from a palette of 262,144 and with impressive sprite handling capabilities. The system would then adopt the Panther name as a whole. But Flaire would also begin working on an additional project under the Flare Two studio name, which would incorporate similar features. This system was designed to be a 64 bit powerhouse, which with the help of their Konix Multisystem work, convinced Atari would destroy the likes of the Sega Mega Drive whilst remaining cost effective. Development of both the Panther and the new Jaguar continued, following in the naming style of ever increasing cat sizes, with the handheld dubbed after the smaller Lynx, but by 1991 it was clear that the Jaguar was progressing far quicker than expected. Despite the Panther being pretty much ready for launch, it was cancelled so that Atari and Flare could concentrate on bringing something even more special to market. The Atari Lynx had by now already launched, and although initial sales were compelling with 90% of it's initial 1989 release shipment selling within a matter of days, the Nintendo Game Boy had slowed penetration. Despite the advanced Lynx hardware, battery life and low cost seemed order of the day in this fledgling market. However, the cutting edge console market was going in the opposite direction, with consumers demanding more bits and more power. Atari had also updated their home computer line in 1989 with the ST Enhanced model, providing a blitter chip, more colours and improved sound abilities. But a lack of specific software along with a slow uptake in the United States meant that Atari's market penetration was limited. Atari would need to go all out, and with Flare working on the Jaguar, Atari themselves continued improving their ST line with their next home computer, the Atari Falcon. A machine which would borrow design aspects from the new Jaguar technology including the incorporation of a Digital Signal Processor and the ability to utilise some Jaguar accessories, including the Joypads. With the Sega Mega Drive gaining global dominance based on it's advanced design and reasonable cost, The Atari Jaguar felt like Atari's ticket to get back in the game, and looking at the specifications, it's not hard to see why; The console has 5 processors in 3 chips. The first is Tom, consisting of 750,000 transistors and clocked at 26.591MHz. The 32 bit RISC architecture is responsible for the system's graphical processing. This chip also incorporates a 64 bit object processor and 64 bit blitter processor for logical operations. The system could technically handle unlimited hardware sprites. Although you're always limited by the processing time. The second chip, Jerry, has 600,000 transistors and is a 32-bit Digital Signal Processor clocked at 26.6MHz. It's able to produce CD Quality sound, with full stereo capability and wavetable synthesis. The processor can also perform complex mathematical functions. A Motorola 68000 clocked at 13.295MHz provides general purpose ability. The consoles 64 bit bus can transport a whopping 106.4 Mega Bytes per second 16.8 million colours are available allowing for 2D games which look staggering. Port wise, the Jag has a 32 bit cartridge slot, an RF video output and a video edge connector supporting both NTSC and PAL. There's also a Digital Signal Processor port for serial communication, which can be connected to the Atari Lynx ComLynx port. 2 controller ports are provided, and the controllers are apparently the same as designed for the Panther and are hefty beasts. Sporting 12 selection buttons on the lower half, which can be embezzled with a slot in card bespoke to each game, and a fairly standard 3+2+DPad layout at the top. Many people find these controllers cumbersome, large and uncomfortable. But I actually really like them. I haven't got particularly big hands, but it seems to fit perfectly and the selection buttons just speak to my always conscious craving for keyboard style variety built in to a console. Most controllers stop working when the wire gets too bent, but this one has actually started to come apart and still works fine. I'm not sure whether that means it's quality for working, or crap for falling apart. Either way, "I love it". IBM would manufacture the hardware and custom chip designs under a $500 million deal, with Atari wanting to retain the image of a homegrown American system, despite it's somewhat English roots. In many ways the Jaguar is actually pretty similar to the unreleased Panther in both it's custom chip abilities and the use of a Motorola 68000 control processor. In fact, even the Jaguar's pack-in game Cybermorph is supposedly a port from the Panther hardware it was originally developed for, and may explain it's somewhat lack-lustre draw distance. Being involved in early development titles, Jeff Minter, of Tempest 2000 fame, has also confirmed this and cites that even with the huge sprite allowance, putting too many on a single scanline would require too much processing time and cause a tear across the affected row. However the technical differences were enough for Atari to negate their Mega Drive and Super Nintendo rival for something considerably more hardcore. The problem was, that hardcore still took another 2 years. Atari's computer development would arrive first, with the Atari Falcon arriving in 1992, but unfortunately also the year Windows 3.1 would arrive and begin changing the IBM Compatible landscape. It was also the same year Sega launched their Sega CD, allowing a reasonable expansion on the Genesis hardware. By September 1993, Atari's old rival Commodore had released their console entry in the guise of the Amiga CD 32, packing an AGA chipset, 32 bits and a CD-ROM drive, it was headed in the right direction. Only a month later the 3DO Company would launch, The 3DO, surprisingly. Based on a 32 bit RISC CPU and offering impressive FMV and 3D capabilities. The specifications which made the Jaguar look impressive, were still impressive, but the market had already began watering down. The Jaguar would be the last in this wave of super consoles to arrive, unveiled at the August 1993 Chicago Consumer Entertainment Show and with a test North American launch throughout New York and San Francisco in November 1993. However it had a few advantages. Firstly, it was cheaper. Even launching for $50 more than Atari's quoted price of $200 is was still some $100 less than the European focussed CD32, and almost a third of the price of a 3DO - Atari hadn't been able to use their "Power without the Price" slogan for the Lynx, but the Jaguar was back on familiar ground. Second, the Jaguar had seemingly leapt an entire generation. Whilst the competition were churning out 16 and 32 bit consoles. Here, was a machine claiming to offer a whopping 64 bits of bus space. Could it be true? The initial advertising claimed so, boldly stamping the tagline "Do the Math", and magazine screenshots looked impressive. But in the flesh the Cybermorph pack in game didn't look quite as impressive as 64 bits should.... did it? People were playing StarFox by now on 16 bit systems, and most people who used a somewhat simplistic and impaired notion of bits to derive hardware ability expected a game that looked 4 times as good. Cybermorph looked pretty good, but not 4 times as good!?... We'll come back to that in a second. Atari were hoping that the initial wow factor would ride their system straight into the homes of gamers, but had shipped only 17,000 units in their inital test market - fewer than they were hoping for. Still, press reaction was fairly positive, possibly with everyone still whipped into a blinding 64 bit frenzy and Atari had promised some impressive add-ons. These included a CD-ROM based expansion, dial up internet link for online gaming, MPEG-2 video card and even a virtual reality headset, riding on the early 90s wave of virtual reality arcade machines. By early 1994 the system was rolled out through North America, with Europe following in mid 1994 and even Korea and Japan witnessing their own launch (where only a meagre 5,000 were sold), and even though some system worthy games had started to surface, in part due to Jeff Minter having a headstart on the Panther system, software was still lacking, and it's not even worth me repeating how essential software is to a machine's success. We've all witnessed it countless times. Cybermorph was the standard pack in game, and although it showed that the system could do 3D, it was lacking in playability, mostly as the landscape was drawn literally a few metres in front of you, leading to the all too familiar phrase.... "Where did you learn to drive".... NOT IN DENSE FOG APPARENTLY! The reason for this was mainly due to Atari rushing through the Jaguar's design. Although the system had launched some 2 years after the Panther was supposedly ready, Sam Tramiel and the Atari executives still hassled Flare like crazy to get the custom hardware finalised for 1991 so that product testing could be carried out during 1992. This resulted in 3 factors which severely limited the Jaguar's impact. The first was buggy and somewhat crippled hardware. The custom chip design wasn't quite complete and was one register short of being a much smoother experience. The system was massively powerful as a 2D system and pretty good for 3D, but having an additional address register on the object processor along with a slightly increased cache would have allowed the hardware to easily rival next generation consoles such as the Playstation and Sega Saturn. Second was the poorly written development documentation. It's commonly known that the custom dual processor setup of the Jaguar was difficult to code for, deterring many developers, but yet the Sega Saturn had a similar, if not more complicated design. The main snag was that developers were for the most part, coding blind. Game designers tried to seek help from Atari for months, but due to drastic under-staffing, it mostly fell on deaf ears. In conjunction with this, and the third point is the development tools. Like the documentation, they were unfinished, buggy and pretty unhelpful. Contrast this to the Sony Playstation who provided the best tools they could for game developers and you can see where the difference is. Atari had promised a swathe of 200 developers already on-board and producing titles, but these 3 problems alone, meant a lot of developers just dropped out. The ones which remained mostly stuck with what they knew and rather than utilising the powerful custom chips, just stuck with the machine's Motorola 68000 processor. Rather than game upon game of brilliant graphics and sound, we mostly witnessed a wave of games which looked almost identical to their 16 bit counterparts, and the reason is, because they were. It was far easier to just port across an Amiga or Mega Drive title written around the 68000 chip than pour hours and hours of work into creating something bespoke. But these weren't the only problems. Not only did Atari not have the resources to produce many of their own internal games, but they set third party licencing costs so high that it hardly seemed worth it. Combined with the hard reputation Jack Tramiel had built up towards developers and dealers in the years prior, this wan't adding up to be a pretty picture. For all the advantages the Jaguar had, Atari were seemingly doing their best to negate them. And if it couldn't get any worse, all those bits, started to become somewhat of a sticking point rather than a selling point. Publications and television programs, especially over in the United States starting questioning whether the system was really 64 bits at all, like it was be all and end all of technology. You see, the Jaguar is built around the two custom 32 bit chips, Tom, the GPU and Jerry, the Digital Signal Processor. Both of these sit around the 16 bit Motorola 68000, which can in effect be by-passed altogether or just left in charge of controller inputs. But because the 64 bits of the Jaguar were made up from the 32 bits of Tom and Jerry, many argued it wasn't really 64 bit, and this wasn't helped by the developers just using the 16 bit 68000 for processing..... Despite the fact that that the Jaguar still has a blisteringly fast 64 bit memory bus connecting these chips, including the Blitter and Object Processor, the claim and lack of gaming evidence still helped to infuse a bad even though potentially unjustified reputation regarding the hardware. However in October 1994, a game which had long been promised, but suffered a few delays would emerge and help rectify that view, just a little bit.... Alien vs. Predator had been slapped in magazines and on TV shows for what seemed like years, and although planned as an early launch title, it was still a treat to behold when it arrived. The game was originally conceived as a Lynx title, but was switched as Atari began to place all their eggs in the Jaguar basket (never puts eggs in a Jaguar shaped basket kids. They'll get eaten). Developed by Rebellion, working closely with Atari, the latter development of the Jaguar hardware and game were very intertwined, with some hardware tweaks made as a result of game requirements. With various concessions granted by Sam Tramiel, including double cartridge capacity, to 4MB and a later release date, the game turned out to be one of the essential purchases for the system and was almost universally praised in reviews for it's tense atmosphere and foreboding game experience... apart from the odd magazine which really didn't get it. One thing I'm gutted about was the Lynx was originally intended to be pair-able to the Jaguar via. the Com-Lynx port, allowing it to act as a motion scanner for the game, however dwindling budgets just didn't allow for this scope of integration. It would have been so damn cool though. For me, personally. Seeing that game in action was like a revelation. It was my two favourite films combined into something playable and mind blowing. It probably impressed me even more than Doom, and that's saying something. Talking about Doom. That was also released the following month and actually developed by id Software and John Carmack himself. Harking back to those hardware constraints he was quoted as saying "If the Jaguar had dumped the 68000 and offered dynamic cache on the risc processors with some buffering on the blitter, it would have put up a fight with the Playstation". John has also mentioned that it's one of his favourite Doom versions and if you compare it to other iterations of the time, it's clear how advanced the Jaguar hardware really is, despite it's flaws. It's also the only console version without music as the DSP chip was required for maths processing, and this adds a somewhat atmospheric slant to the game, almost reminiscent of Alien vs. Predator. 1994 also witnessed the the announcement of the Jaguar Voice & Data Communicator, known as the JVM. This allowed direct dial up play between console owners, although only about 100 units were made and only one game, Ultra Vortek, supports the modem by entering 911 on the keypad at game startup. Other games were released in the Christmas run up. Some good. Some bad. Christmas 1994 would mark the first real Christmas period for the Jaguar and although take up was somewhat stilted in the US of A. Over in Europe and especially the UK, demand was strong. In fact, as with so many other systems we've covered, demand was outstripping supply. But the tiny, 12 strong Atari team over in this region had a tough time from the beginning. The Jaguar hit the ground running in mid 1994 and soon began outselling the much more expensive 3DO despite the European division having next to no marketing budget. Most press coverage was done through interviews and reviews rather than paid advertising, but this still created considerable demand, with the Atari brand seen as much stronger over here riding on the success of the ST. However, despite being promised 250k units for the Christmas period, only 25k were delivered in early December, with another 25k just days before Christmas. People wanted the machines, Atari just couldn't ship them. It was a very similar state of affairs for the Amiga CD32 the previous year, which by now had already been discontinued in April 1994 after the demise of Commodore. Atari just didn't have the resources to support their system successfully, and even a $140 million investment from Sega, part of which settled previous legal disputes as well as opening up game patents for Sega's use, didn't help much either. If there was one final chance for Atari, it had just blown it. As 1995 came around and after selling 100,000 units, the Jaguar would be dropped in price to $149 in the US and a Pro Controller was released, offering some all sorts of additional buttons to press your way around. Some of which proving useful for the trickle of games still emerging. Again the usual mix of lazy ports, occasional gem, and fair share of bad. Nothing really ground breaking, although Missile Command 3D was a pretty good action package, especially when used in conjunction with the Virtual Reality headset.... Wait a minute. What happened to that promised VR system? I remember seeing it advertised in ST Format and thinking, "blow me, this is going to be frickin' amazing".... But yet, it still wasn't here. Maybe it'll arrive later in 1995. Let's wait and see. You see, things were pretty dire for Atari at this point. Remember the Atari Falcon? Yeah, that was discontinued way back in 1993 just a year after it's launch. The ST was as dead as a dodo, and the Lynx was receiving the axe right about..... now. Atari really did put all their faith in the Jaguar. They had to. A combination of poor past decisions, bad timing and just better competition, everywhere, had crippled the once cutting edge company. Sam Tramiel would do an interview in mid 1995 for Next Generation magazine where he claimed that the Atari Jaguar was leaps ahead of the Saturn and equally as powerful as the Playstation. He also claimed that the backwards compatible Jaguar 2 was in production and that they were likely to sue Sony for attempting to subsidise the cost of the PlayStation via Japanese sales and "dump it" in the US at a reduced cost. None of these statements would come to fruition, although some Jaguar 2 prototypes are known to exist and do work with existing Jaguar titles. The same magazine also have a review of the Jaguar later in 1995 commenting that "thus far, Atari has spectacularly failed to deliver on the software side, leaving many to question the actual quality and capability of the hardware. With only one or two exceptions - Tempest 2000 is cited most frequently - there have just been no truly great games for the Jaguar up to now.". They also noted that the company has much less brand recognition than Sega, Sony, Nintendo and even 3DO, giving the system 2 out of 5 stars and commenting that if the price was dropped further and more software made available, then it could still compete. Both of which are easier said than done of course! Still this was from the same publisher who said that Alien vs Predator was crap. Sega would release the Saturn in the summer of 1995, followed by Sony's Playstation in Autumn, and although the Jaguar had raw computational power that could actually beat these machines with it's RISC processors, the Playstation had 3D acceleration built in from the go and both the Sega and Sony machines had bigger budgets and better development resources. We all know the story from this point out. It also marked the point where many kids realised that bits, don't really mean too much as a stand alone measurement of POWERRRRR. During this year, Atari Corporation's sales more than halved, from $38.7 million in 1994 to $14.6 million in 1995 and only 25,000 Jaguar's would be sold, representing 76% of this income figure. It would be easy to blame it on Sam Tramiel pushing the Atari Jaguar out too early, or refusing to launch the Panther. But really. What would that have achieved? The Panther would likely have failed against the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo, and delaying the Jaguar even further would have just pushed it more and more into Playstation and Sega Saturn territory. If you ask me Atari were facing a losing battle, which they tried hard to fight, but placing all their bets on the Jaguar just didn't work out. Despite the optimism, all of this weighed on Sam Tramiel and he would suffer a heart attack before the year was out, thankfully he didn't die, but it led to Jack returning to oversee operations. Still, 1995 did have a few promising notes. One of the promised accessories, the Atari Jaguar CD was actually released on 21st September 1995. The unit offered a double speed drive and allowed Jaguar games with potentially huge scope to come to fruition. The unit has a cartridge slot at the rear allowing cartridge games to be passed through and for the CD unit to remain in place. This also allowed cartridge games to run in tandem with accompanying CD-ROMs, although no such software was made. What was made, was the Memory Track cartridge for saving game data and high scores. The hardware also had a built in "Virtual Light Machine" written by Jeff Minter that allowed changing on screen graphics through a spectrum analyser, much like Windows Media Player would grace us with some 8 years later. It's also worth noting that Jag CDs can hold 790MB of Data. Much more than standard CD-ROMs, but also allowing for much less error correction, leading to problems with units, especially ones which have survived into modern times. Another surprise, at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show, 2 products were unveiled. The first was.. YES! The Virtual Reality headset! The device was planned for pre-Christmas release, buuuttt, never made it. There are however, two prototypes in existence, which are showcased at retro gaming events, and apparently they work pretty well with Missile Command 3D. Atari would also unveil the Jaguar Duo. This wasn't a Jaguar 2, just a bathroom scale resembling piece of kit which combined the Jaguar and CD Unit into one device. Much like the Sega Multi Mega or CDX, and we know just how successful that was. The Duo would also never make it to market. In fact when Jack took the reigns, the Jaguar's planned accessories and spin offs were quickly killed off, followed by a swathe of staff redundancies. Atari Interactive, which had been setup to port games to MS-DOS was also closed and by January 1996, he was looking to sell the company off, having decided it really was to get out of the industry this time. The rather strange demise for Atari would come in a reverse merger with hard drive manufacturer, JTS Storage. The new company, JTS Corporation would take Jack and some Atari executives on as board members with the promise to shareholders that Atari would continue operations after the deal was complete. However by 1997 Atari was just a single person, and a desk, John Skruch. John handled the final Jaguar support and licencing before the remainder of the company was sold to Hasbro on 28th Februrary 1998 and finally on to Infogrames where it now operates under the name of Atari SA. As for the Jaguar.... well, official games continued to be produced up to 2000, and in fact into 2000 and beyond, and this is in fact thanks to Hasbro. Rather than stuffing away the rights of old inventions in a dark cupboard and leaving them to fester, Hasbro actually released all the consoles rights, opening up the platform for anyone to publish on. To add an extra layer of icing, Curt Vendel of Atari Museum then happened to locate the encryption keys for both cartridge and CD formats, allowing anyone to develop games on unmodified machines. Of course, developing on cartridges is harder, so the CD add ons are in high demand, but software on both formats has been made available in recent years, and some of it is truly sensational. In the UK, Telegames also sells remakes of Atari Jaguar Games and for a while consoles were apparently available through Game stores. They're not in Game anymore, but apparently still available online for £150. It seems that some 20 years after the Jaguar looked to storm the world with the same number 64 that helped Jack Tramiel dominate with the Commodore 64, developers and committed community members are finally unlocking the potential of those custom components and producing some mind blowing games. Maybe that comment Sam made about the Jaguar being as powerful as the Playstation wasn't as throw away as it sounded. His words seem to feel increasingly true as more and more secrets of this frankly impressive machine are unlocked. Oh, one last thing. The Mould for the Jaguar case were bought by Imagin Systems, a dental imaging equipment manufacturer early in the 00's and were used to hold their "HotRod" camera, with cartridge moulds used to create optional memory expansions. So if you ever see one on your dentist's wall, don't presume they're getting a bit of Jaguar action in between appointments. These moulds were then purchased by Mike Kennedy to house the Retro Video Game System, otherwise known as the Coleco Chameleon. The console that ended up just being a Super Nintendo Mini in a case. Which isn't really a fitting end for this shell. So let's hope it goes on to become something more substantial, and worthy of it's original incarnation. Because frankly, I love it.

Contents

Episodes

Part 1. 'Love and Power'

In the first episode, Curtis traces the effects of Ayn Rand's ideas on American financial markets, particularly via the influence on Alan Greenspan.

Ayn Rand was born in Russia and moved to America in 1928. She worked for Cecil B. DeMille, receiving inspiration for what would later become The Fountainhead. Later, she moved to New York and set up a reading group called The Collective where they considered her work. On advice from a friend, Greenspan (then a logical positivist) joined The Collective.

When published, although critically savaged, Rand's Objectivist ideas were popular, and influenced people working in the technology sector of California. The Californian Ideology, a techno-utopian belief that computer networks could measure, control and help to stabilise societies, without hierarchical political control, and that people could become 'Randian heroes', only working for their own happiness, became widespread in Silicon Valley.

Rand had an affair with Nathaniel Branden, another married person in The Collective, which she justified in terms of her value of "rationality", and with the approval of his wife. After several years, the affair ended violently and it was revealed to the rest of The Collective, which disbanded. Rand ended up alone in her New York apartment, although Greenspan continued to visit.

 Alan Greenspan
Alan Greenspan

Greenspan entered government in the 70s, and became Chairman of the Federal Reserve. In 1992, he visited the newly elected Bill Clinton. He persuaded him to let the markets grow, cut taxes, and to let the markets stabilise themselves with the help of computer technology, to create the New economy. This involved using computer models to predict risks and hedge against them, in accordance with the Californian Ideology. However, by 1996, the production figures had failed to increase, but profits were nevertheless rising, and Greenspan suggested that it wasn't working. After political attacks from all sides, Greenspan changed his mind and decided that perhaps the New Economy was real after all, but that it couldn't be measured using normal economic measures, and so the apparent boom continued.

In 1994, Carmen Hermosillo published a widely influential essay online, "Pandora's Vox: On Community in Cyberspace",[4] and it began to be argued that the use of computer networks had led not to a reduction in hierarchy, but actually a commodification of personality and a complex transfer of power and information to corporations.

Although the Asian miracle had led to long-term growth in South Korea and other countries, Joseph Stiglitz began warning that the withdrawing of foreign financial investment from the Far Eastern economies could cause devastation there. However, he was unable to warn the president having been blocked by Robert Rubin, who feared damage to financial interests.

 Robert Rubin
Robert Rubin

The 1997 Asian financial crisis began as the property bubble in the Far East began to burst in Thailand, causing large financial losses in those countries that greatly affected foreign investors. While Bill Clinton was preoccupied with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Robert Rubin took control of foreign policy and forced loans onto the affected countries. However, after each country agreed to be bailed out by the IMF, foreign investors immediately pulled their money out of those countries, leaving their taxpayers with enormous debts and triggering massive economic disasters.

After his handling of the economic effects of 9/11, Alan Greenspan became more important, and in the wake of the Enron scandal he cut interest rates in a bid to stimulate the economy. Unusually, this ostensibly failed to cause inflation. It seemed the New Economy was working to stabilise the economy.

However, in reality, to avoid a repeat of the earlier collapse, China's Politburo had decided to manage America's economy via similar techniques to those used by America on other Far Eastern countries. By keeping China's exchange rate artificially low, they sold cheap goods to America, and with the proceeds, bought American bonds. The money flooding into America permitted massive loans to be made available to those who would previously have been considered too risky. In America, the belief was that computers could stabilise and hedge the lending of the money. This permitted lending beyond the point that was actually sustainable. The high level of loan defaulting led ultimately to the 2008 collapse due to a housing bubble similar to that which Far Eastern countries had previously faced.

Curtis ends the piece by pointing out that not only has the idea of market stability failed to bear out in practice, but that the Californian Ideology has also been unable to stabilise it. Indeed, the ideology has not led to people being Randian heroes, but has trapped them in a rigid system of control from which they are unable to escape.

Contributors

Part 2. 'The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts'

This episode investigates how machine ideas such as cybernetics and systems theory were applied to natural ecosystems, and how this relates to the false idea that there is a balance of nature. Cybernetics has been applied to human beings in an attempt to build societies without central control, self organising networks built of people, based on a fantasy view of nature.

Arthur Tansley had a dream where he shot his wife. He wanted to know what it meant, so he studied Sigmund Freud. However, one part of Freud's theory was that the human brain is an electrical machine. Tansley became convinced that, as the brain was interconnected, so was the whole of the natural world, in networks he called ecosystems, which he believed were inherently stable and self-correcting, and which regulated nature as if it were a machine.

Jay Forrester was an early pioneer in cybernetic systems who believed that brains, cities and even societies live in networks of feedback loops that control them, and he thought computers could determine the effects of the feedback loops. Cybernetics therefore viewed humans as nodes in networks, as machines.

The ecology movement also adopted this idea and viewed the natural world as systems, as it explained how the natural system could stabilise the natural world, via natural feedback loops.

Norbert Wiener laid out the position that humans, machines and ecology are simply nodes in a network in his book Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, and this book became the bible of cybernetics.

 Howard T. Odum
Howard T. Odum

Howard T. Odum and Eugene Odum were brothers, and both of them ecologists. Howard collected data from ecological systems and built electronic networks to simulate them. His brother Eugene then took these ideas to make them the heart of ecology, and the hypothesis then became a certainty. However, they had distorted the idea and simplified the data to an extraordinary degree. That ecology was balanced became conventional wisdom among scientists.

Meanwhile, in the 1960s, Buckminster Fuller invented a radically new kind of structure, the geodesic dome, which emulated ecosystems in being made of highly connected, relatively weak parts. It was applied to the radomes covering early warning systems in the Arctic. His other system-based ideas inspired the counterculture movement. Communes of people who saw themselves as nodes in a network, without hierarchy, and applied feedback to try to control and stabilise their societies, and used his geodesic domes as habitats. These societies mostly broke up within a few years.

Also in the 1960s, Stewart Brand filmed a demonstration of a networked computer system with a graphics display, mouse and keyboard that he believed would save the world by empowering people, in a similar way to the communes, to be free as individuals.

In 1967, Richard Brautigan published the poetry work All Watched Over by machines of Loving Grace. The title poem called for a cybernetic ecological utopia consisting of a fusion of computers and mammals living in perfect harmony and stability. The arguments in this part of the documentary closely echo Andrew Kirk's 2007 environmental history of the California-appropriate technology movement, Counterculture Green: The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism.

By the 1970s, new problems such as overpopulation, limited natural resources and pollution that could not be solved by normal hierarchical systems had arrived. Jay Forrester stated that he knew how to solve this problem. He applied systems theory to the problem and drew a cybernetic system diagram for the world. This was turned into a computer model, which predicted population collapse. This became the basis of the model that was used by the Club of Rome, and the findings from this were published in The Limits to Growth. Forrester then argued for zero growth in order to maintain a steady equilibrium within the capacity of the Earth.

 Jan Smuts
Jan Smuts

However, this was opposed by many people within the environmental movement, since the model did not allow for people to change their values to stabilise the world, and they argued that the model tried to maintain and enforce the current political hierarchy. Arthur Tansley who had invented the term ecosystem, had once accused Field Marshal Jan Smuts of the "abuse of vegetational concepts". Smuts had invented a philosophy called holism, where everyone had a 'rightful place', which was to be managed by the white race. The 70s protestors claimed that the same conceptual abuse of the supposed natural order was occurring, that it was really being used for political control.

At the time, there was a general belief in the stability of natural systems. However, cracks started to appear when a study was made of the predator-prey relationship of wolf and elks. It was found that wild population swings had occurred over centuries. Other studies then found huge variations, and a significant lack of homeostasis in natural systems. George Van Dyne then tried to build a computer model to try to simulate a complete ecosystem based on extensive real-world data, to show how the stability of natural systems actually worked. To his surprise, the computer model did not stabilize like the Odums' electrical model had. The reason for this lack of stabilization was that he had used extensive data which more accurately reflected reality, whereas the Odums and other ecologists had "ruthlessly simplified nature." The scientific idea had thus been shown to fail, but the popular idea remained in currency, and even grew as it apparently offered the possibility of a new egalitarian world order.

In 2003, a wave of spontaneous revolutions swept through Asia and Europe. Coordinated only via the internet, nobody seemed to be in overall charge, and no overall aims except self-determination and freedom were apparent. This seemed to justify the beliefs of the computer utopians.

However, the freedom from these revolutions lasted for only a short time. Curtis compares them with the hippie communes, all of which had been broken up within a few years by, "the very thing that was supposed to have been banished: power." Aggressive members of the group began to bully the weaker ones, who were unable to band together in their own defence because formal power structures were prohibited by the commune's rules, and even intervention against bullying by benevolent individuals was discouraged.

Curtis closes the episode by stating that it has become apparent that while the self-organising network is good at organising change, it is much less good at what comes next; networks leave people helpless in the face of people already in power in the world.

Contributors

  • Peder Anker, historian of ecology
  • Jay Forrester, systems theorist
  • Fred Turner, cybernetics theorist
  • Peter J. Taylor, historian of science
  • Dr Daniel Botkin, ecologist
  • Randall Gibson, former member of 'Synergia' commune
  • Molly Hollenbach, former member of 'The Family' commune
  • Stewart Brand
  • Alexander King, Co-Founder of the Club of Rome (archive)
  • Tord Björk, environmental activist
  • Dr Steward Pickett, ecologist
  • Dr Dave Swift and Dr Sam Bledsoe, Grasslands Project
  • Al Gore, former US Vice President
  • Dr Laura J. Cameron, historical geographer

Part 3. 'The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey'

This episode looks into the selfish gene theory invented by William Hamilton, which holds that humans are machines controlled by genes. Curtis also covers the source of ethnic conflict that was created by Belgian colonialism's artificial creation of a racial divide and the ensuing slaughter that occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is a source of raw material for computers and cell phones.

William Hamilton went to Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while the Second Congo War was raging. He went there to collect Chimpanzee faeces to test his theory that HIV was due to a medical mistake. Unfortunately he caught malaria, for which he took aspirin, which caused a haemorrhage, and he died. However, his selfish gene theory survived.

In 1960, Congo had become independent from Belgium, but governance promptly collapsed, and towns became battle grounds as soldiers fought for control of the mines. America and the Belgians organised a coup, and the elected leader, Patrice Lumumba, was kidnapped and executed, causing chaos. However, the Western mining operations were largely unaffected.

Bill Hamilton was a solitary man who saw everything through the lens of Darwin's theory of evolution. When he wanted to know why some ants and humans give up their life for others, he went to Waterloo station and stared at humans for hours, looking for patterns. In 1963, he realised that most of the behaviours of humans were due to genes, and he began looking at humans from the genes' point of view. Humans were machines that were only important for carrying genes, and it made sense for a gene to sacrifice a human if it meant that another copy of the gene elsewhere could prosper.

In the 1930s, Armand Denis made films that told the world about Africa. However, his documentary gave fanciful stories about Rwanda's Tutsis being a noble ruling elite originally from Egypt, whereas the Hutus were a peasant race. In reality, they were racially the same, and the Belgian rulers had ruthlessly exploited the myth. But when it came to independence, liberal Belgians felt guilty, and decided the Hutus should overthrow the Tutsi rule. This led to a bloodbath, as the Tutsis were then seen as aliens and were slaughtered.

 John von Neumann in the 1940s
John von Neumann in the 1940s

In 1967, American George R. Price went to London after reading Hamilton's little-known papers and discovering that he was already familiar with the equations, and that they were the equations of computers. He was able to show that the equations explained murder, warfare, suicide, goodness and spite, since these behaviours could help the genes. John von Neumann had invented self-reproducing machines, but Price was able to show that the self-reproducing machines were already in existence — humans were the machines.

This had a bad effect on Price, and Price began to believe that these equations had been given to him by God, even though some argue that they are evidence against the existence of God.

In Congo, with a civil war ongoing, Dian Fossey, who was researching gorillas, was captured. She escaped and created a new camp high up on a mountain in Rwanda, where she continued to study gorillas. She tried to completely protect the gorillas, which were very susceptible to human diseases and were hated because they terrorised the local people.

In 1973, after converting to extreme Christianity, as a last chance to disprove the selfish gene theories' gloomy conclusions, Price decided to start helping poor and homeless people, giving away all his possessions in acts of random kindness, influenced and inspired by Christian religion.

 President Mobutu
President Mobutu

In the Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko changed the Congo's name to Zaire and looted millions of dollars and let mines and industries collapse, killed his opponents and stopped a liberal democracy from forming.

While this was happening, at Dian Fossey's camp, Digit, her favourite gorilla, had been killed by locals, and later she was too.

Price's attempt to disprove Hamilton's theory had utterly failed, and he came to believe that he was being followed by the hound of heaven. He finally revealed, in his suicide note, that these acts of altruism brought more harm than good to the lives of homeless people.

Richard Dawkins took the equations and popularised them and explained that humans are simply machines created by the selfish genes. In a sense, reinventing the immortal soul, but as computer code in the form of the genes.

In 1994, the ruling Hutu government set out to eradicate the Tutsi minority. This was explained as incomprehensible ancient rivalry by the Western press. In reality it was due to the Belgian myth created during the colonial rule. Western agencies got involved, and the Tutsi fought back, creating chaos. Many flooded across the border into Zaire, and the Tutsi invaded the refugee camps to get revenge. Mobutu fell from power. Troops arrived from many countries, allegedly to help, but in reality to gain access to the country's natural resources, used to produce consumer goods for the West. Altogether, 4.5 million people were killed.

By this point Hamilton was well-honoured. However, by now he supported eugenics. He heard a story that HIV had been created from an accident with a polio vaccine, which it was thought could have been contaminated with a chimp virus. This supported his idea that modern medicine could be negative, as he thought medicine opposed the logic of the genes. So he travelled to eastern Congo to look for the virus, amid the murder and chaos. He died, and later research disproved the idea that HIV had come from a medical accident.

Curtis ends the episode by saying that Hamilton's ideas that humans are computers controlled by the genes have become accepted wisdom. But he asks whether we have accepted a fatalistic philosophy that humans are helpless computers to explain and excuse the fact that, as in the Congo, we are effectively unable to improve and change the world.

Contributors

  • Prof. Michael Ruse, friend of Bill Hamilton
  • Kathleen Price, George Price's daughter
  • Edward Teller (archive)
  • James Schwartz, George Price's biographer
  • Bill Hamilton (interviewed 1999)

Interviews and reviews

In May 2011, Adam Curtis was interviewed about the series by Katharine Viner in The Guardian,[5] by the Register[6] and by Little Atoms.[7]

Catherine Gee at the Daily Telegraph said that what Adam Curtis reveals, "is the dangers of human beings at their most selfish and self-satisfying. Showing no compassion or consideration for your fellow human beings creates a chasm between those able to walk over others and those too considerate – or too short-sighted – to do so."[8]

John Preston also reviewed the first episode, and said that although it showed flashes of brilliance, it had an "infuriating glibness too as the web of connectedness became ever more stretched. No one could dispute that Curtis has got a very big bite indeed. But what about the chewing, you ask. There wasn’t any – or nothing like enough of it to prevent a bad case of mental indigestion."[9]

Andrew Anthony published a review in The Observer and The Guardian, and commented on the central premise that we had been made to "believe we could create a stable world that would last for ever" but that he doesn't "recall ever believing that 'we' could create a stable world that would last for ever", and noted that: "For the film-maker there seems to be an objective reality that a determined individual can penetrate if he is willing to challenge the confining chimeras of markets and machines. Forget the internet tycoons. The Randian hero is Curtis himself."[10]

Music

Curtis's style is typified by the use of frequent and often incongruous cuts of film and music, often lasting only a fraction of a second, in a technique similar to sampling. Music used in the documentary includes:

See also

References

  1. ^ The Guide (9 April 2011). "Populist: The column that's looking for a natural break". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace – video". The Guardian. 6 May 2011. Archived from the original on 9 May 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  3. ^ "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace". BRAUTIGAN.net. 10 June 2011. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  4. ^ "Introducing Humdog: Pandora’s Vox Redux", Folksonomy.co.
  5. ^ Viner, Katharine (6 May 2011). "Adam Curtis: Have computers taken away our power?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 7 May 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2011. 
  6. ^ Orlowski, Andrew (23 May 2011). "Adam Curtis: The Rise of the Machines Cybernetics, ecosystems and pop". The Register. Retrieved 19 June 2011. 
  7. ^ Dave (5 June 2011). "Interview with Adam Curtis on Pulse". Pulse. Retrieved 20 June 2011. 
  8. ^ Gee, Catherine (23 May 2011). "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 20 June 2011. 
  9. ^ Preston, John (27 May 2011). "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, BBC Two, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 20 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Anthony, Andrew (29 May 2011). "Rewind TV: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace; Strangeways – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 June 2011. 

External links

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