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My favorite stuff of 2015

By Darius Kazemi, Dec 30, 2015

Here's a brief list of some things that I encountered in 2015 that were made in 2015 and resonated with me.

Book - Speak, by Louisa Hall

If there's one item on this list that I implore you to drop everything and check out, it's Louisa Hall's Speak. It is far and away the best book I've read in years. This changed me as a person and it changed my practice as a botmaker. I won't bother summarizing it here as I'm working on a much longer form review.

Gaby: So you're not really a person, you're a collection of voices.

MARY3: Yes. But couldn't you say that's always the case?

Speak is a work of fiction that is about chat bots: how they reflect our human minds and habits; what their creation says about our desires; and what their existence means for consent, freedom, and movement. It's a little bit genre defying, mixing historical fiction, science fiction, and literary fiction. It weaves together the story of six narrators - although most reviews say five because of course the bot narrator somehow doesn't count. Humans, amirite?

I like to think that one day ladies will take their computers for walks in the park and tell each other, 'œMy little computer said such a funny thing this morning!'

Of course, being about bots, this book hits home for me like no other. I am constantly pointing out the funny things my little computers say each morning.

On that particular day, the prosecution's point was that the program was functionally persuading this girl that it was more living than she was. That its life was more complete because it had talked to more people than she had, stuck as she was in her bedroom.

One of the narrators, botmaker Stephen R. Chinn, is a fascinating character. A pickup artist turned botmaker, I've described him as "me, but with no moral center." Near the end of the book, lamenting a life wasted, he offers this prayer against transhumanism:

[I]f there's anything I know, it's that the most human machines will only ever serve to make us more human.

Bot - @censusAmericans, by Jia Zhang

censusAmericans constructs brief, devastating summaries of the lives of real Americans culled from census data. It is poetry. Jia Zhang is brilliant and you can read a little more about how she made this bot.

I live with my grandkids. I got married in 1969. I have a high school diploma. I am married. I have never served in the military.

— censusAmericans (@censusAmericans) December 30, 2015

I speak Swahili at home. I was born in Africa. I don't have health insurance. I am not a citizen. I was born in another country.

— censusAmericans (@censusAmericans) December 30, 2015

Game - 80 Days, by Inkle Studios & Meg Jayanth

Okay so this won many "Game of the Year 2014" accolades but I'm an Android user and it finally came out for Android and PC this year. I am here to say that yes, 80 Days is amazing. Go play it.

Movie - Appropriate Behavior, dir. by Desiree Akhavan

It isn't the best movie I saw in 2015 (that would probably be Tangerine) but Appropriate Behavior certainly spoke to me. It's a movie about a bisexual Iranian American woman and her attempt to navigate two particularly frustrating situations: being bisexual in the queer community and being bisexual in the Iranian diaspora. In addition to all that "figuring out how to be a functional human" stuff you do as an early 30s urbanite. It's very funny and you don't have to be bisexual or Iranian-American to appreciate it.