Jeffrey Yoo Warren


April 27, 2020

With the latest season of Westworld diving into modeling the future, it’s a good time to get Taproot on the record, because otherwise Netflix will never make it.

Taproot (aka Gravitas) is an idea for a TV show dreamt up with Eli Alford Jones during a hangover (and later refined with Will MacFarlane), which imagines a future AFTER “futurecasting,” which is what modeling the future will be known as.

It’s a little ridic but wanted to share. I guess it would be set AFTER Westworld, if they were in the same timeline. In this future, futurecasting by corporations is now illegal, following the global chaos born of its invention.

On this show, futurecasting is tightly regulated by the Federal Futurecasting Administration, a vast, underground gov’t-run server farm which is constantly generating the “official” futurecast, which is considered a publicly owned resource. The FFA is like the Fed, but for predicting the future. New results of the model are published daily.

The federal model is trained on all media. That is, all of reality has been scanned, not just all books, shows, photos, paintings, but also all contents of all museums, all historical records, the entire surface of the earth, and so on. Nobody but the FFA is allowed to build or maintain a model; everyone has to use the federal results so that there’s a level playing field.

But, of course, big corporations still TRY to get ahead – they run illegal “dark models” to get ahead – even by a few minutes – of the federal model. And to feed their greed, they are constantly looking for “edge” – which is what /new data/ is called.

Any significant amount of data overlooked by the FFA could be used to inform a model that could be run just a tiny bit ahead, giving these companies an advantage. So of course they’re constantly looking for “edge” – which usually involves historical artifacts, for reasons we’ll get into.

So the show is based around the antics of 2 groups - the illegal corporate teams seeking edge, and the FFB, or Federal Futurecasting Bureau, which is a team of agents who investigate and enforce the rules, often by confiscating the edge and feeding it back into the federal model.

What’s WEIRD about edge, is that its value is determined using an equation, known as the Butler Equation, which describes how influential data is upon the predictions of futurecasting. The three main terms of this equation (as shown in the show’s credit sequence) are:

1) time, duh. The older the data, artifacts, etc, the more time it’s had to influence world history

2) the importance of the people who created or interacted with the artifacts. This is an interesting one, because it’s not the same as who is most recognized in hindsight – given all the biases we have – it’s who ACTUALLY influenced the course of history. So in many cases, it might not be the famous name you’re thinking of – it could very well be their unrecognized (genius) colleague, spouse, student, etc. This distinction could make for some great episodes!

3) the extra weird one: potential energy. OK, stay with me – for reasons, the influence of edge is affected by how much potential energy is embodied by the artifact. Unlike importance, which is hard to measure, this can be calculated very precisely. The most common scenario is where an object was carried up a hill, or stairs, by an important historical figure.

The influence is then determined by multiplying the mass of the artifact by the height it was carried. So, like, to choose a really eurocentric example, if Galileo carried an extra cannon ball up the steps of the Tower of Pisa, but left it there, and somehow it wasn’t widely known and is still there, well, that’d be a great piece of edge. OR WOULD IT BE??? (see term 2 of the Butler Equation above)

OK, so then each episode begins with a historical scene where we see someone in period dress, doing something of high Butler value, like leaving a coin on a rafter, or forgetting their shoe at the top of a bell tower. Then we fast forward through history with the camera on the artifact, until we see a Mission Impossible type team of extractors finding it.

I’m not sure about how they’re actually getting the data out of the artifact. It shouldn’t be enough to just scan it. I’m backing into this idea but i think they need to lower the artifact by the amount of altitude it gained from the person who moved it. So this might involve drilling a well under it, and carefully lowering it on a cable by the correct distance, while a progress bar ticks across on a screen in the extraction team’s dimly lit control room.

There are a ton of directions this could go in but I really like the idea of exploring the fallacy that it’s possible to scan everything and even model it. The spotlight of Google Books reproduced only the western canon, and is kind of unaware, structurally, of anything else – Wikipedia, too.

If you scanned everything, would you miss oral histories, or family recipes, or emotional states, or the collective psyche of individual regional communities? And what effect does that have on a shared history?

Jorge Luis Borges writes of Funes el Memorioso, who has a perfect memory, but can’t synthesize information or have new ideas. He sees a dog from many angles, and sees no need to form a generalized concept of a dog from these images - he remembers each one perfectly and distinctly. But without understanding the idea of a dog, he can’t imagine what that dog might dream of.

Would Taproot be an opportunity to not only re-assess whose history shaped our world, but also how we understand history to be (or not to be) a common endeavor, and one which, for better or worse, we shape, extract, and re-make through true, false, and imagined stories? Who owns our histories and how do we instrumentalize them? Discuss.

Also, who would star?