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10 Years Later, Transistor's Artistic Rebellion Is More Necessary Than Ever

Amidst the increasing presence of AI, deep fakes, and online homogenization, Red's tale resonates even louder a decade later.


Transistor is celebrating its 10-year anniversary today, May 20, 2024. Below, we recall how its vision of the future was more prescient than we'd realized at first glance.

In 2014, a singer having her voice captured and digitized against her will was a novel sci-fi conceit. Ten years later, it sounds eerily familiar. With the ever-increasing presence of AI and deep fakes, as well as digital homogenization all around us, Transistor's tale of payback against the Camerata doubles back as a prescient artistic rebellion.

Designers, journalists, and painters were all targeted by the elite group one by one. The Camerata methodically ripped the city of Cloudbank of not just key citizens, but also character and grace. As protagonist Red cruises through the fading streets of Cloudbank, she witnesses how her surroundings lose color, progressively matching the Camerata's attire. Yet, despite the odds, Transistor reminds us of the importance of latching onto mundanity, and what represents us.

One of the first examples you encounter is the work of Amelia Garbur, an associate editor who covers the slow decay of Cloudbank. The story of Transistor is told in snippets, emphasizing environmental cues and bite-sized details for you to piece together what transpired in a disappearing district or inside a room before your arrival. Therein come the OVC Terminals, which are posted across the city and offer either surveys or news reported by Garbur, informing the citizens of the latest developments outside their homes.

"Incident at the Empty Set," reads a headline detailing the events that transpired at the venue where Red was attacked. "Postponed: Hammers vs. Clientele," says another later that day, indicating that the two popular sports teams won't be playing after all. Toward the evening, "Traverson Hall Is Gone" marks a poignant beginning of the end.

Most of the citizens you encounter are either soon-to-be or already deceased. Red, using the namesake sword that was originally held by the Camerata, is able to retrieve a fragment of theirs and take them inside. Mechanically, doing so gives you a new ability to mix and match during combat. But this process also adds them to a database, providing information about who they were and what influential role they had in the city.

Garbur is one of the few characters who avoids this digitization. Instead, her work speaks for herself, right until the bitter end. "As I stand here on the eastern perimeter awaiting the inevitable, I am surrounded by my community, and I am at peace," reads the entry for "Farewell to Cloudbank."

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In late 2023, Futurism reported on a series of articles in Sports Illustrated that were written by fake writers, their personal information and their work being AI-generated. Despite resistance from staff under its suite, G/O Media rolled out AI tools in mid 2023, which quickly proved to just churn factually inaccurate pieces. Others like CNET and BuzzFeed, the latter shuttering its news division in the process, followed suit. The integrity of the reporters doing the work every day was compromised for the sake of producing articles en masse, even when readers would quickly notice incongruences, as well as a simple lack of human touch.

The seemingly imposing push for AI extends beyond journalism. Microsoft recently announced a 4 billion euro investment in cloud and AI infrastructure. If you've been trying to search for something on Google and received a garbled response, it's possible that it wasn't written by a human being at all. From dating apps like Bumble to voice acting and development tools for video games, CEOs and corporations are betting on a future where they can further automate not only jobs, but our everyday lives, despite the proven monetary and environmental costs, workers' livelihoods notwithstanding.

Sadly, AI also goes hand in hand with deep fakes, which are digitally generated images or videos that mimic the likeness of a real person, whether it is their image or their voice. During the Met Gala, images of artists like Rihanna and Katy Perry went viral, despite being fake. In Arizona, workers are being trained to prepare themselves for misleading images ahead of the 2024 elections. In March, New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced she's co-leading the Defiance Act of 2024, which would allow victims of deep-fake creations to sue the people behind them.

The dystopian future depicted in Transistor isn't filled with one-on-one premonitions of our current reality. Yet, the parallels hit too close to home for comfort. There's an enemy type that "attacks" Red by taking pictures of her. During New Game Plus, one of the bosses sings a corrupted, digitized rendition of the song that was played during the fight originally, mimicking Red's voice. Witnessing Cloudbank being consumed by a rampant and uniform process resonates with digital homogenization, and how human interactions are being diminished by the online spaces we inhabit.

Revisiting these themes through a modern-day lens can leave us with a defeated feeling. But the central message of Transistor is one of hope, not despair, reminding us that the human touch can be mimicked, but never replaced.

Red leaves the sword outside a restroom before entering, being playful while maintaining a now begone boundary with his partner, who's stuck inside of the weapon. Further into the story, she uses one of the OVC Terminals to communicate with her companion, if only for a brief moment, twisting the original purpose of leaving a comment under an article. Even without her voice, she can't stop herself from humming over the heart-soothing songs that play in the background throughout her entire journey, refusing to abandon her artistic spirit.

As companies continue to be hellbent on attempting to replace human identities, obsessed with the idea of succumbing to a reality forged by algorithms and faux tech revolutions, Transistor remains inspiring 10 years later. It's comforting to know that the silk in Red's dress remains silk until the bitter end, despite the attempts to imitate her liking. There's a special solace in knowing she's reading news from an actual human being, even as the city collapses around her.

Diego Nicolás Argüello on Google+

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