Welcome To The A.I. Arms Race
Last week, Google, who has, to put it politely, had their shit rocked by the emergence of consumer-level generative-A.I., published a blog post titled, “Google Research, 2022 & Beyond: Language, Vision and Generative Models”.
It’s an interesting — and very dense — look at how Google is thinking about A.I. and, after skimming it, it seems like it’s largely meant to explain exactly where Google’s A.I. investment has been going. And the answer is, well, mostly in the background. And I’d file it under the same category as these recent comments from Yann LeCun, the chief A.I. scientist at Meta, who, last week, said that ChatGPT was “not particularly innovative.” Which is to say I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more academics emerge from behind the curtain to basically ask, “why are you normies so impressed with a web app that can’t draw fingers?”
And I imagine the ones pushing these somewhat defensive academics out into the spotlight are a lot of very angry executives at large tech companies who are asking why their A.I. development teams have been spending so much time and energy “researching” ways to make A.I. “better,” when they could have just shipped a chat bot that you can pay to talk like John Wilkes Booth.
But it’s hard to overstate how existentially threatening OpenAI is to companies like Google and Meta (and, soon enough, every other platform on the web). Platforms, whether we’re talking about Facebook, Amazon, or Netflix, all monetize the same feedback loop. Some make money from ad revenue, some from selling physical products, and others from subscriptions, but the loop is the same: You log in, you see content created by others, you engage with it, depending on how the particular platform works, you might create your own content for others to engage with, rinse, wash, like and subscribe, repeat.
And, over time, these marketplaces have invested in different ways to tighten this loop. Well-known blogger Cory Doctorow, in a great piece this week, described this process as “enshittification,” using Amazon as an example. The platform operated at a loss, made itself, first, an attractive marketplace for everything under the sun, and, then, a place that sellers had to be because that’s where all the users were. After that, it started making sellers pay for better placement on the site, all while undercutting them with their own Amazon-made goods. According to Doctorow, this “enshittification” is ultimately self-destructive for a platform: “Facebook is terminally enshitted, a terrible place to be whether you're a user, a media company, or an advertiser.” Well, OpenAI has arrived pre-enshitted.
OpenAI’s website barely works half the time and offers no “social” features whatsoever, but the company feels confident enough about it to launch a paid tier. Of course, OpenAI does offer a “social” feature, but the thing you’re “socializing” with isn’t a human being. And, even more uncomfortable for companies like Meta and Google, OpenAI owns it completely. They are the first company to close the loop. They solved cursed math equation driving all of modern business on the internet: How do you launch a digital marketplace in which you sell nothing, own everything, and charge people to use it?
And the more you start thinking about A.I. this way — as replacement not for information, but for all the other users you communicate with online — the more you start to get a glimpse of how topsy-turvy things are going to get the further into this consumer A.I. arms race we go.
I’ve had this tweet bookmarked all week and, to be honest, the more I consider its implications, the more freaked out I get. And the original poster isn’t even the first to suggest a similar idea.
If you can’t really tell what’s happening in the diagram, the user tells ChatGPT they want a job. ChatGPT extrapolates a nice perfunctory email/cover letter. It’s sent to a hiring manager, who takes the text, puts it into ChatGPT, which then spits out a single sentence confirming someone wants the job with a link to their resume. The A.I. could probably go further and summarize the resume if you wanted. It could probably even determine if the work experience or education levels of the applicant were appropriate for the role. You could even set it up so that the humans on either side both never knew that the other one is using ChatGPT and that they never read the information being sent between both instances.
Ignoring for now all the legal and ethical issues with conducting any kind of hiring like this, what’s really freaking me out is that all the socializing is being done between the two A.I. The social content is the work that’s being outsourced here. The fundamental thing that makes human beings human. It’s the enshittification of our own interactions with one another. Or, to put it another way, the humans in the scenario above are the ones communicating like robots.
And, yes, in this context, it’s a largely useless formality that’s being automated, but we know how this goes and where it ends up because we know what we do with technology when it makes things easy, even if what’s being made easier isn’t actually all that great. And it’s not hard to imagine similar uses of A.I. being deployed in other parts of our lives. What if iMessage text suggestions were actually good? But for everything?
The dark irony here is that corporatized communication is what made communicating with each other not fun in the first place. And now, there are corporate-owned A.I. tools that are offering to help us no longer communicate directly at all. And competition from various corporate entities will ensure they keep getting incrementally better, while also, of course, making things more enshitted. Which means A.I. platforms aren’t just enshitting the internet, they’re helping us enshit ourselves.
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Before We Move On From The World Of A.I. And Human Resources
A Little TERF Psyop
A Twitter account called @transmindful posted a tweet last week claiming that they were demanding Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” should be pulled from music streaming sites because it could inspire harm against transgender women. The account only had a few hundred followers when it first posted the tweet and was clearly marked as a parody account. The account also claims its run by trans users, but going back through their tweets, I think that is highly doubtful. The account has been around since 2009, but has no tweets on its feed from before January 20 of this year.
All of that didn’t stop MSN’s Australian edition and the Australian arm of Sky News from reporting on this tweet as if it was coming from a real trans advocacy group. MSN deleted the initial article, but Sky News has kept theirs up.
The story also proved to be too good to pass up for American right-wing publishers, as well, with the New York Post and the MailOnline — and Piers Morgan — all jumping on it.
Journalist and podcaster Michael Hobbes summed up the whole little media cycle succinctly, tweeting, “Real pooping back and forth stuff. Transphobes set up an unfunny parody account, then transphobes cite it in a TV interview, then transphobes cite the TV report to gin up even more transphobia.”
I Try Not To Use The Word “Dystopian” A Lot, But…
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I came across this video on the r/fuckcars subreddit and it sent me down quite a rabbit hole. The car in the video is from a company called Rezvani, which makes “tactical urban vehicles,” which, in a just world, would be a form of thought crime to even consider. The TikToker is named @mobile_mama and the only way I can describe the aesthetic of her account is “trade show at the end of history”. She reviews a lot of cars (and boats) from the perspective of a mom, which, I suppose is a good niche from a content perspective, but the video above is an absolute nightmare. And I still don’t understand why she, herself, is wearing body armor if she’s going to school in a tank that can shoot pepper spray and electrocute people.
The War Thunder Community Is Celebrating A Big Win
This game was not on my radar, so at first I was a little confused as to why its players would be a security issue. It’s a free-to-play combat game, where you can fight in different vehicles on land, air, and sea. So why is it worth checking who plays it before giving out any sort of security clearance?
Well, there have been six instances so far of War Thunder players leaking classified documentation pertaining to different tanks and aircrafts, hoping to get the game’s development team to change the in-game versions of the vehicles to be more realistic.
Creator Clash Is Coming Back
Creator Clash is a charity boxing event for “creators,” or “influencers,” or “professional internet people who make money parasocially,” or whatever you want to call them these days.
I wanted to touch on this because I’ve heard of approximately three of the creators involved and less than half of the announcers. And, while I am, of course, speeding ever faster into the irrelevance of old age, I do think it’s interesting that the creator economy, as a whole, feels as if it’s getting more niche as time goes on.
A lot of the arguments I’ve read about the direction of media over the last 15 years say the internet rose up and fractured traditional entertainment, which has led to entertainment becoming more niche. Which is definitely true. But what I don’t hear a lot is that the same phenomenon is happening to the online entertainment industry, itself, as well. There’s just a lot of internet people now! And as our concept of a “professional creator” as a job has become more clear, the definition of it as an industry has become fuzzier.
A Redditor Has A History Question
This is from a few months ago, but I saw it this week and it’s great. r/AskHistorians is one of the better history subreddits, so most of the contributors have to cite sources and back up what they’re saying. Which they absolutely did to answer this question.
According to the top answer, “if people were going to the trouble of depicting bull-leaping in palace frescoes, miniature figurines, and so on, all over the island [of Crete], then it must have been important to them in some way; or, as you put it, they thought it was cool.”
You can read the whole thread here.
Good Tweet About Hippos
Some Stray Links
“If I Can’t Fuck the M&M Spokescandies, What Do I Have to Live For?”
“Ron DeSantis’ Secret Twitter Army of Far-Right Influencers”
P.S. here’s a really important Tumblr poll.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
What you're describing about creators becoming more niche reminds me of what happened with TV in the 2000s. Cable became ubiquitous around then, which meant that mom and dad watched different TV shows from their kids, and suddenly they had different sets of people they considered "famous." (Gen X had grown up with fewer channels, so they knew all the same shows and stars as their parents, so this was a new phenomenon.)
The 2000s also saw an explosion in "reality TV," which started as participatory normie game shows like Survivor, the Bachelor, and Big Brother. But once those shows hit saturation, the networks introduced "celebrity" versions of each show. To pull this off, they had to greatly devalue the definition of "celebrity," from "universally famous superstar" to "person who had been on TV at some point in the past." If you watch a TV show even today with, say, a "panel of celebrity judges," it's quite likely you'll be meeting them for the first time on that show. We just don't have enough real celebrities.
Now that the Internet is universally accessible and anyone can be a creator, the long tail of creators is almost infinite. This means if you want to put together something with 24 creators, even the most online audience members are unlikely to know most of them, even if that thing you're putting together is serving a very tight online community of interest. Welcome to the world of universal choice. Everybody can be a celebrity, and nobody really is.
I really want to hear the debate that must be raging over at Tinder HQ about whether to introduce a new chat gpt teir.
On the one hand, people would definitely pay to use it but would they pay to listen to it?
Maybe they should just go the whole hog and turn themselves into an AI powered matchmaker. 'We've simulated six months of chat messages and can confirm that the two of you are made for each other'