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What Kind Poster Will The A.I. Be?
This week, members of the Garbage Day Discord started messing around with different A.I. art bots. Most of these platforms, like artflow.ai and Wombo.art, operate the same way. You put in a prompt and it spits out something approximating what you asked it to draw. The results from these kinds of projects have transitioned from being weird and kind of awful to fascinating and decent in a shocking amount of time.
As my Discord was trying to get an A.I. to draw Shrek, my friend Alan sent me a link to project called The Deep Dreams podcast. The podcast consists of 20-minute episodes of synth pad background music and a robotic artificial narrator calmly telling a mostly gibberish fairytale. I listened to it a bit of it and actually did get kind of sleepy. The most recent episode, “The three bears who became Chancellors of Germany” is pretty good, all things considered.
This week there was also the viral (and horrifying) Fortune piece I wrote about on Monday, which outlined a future where human beings are assigned an A.I. at birth, which would follow them throughout their life, sucking up their data and providing services (and maybe even companionship) until they die. And, then, to make the timing even more strange, a panel on A.I. I moderated for the Webit Festival was published this week, as well.
It feels like everywhere you look, A.I. is going from a weird thing middle-aged men with ponytails were either horny for or terrified of to a fundamental part of our online experience. It’s not hard to imagine these fun A.I. time-wasters starting to get good enough that artists could start using them to help them design characters. (Perhaps they already are?) Or even become entertainment themselves. Which begs the question: What kind of content will A.I. post?
We’re currently in what I consider the second phase of the algorithmic content era. The first era was defined by pre-algorithmic media being amplified by algorithms. So this would be the random viral flukes of early web 2.0 — “Call Me Maybe,” Alex from Target, The Dress, Keanu Reeves memes. None of these things were created or constructed or inspired by algorithms. “Call Me Maybe” was, by all accounts, a standard pop song that wasn’t written with the intention of becoming global YouTube hit. Alex from Target was a random boy whose photo was uploaded to social media. The Dress wasn’t designed to look like different colors depending on your brain chemistry (or the lighting). And Keanu Reeves has no internet presence and is as traditional of an actor/celebrity as you can get. But all of these things intermingled with forces online and became staples of digital media.
Slowly and then all at once, things that were not designed to go viral suddenly became the minority of what actually goes viral. Now, audio is created specifically to perform well on TikTok. (lol remember the moral panic around autotune?) Teenagers who are popular irl are also popular online now. Clothes brands like Stitch Fix and Shein use algorithms to design clothing specifically to look good in photos that are then posted back onto algorithmic platforms. And social networks are producing bizarre new forms of celebrity, like cookbook author/model/relatable Twitter account Chrissy Teigen or billionaire/crypto influencer/dank meme account Elon Musk.
Netflix movies, Amazon products, Peloton workouts, Instagrammable food, any single news story written because a reporter or editor who saw a Twitter trending topic about that topic first — these are all things that, whether we want to accept it or not, have been shaped by an algorithm, or, more likely, several.
A.I. tools will continue this trend we’re seeing of cyborg content creation. It’s already become so normalized that we don’t even think about it. For instance, this week, I found myself sucked into two Casey Neistat YouTube videos. Neistat is unquestionably good at filming and editing captivating vlogs, but in the 11 years since he first uploaded his bike lane video, his filmmaking style — hyperkinetic videos built around a flurry of 3.5-second shots, a one-minute cold open, and thumbnail-worthy reveal of the central premise — is as much of a product of YouTube’s changing viewing incentives over the years as it is his own creative expression. And this is true for any creator using a platform. There are things I am literally doing right now, in this very paragraph, that I have learned will help this Substack post perform better. (Hint: this paragraph can be screenshot and shared to Twitter and read completely clearly without any of the surrounding context.)
Any big developments in technology — at least in my lifetime — seem to follow the same pattern. And it does seem to be happening again around artificial intelligence.
First, the early evangelists and doomsayers are laughed at. Then, the evangelists become early adopters. Some of those early adopters build companies that set the stage for how it starts to spread. And a handful of those companies begin to monopolize the entire space. Then a new generation native to that technology comes of age and starts to manipulate it better than the people running the monopolies governing it, which produces an arms race that eventually births the trend that replaces the current one. This process is also starting to happen around blockchain technology at the moment.
Right now, we have a generation who have only really known an algorithmic world and, as TikTok has proven, it turns out they’re very good at navigating it! But that also means that the race for who controls A.I. is next. And all of this stuff — the A.I. artwork, the GPT-3 bedtime podcasts, and the randomly-generated children’s entertainment on YouTube — is all kind of silly right now, but it won’t be for long. And I suspect we aren’t far away from an A.I. creating something incredibly popular. And in same way, 15 years ago, describing a “vlog” or a “Myspace celebrity” was borderline impossible, these new forms of A.I.-entertainment will be even weirder and, most likely, even more addictive than the ones algorithms have already produced. Because this time, it won’t be cyborg entertainment, but something created without any human input.
A Good Tweet
New Weird TikTok Thing Dropped
This was sent to me by a reader named Ben. Two days ago, an account titled, “cernopeningparalleldimen” (I think it’s supposed to be “CERN Opening Parallel Dimension”) started posting on TikTok. The premise of the account is that CERN’s Hadron Collider is causing climate change and possibly COVID-19, as well. This is actually very similar to a theory my friend Nick had, while very very high, in 2009.
Anyways, a bizarre TikTok full of casually insane videos isn’t particularly notable, but the speed at which this account is growing is pretty impressive. Its first video has 3.3 million views, which makes me think it got sucked up into TikTok’s recommendation algorithm. The anonymous user behind the account claims in the videos that they work at CERN, which, combined with the use of popular audios on the app, seems to be part of the appeal.
At the moment, this is kind of nice and old fashioned. A big weirdo posting nonsense on the web, but, as we know with TikTok, it’s not unforeseeable for this to grow out of control as young users get it recommended to them. Probably something to keep an eye on!
Unsure If These Reddit Posts Are Real, But It’s A Very Nice Story Regardless
Have you read the posts about the cats named Jean and Jorts yet? If not, allow me to summarize. A redditor is a manager at a worksite which has two cats, an orange one named Jorts and a tortoiseshell named Jean. Jean is very smart and she can open doors and take care of herself. Jorts is an idiot who sleeps in an old boot.
The OP said that one of his colleagues, “Pam,” has begun to project her own workplace insecurities onto Jorts. This resulted in an incident where the OP made Pam cry after telling her that orange cats are just kind of dumb. I mean, they’re the himbos of cats. The OP asked Reddit if he was an asshole for saying that orange cats are dumb.
You can read part one of the saga of Jean and Jorts here. The comments are very cute. Here are two good ones:
“You can't be racist against a cat, or any animal for that matter. It's an animal. Jorts does not care if you think he's dumb. He will not report you to HR for orangecatphobia. Pam, on the other hand might.”
“NTA. I've never met an orange cat that wasn't exceedingly dumb, maybe a catologist can call into this thread and confirm that they are in fact stupid.”
The OP came back and posted an update — which is where I think this starts to sound a little too “…and everyone clapped” — in which HR sits Pam down and explains that she has to stop trying to train Jorts to not be an idiot. Apparently, Pam was putting margarine on Jorts to teach him how to clean himself better. (Also, related meme.)
Which Is Worse the Applebee’s NFT Or The Funko Pop NFT?
Applebee’s has released a “Metaverse Meal,” which is an NFT of a hamburger. It was purchased by a user named @zenrasta for $25. According to the records, this metaverse meal is the only NFT that @zenrasta owns and I’m sure they are a person who is in no way affiliated with Applebee’s or the team that put together this NFT project. There appears to be at least two more Applebee’s metaverse meals dropping soon.
Before you get all outraged about that, here’s another NFT project to get all whipped up into a frenzy about. Love Bob Ross? Love Funko Pops? Wish there was a way to use a speculative digital currency hoarded by the world’s wealthiest capitalists to celebrate a man who spent his career using free and open access to public broadcasting to spread the joy of making art? Well, you’re in luck! Funko Pops, those very expensive plastic bobblehead dolls owned adult men who get angry about Star Wars, are producing NFTs now and they’ve made one for Bob Ross.
Trick Question: It’s The Stan Lee NFT Promoted Posthumously From His Twitter Account
Sorry for the fake out. Neither of the NFT projects above were the worst one announced this week. That very special title goes to this NFT of Stan Lee’s first Indian superhero, Chakra The Invincible, which was promoted via Stan Lee’s zombie Twitter account.
Do I think digital assets can work? Yes. Do I think some applications of blockchain technology could ultimately benefit the way online commerce works? Sure. Do either of those possibilities involve a picture of a hamburger, an animated GIF of a Funko Pop, or Stan Lee shilling from beyond the grave? Probably not!
Let’s Talk About Roblox
A few months ago, the YouTube channel People Make Games put out a great video about how Roblox exploits young users. Fun fact I think I can share: I was interviewed for that video, but ultimately didn’t make the final cut. Fair enough!
PMG decided to double down on Roblox and make a follow-up video with even more damning reporter after the company reportedly put pressure on the channel to take down the initial video. It’s worth a watch for anyone who has heard about Roblox (think Minecraft combined with a casino), but haven’t really found a good way to dig into what’s actually happening on the platform. It doesn’t seem good!
A Kellog Vs. r/Antiwork Update
This was dropped in the Garbage Discord by Andy. As I wrote on Monday, Reddit’s Great Resignation community, r/Antiwork, is currently waging cyber warfare against Kellog, which is attempting hire workers to replace the ones currently on strike. Redditors flooded Kellogg’s HR platform with bogus resumes, so Kellog put up a CAPTCHA to block any scripts from automating the process. Well, one redditor created a bot that gets around the CAPTCHA. Whoops!
Another Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good comic about art.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***