AI Zombies Hide Your Faces

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

If I were to sum up tech news of 2022 it would be “Musk” and “AI Generation.”  Enough has been written about Musk, but the use of AI to generate art and text is still fresh and needs to be discussed.

AI Generation is soulless, and I think that has not been adequately explored.  In fact, its very soullessness explains the revulsion some people rightfully feel.  There’s hatred for the use of work, for non-compensation for artists, the chance of lost jobs, but also we’re disgusted to see creative works called creative when there’s “no one home.”

I’m reminded of the Doctor Who episode “Robots of Death” with the amazing Tom Baker.  Beyond being a murder mystery, it explored “robophobia,” rooted in the idea that surrounded by human-like but not human-emoting mechanical creatures is like facing the living dead.  The Doctor was talking about what we call “the uncanny valley” these days – human-yet-not.

That’s what AI is.  Shambling would-be-people, zombies, robots, no one home.  That’s part of why we’re disgusted – but it’s worse.

Consider work that we feel connected to – some of that intimacy is shared with the creator as well. We know someone is on the other end, with goals, a style, a way of doing things.  In turn, we have a sense of the person on the other end who did their work, or screwed up, or tried.  We need that sense of connection to understand, feel safe around someone, or at least yell at them.

Creative work – from music to a news article – works when there’s a person there.  We humans need to know we can trust (or at least find and criticize) the creator.

Now let’s consider works that are derivative or calculated.  That knock-off work, that engineered political screed, they’re irritating to us because we can feel the manipulation.  Someone is being false with us, there’s an estimation on what will trigger us or appeal to us.  They might not even be who they say they are.

The person creating it is less such works is less reliable to us – unless we want to believe them.  That’s our problem for wanting to believe them, of course.

Then there’s AI work which is all calculation and manipulation.  A bunch of programs running math churns out a request that has “all the right parts,” and we perceive them as having meaning.  There’s no bright idea or inspiration at the center, no human ideas, not even the assurance someone wants to con us.  There’s a pile of words or pixels creating the illusion of value.

AI gives us a shambling zombie writing dead prose, or a robot pushing buttons it was told to, without the honor of having someone to hate directly for it..  It cannibalizes other, meaningful work without caring and gives nothing in return.  It’s a simulation of a person bearing a bright idea or an understandable nightmare.

AI brings no human connection to the experience.  It’s an attempt to create empty content, an illusion of humanity with no one to know or trust or criticize.  It’s void of meaning except that which we accidentally give it because it didn’t mean anything to the creator.  It’s a trick made by an undead set of equations.

These zombies are being used to manipulate us to drive advertising and sales.  That horror you feel in your gut is warranted because people want to flood the internet with soulless crap, and it’s inhuman.

Your disgust is quite human – and warranted.

Steven Savage

Less Time Among The Dead

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

Over the last few months, a past project has stayed in my mind. It haunts me – could I reboot it? Transform it? Restart it? I find myself re-envisioning how to redo the project, or change it into something else, yet nothing gets done.

I’m sure that you, my fellow creative, have similar haunts. You have projects long dead, on their way there, or buried hastily in a shallow grave. Yet their ghosts are still around, wandering among your thoughts and distracting you from current, living efforts.

I’ve had to confront my current ghost and decide, “you have to rest. The rest of your descendants may pick up the torch.”  It was quite liberating, if saddening.

We can’t burn time and energy on endlessly mourning dead projects or battling their remnants in our heads. That’s time and energy that we can use to do other stuff. You can’t ignore the living and focus on the dead.

So let me take this morbid metaphor of dead projects as ghosts and suggest some ways we can deal with them from my own experience.

Put Them To Rest: It’s time to let them go; decide you don’t have time for this. Mourn, acknowledge them, and move on. You can even keep a Necropolis of undone projects, you know . . . just in case. Plus, “interring them” may remove any guilt or fear of losing ideas.

Exorcism: Maybe you need to get something out of your head forcefully. Focus on another project, and store your notes elsewhere (or behind a password). 

Resurrection: Sometimes, being haunted means it’s time to return to the project. That’s fine – just do it as part of your planning, be honest about the challenges, and accept you maybe never should have killed the project. Live and learn.

Reincarnation:  Reuse the project, but don’t revive it. Do something else in the setting, transplant your ideas elsewhere, etc. Don’t revive the project – help it find a new and hopefully better life.

Frankenstein: It’s fine to take parts of dead projects and make something new. An incredible amount of creative efforts are like this.

We can’t stay haunted forever.

I would add that as you bury or resurrect back projects, ask yourself why it was hard to get to that choice. Some self-examination will help you understand your limits, help you grow – and maybe keep you from obsessing over dead projects as much.

Spend your time with the living.

Steven Savage

My Mastodon Experience

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

A lot of people are moving to Mastodon, which means many people have opinions about Mastodon.  I wished to share my own here because we’ve got to ask hard questions about our social media use and how it’s consolidated in a few hands.  Mastodon promises to be part of the solution.

First, though you probably know this, Mastodon is an open-source Twitter-like system made of multiple private servers.  Networked (federated) together by open protocols, you get the whole Twitter micro-blogging experience without central ownership.  People and servers can block various instances, which helps to (mostly) cut down on bad actors.  Other software and sites – many substitutes for Big Social Media – integrate into this “Fediverse” so it’s well worth exploring.

Me, I created a membership on the big server Mastodon.social, but plan to move to a specialty server at some point.  That’s one of the neat things – you can move memberships between servers.  I have no problem with Mastodon.social – I just want to find a community to be part of.

MY ADVICE: Just find a reliable server and open something.  Move later.

Speaking of support, most Mastodon servers are obviously private and privately funded.  Many have patreons, use Ko-fi, etc. for funding.  This is great as you (or your server owner) are independent, but it also means that you should be ponying up the money.

MY ADVICE: Join the Mastodon main patreon and fund them, and then fund the server you’re on.  Be part of the community.

Because there are many separate servers, Mastodon’s larger federated universe (fediverse) is a collection of connected communities.  This makes it more stable as there’s no centralization, but also I’ve found it cultivates communities.  Servers usually have a specific purpose to support an interest, community, industry, or geographic region.  Communities can self-regulate (or get blocked), people can find specific interests easier, and tighter bonds are created.

MY ADVICE: After you join, start following people and checking out servers to look for interests.  Be part of your community.

You have to cultivate your experience on Mastodon – which is good because there’s no algorithm trying to make you angry or get you to buy pants.  There’s no trending items being thrown in your face due to computations, and virality only happens due to people promoting stuff. Freed of the mathematics of engagements, you get out of it what you put into it.  Follow people, use lists, promote Toots, and employ (and search for hashtags) to get what you want.

MY ADVICE: Really explore the tools Mastodon has to manage your experience and employ them all.

Finally, I found you have to approach Mastodon with asking what you really want out of it*  One of the problems with Twitter was people were on Twitter as everyone else was on there.  Mastodon, with it’s many communities and people-driven connections, requires you to ask what your purpose is and find the best people, servers, and hashtags to reach it.

MY ADVICE: Ask what you really wanted Twitter for, what you want out of social media, and then approach Mastodon with purpose.  You might even find you were on Twitter “just do it” and have to do some deep analysis (and possibly therapy)

Is Mastodon worth it?  For me the answer is hell yes! Mastodon forced me to think of my goals, but then I found it was easy to find and build communities as the distractions of Twitter weren’t there.  Moderation was better than I expected because I expected none and though there are problems I’m at least seeing real discussions of real solutions people can implement.  It’s also nice to be part of something growing.

Plus freed of trending topics and the chaos of Twitter, I honestly feel more relaxed.  Like many, I think maybe I was on Twitter to be on Twitter more than I admitted.

See you on Mastodon.

Steven Savage