The notion that the internet will become flooded with machine-generated sludge is something I’ve written about before. It’s always felt like a distant storm on the horizon. But nothing prepared me for how soon I’d see my own reflection in the sludgy waters of the machine web.
A Machine-Made Mirror
Google Alerts pinged me last week to say that there was an article that not only mentioned Solarpunk, but also my name. [Link is to the wayback machine as you’ll shortly understand, I do not want to send it any traffic]. So, I clicked on it.
What I found on the other end of the link left me reeling.
The article was an AI-generated profile of me. A summarisation of my website and about page written in the default tone of voice of GPT. Something that is instantly recognisable if you’ve spent any time with it. At first I thought it was funny. But now a few days have gone by I’m not so sure I know how I feel about it. Unsettled, uneasy maybe. Maybe the best way of describing it is: ‘It makes my teeth itchy’.
Until the other day I hadn’t come across any obvious LLM written media.
To have the first one I encounter be about ME is surreal and weird.
Five Minutes In The Future
I often joke that – given my line of work, and the sort of things I write and consult about – I feel like I’m living five minutes in the future. “Someone comes across an AI generated profile of themselves online; how do you think they feel about it?” is exactly the sort of prompt I could give students or a client in a design fiction workshop this week. But this is has actually happened to me. It’s not 5mins in the future, It’s 5 mins in my past.
It’s somewhat flattering to be well enough known in ‘whatever niche I’m in‘ that someone would want to publish a profile about me. It has been known to happen – If you want to read a profile about me written by a real human, click here.
This article isn’t just AI sludge; it’s about a person – me. It’s worrying(?) that my name is bound up with a set of SEO keywords. Anyone on the Internet with a public profile or even a linktree can now be the subject of this kind of language model summarisation. I honestly feel extremely fortunate that this article is written in a neutral tone. Can you imagine how I would feel if it were written in a negative or disparaging way?
I cannot imagine what the output of these technologies must feel like if you are famous or have a large profile on the Internet. The web is already full of gossip sludge and articles written in the name of entertainment about celebrities anyway. Unlike the tabloids, it is at least the article about me is factual and hasn’t made anything up.
Over the last few years I’ve been writing largely from a position of support for new AI tools and the possibilities they create for new types of art and expression. So writing this post feels a little like a ‘Dog Bites Man’ story, but I wouldn’t go as far as it being a mea culpa.
I haven’t spoken with her about it, but I imagine I feel similar to how Holly Herndon felt when she first began interrogating CLIP and finding her image embedded inside of it.
The phrase “If you’re not in the model, you don’t exist” has come out of my mouth before. I do still believe that. But having an LLM-written article about me really brings home the true implications of that statement.
What Should We Do? How Should We Act?
This has just happened to me 5mins ago, which means its going to happen to you too in 5mins time. So what can we do about this?
Five years ago, I sensed that the era of Web2 and large social platforms was over. In 2018, I decided to put my effort into writing and blogging and making my podcast instead of wasting energy on social media. A decision that has turned out to have been a good one.
The great Internet superhighway is populated by both human and non-human ‘things’. This has been the state of affairs for a while, especially in the walled gardens of the social platforms. I have long suspected that most of the replies on those apps are bots. But at least web pages were written by people? Unless its a recipe blog, and then its something written by a person for a machine. But the article about me was written by a machine for .. people? Other machines? Who knows?
If we want to avoid entanglements with this machine sludge, we need to rethink the way they use the Internet. It’s happening alongside the collapse of web2. We are retreating into the Dark Forests, into smaller more human-populated cosywebs. Search engines are over, and becoming increasingly useless.
The only place we may be able to trust the quality and usefulness of an article is by subscribing to and following real content from real people. And those of us who are still going to keep publishing in public, on the wider web, will need to keep those real people close.
A lot of folks, especially in my wider peer group, have been saying for a while that the AI future will mean a drift towards more real and authentic experiences like live music, readings, poetry, theatre etc. These are good points, influenced I think by both the coming wave of AI-generated machine sludge thats no longer theoretical, and the general post-pandemic social landscape.
But I can’t help wonder if things that artists and creative people might start producing, or be encouraged to produce, will be things that are illegible to machines. It’ll no longer be about the final output – that artists, musicians, and creatives have been taught to work towards over the last few generations. But instead, the process becomes the work itself. Maybe the making and creating of ‘the thing’ that will be the work thats shown to the audience, rather than the output itself which can and will enviably be copied or replicated by a machine.
Anyways I still don’t know how I feel about but TLDR: A website published an AI profile about me, It made me feel weird, if it’s happened to me it might happen to you, we need to think about how engage with content on the web, maybe art will get weird.
Holy crap, 250 episodes! That’s nearly a quarter million words of script and over 20 hours of audio since March 2018. Dive into insights about podcast growth, audience engagement, and creative evolution. Hear my exciting news about upcoming projects, including the new interview show Experience.Computer, and learn how you can support and be part of my creative journey.
Full Show Notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2023/11/19/301-2338-episode-250/
The Ministry Of My Own Labour
- DevConnect in Istanbul
- So many conversations. Brain fried
- Lots of follow up admin!
- Defragging my brain
Holly had a huge long read profile written about her and her work with Mat Dryhurst in the New Yorker this week. Bravo, massive congratulations, well deserved!
While working, she often listened to a music podcast made by the independent label Southern Records. In 2006, she e-mailed the label to ask why it had failed to release a new episode on time, and the person who responded was Dryhurst. They struck up a correspondence and met for the first time months later, at a music festival. In 2008, they eloped.
Deeply personal, very informative. Doing what the New Yorker does best.
The companies that buy up sites like Bandcamp are interested in nothing except ensuring the executives’ pockets get lined appropriately. Growth is the only thing of interest.
McLuhan stressed that technology doesn’t just shape our ideas or beliefs, but rather, it shifts our sensory experiences and perceptual frameworks. He noted the effects of technology don’t occur at the level of opinions or concepts but alter perception subconsciously. This happens steadily and without resistance.
The residents and the “snowbird” visitors to Pinecraft are known for being welcoming and friendly to outsiders and the town is often visited by a variety of people who come to enjoy the offerings of the Amish and Mennonite communities.
A while ago, I put up a post dismissing the notion that ‘racially essentialist depictions of orcs are racist’. In my view, that was a category error, fostered really by misunderstandings about the expressionist nature of fantasy.
Players will create a character represented by – and this is a massive understatement – a box full of cards. In reality, Spirit Fire’s character box is a collection of attributes, traits, skills and backgrounds that compose who they are in the board game’s universe, but it’s also a repository for the experiences, scars, growth and potential unlocked during their adventures.
I think if I was 17/18 now; I think I’d be making Diabolo videos on TikTok. I was really good back then. I’ve done some multi-diabolo-two-person passing and tricks before, and mastering no scope suicides are easier than you think, but these guy’s are something else. Check out this amazing 5min diabolo performance from Spyros Bros at UCLA.
I started reading Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic Over Role-Playing Games Says About Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds by Joseph P Laycock. I have had it since it came out, and I’ve tried to read it a few times over the years. But now I have cause to, for book research.
thejaymo.net Spotify Playlist
New Blue Sun – Andre 3000
I like everyone else I know has been listening to Andre 3000’s new solo record. It’s wonderfully melodic and atmospheric. Each track makes you feel like your completely inside of a thought, or a feeling. The song titles go a long way to help build each’s sonic world.
My favourite track is this one: That Night In Hawaii When I Turned Into A Panther And Started Making These Low Register Purring Tones That I Couldn’t Control … Sh¥t Was Wild
Listen to the track and see what I mean about the titles?
I knew that Andre 3000 had been getting into playing the flute as he mentioned in in (I think) this 2019 interview with Rick Rubin. But i’m so glad that he’s made this album. All artists should be free to make and create whatever they want, and the audience come with them on the journey.