The cheap truth of AI/ML

The craze & buzz about Artifical Intelligence / Machine Learning applications tickles some painful and truthful points which need further dissection/elaboration. Okay, here comes the rant (bear with me): having the toes in both communities means that one would judge the other in an impartial way. Even if I could try, I would not dress myself in that way, as 50-50% will not cut it, not with some journalistic vigor and honest assessment of what is happening: having AI off the leash, messing with the minds of an already undermined and fragile society of “individuals”. 

The death of skills

My argument is, it spurs the ego of its users and triggers them to think they are pros, even though they do not have any skills to back this up. It fills a psychological void in “creative envy” where hard work to become a painter/graphic designer/animator etc. can be easily emulated by “everyone” and is therefore diminished in value. The message is: you do not need skills, you need only to pay for our service to make up for it, and boom, you are a pro creator and awesome. See Microsoft’s latest ad for the Superbowl homing in on exactly that: 

They tell you, you have a copilot, but that makes you the pilot, yeah? Wanna fly with a wannabe-aviator who works day by day in a pharmacy (supermarket/shoe shop/insurance company…), who types some sentences into a terminal and promises to fly you safely across the continent – or do you want the real human pilot, with experience?

It’s the death of skills – and imagination, not the “moon moment” for it. Remember what happened after “man” was on the moon…practically nothing for ca. 50 years, until Musk sent his roadster into space (I am not a fan of his attitudes or “achievements” on the back of others, taking credit, but he is and was an interesting investor and capitalist troll, becoming the bane of unions). My point here is, that a technological event creating buzz does not need to trickle down and spawn a “new age”. Being in awe is not enough. It’s about cultural impact, not just application and who gains a buck from it (of course the latter sounds exactly like the real driving factor). The craze about AI is a slow-burner coming out of the so called AI winter where Machine learning was around (I sat in university lectures about ML and AI in Vienna in the 90s…and it was not that “cool” at all) and bringing results, but not those flashy ones, you can use at home. The self-landing rockets of SpaceX are an example of successful Machine Learning and a milestone in reusability. AI is a marketing / branding craze to fuel commercial services on top of an extraction paradigm, which plagues our planet – and I cannot find a way to coin this a good thing.

No utopian spin, imagined or not is saving us from the dystopian reality. The utopia of mitigated AI/ML is not happening, because greed and an investor’s push to get more and more dividends launched a technology which accelerated the already present dystopian moments in a society mined by the GAFAs in our interconnected world. Ironically after some years the term GAFA coined by the EU (Google, Apple, Facebook und Amazon) should read now AAMA, as Google changed into Alphabet and Facebook into Meta – shelf-life is short in the world of multinationals. Fact is that the once dream of on open society of sharing information created by its users, the internet became a veritabel nightmare getting devoured, groomed and closed by multinationals, creating and spawning our needs desires and solutions, while gaining billions. AI is a big part of that, frighteningly fast. And it does it with promising (again) a utopia of endless creations satisfying our needs of entertainment. A flood of pictures and movies, in a microfractured world of mini-bubbles catering to our few hundred peers, where in the end we get our “meat”, the 20-something likes for each post, maybe.

Hailing this as an “achievement” is nice and has a cute ring to it in a sci-fi novel imagining the Brave New World of household creators and happy wannabe-creatives prompting themselves away the whole day (using pay-to-generate business platforms and sharing their works on the partially “free” platforms of data-mining giants). The prosumer who needs to easily edit music and photos and video was an invention of Apple, largely because they wanted to sell the wishful agency to their target audience to create as the pros in their living rooms, spurring their creativity, but in the end wanting to sell over-priced colourful machines.

Professionals and non professionals fell for it, only the large part did never do anything meaningful with it (kids pics, sunsets etc.), and on the way Apple almost lost the real pros because their solutions were too much tailored to the easy creative workflow, lowering the psychological barrier about what is deemed “professional”. And here is the “rub”. The dawn of AI = the death of skills and imagination, IMHO. Why, because you get the dream sold that you need NO SKILLS other than writing sentences or copy/paste to generate professional results. And you can leave the imagination to the machines as well. Give it a theme (yes, imagining themes is still the great achievement of the users/prosumers!) and it gives you an endless iteration of fused results of artworks executed successfully by artists through the centuries and vetted by our society as “interesting” (for us).

Cheap truth = no consent, no reference in an extraction paradigm 

Their work, as rightfully pointed out by e.g. J Li on facebook in a post forwarded by Johanna Koljonen is used without consent or remuneration, and the origins of training get rather obfuscated than underlined, appreciated and celebrated. Not even a reference. No consent is a no go in so many areas of our society and we learned painfully how important that is – giving consent, not having it taken away, or getting it gleefully ignored. There is a logical (and important) flaw in the reasoning in this harsh but rightful comparison of AI and rape: the good part, the orgasm (funnily and tellingly once spelled as “organisms”) is one way.

The rapist, the prosumer is “getting off” having all these options at hand, coding, painting, graphics, photography all done with no skills and minimal imagination. The results are orgiastically fantastic given the meagre input. THAT is the real added value, and its steep, being the real foundation of the success of AI/ML. The rapist loves to have an orgasm and does not want to see or getting pointed to the victim, who he/she is raping. Understandable. Its too good. But that does not seem an enlightened explanation which we can and should accept. We, the artists do NOT have an orgasm (you wish) or “mindboggling sex”. Its rape, simply and sadly. No liquid loaden climax can flush this away. Sorry my language triggering your imagination. Its frustrating that even in an “unbiased/double biased” post this gets somehow sugarcoated, by a woman. Can it be that we are so used to this kind of getting f…ed over that we confuse it with a “normal” relationship we need to endure, because the perpetrator likes it?

We have to reassess our trust in our peers, not just criticising in the big news channels or media outlets. Trust in a society based on the division of labor means that you trust your baker, butcher or carmaker that they do not sell you something harmful. Because we do not have the time and resources to vet every blurp of somebody we are faintly a friend of on Facebook, we are far away from the design principles of the early internet era: what you see is what you get – WYSIWYG. No, you do not get anymore what you see, you get what an algorithm saw viable and probable within a training data set of human decisions. WYSIWTAGY What You See Is What The Algorithm Gave You. You get your own preferences catered, by someone, but with a twist, that the maker / prompteur is telling you a specific story, acting as a pro, faking to be a channel with skills & resources (where would take a long time and would be expensive). I give us that, the content is alluring to the max, because it emerges out of a pool of curated, alluring historic media, unaccounted for. The show it makes is fascinating and we sit there mesmerized by the things “normal peers” can suddenly do. Like in the circus when one works with dangerous lions I would propose to call the prosumers/users of AI/ML platforms “prompteurs” – more often than not, they get eaten by their “pets”. You cannot trust the black box of an LLM service, as many biased scandals and “hiccups” have shown.

With AI/ML, that trust is not just silently and secretly broken, it becomes a menace. Brokered to the ones who can forge the trusted channels and fake the vetted presentation…and that is anyone who can pay for it. With a big enough network of bots and willing or paid reposters, this seeps through our systems like poison, and the grand part of people will not be able to tell apart truth from “cheap truth”. That is the concept I propose (and evolving for years to understand these mechanisms), that through fast art “truth” becomes cheap, indistinguishable from fake content or expensive to make, high-production value cultural stimuli representing some sort of human-to-human honest “truths” of past and present. It also destroys the livelihood of all those professionals who try to create these stimuli for clients of their own vision using their skills and time. The psychological threshold of “good content = valuable” is lowered significantly through the availability of these services, and clients will catch up. They will do it “inhouse” with a “stageur/prompteur” what was once a budget for creating excellent high-class content (in best case). What they will create is high-class looking mediocrity at the whim of anybodies intent, innocent curious prosumers or political parties.

To hail this as a pinnacle of human achievement seems such a blind and naive stance, that it must be part of the overall development, where we need willing supporters for the sake of more “cheap truth”.

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