Look who’s talking! (AI toys and tools)

My thoughts feel dated even before typing them up, but it’s spring of 2023 and the world has its panties in a bunch over ChatGPT and other Natural Language Processing AI:s, and I just want to put my scratch in the goal post for future reference. There are new AI products being churned out faster than even the press-release press technology media outlets can keep up with. (Subsequently, some have started publishing AI-generated content)

Still from Colossus: The Forbin Project – a 1970 movie about AI:s behaving badly

The economic downturn – combined with the class war waged by the tech sector on its workforce – has investment money salivating at the prospect of a new boom. Subsequently, there’s much said about the coming nerd rupture and ascendance of the machine.

Noam Chomsky et.al have some objections:

It is at once comic and tragic, as Borges might have noted, that so much money and attention should be concentrated on so little a thing — something so trivial when contrasted with the human mind, which by dint of language, in the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt, can make “infinite use of finite means,” creating ideas and theories with universal reach.

Noam Chomsky, Ian Roberts and Jeffrey Watumull: The false promise of ChatGPT [Archive.org mirror of NYT op-ed]

It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing around with the tools – I pay both for Midjourney and ChatGPT API – but it feels like intelligence pareidoila (seeing patterns in random data). You can have a really interesting discussion with ChatGPT, and you can be surprised by what seems like creative insights and suggestions. But I’ve had really interesting discussions with the birds on the poster over my bed, as well as with my drunk reflection in the mirror. I provided the meaning and the interpretation – and I did so because I played the game of “let’s pretend.”

Another still from Colossus: The Forbin Project – before everything goes poopy

I’m in school right now, retooling myself into a UX design & research person, and AI crops up in more and more omnious tones. I talked with a couple Javascript students who felt vaguely threatened by AI and uncertain of what their value proposition was. And to my ears they were basing their fear not on anything specific, but rather a general sense of the AI is coming for us all! Which is being fuelled by writers on Medium with fiften susbscribers who need to write hyperbolic articles in order to – oh irony! – impress the AI of Google Search.

We had a guest lecturer the other week who talked about AI tools as something which we’ll have to learn to use within UX, in particular graphic / UI generators. That’s definitely a use I can see and which doesn’t cause me much consternation – I’ve been using generative software the past thirty years in different capacities, this latest breed just happen to be easier to talk to – but when people start writing about using ChatGPT as personas for user research, that’s just difficult to take seriously. That’s really giving into pareidoila, and you’re better of doing astrology or divining from entrails.

From Colossus: The Forbin Project – there’s now a souvenir shop to celebrate human subservience!

I’m not sure where I’m going with all of this. Of course I’d like to have my cake and eat it – by which I mean I’d like to seem clever and reasonable without missing an opportunity to piss on the AI parade – but in the end I think I come down on the side that the current iteration of AI will lead society down a shitty path where the first line of contact with other humans will be through our mutual AI:s, and as usual those with more resources will be able to have better tailored tools (as usual) to make the most of the world (as usual) and ensconce themselves in bubbles where they can have plausible deniability even more than today.

Because it will not only be “the market” which will have decided that you no longer can afford your medicin, your education, or your vacation – it will be a NLP AI which will have endless patience to listen to your litany, but no semblence of decency to react to it.

— update 15 March —
ChatGPT 5 just been released, and the discussion on Hacker news is full of hot-takes on what it means and you don’t know what it means and ooh, shiny.

Saving souls, one nail clipping at a time

Since I’m fascinated by rituals, secular and otherwise, I might have taken the whole “short nails as a way to salvation” thing a bit too far. Regardless, I’m making a tract for people to hand out!

No source, looks like a Jack Chick.

My goal is to have the tracts distributed by people in the street in at least five locations across the world, and get documentation from the events. I’ll send the tracts out for free to my missionaries, and might put them up for sale if others want them. Shipping will be the expensive part, since manufacturing is dirt cheap on the Risograph, and paper is more or less free.

The content of the tract will be made up of Jack Chick style comic panels generated by Midjourney, and I still have to put together a text and the gospel itself. It would be great if I could get my homepage up before doing this, but a link to this here blog, with some project background might serve just as well (and I’ll do a writeup for the portfolio later on).

The impetus for this is just a shitpost Insta I did a while back, but since that post got very little traction I’m thinking either using Reddit (maybe /r/cults?) or some rando Discord server. It’s all about finding other people who find this kind of stuff fun, and from my informal polling among classmates, not many people share my sense of humour.

Tracts are today tied to Christian evangelism, particularly in the USA, and even here in Sweden I’ve found Chick-tracts on subways and whatnot. But my point isn’t to make fun of religious evangelism, but to confuse recipients and allow participants to get some fresh air and entertainment. It’s not elaborate enough to be design fiction, so maybe it’s a cargo-culting event – a light social prank? Anywho, let’s see how it’ll all come together, and let’s be open for unexpected results.

We make tools, the tools make us

Actor Lewin Lloyd in Hid Dark Materials on the left, quick Midjourney v4 prompt on right

We just finished watching the first season of His dark materials – a great show based on a great adventure book – and I was struck of how the look reminded me of the moods created by some of the Midjourney prompts. And this feels new. The newness isn’t that an AI generated something in the style of a particular artist – the lawsuits for infringement have just begun – but that many scenes looked like part of the “prompt space.” My thought wasn’t that “ah, this looks like this artist/director,” but “ah, this looks like that bunch of stuff I’ve seen on Midjourney.”

Lewin Lloyd left, one minute Midjourney prompt right

This is unfair since HDM came our before Midjourney was a thing, but we’ll get more and more of this, and it will force artists not only to find something which is outside of the AI:s wheelhouse, but it will also force artists to work in secrecy to preempt trends. Imagine that you’re a director for a movie where you have a modicum of visual ambition, and you’d like to woo your audience with your cinematics. You might want to keep photos of your set & costumes a secret as long as possible, so that your superfans don’t swamp the net with AI generated fan-art. Otherwise, once your movie comes out, the look will feel old and overdone.

Of course, if you’re not relying on original visuals, this will play into part of your marketing instead; You can hold competitions for imagined scenes, most sexy action poses, or whatever. Regardless, there’s a whole new world of creative and business practices knocking on many doors, and they’re not knocking politely.

If I were to start a cult, I’d make short nails the primary dogma

Image from Wikimedia

There’s a hypothesis of the Cortical homunculus – that our brains map motor control and sensory input in different proportion to their size. In practice it means that your hands, one of our primary exploratory tools, have an outsized “mental space” in your brain. Along with parts of your face, genitals and feet, they are considered “primary interface”.

Perhaps this might have something to do with my dislike of the sensation of uncut fingernails. It’s not an æsthetic consideration, but rather a persistant feeling of my fingers being tight or constricted, where my nails start to grow into the lateral nail fold. It drives me bonkers and I find myself clicking my nails or otherwise fidgeting once a minute – even if I remind myself that I can’t do anything about it at the moment. It’s instinctual, and it makes me uncomfortable.

This seems tied to whether I’m sick, since I’m more aware of it if I have a flu or such. When you’re sick you can get hot, a bit swollen or more sensitive in general, and whatever slight pressure you’re feeling is increased – for example from your growing nails against your skin.

This also means that one of the best ways of feeling better is to cut your nails.

And this is where the cult comes in: Every religion, health fad or cult needs a few gimmicks. You can put a jade egg up your snatch, you can pray four times a day or you can avoid beans. In my case, I would make an edict that nails had to be trimmed. I already have a clergy class and/or profet class in the wings – those with anonychia, congenital or otherwise. We can work in cermonies and punishments related to nails, force heretics to smoke clippings, decorate them for coming-of-age ceremonies, etc. I can actually see people handing out pamphlets for this. I’m just lacking a name.

Pythagoras the vegetarian did not only abstain from meat, he didn’t eat beans either. This was because he believed that humans and beans were spawned from the same source, and he conducted a scientific experiment to prove it. He buried a quantity of beans in mud, let them remain there for a few weeks, and then retrieved them. He noted their resemblance to human fetuses, thus convincing himself of the intimate relationship between beans and humans. To eat a bean would therefore be akin to eating human flesh. Equally, to crush, smash, or dirty a bean would be to harm a human. Thus the very strict rule to abstain from beans.

Bruce Pennington: The death of Pythagoras

As long as you can convince others either by the strength of your own conviction, association to good outcomes or just plain placebo, you can get people on board all kinds of philosphical vehicles.

So hear ye, hear ye! For the nails of thine hands, and the nails of thine feet are the yellowing stiffened discharge of your otherwise Godly body. Lo! Cut them from you and cast them away – and let the healing power infuse you with calm!

Reading for ones fun and furtherance, 2022 edition

Once again, I’m at the beginning of a new year, writing a post which isn’t scheduled to publish till a year hence. Physically, I’m starting this year in my winged chair, in Majorna. I haven’t made any drastic new years promises more than the usual ones of dressing a bit better and getting more fit, but perhaps I ought to make a concerted effort to have some more ambitions with my reading. Looking through the last two years reading lists (2020 & 2021) there’s a lot of stuff there that I’ve read either as a distraction or to keep updated on the geek scene – and there’s nothing wrong with that as reasons go – but perhaps I would benefit from actually challenging my mind just a tad bit more? A muscle not used atrophies, and much the same goes for ones brain – and my brain is seriously starved for exercise.

With that, let’s setup the headings and categories, and let’s see where I end up!

Books read

Ed. Michael E. Porter, James E. Heppelmann: HBR 10 must reads on AI, Analytics and the New Machine Age. It’s wise to follow Chomskys advice to read the business press to find out what is really going on in the world, and this anthology of ten pieces is an interesting example of this. I’m reading this while considering a change in career, and looking at AI as one possible field to get into. Seeing the topic from the business perspective is helpful in thinking through my decision. Also, the essays are short, written as they are for busy folk with little time for fluff.

Johan Fyrk: Svartjobbsfabriken. Based on a series of articles in the union magazine Byggnadsarbetaren, chronicling how organized crime is behind exploitation of foreign workers in Sweden, cooking the books and using illegal labour in both large governmental building projects, as well as projects for well-off Swedes looking to save on costs. Disturbing facts and interesting read, albeit not very surprising: Those who have, want more, and they don’t care how they get it, etc.

Michael Ely: Centauri dawn. A novelization based on one of the better Sid Meier games, Alpha Centauri. In the novel, just as in the game, seven fractions colonize a new planet, and their priorities bring conflicts to a head. Surprisingly fun read, and I do enjoy the worldbuilding that goes into computer games – I can create my own headcanon for each playthrough.

Blake Crouch: Recursion. A great story about love, regret and time travel. Nicely written and an exiting story which leans on the people rather than the technology. The first third of the book is confusing in a good way, you don’t really understand what is happening but it’s compelling enough that you keep going. Well done!

Tim Maughan: Infinite Detail. A polemic against FAANG and capitalism in the shape of a post-catastrophy world where a young girl helps grieving people reconnect with their dead friends and relatives. Convincing setting and partially a call-to-arms against the technoutopianism we’re surrounded by.

Seth Dickinson: The Traitor Baru Cormorant. A young girl is plucked from her family by an expanding hegemony, taught their ways and customs, and put to work administering another province. She seeks vengeance for her ravaged homeland and plotting ensues. Well written and occasionally brutal – what and whom do we betray to reach our goals, and how does it change us?

Blake Crouch: Dark Matter. A man is kidnapped by an unknown assailant, drugged and showed into a box. He wakes up in a parallel universe which is similar to his own, and now has to manage his own sanity as well as a multiworld world. Interesting twist on a familiar story.

Arkady Martine: A desolation called place. A sequel to A Memory Called Empire and not as good but still good enough. The world building is great, but the characters have a bit too much plot armor and the empire is oddly lax in discipline for being an interstellar hegemony.

Jonathan Courthey: The Workshopper Playbook. A short read where the author (and CEO of AJ&Smart) gives a hypothetical example of a short workshop, as well as evangelizing the job of meeting facilitation – or workshopping. Clear and easy to follow, and inspires me to taking down notes on workshop exercises.

Ryan Holiday: Ego is the enemy. A modern take on the necessity of being honest and humble – a self-help book for the ambitious startup founder. It would benefit being cut by 80%, forcing stringent arguments instead of relying on cherry-picked anecdotes as filler, but there’s a kernel of usefulness in it all: our egos often become limiting factors of our fulfillment, and poison the wells of ambition and self-awareness.

N.K.Jamesin: Emergency Skin. A short story about a future human from a space colony going to Earth to bring back necessary cell samples. It’s a fun read in the context of how we exalt successful tech billionaires and the reductionist dog-eat-dog worldview.

Isabell fall: I sexually identify as an Apache helicopter. A short story about how sexual identity can be weaponised. Good read and an interesting premise (reminds me of a scifi story where people bonded with cats as battle-pilots, forgot where I read that one) which drew much attention due to the perceived mocking of trans-folks in the title (apache-helicopter is a shitpost meme-gender). The publisher removed the story and it later reappeared under a different title, and the author – herself a non-out MTF trans person writing under a pen-name – decided to stay in the closet due to the negative attention and attacks on her person…

Erika Hall: Just enough research. Part of my voluntary reading for the UX-design course I’m taking. Well written and to the point. I read the first edition, but ordered the updated second edition in order to do a closer read once I’m further along the studies.

John Lanchester: The Wall. In a bleak future there is the Wall and Defenders guarding the Wall against the Others, who will try to get from the sea over the Wall. Should that happen, the Defenders who failed to stop them will themselves be put to sea. A short novel about a late-anthropocene Britain where we follow one Defender as he does his tour of duty on the Wall. Bleak and well written (and very poignant in Sweden where the racist shitheals nationalist Swedish Democrats just became the second largest party in the country)

Don Norman: The desing of everyday things (2nd edition). A classic in the field of design and often referenced in other books I’m reading while studying. Some of the parts seem a bit speculative – as if the author is more concerned with the symmetry of his graphs than the arguments they present – but that might just be my ignorance showing. I’ve taken a bunch of notes, and will have to reread it once I’m further along my studies.

Harvard Business Review: The Year in Tech, 2022. The HBR antologies are useful primers on issues, and it’s especially useful in a meta way: If you’re working with reasonably ambitious managers, chances are that they try to stay ahead of trends, and they might have read the HBR guides to do so. And now so have you. So even if the topics aren’t that revolutionary, they provide a buisiness perspective on them, and might tell of things to come. The essay by Maëlle Gavet on the end of the Silicon Valley gold rush, as well as LeBron L. Bartons being Black in tech, are both worth a read on their own.

Abby Covert: How to make sense of any mess. Not so much a book as a thicker pamphlet with a step by step suggestions for how to navigate uncertain research and design situations – or any situation which requires you to make decisions – with practical lists and charts. I’m gonna copy some of the stuff onto a Miro board or something, cause I think they have a “tips från coachen” quality to them.

Peter Hollins: Mental Models. A short and useful book on different thinking patterns – mental models if you will – and how to apply them. I took notes and will try to use them more rigurously. The 30-70% rule is interesting, where you act when you have at least 30% of required information, but no more than 70%. Seems handy, let’s see if it’s actually useful! This whole mental models thing is interesting when I try to map what I’m already doing after many years of trial and error, and what I’m still struggling with.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher & Eric A. Meyer: Design for real life. Another A List Apart publication, this time about inclusive design. It’s well timed since we’re reading about doing user journeys and testing at school right now, and their suggestion to “design for crisis” is both practical and reasonable. Good read, can recommend!

Paul Tremblay: The Cabin at the End of the World. It wasn’t until I wanted to write this up that I saw that this book is more recent than the movie The Cabin in the Woods – the underlying themes are alike, and with such similar names, I had assumed that the book had inspired the movie. Which it didn’t, it seems. Anywho, the book is a short tense story of four people showing up by a cabin in the middle of nowhere, forcing the family which is renting the place to make a terrible choice, or face even more terrible consequences. It’s unsettling and tense.

Sam Ladner: Practical Ethnography. A great primer for ethnographers who are moving into the private sector. It’s full of hand-on suggestions for academics who might be fearful of what they will have to compromise when they move into the commercial arena. What’s interesting for my purposes though – since I’m not an academic – is that Ladner pairs down the ethnographical practice into what is useful for me as a UX Researcher with little regard for academic rigor. Well written as well, which is a boon!

Adam Wathan & Steve Schoger: Refactoring UI. If feel a bit silly to add this book to the reading list since it’s more of an illustrated guide to a very prescriptive design rule-set, but whatever. It’s short, to the point, and crystal clear – I think I’ll have great use of this once we start prototyping and doing UI:s at school this spring.

Books listened to

Tyler Hamilton: The secret race. A candid tell-it-all from a world class cyclist who doped for a bunch of years before he got caught. He was on the same team as Lance Armstrong, so he has plenty to say about Lance and his steadfast denials (until the Oprah interview in 2013), but there’s plenty of damning information on just about everyone in the cycling world. Fascinating read – I was unaware of how much goes into racing, especially the big tours, and with the complication of evading doping controls it makes for a worthwhile listen.

William Gibson: Neuromancer. Reading these as a teenager I was fascinated with the world Gibson painted, with more gobbledygook than you can shake a Tessier-Ashpool AI-Core Rastafarian Hitachi cyberdeck at. The story itself is a mess, and I’d forgotten that they end up in space – which feels like a dismantling of golden age scifi romanticism – but this book presaged and created so much of what now are cyberpunk tropes, that the mess is forgiven.

William Gibson: Count Zero. Seven years after Neuromancer, it’s one book told through three storylines which merge toward the end – a disposition which Gibson would keep to in most later books – and tells a tight story of AI’s and Voodoo gods in cyberspace, and the people entangled in their scheming. One story has a discgraced art dealer trying to find the creator of some fascinating art pieces, and it’s always difficult to describe something sublime only through the reaction of the character – she’s moved by the haunting beauty of the object – and my acceptance of the characters motivation can only go so far.

Books given up on

Samantha Downing: My lovely wife. Suspense novel about a serial killing married couple, told in first person by the husband. I’m not sure if the narrator is ment to be dumb or if the writing is poor, but imagine if Homer Simpson was Dexter. I’ve seen it recommended because the twist was supposed to be great, but I gave up halfway and checked out the twist on wikipedia, and it was as stupid as the characters.

Blake Crouch: Pines. Too poor writing to motivate me past the first few chapters.

Herman Melville: Moby Dick. It’s just to laborious to read. I’m an hour into this and really don’t care enough about Ishmael to continue – 200 years ago people were still romanticizing a frontier that no longer existed, increasing their appreciation of this book, perhaps? Nevertheless, it feels nice to cross a classic off my list – I’m done with Moby Dick in this lifetime, and it’s an odd feeling.

James Clear: Atomic Habits. The book came recommended from a friend when we were discussing ambition and goal-setting, but I gave up after thirty pages. The metaphors and anectodes are poorly strung together and counterarguments are strawmanned. I’d recommend the Bullet Journal by Ryder Carrol instead, which in passing makes better arguments concerning productivity than Atomic Habits.

Devora Zack: Networking for people who hate networking. It’s a book presenting itself as a “field guide for introverts” which would be super useful for me as I’m trying to get into a new field, but more than halfway through it still hasn’t offered more than assurances that “it’s ok to be an introvert” and self deprecating jokes. The dichotomy intro/extrovert is an alluring one, but it’s not useful enough to spin out to a book, apparently…

Samanta Schweblin: Little eyes. People buy robotic companions – Kentukis – which are linked up with random human operators, and the link is a one-time activation; if the operator loses interest, the Kentuki becomes useless. People across the world become fascinated by the experience and reach out for the limited but real human interaction it offers. Really unconvincing world building and flat characters – after a tense first chapter it all dissolves into random nonsensical vignettes.

A vegan – transgressing

Earlier today, I took my lovely girlfriend for lunch, and at first we had raw oysters and then mussels & chips. It was the first time in the 22 years that I’ve considered myself vegan that I’ve eaten something animal-based.

Foto: Sara Henriksson

Ok, that’s not totally true. When I came down with Covid last year, I had a terrible cough and the only lozenges we had at home contained honey. I allowed myself to have three of those, but not without quite a lot of thought. And I once bought a pair of jeans with a leather patch on, but asked the store to remove it first – which Sara rightly brings up occasionally to mock me.

Obviously, over the years I’ve inadvertenly eaten animals in some form or another – restaurants fuck up orders, a friend offers something promising that it’s vegan, I misread a lable, etc – but I haven’t done so on purpose. Sometimes, I haven’t enquired as dilligently as a fifth level vegan would – if you’re pouring me red wine I’m not googling what kind of clarification was used, for example. But I’ve gone hungry when there’s nothing else to eat, and the issue of animal rights and not causing suffering serves as a daily guide when I go about my human buisiness.

Which takes us back to todays lunch expedition: I live a vegan life because I find it to be a practical solution – a mental model – of one aspect to a moral life. I believe that causing suffering is a bad thing, and since animals experience suffering (to a varying degree) we shouldn’t exploit them, and going full-vegan is the easiest shortshand for achieving this. Easy enough: If you believe we ought to minimize suffering, but you’re not some kind of vegan – you’re either consciously immoral, haven’t thought through the issue, or you’re an idiot.

Midjourney: Cow made of pieces of meat

But since oysters and mussels don’t seem to experience suffering, eating them doesn’t fall under the purview of a utalitarian argument. So to challange myself, or perhaps because it felt so transgressive, I decided to eat them. After all, if I want to make a convincing argument for a particular moral approach, I should be stringent in my application of it, no?

So we went to Luckans fisk & skaldjur in Majorna and had them prepair three different oysters for me, which I ate in the order they proposed. The last one had a very pronounced iron taste, but all three reminded me of canned mushrooms in brine. I ate them mostly without condiments to get a feel for their taste, so I’ll give them another chance when they’re prepared differently. According to wikipedia, oysters were a popular working class food 200 years ago, which is difficult to reconcile with how expensive they are now.

We continued on to Hasselsons where we had steamed mussels with chips and (vegan) mayo. This was more palatable – easier when the food is warm and served with dill and mayo – but the mussels were less slimy and less challenging to eat. It was tasty and I can see myself making steamed mussels or perhaps a spaghetti Vongole at home.

Midjourney: Cow made of pieces of meat

I feel a different person this evening than I was when I woke up, but I’m not sure what has changed. The feeling of transgression is strong – I can understand the point of those who would abstain all animal-based food because it’s either a simpler argument to make, or a more practical way of living – but I can’t point to what my transgression consists of. Perhaps it’s just that habits die hard.

For all intents and purposes I’ll still present myself as a vegan. Even though it’s technically no longer true, I don’t feel that my values have changed. And saying “vegan” is just so much handier than saying “I won’t consume anything which has caused an unacceptable amount of suffering, please refer to this pamphlet for more information.” But I can understand that others might have other opinion on the matter, as breaking moral rules is never without consequences.

We are constellations of chemically active small watery sacks

Sort-of borrowing the title from one of Randall Monroes books, it serves to remind us that there’s still relatively little that we know about ourselves on a fundamental physical and psychological level. Observe:

The transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration requires six weeks of once-daily sessions. Only about half of patients who undergo the treatment improve, and only about a third experience remission from depression.

Stanford Medicin: Experimental depression treatment is nearly 80% effective in controlled study

So by pulsing magnetic fields through that fatty blob you carry around in your head, you can potentially remedy the debilitating depression you’ve had your whole life. How is that for a discovery? It just feels so random – like percussive engineering. Then again, there’s plenty of research and DIY folks doing tDCS which uses current rather than fields – but it just feels so blackboxy. The subreddit tDCS is full of hopeful folks doing self-experimentation should you be into that.

All of this leads to something kind of strange. I’ve talked to other people about it, and a few bartenders have even brought it up to me. After a while, you start to develop a contempt for your customers, even the ones you like. It’s a tough thing, helping people make the same mistakes over and over again. I don’t juggle bottles for pretty people. I get working stiffs, many of them very lonely, very drunk.

Datasecretslox.com: Ask a bartender a question

Many in the healthcare sector came to the same conclusion. Even before Bill C-7 was enacted, reports of abuse were rife. A man with a neurodegenerative disease testified to Parliament that nurses and a medical ethicist at a hospital tried to coerce him into killing himself by threatening to bankrupt him with extra costs or by kicking him out of the hospital, and by withholding water from him for 20 days. Virtually every disability rights group in the country opposed the new law.

Spectator: Why is Canada Euthanising the poor?

Yeah, so as much as I’m in favour of the right to die, it should go without saying that every avenue of support should be offered to the person considering it. This is some dystopian shit right here, and even though the history of senicide and mercy killings isn’t anything new, this is truly a THX1138 take on it.

From the Unstable Diffusion Discord

Our AI:s are being taught on the corpus of tagged images, and the world being what it is it’s impossible to completely avoid biad – and for many it’s even expected. Do a search for “two men” in any image search engine, and you’re likely to find caucasian middle aged men, and the problem of representation carries over into AI generators. It doesn’t stop the generators from being useful – you can just refine your prompts or nudge the image selection along whatever path you’re interested in – but the default bias is there, and it’s damaging since it cements what we ought to consider “the norm”.

Within this universe, characters can experience “omegapause,” a menopause-like end to their fertility, and “rut leave,” a personal leave from work or school to go off and fulfill their insatiable desire to mate. Some fics will include “heat suppressants,” birth control-like medications that prevent characters from experiencing the need to mate or emanating a scent. Again, it’s a lot.

Morgan Sung: What the hell is the Omegaverse, and why is it all over TikTok?

The kids do the darnest things, are all right, are species-fluid furry-adjecents with rape-fetisch.

Morals, scrupels, bribes and compromises

Nearly 50 years ago, long before smartphones and social media, the social critic Lewis Mumford put a name to the way that complex technological systems offer a share in their benefits in exchange for compliance. He called it a “bribe.” […] What is good for the growth of the technological system is presented as also being good for the individual, and as proof of this, here is something new and shiny. […] For a bribe to be accepted it needs to promise something truly enticing, and Mumford, in his essay “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics,” acknowledged that “the bargain we are being asked to ratify takes the form of a magnificent bribe.” The danger, however, was that “once one opts for the system no further choice remains.” 

Real life mag, Zachary Loeb: The Magnificent Bribe

I hadn’t heard of Mumford previously, and the themes that Loeb presents in his Real Life Mag (RIP 2022) essay are fascinating. There’s a convergence between the arguments presented and the Adam Curtis Hypernormality: human agency has receeded in favour of the an ever-more inhuman capitalist system – in Mumfords work embodied in the megamachine – and we can’t reason our way out of it.

This is the kind of stuff which is playing at the back of my mind when I’m reading about the design world. The hypernormality which Curtis speaks about is alive and well online – but instead of being manifested in a Soviet society, it’s the stories we tell ourselves on our Linkedin or Instagram feeds. The story being this: My opinion of the world matters, your opinion matters, and we are all the skippers of our ship of destiny.

I reached out to Zachary Loeb and he recommended two other essays on Mumford that he wrote (as well as the suggestion that I start with Mumfords Art and Technics as being the more accessible book):

In the twenty-first century, after the digital turn, it is easy to find examples of entities that fit the bill of the megamachine. It may, in fact, be easier to do this today than it was during Mumford’s lifetime. For one no longer needs to engage in speculative thinking to find examples of technologies that ensure that “no action” goes unnoticed. The handful of massive tech conglomerates that dominate the digital world today—companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon—seem almost scarily apt manifestations of the megamachine. […] And as these companies compete for data they work to ensure that nothing is missed by their “relentless eye[s].” Furthermore, though these companies may be technology firms they are like the classic megamachines insofar as they bring together the “political and economic, military, bureaucratic and royal.” Granted, today’s “royal” are not those who have inherited their thrones but those who owe their thrones to the tech empires at the heads of which they sit. […] And yet, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are not the megamachine, but rather examples of megatechnics; the megamachine is the broader system of which all of those companies are merely parts.

b2o, Zachary Loeb: From Megatechnic Bribe to Megatechnic Blackmail: Mumford’s ‘Megamachine’ After the Digital Turn

And all of this comes back to me studying UX. Because what much of the UX Design is focused on is making (digital) systems easier to use.

Better life through chemistry. Part #344. SNRI & Ricetams – pills for progress

Midjourney: technical blueprint of a living city, style of simon stålhag, playful

The geeky version of crystal healing might be the nootropic stack – mixes of different pills and powders you take to effect cognition & memory. I’m enthusiastic about it since at least in theory there ought to be a bunch of chemicals which can pass the blood-brain barrier and make us more interesting. One established family of chemicals are the Racetams, which some people swear by – so I ordered a sample from Nootropics Depot and have chewed my way through the bottles.

In general, I can sympathise with people who don’t want to take any drugs or medication – be it painkillers or antidepressants or cognitive enhancers – but unless you’re actively feeling worse for taking the stuff, I see little harm in it (on an individual level). I’ve been on and off antidepressants for a bunch of years, and right now I’m on a new (for me) SNRI and can spend my energy on being creative and productive rather than awfully sad, which is a nice change of pace.

Of course, there’s the whole messed up situation we’re in now where doctors are prescribing massive amounts of antidepressants just to keep people functioning enough to keep the economy going, which might be political reason enough to avoid the stuff (similar arguments can be made for vaccines, opiates, blood pressure meds, etc), but on an individual level, if you feel better for taking something, why the hell not. Some notes on Ricetams below.

Coluracetam – 20mg capsule

Day 1: 20mg – Transient headache
Day 2: 40mg – No noticeable effect
Day 3: 60mg – same as above
Day 4: 60mg – same as above
Day 5: 60mg – same as above

Aniracetam – 750mg per capsule – start 2 days after Coluracetem

Day 1: 750mg – Depressed mood
Day 2: 1.5g – No noticeable effect
2 day break
Day 3: 2.25g – No noticeable effect
Day 4: 3g – same as above
Day 5: 3.75g – same as above

Fasoracetam – 20mg per capsule – start 5 days after Aniracetam

Day 1: 20mg – No noticeable effect
Day 2: 40mg – Maybe better mood?
1 day break
Day 3: 80mg – Mood still improved. Slightly better long term recall?
Day 4: 120mg – same as above
Day 5: 60mg – same as above

Pramiracetam – 300mg per capsule – start after a three week bout of Covid-19

Day 1: 300mg – No noticeable effect
Day 2: 900mg – Maybe a bit more focused?
5 day break
Day 3: 900mg – Noticeably more focused and calm
Day 4: 1.2g – same as above
1 day break
Day 5: 1.5g – slightly more focused

Oxiracetam – 750mg per capsule – start 4 days after Pramiracetam

Day 1: 750mg – No noticeable effect
Day 2: 1.5g – No noticeable effect
3 day break
Day 3: 1.5g – No noticeable effect
1 day break
Day 4: 1.5g – Maybe a bit more focused? (Didn’t sleep much, groggy morning)
Day 5: 2.25g – No noticeable effect
3 day break
Day 6: 3g – No noticeable effect

Phenylpiracetam – 100mg per capsule – start 10 days after Oxiracetam

Day 1: 100mg – No noticeable effect
Day 2: 200mg – No noticeable effect
Day 3: 300mg – Sligthly manic / frantic? Might have been too much caffeine
5 day break
Day 4: 200mg – Elevated focus and drive
Day 5: 100mg – Elevated focus

Noopept – 30mg per capsule – start 3 days after Phenylpiracetam

Day 1: 30mg – No noticeable effect
Day 2: 30mg – same as above
Day 3: 60mg – same as above
7 day break
Day 4: 60mg – same as above
Day 5: 90mg – same as above

So, Pramiracetam and Phenylpiracetam might be worth experimenting with a bit more. Unfortunately, Nootropics Depot seems to have discontinued the stuff, so I’ll have to look elsewhere. Also, when I was trying the Ricetams I wasn’t on SNRI’s, and I don’t know how those might interact.

Me be AI one day

When I learned about DALL•E last year it seemed like magic – basically casting spells at a computer and getting images out – and now there’s Midjourney and Stable Diffusion (the latter which I can now run on my M1 laptop) and overnight there’s a whole ecology of secondary AI tools that have popped up. Since most of the interaction with these tools consists of stringing barely coherent word jumbles together – prompting – there’s a market for selling the coolest prompts. And prompters are starting to claim ownership over their particular flavour of letters, and are doing so with no sense of irony considering that the AI models are trained on art trawled off of artists who now see their style mimicked in the service of furry porn and tentacle landscapes.

But I’ve been having a blast! It’s so much fun just sitting and prompting and poking and playing around – it’s a fantastic toy and whoever markets a fast upscale + printing service targeting this is going ot make a mint.

The technology & scene is changing at a breakneck pace, and hanging out in the MidJourney Discord is great, as is the Unstable Diffusion Discord with it’s abundance of digital horror erotica monstrosities being prompted into existence.

MidJourney: Frightening giant rat gauche painting volumetric

So I’m writing this post just to mark a moment in time. There are so many clever things being written about the latest wave of AI that just keeping up feels like a full time job – but Jon Stokes primer below is a good start.

What if I told you that every configuration of bits that can possibly exist — every abstract concept or idea, every work of art, every piece of music, everything we can put into a digital file for display or playback on a computer or in a VR headset — is already out there on the number line and that the act of turning any given chunk of information into a readable file involves first locating that thing in the eternal, pre-existing space of numbers and then reversing enough local entropy to give that number a physical form?

Jon Stokes: AI Content Generation, Part 1: Machine Learning Basics
DALL•E: Brutalist graphic poster of iPod

The span of what these models can create is breathtaking – there’s literally no visual expression that they haven’t encountered. As per Jons article, all the images are already out there. Which is equally true of all pencil drawings being encased in every pencil lead, each marble statue in each block, etc, but never have the potential forms been so accessible. Indeed: Expecto Patronum JarJar Wang!