Tom Scott distils down his encounter with AI doing a job he used to do (almost equally well) and then reflects on why this could be a completely transformative development for the world – much like when the internet really took off in the late 90’s. I think he’s probably right. As someone that has played with AI art generation and watching the ground breaking papers that are using AI for even traditional rendering and modeling tasks in just the graphics world, I think we’re just at the first part of his sigmoid curve.
This transformation is likely to be very different than just the early internet upheavals of the music industry, cellular phones, and stores/commerce that he describes. Those were largely transformations of market form with the same commercial and societal needs.
I think this is different in at least 2 ways. First, AI is bringing about a change in which thought, analysis, creativity, and response to problems themselves is likely about to be abdicated (and somewhat blindly by the lazy or those that aren’t critically looking at what is being generated). And we’ll be abdicating that power to systems aren’t truly or fully understood, controlled, or protected.
With things like chatGPT, we will very easily start abdicating the hard work of thinking itself. If we no longer crafting the actual language of our responses, doing the hard logical work of building arguments for our daily actions or policies we live by – we will never develop the critical thinking ability to even question what is generated. Instead, they are generated for us. What would that do to us long term? Especially we we already see that chatGPT and other AI systems can get things terribly wrong – and not give us the first clue they are wrong.
Secondly, like all tools, they could even be controlled/manipulated by nefarious agents. Today, our most deadly and horrific tools of destruction (nuclear bombs and sophisticated strategic weapons) are today largely contained within government military systems and by needing the highly specialized ability to build them.
AI can be wielded by anyone, anywhere in the world, with any motivation (political, personal, etc.). With just a small rack of commercially available servers, one has the ability to unleash the kind of infinitely scalable social media posting, auto-responding, narrative controlling, news story generating, and possibly subverted think-for-you devices upon the whole world.
A few clever AI systems that would likely cost less than a single cruise missile could easily overwhelm social media forums, message boards, Wikipedia edits, generated news articles, etc – before we could ever hope to verify the claims or combat its ability to generate hundreds of thousands of responses, up/down votes, planted webpage articles, etc every hour. How could one even verify the claims if everything is suspect? Why WOULDN’T a country do this if it cost less than what a single missile costs? Even better, what if the AI can be subverted to bias certain responses (which we have already seen too)?
In the post-truth internet, people are well into putting their trust in anonymous influencer opinions and echo chamber forum posts before well verified facts. What will this mean in our internet era in which ‘objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’?
My how far we’ve come from the idea that the internet would become a forum in which people share ideas and the best ones rise to the top. How dangerously naïve we were…
The early internet had some absolute amazing creations. This is one of them. A fantastical mashup of Star Trek TNG and an ode to sausage by Friendly Rich. It’s been out for almost a decade, and only has about 300k views – which is a crime and shows people still lack quality taste even in the modern, post-truth internet era.
This issue seems to have come to a head recently because Amazon staffers and other tech workers throughout the industry have begun using ChatGPT as a “coding assistant” of sorts to help them write or improve strings of code, the report notes.
While this isn’t necessarily a problem from a proprietary data perspective, it’s a different story when employees start using the AI to improve upon existing internal code — which is already happening, according to the lawyer.
Urban legends are definitely not new – and some of the older ones are much better than the ones we have today. Here’s a good one that I encountered via an old time radio play. The story goes like this:
The year was May and the fabulous 1889 Paris Exposition was about to get started. A girl arrived with her mother via ocean liner from India. They checked into the Hotel Crillon but the mother fell sick upon arrival. A doctor was called to help. Shortly after, the daughter was sent on an errand to get some critical medicine, but the coachman and everyone took forever to get her the medicine and get her back to the hotel. When she arrived, she asked for the room key to get the medicine to her mother. At this point the desk clerk, all the hotel staff, and even the doctor claimed the girl arrived alone and there was no mother. Nobody had been sick and other lodgers had been checked into the supposed mother’s room for days. The girl became hysterical and demanded they take her to her mother’s room. They showed her the room her mother was in but it was completely different – with different furniture, window coverings, and a stack of luggage from another set of travelers. The girl ran to the British Embassy who, upon investigation and being given the same story/shown around by the hotel staff, concluded that the girl was probably crazy. She was sent onwards to Britain to an asylum.
What happened to the mother? The legend goes to explain the hotel doctor discovered the mother had bubonic plague. The doctor, hotel staff, and officials quickly realized the gravity of such a diagnosis. With so much riding on the success of the Paris Exposition – fortunes would be lost overnight if panic spread about a plague in the city.
They decided to sent the girl away and told everyone to delay her as much as possible. They then moved the mother to a hidden facility where she died shortly after. They re-decorated the room, destroyed the records, put new people in the room who were in on the plot, and basically did everything possible to cover up the infection and discredit the girl’s story.
Was it true? People have tried to prove it but there’s been no concrete evidence. Still, the story appears to have circulated around the world for years after the 1889 Paris Exposition.
As evidence of this early urban legend’s widespread telling, John Dickson Carr wrote a wildly popular story called Cabin B-13 as a radio play that aired in 1943. Very tame by today’s standards, it takes a twist on the old Paris tale – with the characters even mentioning the tale in their dialog. It’s a great little thriller that was broadcast in the US and then used as the opening set piece for a new thriller series on the BBC. Give it a listen – if you dare!
Stable Diffusion 2.0 was largely seen as a dud. Past version 1.5 you should be aware that the outcry of various artists against having their works sampled resulted in the 2.x branches trying to use less of these public sources. This means it has a more limited training set and likely more limited output variety.
We’re already seeing a real revolutions in retro gaming via emulation. Preservation of old hardware is important, but it’s also seen as almost impossible task as devices mass produced to only last 5-10 years in the consumer market reach decades of age. Failure rates will eventually reach 100% over enough time (unless people re-create the hardware). But with modern emulators, you can still play all the different games on modern hardware.
On a separate development note, we’ve also seen graphics effects like anti-aliasing and upscaling get the AI treatment. Instead of hand-coded anti-aliasing kernels, they can be generated automatically by AI and the results are now included in all major hardware vendors.
But what about the very graphics content itself? Retro game art has it’s own charm, but what if we gave it the AI treatment too?
Jay Alammar wanted to see what he could achieve by pumping in some retro game graphics from the MSX game Nemesis 2 (Gradius) into Stable Diffusion, Dall-E, and Midjourney art generators. He presents a lot of interesting experiments and conclusions. He used various features like in-painting, out-painting, Dream Studio and all kinds of other ideas to see what he could come up with.
I think this opens up a whole new idea. What if you replaced the entire game graphics elements with updated AI graphics? The results would essentially just become a themed re-skinning with no gameplay (or even level changes), but this definitely brings up the idea of starting your re-theming for new levels (fire levels, ice levels, space levels, etc) by auto-generating the graphics.
Then it brings up the non-art idea of re-theming the gameplay itself – possibly using AI generated movement or gameplay rules. Friction, gravity, jump height, etc – could all be given different models (Mario style physics, Super Meat Boy physics, slidy ice-level physics) and then let the AI come up with the gravity, bounce, jump parameters.
Photographer and filmmaker Nicholas Kouros spent “hundreds of hours” over 4 years creating a stop-motion meme-themed music video using paper prints and cutouts for a song called Ruined by the metal band Blame Kandinsky. He then created a new version using AI – in 4 days.
The work on the original physical shoot was intense:
“Cutting out all individual pieces was a serious task. Some of the setups were so labor-intensive, I had friends over for days to help out,” says Kouros.
“Every piece was then assembled using various methods, such as connecting through rivets and hinges. We shot everything at 12fps using Dragonframe on a DIY rostrum setup with a mirrorless Sony a7S II and a Zeiss ZE f/2 50mm Macro-Planar lens.”
In a move that likely avoided copyright issues, he used freely usable images. “Most of Ruined was made using public domain paintings and art found on museum websites like Rijks or the Met”
After everything had been shot, the RAW image sequences were imported to After Effects and later graded in DaVinci Resolve.
Using AI instead
Kouros then created a second music video but this time he used AI. The video took a fraction of the time to make. “In direct contrast with my previous work for the same band, Vague by Blame Kandinsky, it took a little over four days of experimenting, used a single line of AI text prompting, and 20 hours of rendering,”
“The text prompt line used was: ‘Occult Ritual, Rosemary’s Baby Scream, Flemish renaissance, painting by Robert Crumb, Death.’”
Kouros describes his experience with AI as “fun” and was impressed with the results that the image synthesizer gave him.
What was his final take?
“In my opinion, this specific style of animation won’t stand the test of time, but it will probably be a reminder of times before this AI thing really took off.
I embrace new tech as it comes along and I have already started making images with the aid of image generators. I’ve actually learned more about art history in this last year using AI, than in seven years of art schools.”