Rude Tales of Labor

We stan #NormNiles and the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Ah, welcome traveller! Come in, hang up your coat, set your feet by the fire,1 may I bring you a flagon of mead or a hot spiced ale to warm your weary bones? Oh, `tis news you seek? Word of the doings in our humble `burg? Well that I can provide, and in plenty! The talk of the layabouts in the town square and the hard-working artisans alike is of naught but the Guild of Writers, East and West, laying down their quills (as `twere) in defiance of the cruel terms of labor put to them by the Lords of Studio.

In fact, this moment I hear young master Adam Conover proclaiming the simple demands of his fellow ink-stained scribblers just outside, if only to the tweeting birds of the Speakers’ Corner. `Strewth! the full cost of the Guild of Writers’ demands is a paltry $429 million gold coins per year, when Sir John Rogers has truthfully avowed that the Lords of Studio gather to themselves a veritable dragon’s hoard: “between $28-30 BILLION in profit — PROFIT — *every year for the last five years*.” That‘s after paying for straw, drayage, sets and costuming, potables, comestibles, and so on. Their wealth may begin at the honed tip of the ostrich feather, but you will wait long at the keyhole `ere you hear them whisper acknowledgement of it.

Ah, now traveller, be not exercised, I see your lips already shaping themselves to demur. Yes, `tis commonly believed that the last time the Guild of Writers struck for fair wages, the popular thirst for entertainment was slaked instead by tawdry melodrama, yea even the scourge of improv. Some go so far as to claim that era gave rise to the dark wellspring of power later drawn on by the dread master of The Apprentice (I shall not speak his true name here) who, as you know, nearly brought an end to our once-harmonious land. I assure you, all that is only the jackass braying of knowless men.

But are there risks? Well, I’m sure if there are… pardon traveller, but your visage pales most shockingly. Behind me, you say? What witchery is this—

Suddenly, @kendracandraw at the bar: “Reading the WGA strike news and suddenly my eyes turn white and I start levitating and all the lyrics to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog resurface, unbidden, in my mind”

`Tis nothing! A poultice, perhaps, and a healing draught, this young one shall regain their senses.

But cast your gaze to the stage! Where our newest entertainer Madame Camille the Intern promises delights you’ve surely never seen before:

Today in #NormNiles

Fandom is always doing a lot. But one of my favorite things that fans do is make fanvideos or fan edits (not to be confused with “fancams”). These video compilations remixing and reworking original media frequently appear in replies to viral Tweets these days, but they’ve been around since 1975, and they generally feature clips of a celebrity or musician set to music, along with a plea to stan them. Here’s a good one for Gene Kelly.

The fanvideo that taught me to truly appreciate the form was this masterpiece creating a crackship between Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborn and Niles Crane from Frasier: #NORMNILES. It’s so baffling even the creator tagged it: “THIS WAS A JOKE BUT I NEED YOU TO SHIP IT. I CANT BELIEVE IM ABOUT TO USE THESE TAGS.” But somehow, it works?

In his 2008 book Remix, Lawrence Lessig argues that transformative remixing of content is how people have learned to create, period, in the digital age, but remixing’s status as a copyright gray area means that those who grow up with it always have a sense that their creation is "illegal." With corporations trying to capture all the economic value of transformative work and fan labor and interactions being increasingly commercialized, anything on the margins that resists palatability or profitability like this is kind of special.

Like yeah, this video was made as a joke, but if you're going to remix something, at least ensure it can't be re-absorbed into the machine, and have fun with it!

Before I go, the archaic word of the day is overmorrow: the day after tomorrow.

—Intern Camille is a remix of “Cleanlier Mint”

Don’t worry, I’m not going to keep doing the Inn Keeper bit, but one more thing to note in the WGA’s list of demands is a flat-out ban on AI: “AI can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and MBA-covered material can’t be used to train AI.” We’ll look back on that as prescient, and I’ll tell you why…

Today in the Butlerian Jihad

Scientists Use GPT AI to Passively Read People's Thoughts,” reports Becky Ferreira in Vice. Scientists, can you chill for like, one second? From a paper in Nature Neuroscience, what these chaos goblins did was put someone into an fMRI machine and have them listen to some text while recording the blood flow in their brain. Then they trained an AI on the fMRI + text data and worked the same trick backwards, having the subject listen to something new and asking the AI to decode it via fMRI data alone. According to this pack of deranged Frankens Stein:

The decoder was able to translate the audio narratives into text as the participants heard them, though these interpretations often used different semantic constructions from the original recordings. For instance, a recording of a speaker saying the sentence “I don’t have my driver’s license yet” was decoded from the listener’s thoughts via the fMRI readers to “She has not even started to learn to drive yet.”…

“Instead of looking at this low-level motor thing, our system really works at the level of ideas, of semantics, and of meaning. That’s what it’s getting at.”

“This is the reason why I think what we get out is not the exact words that somebody heard or spoke, it’s the gist,” he continued. “It’s the same idea but expressed in different words.”

If this works, it’s potentially a breakthrough for people who can’t communicate any other way, and it is much less invasive than neurosurgery. But it’s still deeply unsettling to me, and the reason is because the actual strength of these AI tools is mapping between two different sets of patterns. In this case the patterns are “blood flow in the brain” and “legible thoughts” and I would love to believe one can’t be so easily converted to the other. So what other interpretable patterns do we not even realize exist yet? I guess we’ll find out, unless scientists cool it.

In MIT Tech Review, Will Douglas Heaven talked to Google AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton, who just left his job at age 75, which used to be called “retiring late” but I guess now is a “bombshell.” After a career spent meaningfully advancing AI technology, Hinton would like to issue a big “whoopsie doodle” on that:

“I have suddenly switched my views on whether these things are going to be more intelligent than us. I think they’re very close to it now and they will be much more intelligent than us in the future,” he says. “How do we survive that?”

He is especially worried that people could harness the tools he himself helped breathe life into to tilt the scales of some of the most consequential human experiences, especially elections and wars.

Meanwhile Davey Alba covered a report from NewsGuard who found 49 AI-generated gray-goo news websites:

Some are dressed up as breaking news sites with generic-sounding names like News Live 79 and Daily Business Post, while others share lifestyle tips, celebrity news or publish sponsored content. But none disclose they’re populated using AI chatbots such as OpenAI Inc.’s ChatGPT and potentially Alphabet Inc.’s Google Bard, which can generate detailed text based on simple user prompts.

Now you can plug Google search trends into Google Bard and monetize the output with Google ads. This seems healthy. Also probably healthy: “the rizzGPT smart monocle.” I would not have believed that someone could invent something that makes Google Glass look cool, but they’ve done it.

Tweet by @salcalleros: “The Shield put FX on the map. Mad Men put AMC on the map. House of Cards put Netflix on the map. Writers did that. Not some CEO. Know what you get when you put CEOs in creative lanes? You get Quibi.”

The Elon Twitter Clusterfuck-Off is finished, and the dumbest thing Elon has done so far is: publicly firing the most popular man in Iceland and then having to pay out his $100 million contract anyway. Also Today in Twitter: Wordpress declines the new $42,000 a month API fee, drops Twitter from its Jetpack social sharing plugin. Giant dickberg spotted off the Dildo shore. Janet, yellin’: “U.S. Could Run Out of Cash by June 1.” Maybe it shouldn’t buy so much avocado toast. “Does anyone know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” is just a legendary line, RIP Gordon Lightfoot. I hope I write one thing that good, ever. The pundits all say Vice would make Whitefish Bay if they'd put fifteen more miles behind her, and in The Fence, an anonymous digital media worker looks back on the last five years of carnage in the collapsing industry.

Today’s Song: Kesha, “Eat the Acid”

Thanks Music Intern Sam and Words Intern Camille. Sorry I wrote so much today, I don’t know what happened. Hey if you like Intern Camille’s contributions, or mine I guess, your subscriptions are what pays for them! Thanks in advance and/or belatedly. Tomorrow: fewer words, I promise.

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