John Snow had White Walkers. We have AI.

In 2060, human life is likely to be exterminated by AI.
After reading this long and brilliant blog post by Tim Urban, which consolidates the existing viewpoints and prognoses about humankind’s AI future into a single, comprehensive overview, I now believe this to be our ineluctable fate. If it sounds like I ran off and joined a cult, know that this cult has Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk as firm believers. It also explains why they have sounded loud alarms about the dangers posed by AI.
Far from being sad or upset by this learning, I’m much more at peace than I have ever been. Knowing that the end of my life will most likely coincide with the end of human existence in ~2060 palliates my despair at the decline of civilization brought on by technology.
I made this vlog because my newfound understanding of AI has affected me so deeply that, in light of this new learning, any content which follows it will be unavoidably colored by it.

Technology is ruining civilization #2: The soullessness of the “like” economy

Real-time analytics and “likes” have a lockhold on marketers — and, now, us. Here’s why and the repercussions.

For the first time since advertising was invented, it’s possible to measure positive audience feedback.

But the measurement is crude and doesn’t permit negative, lukewarm or ambivalent feedback. That’s on purpose of course. In short, there is no assessment of value based on complex, nuanced criteria, the sort which would ordinarily be included in a long form book review or runway report. (Even the TripAdvisor system is better than the one-dimensional system of Facebook likes.)

“Likes” do not equal expertise; but there is no system which does objectively quantify expertise or quality of thinking. Consequently, the “like” system has no competition and reigns supreme among advertisers and publishers.

But it’s still the only thing we have. And since it’s better than nothing, marketers and companies tend to assign way way way too much value to it — to the point where traditional experts have been sidelined in favor of influencers with huge follower numbers.
Our news funnel is dominated by feeds and push communications, increasing the power of social media at the expense of traditional experts (unless of course those experts have a big social media following).

The fact that news, brands and products are being discovered primarily via social media feeds or push communications, rather than web browser (via Google search), is yet another blow to the expert whose thoughtful, well-written critical content resides on the latter. These days and most of the time, you retrieve a long form article because it was mentioned in some form of push communication, for example, an email newsletter from a newspaper or a post within the social media feed of a friend you’re following.

Besides those daily staples like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal which you might keep open all day on your browser, how often do you independently decide to log on to a new website without first having come across the link in a feed or push communication? I refer to leisure reading, something which is not entailed by school or your professional responsibilities. Today, for example, I looked up a brand’s website because I saw their handbag worn by a famous blogger I follow on Instagram. Similarly, I googled an artist because my friend snapped and shared their street art on her Instagram account. If you look at any one of your open browser tabs on your computer right now and trace the referral chain, 80% of the time, that tab is open because you clicked or followed up from a social media post or newsletter.

If information and brand discovery take place primarily through social media, then, obviously, accounts with huge numbers of followers will be seen by more people, even if those individuals or posts are mediocre and inexpert.

Experts basically have to put up or shut up with this new system of validation because, again, there aren’t very many other forms of external, objective validation (except an industry-beating CV — and that only works if the CV practically levitates).

Brands and marketers see all those likes and are comforted that they are doing their jobs well — or if not well, escaping censure for taking unwarranted risks.

These same marketers generally hew to formulas which duplicate past historical successes — resulting in an endless churn of well-rehearsed, tried-and-true pabulum (e.g., inoffensive Instagram posts featuring glossily groomed thirty-something women who are almost as pretty as models but not, wearing ensembles of matching designer clothes or ingenious high-low pairings, which show just enough fashion IQ to create an air of adventure and risk-taking without losing the vibe of the popular girl-next-door. For every Anna Della Russo, there are at least 1000 such innocuous would-be fashion pin-ups on Instagram.)

If you’re wondering why you, consumer, are so exhausted and uninspired, it’s because statistics have replaced originality and risk-taking while subjecting you to a homogeneous tsunami of drivel every waking minute of the day. It is this combination of too much of nothing special at all which is the true crisis of modern consumer media.

I end this essay by posing two major questions:
How do we introduce creativity back into the system (for the great mass of talented designers and creatives who don’t have the same access to capital or bully pulpit as, say, visionary Elon Musk)? What’s the future, if any, for traditional experts (besides getting on the social media bandwagon) — or are we already relegated to the same destiny as the dinosaurs?

At what point does the consumer understand that all of this abundance is actually just a sham illusion?


Vlog #10: This is about NOW (The Home Truths of the Handmaid’s Tale)

(WARNING: Contains disturbing sexual and violent content suitable for mature audiences only.) A chilling work of genius that got me vlogging after a hiatus of several months, the Emmy-award-winning, Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale, exaggerates and magnifies the insidious dynamics of present-day society, to bring home the profound power imbalance between men and women which, until now, remains a backdrop of, at best, silent oppression and, at worst, potential violence. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, this work isn’t predictive or even dystopian. IT’S NOW. Indeed, it’s so true that any menstruating girl will find its home truths ineluctable.

Daily Mind-ful 16 September 2017 (Cincinnati, Day 1 — after more than 35 years)

My first full day back in Cincinnati, Ohio after more than 35 years, with Sam and my brother. We visit all the places which defined — and traumatized — us, the places which were the crucibles of my, if not our, personality. Sam told me that the best thing about this trip was getting to know his uncle James and me more — by listening to us revisit our childhood and experiences.

Trace at Hirshhorn by Ai Weiwei (Washington DC, 17 Sept 2017)


The End of Subjectivity? (Bernard Frize)

I wrote this essay after seeing the works of French “process painter”, Bernard Frize. Taken together with my impressions of the first museum show of Rana Begum at the Sainsbury Centre, it’s obvious that art is undergoing a seismic shift which mirrors the changes taking place in contemporary society. The quoted texts are from a fantastic essay by curator Eva Wittocx.

THE ARTIST AS LABOURER: “Frize burst the cult of the artist as a creator. In his view, the artist is not above anyone else: he is merely a ‘labourer’ who produces paintings.

THE REPUDIATION OF SUBJECTIVITY: As opposed to Abstract Expressionists who sought to express a certain emotion, Frize does not use painting as a ‘medium’ to express something. Therefore, the public need not decode the subjective content of a Frize painting. There is none. Rather, Frize’s art is the result of experimenting with process and technique to achieve different visual outcomes.

THE DEMOCRATISATION OF THE ARTISTIC PROCESS: Indeed, “Frize wants the public to be able to deduce every choice the artist makes from the work of art: ‘Every decision of the artist, the public must be able to infer from the painting. The public must be able to find out how the painting has been made, as if it had painted the work itself.” Reasoning logically, tracing the stream of paint, trying to read the combinations of colours, the public is able – without resorting to any frame of reference – to deduce directly how the work was created. To erase any suggestion of subjectivity, Frize moreover applies a glossy layer of resin to the canvas, so that any painterly effects attributable to materiality are eliminated, assuring the complete detachment of his paintings. All this is not to say that Frize’s paintings provoke no emotional or psychological response within the viewer. No, not at all. Simply, the public projects its own subjectivity and longings for expressive content on his artworks.

The ascendancy of artists like Frize and Rana Begum force one to ask, are we entering a new phase of art which prefers technique and effect over the masterful expression of affect? (By the way, the Centre Pompidou will be staging a retrospective of Frize’s work in 2019.) Will we one day regard artworks created to express a subjective idea or emotion as old-fashioned and quaint? That day is not around the corner. But the increasing recognition and popularity of “process art” mean that we badly want art to represent more than a veiled message.

[To see larger images of Frize’s art, see the online galleries of his work at Simon Lee Gallery and Galerie Perrotin.]

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