Politics & Media
Dec 14, 2023, 06:29AM

Don’t Bother Me

“Experts” downplaying AI are, as usual, in the crabgrass.

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My wife drives a lot every day, and usually has some arcane audiobook—at least to me: Melissa’s choices, from opioid-addicted doctors to restaurateurs creatively employing fava beans to tribal wars in Africa to David Sedaris memoirs, is beyond eclectic—playing, but when I’m in the Jeep the radio station is on, and it’s always, by default, NPR. Last Saturday, we were doing some errands and a “tech expert” held forth on the “clear and present danger” of AI and its future cultural decimation. The fellow tried to assure listeners that all wasn’t lost, as many AI companies were bound to fail. No shit, buddy. I’m not well-versed on AI, but know enough about no-longer-nascent technology that NPR’s “expert” was in the weeds. No doubt he’s researched the subject, and can hold his own at an academic gathering, but it’s a simple fact that those who are developing and funding AI, just like any innovation, are miles ahead of their critics, and what’s shown today bears little resemblance to the “new world” three years from now.

Those behind the Hollywood strike this summer and fall definitely grasped the severe impact to their livelihoods, just as their predecessors did in 1980 when the specter of VHS and “pay-TV” was a harbinger of decreased paychecks. I’m not inclined, at my age, to get overly exerted about AI—unlike the late-1990s when it was clear to anyone paying attention that the internet would damage and eventually destroy print newspapers (mine included, as I watched classified revenues, especially “personals,” plummet around 1999)—but my son Nicky’s a filmmaker and one of my nephews is a musician/producer in London, and they have plenty to say, in concise and articulate laments.

(One contrarian glimmer was Sean Price Williams’ film The Sweet East, which I saw at a Senator Theater matinee last Saturday. It’s Nicky’s favorite film of 2023, and while I’m going with The Holdovers, there’s much to recommend. Especially the screenplay by Nick Pinkerton, intelligent writing that’s a rarity in today’s films. On Monday, in his review, Nicky wrote: “[Mohammad] awkwardly but earnestly expresses his love for America’s ‘sour apples, the houses that look like they’ve given up on life, and the salamanders, the box turtles…’ Lillian rolls her eyes: ‘You must love shitting in the woods.’ He shakes his head. ‘Everything’s a joke to you.’” This made me think about my childhood in the 1960s, when sour apples fell from trees around the neighborhood, and my brothers and I always had a box turtle outside our house, which our dog looked after in a bed of leaves, and on hot summer nights, while crickets chirped in the garage, we’d collect fireflies in jars and on occasion set off cherry bombs and toss them in the distance.)

Still, I don’t wear an eye patch, and when I read (and usually don’t believe) “news stories” in legacy media, it’s not a stretch to wonder if they’re produced largely by ChatGPT, with perhaps a reporter or editor’s minimal participation. Several days ago, a very misleading story in The New York Times by Nicholas Confessore under the headline “As Fury Erupts Over Campus Antisemitism, Conservatives Seize the Moment,” implied that Republicans, right-wingers, conservatives (I’m not sure which label fits anymore) welcomed the protests over Israel/Gaza war, since it scores political points a year before the presidential election. I’m by nature a cynic, but it’s hard to believe that activists or politicians—right or left—welcome the Mideast carnage as a boon to whatever they’re promoting.

Confessore (or the ChatGPT device he used by punching in a few Times-friendly keywords) writes: “For years, conservatives have struggled to persuade American voters that the left-wing tilt [“tilt”!] of higher education is not only wrong but dangerous. Universities and their students, they’ve argued, have been increasingly clenched by suffocating ideologies—political correctness in one decade [just one?], overweening ‘social justice’ in another, ‘woke-ism’ most recently—that shouldn’t be dismissed as academic fads or harmless zeal. The validation they have sought seemed to finally arrive this fall, as campuses convulsed protests against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and hostile, sometimes violent, rhetoric toward Jews.”

It’s probably generational: living on Long Island I had a lot of Jewish friends as a kid, and the atrocities of WWII were still fresh. Any number of these friends had relatives murdered in Europe, as well as parents who escaped to America. One pal’s Grandma Ida, while feeding me delicious noodle kugle, told me ghastly stories of her onetime home in Poland, and when she feared it was boring, I beseeched her to continue. That was the kind of history that isn’t, by and large, taught in schools today, as the Holocaust slowly recedes in the world’s collective memory.

One other example of the likely fruitless battle against AI comes from the current issue of (print-only) County Highway. On the front page, a story by Clayton Fox has five decks of headlines:




Euthanasia laws, a government that targets normal people’s bank accounts and gives medals to Nazis, have turned our neighbor to the north into a threat to free people everywhere.


Neil Young, go home!

County Highway, despite a lot of levity, is a serious newspaper (and really, given its six-issue annual schedule, more like a magazine in broadsheet clothing), and, as I’ve written before, I’ve no idea what the funding is, but I hope it survives.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023 

  • When they link AI writing to AI-generated images, the truth as we know it will disappear. That's my fear... Trump will be "live" with FDR extolling the virtues of absolute power.

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