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This story is getting old

Those of us who spend a bit too much time in front of a screen have likely noticed that we are in the middle of a marketing barrage in which the “tech” corporations are rushing out what they laughingly call “artificial intelligence” in an attempt to mop up the last few million dollars from the terminally gullible before the global economy goes the way of the Dodo.  Like everything which has been developed since the first internet page was written, AI – which in reality is just unthinking predictive copyright-scraping – is presented as a world changing technology.  And it isn’t just the kind of fanboys who told us that we would all be using cryptocurrency and taking rides in self-driving cars who have bought the hype.

Aided by the tech corporations themselves, there is a growing audience in the more conspiratorial-minded corners of social media, who believe that SkyNet has already been activated and that it will only be a matter of months before the robots take over and begin the inevitable cull of humanity… something that the older members of those communities have been sure was just about to happen ever since someone showed them the first Betamax video player.

But why would the tech corporations encourage this belief?  Beside the obvious desire to fleece the kind of people who can’t understand why that Nigerian prince never sent them the money, the main reason seems to be to head off state regulation.  As with the owners of the social media companies a few years ago, the AI tech firms want to reassure the politicians that self-regulation is better than governments passing laws. 

And yet the very reluctance of the politicians to get involved fuels another version of conspiracy… the road to Herr Schwab’s kleptocratic version of fully automated luxury communism.  This is the so-called forth industrial revolution, which encompasses the internet of things, AI, and the metaverse (aka web 3.0) which will usher in the nirvana of the singularity where we will own nothing and be happy.  Critics – of which there is a growing number – see it more as a digital prison in which we are all controlled by Chinese-style social credit algorithms and oppressive programable central bank digital currencies.

With a few notable exceptions, what nobody – particularly in the establishment media – is pointing out is that it is bullshit.  Those AI platforms that are being heavily trailed in your social media feed – by one of the most intense affiliate marketing efforts ever seen – turn out to be very poor quality.  While the adverts likely had a lot of post-production editing, the version you get to try – at a cost – churns out videos that don’t lip-sync using robotic voices no better than Microsoft and Amazon are already offering at a more competitive rate.

This is not to suggest that the AI platforms can’t do anything useful.  Some of the artwork people have been creating is impressive.  And with some careful prompting, it is possible to produce a passable essay or product description.  ChatGPT is also a more effective research assistant than Google or Yahoo! search engines alone – although, as with the internet in general, you still have to triple check everything you read.  But beware, Big Tech corporations like Google and Amazon had already developed AI-detection algorithms ahead of release of the latest batch of platforms – so attempting to replace human effort with AI may result in your website being downlisted or your publishing account being deleted.  And if you are a student hoping to have AI write your essays for you, bear in mind that this may well get you expelled from your university.

For the most part though, the most widespread use of the latest tech will be to make an already piss-poor consumer experience even worse, as everyone from your local pizza delivery firm to your nearest doctors’ surgery will be employing some spotty eighteen year old to upgrade their website so they can replace their human receptionist with an AI-powered bot which can do everything other than let you order a pizza or book an appointment.  Either that, or someone will develop an AI version of Uber or Deliveroo in which impoverished gig workers get to pay a fee to access work which pays less than the Minimum Wage.  And when the internet crashes – as it inevitably will – even the most basic interactions which used to take place human to human will be beyond us, because the analogue versions of those things will have been put out of business.

More interesting than this for the present moment though, is that the narrative itself is based upon a widely-accepted misunderstanding of technological progress which renders the current shittyness of any technology irrelevant.  This is a point well made by Dan Olsen in a video essay about the much-hyped “Metaverse” titled The future is a dead mall.  No matter how bad the technology currently is:

  1. It’s just a prototype
  2. It will improve
  3. It is inevitable.

It is exactly the same story that the corporations have been using to sell us – to name just a few – nuclear fusion, solar roadways, hyperloops, electric haulage trucks, peak oil demand, and the green new deal.  It might be crap today… but if you could just bung us another $100 billion or so, we guarantee it will be better in future.  And just remember, it is inevitable… the big tech corporations, the Gates Foundation and the World Economic Forum say so.  Worse still, since both establishment media journalists and politicians have been having a decades-long out of body experience, nobody with the power of decision seems capable of looking out of a window at the decaying heart of the real world.

In the UK, a generation has grown up not knowing what an NHS dentist is – and a new generation looks set to put the fairy tale about seeing a doctor face-to-face alongside Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.  Meanwhile, our roads are falling apart –to the point that even Versailles-on-Thames became briefly interested.  And a growing number of our bridges are having weight and speed limits imposed in an attempt to stop them falling down.  Elsewhere, the people who actually know how to make things work – and who know that the politicians’ vision of the future can’t work – are resigned to taking the money and keeping their heads down.  And so, it is only at the point at which some over-paid CEO attempts to put fantasy into practice that, for example, it turns out that the electricity grid cannot accommodate the volume of intermittent electricity generation being proposed.

In the end though, all of this is irrelevant.  Because no matter how spectacular the promised tech fails, so long as we remain convinced that the techno-utopian future is inevitable, then exponential improvement is surely just weeks away.  And since few of us are prepared to gaze into the abyss of a future in which the energy required to make things work becomes so expensive that nothing does anymore, I guess that we’ll just have to put up with the same old story being repeated over and over… It’s just a prototype, It will improve, It is inevitable.

As you made it to the end…

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