The world's been a bit crazy for, well, forever. But here are some of the latest headlines I thought were topical to what I wanted to discuss today.
- Writers in Hollywood are striking because they don't want a machine (AI) to take their job.
- AI is currently growing off an open-source and open-contribution model. As of today, the technology is already good enough to generate content that makes it hard to know where it came from.
- Big Tech companies have been running our lives for twenty years.
- These companies' founders and directors are a one-of-a-kind class of ultra-rich. These ultra-untouchable tech overlords control our connectivity and culture with each newsfeed update.
- Put all this together, and you have a new arms race to control AI—the latest tool for mining data at scale and making that sweet cash-ad-money.
All of this, naturally, brings me to my first and most local point.
Looking back to a time before Fast Fashion, people had a minimal wardrobe. It was a time when the average person had some Sunday best threads along with their working-class wears for getting through the week. Sure, rich people have always had fancy clothes. Luxurious dresses. Fancy neckties. Name brand garments in such droves that they could arouse Bridgerton-style envy.
Then the Industrial Revolution came along, and we went from a handful of items to having clothes for special occasions and different styles for each of the four seasons, with factories full of looms and the premise of centralised production practices. We birthed what would soon become the fast fashion industry we know and take advantage of today. As a people, we went from crafting clothes by necessity to sifting through them on the peg at the shops or scrolling through sites online.
The tailor went from crafting bespoke suits to running mass operations and being a cog in a much larger (literal and metaphorical) machine, directing multiple lines, workers, and styles. The result of the loom is that our world has stylistically become global, similar, and homogenised. The loom brought about a change not only in how clothes were made but also in our culture. Because we collectively decided to participate and change how communities interact. We showed up at the factory to work. We chose to wear a wedding suit versus a funeral suit versus a suit suitable for a job interview.
Rich people still have tailors. You, too, for the right occasion, might have one. Name-brand designers still make name-brand items that carry weight not because of their sturdier materials but because of the importance of the label on the front of the bag. The only difference is that since now everyone can stand out, there's a fun little concept of "quiet luxury," which plays on the idea that the clothes you wear look subtle and similar to what everyone else wears, but it is actually made by a brand tailored to the ultra-rich. All of this is possible since, these days, being rich gets you in trouble. Note: I, having been in many different types of trouble, have never - not once - had to deal with this type of trouble.
The loom changed how tailors did their work, and we, as a community, participated in the cultural shift that this technology catalysed.
Crazy Fast Content.
Now, let's look at writers. As mentioned, many people in Hollywood are protesting using AI (ChatGPT and the like) to write scripts, tell jokes, and give hope to future generations. The easy thing to do here would be to say that just like the tailors in the olden days, these writers should get over it, accept the inevitability of technology participating in their workflow and stop complaining. As tailors did with the reluctant incorporation of the loom, progress must happen. It cannot be halted. And so on.
Sticking with the theme of looking at the olden days, does that mean writing is destined to become a new form of being a jester?
That's how it works, isn't it? If you have enough clout and social proof, you get hired by the wealthy few to come and do a personalised rendition of one of the things that made you famous. Sure, there are no really big-name celebrity script writers - not that the average person would know about. The premise of creating something and monetising the overflowing fame garnered by that creation to a smaller but much wealthier audience has been around for ages. And look, Mariah Carey; there's nothing wrong with cashing in on the social proof you invested in building twenty years ago.
Calling writers a modern-day jester is harsh, but hold onto that anger momentarily as we try to figure out what's next because there are two components at play here: appeal and creativity. We should explore them both.
Coming up with something new.
Mass market celebrities, jesters, actors, and entertainers all have something in common. They all operate on a stage. Their message is distributed not just to a few but to as many as will sit in the room, and with the stage provided by social media, the audience can be millions, and they can be reached in moments. But something still needs to happen. Something new needs to be done for a performance to stand out. You can't just do what everyone else has done. You have to come up with something original - do something appealing.
In the land grab for attention, we've steadily been on a downward spiral of creativity. Not just because most online performances are augmented away from real-time feedback or that ignoring moral values can, in some instances, grant you algorithmic favour. Just like you can buy a disposable shirt from H&M or Zara, the internet is filled with pointless content masquerading as life-affirming and value-adding. The Kardashians, the Pauls, and the Tate are just some examples. The good news is that for every pointless internet-wonna-be-famous person who wants to cash in on the merch money. We have quality creators like the Sinek's, Godin's, and Prof G's—our content equivalent of Burberry, Chanel, and Hermes.
For every one of these good and bad examples of content or craftsmanship, someone had to come up with a new idea and stick to it. Because here's the thing, as much as we can uphold Creativity and seek to be "original". The fact is that everything we come up with is a synthesis of past experiences and ideas, which means that labelling someone as "original" is actually a very generous act. It's human to see something and be inspired; this is a human trait we are now teaching machines.
So what happens when the device in your pocket can take in 'inspiration', combine it with other ideas, and generally come up with something "new"? And it can do this faster and more efficiently than any human ever could. If that's possible with AI, we as people - what role do we play? What's our niche as a species? What value do we bring to the table? Where will the next Google come from?
Trying is too hard.
Let's look at that for a second: a New Google. How do we get a new Google? Well. There are a few obstacles in the way. For starters, you have Google itself, a global, unregulated, and unchallenged monopoly. You have AI, an unregulated, international piece of genius technology, not to mention all of the boilerplate issues of inflation, interest rates, the cost of living and the shortage of goods and skilled labour.
Trying to start a new Google is like starting a new utility provider or oil company like Shell, BHP, or Rio. Sure, you can try, but those oil rigs and rights that are set up to mine our minds for information have been locked up for twenty years and will be for generations to come. Sure, there have been cases where people have come up with a better way to pump data. Still, those players get bought out to perpetuate the monopoly in the internet's unregulated and completely experimental lands.
Just like we normalised Fast Fashion, having a range of clothing items in our wardrobes, and consuming garbage content. We have normalised mining the fossil fuel that is our mind without caring about the sustainability of doing so.
With all that going against you, why would you try something "new"? Why would you try to do something substantial like building a "new Google"?
You're competing with entities that adhere to no rules, are subservient to no government, and have more power than any ruler in history. They are also faster and more intelligent at processing information than you and are backed by multi-billion dollar cash reserves, i.e. Unlimited funding.
It's no surprise then that only 2% of the Australian population is interested in innovation or doing something new or different.
Be a catalyst.
It all sounds a bit depressing. Tailors turned into team leaders and writers striving for the safe company of whichever guy has a bigger spaceship. It's hard to see what role we play in this doomsday scenario, but I think we, as people, are uniquely good at looking at the negatives. And yes, I understand I'm writing this, which doesn't help the situation. So, let me do all of us a favour and try to look at the bright side - the silver lining.
I believe the role we play in this insecure world we're living in is to initiate change. The reason brand name creators, whether they're crafting scripts or clothes, stand out is because they took an idea. Created from a unique set of their own experiences and brought it to a stage or a market. Doing so in a dramatic enough fashion, people took notice, saw the value, and told others about it. They committed to creating something, their passion made it appealing, and their surrounding community made it possible.
Not all of us will initiate a change that spins the world onto a different axis. There's nothing wrong with that. But purely through proximity, we are all in the community and enablers of possibility. We can all give someone the spark, a trigger, some support, some honest feedback. We don't know if the result will be turned into reality (let alone one we want to be part of), but sincerity isn't about picking. It's about the process of trying. Because even if that spark leads to the creation of another Facebook. We always have the means to do something about it. Thanks to a culture of trying, we can all build together.
The fact is that creativity is happening all around us; the power for originality, no matter how vague a concept it is, can be seen everywhere. In our daily lives, in our unique human experiences. All are taken in as fuel for the creative process; we just have to look for it and work out how to apply it. The catch is we all build different stuff. And whether you or someone else needs it, encouragement keeps you looking and energises your trying. In a world gone crazy with dismantling everything, we've forgotten to spend time building something new from the blocks lying around.
The other 50%.
But here's the other thing: all that encouragement and support, that entire 'culture of trying' only gets you halfway—50%. The remaining 50% is all summed up in one word: courage.
When you add up everything discussed, from technology to people to creativity and ideas, these tools and concepts get nowhere if we don't dare to do something about it. The courage to try, leap, have a go, and get started, the boldness to give 100% to an idea, to commit and be courageous and take the risk at the risk of complete and utter failure. Because even with your most unshakable commitment, the odds going against you, me, and all of us are significant.
Wait, this was meant to be a happy ending; hold on a second. Giving 100% and failing at the finishing line... What happens when that happens? When you take an idea, use the tools at your disposal, take the risk of committing to doing something, try your hardest, and then completely fail. What happens next is something I think about this all the time. My best conclusion fits with the ending of this little expedition through time. Because the by-product of this human experience, this human trait of trying and failing and trying again, this thing we're trying to teach machines, is hope.
For all the advancements, arguments, and appeals of AI, it still takes a grain of hope to keep going and trying. Hope makes no sense. Hope is incomputable. Hope possesses no rational metrics, which is precisely why hope is the most human trait of them all and irreplicable by machines.
We don't need another Google. We need the next thing. We need something that can't yet be described. A new taxonomy and understanding. A new concept. The paradox is that we won't find it until we spend more time trying, failing, and trying again because it's our norm.
The good news is that solving the world's problems isn't a one-man job. It never has been. It's always been a team effort. A messy. Beautiful. Chaotic. Annoying. Frustrating. Iterative. Team effort. The best thing you can do for the team and your community today is give your teammate, whoever's closest or that you'll see next, some encouragement. Give them fuel for their courage—a subtle helping hand, which, by virtue, will give them hope because we're all trying. That is our role. That's human.