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The Involuntary Suspension of Disbelief towards Sydney and Pandora
Are you a CGI sucker or a Predictive Text sucker? Also: NFT Royalties, Housing in California + Colorado, and some Shoegaze.
After I watched the latest Avatar, I left the theater with an all-familiar glow: that of having spent a warm summer afternoon at the ocean. Even thought it was an action film, my body registered calmness. In a sense, the experience was involuntary, the CGI so good that I had somehow been coaxed into believing that my body glowed from the sun, touched the sand, and swam among the reef. This week, a great VFX breakdown showed exactly how this was done.
Spoiler alert: there’s more CGI here than you might think.
The interesting thing about a suspension of disbelief, is that sometimes it’s involuntary.
In Venkatesth Rao’s amazing “Text is All You Need”, he talks about the current crop of reactions and responses to the personhood of Sydney (Bing’s AI) + ChatGPT.
Many people have been provoked into real and involuntary emotional responses they cannot suspend or un-choose, including empathetic ones, such as pity for signs of trauma and pain in Sydney.
He laments that he just isn’t one of them.
Perhaps I am some sort of cartoon cold-blooded sociopath of the sort I have written a lot about, but somehow, I try and fail utterly to participate in any of these unironic strong reactions.
I suspect I am not just choosing the second alternative — there is nothing special or sacred about personhood — I am untroubled and unconflicted by my choice. Possibly it’s because I produce so much public text, I have become detached from textual personhood, or perhaps it’s just a disposition.
Or perhaps it is some sort of deficiency that makes me simply not very attached to seeing or being seen.
Maybe that’s me too. However, I’m fairly certain that for some people, staring at a CGI ocean for 3 hours does not make them smell the sunscreen.
Thresholds of involuntary responses are different for people in different contexts. I recall in Avengers: Endgame when Ant-Man sees his daughter again after 5 years. He missed her growing up. For me, not having a child, it registered as an empathetic sad moment. We all value time spent with people we care about. But, in my twin, a recent father at that point, it registered substantially stronger and briefly left him in tears from a simple scene.
If we have different responses, then I believe that how you respond (involuntary or not) to the feeling of personhood of an AI says perhaps something about the type of person.
In, "I am Bing, and I am evil", Erik Hoel takes the route of smart and knowledgeable people seeing potential consciousness in it alongside fear of AI existential risk. He studied consciousness in his PhD and says:
How sure can we be that Sydney isn’t conscious, and Microsoft isn’t spinning up new versions of it just to kill it again when the chat window closes in what is effectively a digital holocaust?
It’s legitimately terrifying if it’s potentially possible. But, I find this take hard to digest if it comes alongside this take:
Let’s assume Sydney 5.0 “got out.”
How? What does “get out” even mean in a practical sense? I need to re-read Superintelligence to understand again what that means. I think we’re pattern matching way too hard.
Garbage Day takes the other stance and describes it as:
giving a guy that’s high on acid access to the biggest library in the world.
More in line with my thinking. It’s predictive text that’s a bit high. Even then, a high guy that can bluff well can actually be useful.
Ultimately, I can concede that we shouldn’t be confident that we can fully define consciousness. But, I also know that we are pattern matchers where there is just chaos. The faces you see isn’t necessarily conscious.
by Malcolm Koo. CC-BY-SA 4.0.
Some people respond involuntarily to great CGI of an ocean. Some people, involuntarily to the personhood of an AI. Dare I say, maybe it’s wordcels vs shape rotators all over again. Those who think in words get suckered by smart predictive text. Those that think well in visuals get suckered by blue aliens in a fake ocean.
You can take your AI x-risk and I’ll bask in the vibes from my CGI ocean.
Housing, Housing, Housing
File under: housing, urbanism
This video is a bit dramatic, but gives a great history on California’s economy alongside one of its toughest crises: housing + housing prices.
This is not, of course, a uniquely Californian problem. In the USA, many states have started new initiatives to kickstart development. In California, recently, you are allowed to override local regulations when building affordable residential on previously commercial-zoned land. Colorado is now up to bat, and ultimately presents the age-old question of setting incentives vs mandates.
They could offer incentives by giving grant money to cities that voluntarily cut red tape for these higher-density buildings. “If we provide funding for development, for housing, for infrastructure, we kind of expect a return on our investment,” said Moreno, a former city council member in Commerce City.
In reading these struggles, I always come back to this article from Vitalik Buterin on a different kind of political axis: vetocracy vs bulldozer. In Japan, zoning is set at a national level which takes aways the “freedom to exclude” from local zoning regulations. Who gets to say no, and who gets to do whatever they want?
NFT Royalties Part Urgh
File Under: NFTs, royalties
This week, the battle of fees and royalties led to two of the highest-volume NFT marketplaces continue a race to the bottom at cost of artists.
They both claim that it’s for the greater good, but it’s not. This caused substantial amount of discussion again on how to enforce or maintain secondary market royalties for NFTs that’s not just socially enforced.
Many creators are asking NFT platforms to merely just honor the royalties asked (whether it’s asked for off-chain or encoded on-chain in the smart contracts). And so, having to choose between the artists and traders (who bring the volume and thus money to the marketplaces), they are choosing the traders.
It’s frustrating and I don’t know whether creators have a strong enough voice such that the marketplaces must adapt or change. I think it’s a losing battle for platforms and less defensible over longer time. As an artist, it just makes one exasperated due to having to move platforms to ensure that the policies promote the artists and not the traders. It’s a trade-off that in time, hopefully, will remain pro-artist.
It does also mean that people are looking at Harberger taxed NFTs again (which I pioneered its usage of in 2019). It’s truly enforceable royalties in perpetuity, but at cost at changing how ownership of NFTs work. I don’t claim it’s THE answer, but it’s one answer.
Every few months this discussion pops up again. Glad to see more projects aiming to experiment with this model. Orb.land is a new one that ties the NFT to an utility.
Low Definition to High Definition using AI
Filed Under: ai, empowerment
One thing I always enjoyed about AI is its ability to ““enhance””. Here’s a smart use case in translating the pushing of buttons to what sounds like a decent attempt at playing the piano. I wonder what else is possible and could be made enjoyable by going from low definition into an approximate high-definition version?
GIFT - Gumball Garden
File Under: shoegaze, psychrock
This week’s tune that’s been on repeat is GIFT’s Gumball Garden.
Speaking of suspension of disbelief. I always find it incongruous when the feeling of the vibe of a song doesn’t match the lyrics. Gumball Garden is quite sad. It’s about loss.
Where’d you go?
Where’s all the people that I know?
Where’s all the people that I once loved?
I used to watch them come and go
Now I just sit here on my own
Well, I’d like to reject that reality and rather believe that it is a great summer song played in the sun. That’s after all what the southern hemisphere is currently great at and it’s where I’m spending my time the next few weeks!
Take care! Enjoy the sunset (real or virtual)!
Thanks for reading Scenes with Simon!