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Will AI comedians keep us in a prison of comfort and consumption?
We are living in incredible times! It is already such a tiring phrase and I think it’s true, but it has been overused to the point of nausea. But oh well, I guess that’s the price you pay when you’re living in a hinge period between, most of human history, and the next big leap of the human experiment.
Also, because of the polycrisis (this means many crises piled together doesn’t mean when your polycule finds out you've been seeing another polycule on the side) more and more people are feeling dissatisfied with their lives, with the condition of the world and overall a malaise of negativity and despair, which in turn is great news for the entertainment industry.
I’m sad, feed me content.
It is nothing new to say that the rise of technology has given us more entertainment that we could consume in many lifetimes. And that’s kind of a depressing thought for me when I was in my teen years when I realized that the amount of good films, good songs, and good books out there in the world, is so much that in one human lifetime there isn’t enough time to consume and appreciate it all.
But besides my teenage angst there is some truth to it, with so much offer out there, how can we be able to consume all the things that we will enjoy. Or have time to explore new and interesting things, that we are not yet aware of, imagine how sad a life would be if you had never listened to your favorite song until your deathbed, or if you live your life without reading that book that made you cry like no other.
Also looking at it from a business perspective there are incentives on how different entertainment companies and platforms can keep you engaged with their product or service and a key way of doing that is through recommendation engines.
Yeah from the sidebar on a youtube video, a “what to watch next” on Netflix or the ads Google throws at you based on your browser history, ( or on what you say while your phone is Listening) recommendation Engines are everywhere. And they are probably one of the most powerful force in the digital economy, because based on them, is how most companies offer you new products, or new content to keep you engaged in their app, or buying from their platform.
So it is only natural that most of these recommendation engines are backed by machine learning and AIs so it's interesting to think, just how much of what we enjoy at this point is due to our personal preferences or formed and molded by external machines telling us what we might enjoy to keep us stuck on an app or to keep us buying from that online clothing store that has that cute outfit you love so much.
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Personally I don’t see it as such a bad thing before most human taste was built by a very limited based of experiences and heavily determined by culture, language and other factors of the immediate surroundings of us, so now I think with the globalization of culture and the integration of recommendation engines we are just expanding our possibilities and chances of finding great art that will move us or entertainment that will keep us satisfied.
But what about now?
With the current rise of generative AI content that we have seen in the recent months it shows us a somewhat picture of things to come. Besides the legal and copyright issues we can see how people are using AI art for so many creative endeavors, from video game design, to 3d animation and traditional animation enhancing their production output with the help of AI tools.
And we are also seeing the first experiments of completely AI generated content from writing to voice acting in the twitch stream, Watch me Forever a fully AI written parody of Seinfeld (It’s a show about nothing Jerry!) And even though the humor is inconsistent, the voices don’t have too much inflection since they are also AI-generated it’s a never-ending stream of plots in one of a couple of different locations with the main characters.
And this might just be a fun experiment of people playing with these tools but we can just see how in the coming years AI created content is going to flood the internet sooner rather than later we will see movies, TV shows, podcasts, and almost all types of human creative content and art will be created, replicated ,and remixed by some type of AI with or without the assistance of humans probably.
Considering the effectiveness of recommendations engines that we have seen today and how it shapes our lives. It's kinda dangerous if we extrapolate from past experiences. We have seen how recommendations in social media websites can lead people down the path of political radicalization just because the main metric for most of these platforms is engagement. Regardless if it's positive discussion about a topic within a community, or if it's harassment or engineered outrage, because someone uploaded an infuriating video and the algorithm knows you’ll hate and comment.
So we know from past experience when these machine learning algorithms can recommend us not in a positive direction but towards the things that infuriate us or lead people down a dark path. What the future is going to look like when these recommendation engines become ever so increasing in complexity and in its effectiveness. If we don’t have an understanding and clear ethical development of good AI-based systems we are just going to repeat the mistakes of the past in an amplified manner.
We know the power of fake news to spread at amazing speeds compared to real news, we know that these recommendation algorithms are in the business of engagement not of teaching or instructing its users in proper and real information. So taking this into account let’s just add into the equation the factor of generative AIs that can pump out content.
The Perfect Pipeline of Indoctrination
Imagine this, in a not so distant future we might have content being constantly pumped by AIs catered to a specific audience (for example young teenage girls with insecurities about their weight) These AIs are fed with a large enough dataset of the current trends that the youth is consuming in online content regardless of the medium, and then the AI creates a whole slew of different accounts starts creating and uploading content at a rate no human could possibly do and starts releasing it into the internet.
Let’s say at first is just for entertainment purposes to gather an audience, but ever so slightly it starts changing the tone the language used the images in its videos to incentivize a specific behavior (increased consumption of a product, or elicit a specific emotion with its audience) and it could be hired by different organizations, companies, groups to drive the attention and the mindset of entire segments of the population with an effectiveness that we have never seen before due to the complexity of these recommendation engines alongside the generative AIs creating the content. And you could argue if its one account but what stops a system like this to create a slew of accounts and just flood an entire service with content distinct enough but with the same core message.
The WALL-E Scenario
On the other hand we can assume in a not so distant future, we have many complex AI systems capable of catering content to our needs and desires. What if the AI becomes so proficient at analyzing, evaluating and creating content that is specifically for your tastes.
Imagine the perfect comedy show made just for you with the right amount of slapstick or puns that you watch every episode and you think it’s the most hilarious thing ever, then what if there was na AI capable of creating an ENDLESS number of episodes of that show, and the more you watch it the more it learns from you from your likings and adapts. What if it then becomes a “perfect” show, something that is so entertaining and captivating for your needs that stimulates your brain in just the right way to keep you on the edge of your seat, to keep you constantly engaged with content that is always new, that is always great, that is always PERFECT.
Probably by the time these systems are good enough to be creating almost in real time content for you (or with a small buffer) imagine a system such as this in a virtual reality headset what incentives beside biological functions will a lot of people have? Going outside or staying in and enjoying a perfectly tailored virtual world or the perfect show, the perfect video game, the perfect experience made just for you. It’s better than any skinner box, this is the Skinner prison. A place where humanity can be perfectly docile and comfortable feeling happy and entertained ignoring the outside world completely.
The Path Towards a Skinner Prison
As technology has developed in the past years we saw the rise of recommendation engines and are now witnessing the wave of generative AI content. These developments offer opportunities to expand our tastes and increase productivity in creative industries. There are also risks of more and more people becoming trapped in algorithmic bubbles or falling prey to harmful recommendations. We need to be prioritizing the ethical and responsible development of these systems.
Now, I don’t think a scenario such as this will come true anytime soon and it doesn’t seem also very plausible to consider until that much of an extreme case. But it is something to take into consideration in the coming years when we start seeing more and more AI art being used and implemented in the creation of entertainment. Now I don’t blame the industry for it’s inevitable use of AI, it's a more cost-effective solution to a lot of the costs of hiring humans for so many tasks that can be automated, so hopefully these tools become a way for democratizing creativity into the hands and brains of more people creating alongside AI beautiful things. And not the creation of a perfect system for the Arrested development of humankind. Trapped like human cattle in Virtual worlds that are so comfortable and entertaining we never want to leave.