Painting from the public sewer – pathetic humans seek clout through plagiarizing robots

Image by Rod Long

By Scott Thomas Anderson

Lately there have been some barbed headlines from satire sites pointing a mirror at society. Of course, the original gangsters of this edgy writing style work at The Onion. They haven’t lost a step, either, producing such gems as “Sun thought pasty fuck learned his lesson last summer” and “138 dead as loud sneeze startles NRA meeting.” However, the wordsmiths behind The Onion recently came up with some lines that hit a little too close to home for our culture at the moment. Or they should, at least. It started with their headline that went, “Guy who sucks at being a person sees huge potential in A.I.”

It’s a beautifully constructed sentence, but the writers weren’t done. They added a paragraph of analytic if blunt text below, which was meant to sound like television news copy.

“After spending the past three decades of his life totally unable and unwilling to engage in any meaningful way with the world around him, James Parker, a local guy who sucks at being a person, told reporters Thursday that he saw huge potential in A.I. ‘While it’s still in its early phase, artificial intelligence will one day accomplish things that humans could have never dreamed of doing,’ said Parker, who, by all accounts, has never stretched himself to do something he found difficult; has never created anything truly original; and, deep down, has absolutely zero understanding of what makes things good, enjoyable or rewarding. ‘Just yesterday, I asked an A.I. program to write an entire sci-fi novel for me, and [as someone who will die an empty shell of a man who wasted his life doing nothing for the world, and, perhaps, should never have been born] I was super impressed.’”

Not long after reading that, I watched a self-proclaimed film animator make an ass out of himself on Twitter. It seemed like he was trying to score points with, or get attention from, the cadre of tech-utopians on the platform by showing an animated scene that he’d instructed A.I. to generate. With virtually no hint of self-awareness, the supposed animator started gushing about how A.I. had helped him create this animation in ways he’d never thought were possible. This turned out to be one of the few moments that I found the raw venom of Twitter to be an absolute delight. The reply guys (and gals) started opening fire. Most of the truth projectiles aimed at him involved how inventively bankrupt and thoroughly mediocre he’d revealed himself to be by implying there was an ounce of original soul in his efforts – or that he’d done anything other than ask a super-intelligence to dip its ladle into a murky soup of stolen voices and stolen ideas, and then hurtled the mix onto his social media wall like a splat of diarrhea that came from a public sewer.

The fact that A.I. relentlessly scrapes the vast archive of humanity – not in ways that learn from, or are inspired by, those who have reached the farthest, but instead shallowly mimic and plagiarize them – was brought home this week by a lawsuit against ChatGPT by the comedian Sarah Silverman. Along with several authors, Silverman is suing ChatGPT for copyright infringement on her book.

Her lawyer explained it to the Associated Press like this:

“Millions of copyrighted books, articles, essays and poetry provide the ‘food’ for A.I. systems, endless meals for which there has been no bill. You’re spending billions of dollars to develop AI technology. It is only fair that you compensate us for using our writings, without which A.I. would be banal and extremely limited.”

No one gave OpenA.I. or any other Silicon Valley start-up permission to suddenly throw all intellectual property law out the window as they make billions of dollars through anti-human parlor tricks that they pimp as “revolutionary progress.” Of course, this is a specific legal issue. The broader phenomenon of people who are lazy failures of lifeforms suddenly attempting to appear creatively ambitious through A.I.’s uncanny valley of intellectual property theft is going to be widespread soon. It’s already happening. Just remember that their “creations” didn’t even come out of the uncanny valley, they came out of the uncanny sewer – and individuals acting this way online should be treated like anyone you’d encounter who just willfully swam through a sewer because their pre-A.I. life in the gutter just wasn’t low enough.   

*This is an opinion piece from the Editor of Sacramento News & Review. Scott Thomas Anderson is also the writer and producer of the crime documentary podcast “Trace of the Devastation,” as well as “Drinkers with Writing Problems,” a podcast about travel, culture and libations.

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