Newsletter No.264 — May 14, 2023

Will AI Become the New McKinsey? ⊗ Doug Rushkoff Is Ready to Renounce the Digital Revolution ⊗ Degrowth in Japan

Want to understand the world & imagine better futures?

Also this week → AI is reimagining the way we play role-playing games ⊗ The Biophilia Paradox ⊗ What I want from the internet ⊗ None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use

Will AI become the new McKinsey?

You might have seen this one by Ted Chiang for The New Yorker going around. I almost skipped over it for the newsletter and then went ahead and read it just in case. Excellent decision, I recommend highly that you do the same. He’s looking for a better metaphor for AI and proposes McKinsey, for the way they let executives escape accountability, just like AI does. Basically, going from “the consultants said so” to “the algorithm told us to.”

I’m not sure I love the metaphor but the rest is full of YES!! (And full of highlights, lots of highlights.) UBI, a good definition of capitalism, accelerationism, Luddites, futures, utopia, regulation, unions, GDP v quality of life, it’s all there. I’ve said a few times in the history of this newsletter that an article encapsulates Sentiers (I should track them!). With this piece, it’s more of a nexus that a lot of other topics circle around, it joins together a number of ideas making recurring appearances here.

This quote is one of my main takeaways; “Today, we find ourselves in a situation in which technology has become conflated with capitalism, which has in turn become conflated with the very notion of progress. If you try to criticize capitalism, you are accused of opposing both technology and progress.” Separating the three and re-defining what we consider as progress is one of the great projects we need to work on.

When I refer to capitalism, I’m not talking about the exchange of goods or services for prices determined by a market, which is a property of many economic systems. When I refer to capitalism, I’m talking about a specific relationship between capital and labor, in which private individuals who have money are able to profit off the effort of others. […]

It’s A.I.-supercharged corporations destroying the environment and the working class in their pursuit of shareholder value. Capitalism is the machine that will do whatever it takes to prevent us from turning it off, and the most successful weapon in its arsenal has been its campaign to prevent us from considering any alternatives. […]

Whenever anyone accuses anyone else of being a Luddite, it’s worth asking, is the person being accused actually against technology? Or are they in favor of economic justice? And is the person making the accusation actually in favor of improving people’s lives? Or are they just trying to increase the private accumulation of capital?[…]

We should all strive to be Luddites, because we should all be more concerned with economic justice than with increasing the private accumulation of capital. […]

Roughly speaking, taming capitalism means government regulation, and resisting capitalism means grassroots activism and labor unions. Are there ways for A.I. to strengthen those things? Is there a way for A.I. to empower labor unions or worker-owned coöperatives?

Algorithms, Automation, Augmentation → AI is tearing Wikipedia apart. “Volunteers who maintain the digital encyclopedia are divided on how to deal with the rise of AI-generated content and misinformation.” ⊗ Weird to feature these after the piece above but it is impressive stuff. First, a thread on Twitter with some incredible examples of output from the newly released Midjourney 5.1, then a big thread on how to write prompts to get good cinematic images, and finally another one looking at two days of new stuff from a week ago. And all of that was pre-GoogleIO.

Doug Rushkoff is ready to renounce the digital revolution

We’re both GenX and both disillusioned with tech so it’s not a big surprise that I’m in a similar spot as Rushkoff; done with excusing tech, very much done with fawning, and realising that the answers lie elsewhere. Malcolm Harris for WIRED interviews Rushkoff but also goes over all the books and documentaries he authored to show the evolution, born from evidence, he has gone through over the last few decades, some of the people who have stuck with techno-optimism, and an increasing focus on economics and inequality as background, context, and backbone to tech.

“I find, a lot of times, digital technologies are really good at exacerbating the problem while also camouflaging the problem. They make things worse while making it look like something’s actually changed.” […]

“Money was a great feedback loop and positive reinforcer,” he continues, “because the more dehumanizing you make the tech, the more money you make.” To his horror, Rushkoff saw that the once renegade web was pushing people toward predictability and conformism. His utopian Cyberia had been betrayed by monopolists seeking to recentralize control. […]

The Mindset, which roughly translates to “the way Silicon Valley technocrats think.” The Mindset is about a strategy of acceleration without a destination. It’s about blowing up humanity’s corpus of existing knowledge in favor of something—anything—new. […]

“Like the consumer-driven, growth-based capitalism on which The Mindset is premised, these solutions usually involve finding new resources, exploiting them, selling them, and then disposing of them so more can be mined, manufactured, and sold.” […]

“Buy local, engage in mutual aid, and support cooperatives. Use monopoly law to break up anticompetitive behemoths, environmental regulation to limit waste, and organized labor to promote the rights of gig workers. Reverse tax policy so that those receiving passive capital gains on their wealth pay higher rates than those actively working for their income.”

Degrowth in Japan

Nathan Gardels, editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine, spoke to Kohei Saito about degrowth in Japan, some history, the thinking of Kojin Karatani, as well as some Marx and Illitch thrown in for good measure. Basically comes down to considering our disconnect from nature, the commodification of everything, capitalism everywhere, and our obsession with GDP, which, as we know, doesn’t really track to happiness or standard of living. Shared here in case you didn’t know Saito either, and because it attaches the thinking of various people to themes covered here before but not always with a historical or philosophical context. Also note that although Japan is in degrowth, it’s more the size than the kind that’s changing, they are still consuming way too many resources per capita, like all the ‘developed’ countries.

For Saito, only a steady-state economy that foregoes the relentless reach for more growth and recovers the natural world as a public commons can mend the rift Marx identified. This reading would place the old master thinker of the Industrial Revolution in the ranks of later “era of limits” apostles such as Ivan Illich. The self-described archeologist of modern certitudes preached the “virtue of enoughness” and contrasted the convivial interdependence of social and natural relations with the ideology that perpetually contrives new markets by transmuting wants and desires into “needs.” […]

“We’re preoccupied with GDP ranking and growth, but GDP is a poor measure of a nation’s well-being and happiness,” Saito says. “Here in Japan, we have delicious food, the world’s longest lifespans, safe streets, and excellent public transportation, not to mention the considerable attractions of our culture and art. These assets aren’t reflected in GDP. The adoption of value indicators unrelated to GDP would be a positive step toward degrowth by itself.” […]

Like Illich, Saito warns against the illusion that humans can escape the limits of our condition through a technological fix that somehow accommodates both “sustainability” and “development.” Inexorably, technology harnessed to the logic of GDP growth only further propels and accelerates the ruinous course we are already on, not departs from it.

AI is reimagining the way we play role-playing games

Seems like AI is not only coming for your job, it’s also coming for your hobbies, in this case dungeon-mastering D&D games. I’m kidding, kind of. Intriguing interview with Hilary Mason about her new startup which aims to create narrative-based games with ever-changing experiences for players. Based on public domain IP or partnerships with creators, a certain set of rules and ‘lore’ is turned into an interactive role-playing game.

The rules for the world are established by the IP owner and created in collaboration with the game designer and Hidden Door's writers. "We basically try to give them the ability to say, in this world, this must happen. This character should always be this way. And then, we use the generative bits to fill in the blanks in a way that is consistent with that."

The Biophilia Paradox “We humans should be living a little more densely, to give nature more space away from us. Meanwhile, to satisfy our biophilia, we should be designing more nature into these denser human environments — using everything from an increased number of street-plants to town parks to “living walls” on houses, and buildings that use more natural materials. You see a lot of this visioneering in the solarpunk movement, and I think they’re onto something.”

What I want from the internet Christopher Butler with the perfect follow-up to last week’s The internet isn’t meant to be so small by Kelsey McKinney, which he also expands on. “Pockets of life within the propped-up corpse of the internet might be it. It may be the best we get. But I’d prefer to be more optimistic than that. I’d like to think that those of us living on in small ways inside this thing have a collective, good reason to keep it alive. I’d like to think that what’s happening in here can spread and once again reach the surface.”

None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use It’s probably worse than you think. “The distance between today’s industrial systems and truly sustainable industrial systems — systems that do not spend down stored natural capital but instead integrate into current energy and material flows — is not one of degree, but one of kind.”

Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → Service Design YAP meets Tobias Revell. “Tobias is a fantastic storyteller, with deep experience in multidisciplinary design and our conversation covers topics ranging from how to establish and grow a successful speculative design team, to tips for new designers looking to network.” ⊗ FutureCast, “a game exploring the pathways of change… will help you and your team explore risks and opportunities in an election context by engaging various stakeholders in thought-provoking and inclusive discussion.” ⊗ If you’re new to science fiction, start with the ABCs, “read short stories from the giants.”


  • The Sample has proven useful for me to find excellent newsletters, if you sign-up here to try it out, it also helps to get Sentiers in front of more people.
  • 🛸 ✉️ 😍 😍 Vintage Postcards From the Future, The Work of Frank Moth. “They’ve succeeded very well, creating a treasure trove of art and imagery, often collage in nature, which blends past and future in memorable ways.”
  • 🛸 🎥 🤩 Tour the Bridges of All of Star Trek’s Starships Enterprise. “Drawing from the materials of The Roddenberry Archive, this video takes us on a virtual tour of the 3D rendered bridges of every iteration of the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek, from the original 1964 sketches to the final scenes of Star Trek: Picard.”
  • 💍 🎥 🤩 100% with Jason on this, including the brain part. The Whimsical Fellowship, Wes Anderson’s Lord of the Rings. “I know, I know. Too much Wes Anderson. Too much AI. But there is something in my brain, a chemical imbalance perhaps, and I can't help but find this reimagining of the Lord of the Rings in Anderson's signature style funny and charming. Sorry but not sorry.”
  • 🎶 🎧 🎥 😃 I’ve been listening to Lofi Girl’s Chill Synthwave for a couple of weeks now (and various variations on the format), so I’m definitely going to read Hugh Garry’s Formats Unpacked: Lofi Girl and Nissan’s Enjoy the Powerfully Peaceful ARIYA is pretty much a commercial but also a fun homage. (Both via Story|things.)
  • 🛠 ✍🏼 Is Repair the Future of Design? In her new book, Katie Treggiden “suggests that we don’t need to make new products at all – but instead can keep objects in use by repairing them to extend their lifespan and evolve their use case.”
  • 🌌 ⚫️ 😱 🇺🇸 MIT Astronomers Detect Black Hole Devouring a Star. “The event was spotted in infrared data — also a first — suggesting further searches in this band could turn up more such bursts.”
  • 🗺 📚 🤩 The site itself is so-so, but it features a great collection of endpaper maps (you know, the maps at the end of books). (Via Meanwhile.)