This week → Lonely surfaces ⊗ A community isn’t a garden, it’s a bar. ⊗ Degrowth can work ⊗ Unexceptional mammals ⊗ Set the stage for the next 1,000 years
This is the last issue of Sentiers for 2022, I’m taking a break and will be back on January 15th. There’s an extra little generative image at the end, happy holidays!
The second part of the title of this piece by L. M. Sacasas is “On AI-generated Images,” but I took it out in case some of you now skip over talk about generative AI. I believe Sacasas is pointing to something not often (or even at all?) seen in the debates on this topic, and because it connects to something broader with AI and connects to attention.
His main argument, built as he usually does by referring to multiple thinkers and ideas, is that there is a depth of meaning in art that is completely absent from generative AI. One can meditate on ‘real’ art, and one can encounter another person. He’s mostly right, the images are created, in a way, by averaging out, or by compressing thousands of images (or texts). In the process, they also compress meaning, but this compression doesn’t synthesize meaning, it removes it.
Then again, the more technically inclined among us might also find deeper value in generative art, by seeing patterns and errors, by trying to understand how and why mistakes happen, where some new thing emerges, etc. It’s not the same as encountering another person, but it’s encountering something other.
Then there’s this point, which I’ve made before for music and is largely valid for most AI: Trained as models are on millions or billions of pieces of data, they form a kind of average. If there is meaning, if there is an encounter with others in great art, then we don’t have it here. Yet even if automated music does not equal the peaks of human achievement, it might still be good enough for many (most?). Same with automatically written sports articles and high-school papers, same for much of MidJourney or DALL-E. Comparing best human with best algorithm is interesting, but that doesn’t necessarily predict impact.
Here I’d like to circle back to Sacasas’ piece I shared a couple of weeks ago, Reading as Counter-Practice, which was about regaining deep reading after our capacity for it has been blunted by information streams. Perhaps in those streams, and in those averaged out creations, we are threatening some artists’ livelihood, but perhaps we are also being distanced from true skills, talent, and meaning. Millions of us gain some basic abilities, but even more of us will also loose sight of what true craft looks like, obfuscated as it will be by ‘content’ created quickly and streamed even faster.
🤖 Summary AI-generated images have prompted debate about the nature and future of art, raising questions about labor, intellectual property, AI bias and the ethics of artistic borrowing and reproduction. This new form of art has the potential to restructure the complex techno-social ecosystem, but [there is a] tension with the human ability to coax new perspectives and meaning from the usual, unique lives.
On the contrary, Cohen concluded, “The desire of AI tools to meet expectations, to align with genres and familiar usage as their machine-learning array informs pixels and characters, is in tension with the human ability to coax new perspectives and meaning from the unusual, unique lives we each live.” […]
I recently wrote about how the skimming sort of reading that characterizes so much of our engagement with digital texts (and which often gets transferred to our engagement with analog texts) arises as a coping mechanism for the overwhelming volume of text we typically encounter on any given day. So, likewise, might we settle for a scanning sort of looking, one that is content to bounce from point to point searching but never delving thus never quite seeing. […]
When I turn to Bruegel or Rembrandt, what I find, whether or not I am fully conscious of it, is not merely technical virtuosity, it is another mind. To encounter a painting or a piece of music or poem is to encounter another person, although it is sometimes easy to lose sight of this fact.
Derek Powazek has been fostering online and in person communities for some decades now, and in this post he gives a great explanation of why communities are more like bars than like gardens. I’ve loved using cafés as a similar metaphor, a friend likes to talk about guests in your living room, but Derek is right, bars are a perfect fit.
Bars are loud and stupid, they have bartenders, they live within the law, they are diverse, and they are businesses (i.e. revenu that is not selling ads or asking for donations). There’s also a question of scale, we’ve been tricked into thinking all online communities need to have scale. Not so. Have a read.
The most obvious way an online community is like a bar is that bars serve alcohol, and alcohol makes people loud and stupid. It actually depresses your hearing, so you can’t hear yourself talk as well, so you speak louder. And a room full of people speaking louder means a very boisterous room. And of course, alcohol reduces inhibition, so you say things you might not usually say. […]
Bars are responsible for serving only so much alcohol per drink, not serving someone too intoxicated, not serving to anyone below a certain age. Keeping track of every drop of alcohol. And if they break any of these laws, they can be shut down permanently, owners can lose their license, people can go to jail. Why? Because alcohol is dangerous. With Facebook inciting genocide in Myanmar, mass shooters in America being radicalized online, the January 6 insurrection that was planned online, and nazis reinstated on Twitter, can anyone still claim that poorly managed social spaces are any less dangerous? […]
The important part is, each bar cultivates its own culture and you can’t walk in to a bar and expect it to be like every other bar you’ve ever been in. And the bars themselves come up with ways to differentiate themselves and reinforce these differences, some overt and some subtle.
Good piece in Nature, by a group of authors that includes Jason Hickel. It’s a topic I’ve covered before and which I believe is essential going forward. The authors cover quite a bit of ground, see the bot summary below for a quick glance. The mention of “obstacles” is important, it’s not addressed as often as other aspects, and they offer quite a few pertinent areas of investigation.
Two things: first, it’s hard to read all of this, then consider current ‘leaders,’ and not spend at least a few moments thinking that a change as massive as this sounds more like long term solarpunk fiction than anything currently doable. Second, I’m increasingly convinced that degrowth is entirely the wrong name and framing for this. Yes on all aspect of the outlined plan, but so many things would actually be upgraded, calling it degrowth focuses on the less enticing parts and on one number as much as ‘the other side’ is doing. Using their language, in other words. Or then let’s be clear and talk about degrowing the klept.
🤖 Summary Degrowth is an approach proposed by researchers in ecological economics which suggests that wealthy economies should scale down unnecessary production to reduce energy and material use, focus economic activity around human needs and wellbeing, and provide universal access to basic services. This would involve reducing production in destructive sectors such as fossil fuels, and introducing policies such as progressive taxation, universal public services, and redistribution of wealth. Research is needed to explore how this can be done, including examining the obstacles faced by governments and understanding the interests that could oppose or support degrowth.
Reduce less-necessary production. This means scaling down destructive sectors such as fossil fuels, mass-produced meat and dairy, fast fashion, advertising, cars and aviation, including private jets. At the same time, there is a need to end the planned obsolescence of products, lengthen their lifespans and reduce the purchasing power of the rich. […]
Economies today depend on growth in several ways. Welfare is often funded by tax revenues. Private pension providers rely on stock-market growth for financial returns. Firms cite projected growth to attract investors. Researchers need to identify and address such ‘growth dependencies’ on a sector-by-sector basis. […]
Growth is often treated as an arbiter of political success. Few leaders dare to challenge GDP growth. But public attitudes are changing. Polls in Europe show that the majority of people prioritize well-being and ecological objectives over growth. Polls in the United States and the United Kingdom show support for job guarantees and working-time reductions.
Unexceptional mammals → “We have this expectation that everything in biology must serve a purpose. It got selected. But I believe that doesn’t need to be the case. Most likely it got to be that way simply because variation is the rule. Diversity is the rule. It’s not physics. Biology is never 100% efficient, nor 100% effective.”
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → 🎥 Stop chasing utopia. Create "protopia" instead. Kevin Kelly on Big Think. He’s not critical enough of technology but still a fascinating character. Btw, I much prefer monika bielskyte’s take on Protopia. ⊗ 🎥 Also on Big Think, Ari Wallach, a futurist sets the stage for the next 1,000 years. He’s basically copying indigenous Seven generation sustainability without crediting, but still very good. ⊗ Forecasting Research Institute ⊗ The Future of Humanity in 2023: Predictions, Implications, and Solutions (written by GPT-3).
- 😍 🇲🇽 Villa Petricor by CO-LAB sits within a tropical garden in Tulum. “Named after the ‘earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil,’ the dwelling is meant to evoke feelings of renewal and stillness.”
- 🤯 🌊 🇨🇦 Can You Turn the Bay of Fundy’s High Tides into Clean Energy? “Canada’s Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world, with a difference between low and high tides reaching more than 50 feet in some areas. That’s a lot of water in motion.”
- 😍 🌗 🇺🇸 Some of the Best Moon & Earth Photos from NASA’s Artemis I Mission. “Over the weekend, NASA’s Artemis I mission returned from a 25-day trip to the Moon. The mission was a test-run of the rockets, systems, and spacecraft that will return humans to the surface of the Moon.”
- 🤩 🎶 🇨🇦 A bit of local awesome. Canadian art studio Daily tous les jours unveils sculptural series Daydreamer. “The contemporary benches combine music, light and design for a collective experience in public spaces.”
- 🌳 ⚡️ 💥 Against Catastrophe. “At the conclusion of a year that saw rockets screaming across the sky over Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, commitments to a 1.5° C target at COP27 dissipate while fossil fuel companies made record profits, and the trailer for a Hollywood blockbuster about Robert J. Oppenheimer debut with a live countdown to the 78th anniversary of the Trinity test, it seems particularly urgent to mobilize energies against catastrophe.”
- 😍 🗺 Vintage-Style Map of the Mandelbrot Set. “Bill Tavis designed this lovely vintage-style map of the familiar fractal shape, the Mandelbrot set.”
- 🥶 📸 Arctic Ice. “Integrating field data, remote satellite imagery, scientific analysis, and multimedia visual representation to document Arctic ice that is disappearing due to climate change, this artwork is the outcome of a four-year collaboration involving art, design, and polar science.” (Via nothing here.)
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