OpenAI gave away the entire game ⊗ Building the world for everyone ⊗ Breathing with the forest

No.312 — What does progress look like on a planet at its limit? ⊗ How to implement foresight in organisations ⊗ The surprising power of small, locally run AI

OpenAI gave away the entire game ⊗ Building the world for everyone ⊗ Breathing with the forest
“LiDAR image” of the Amazon forest, made with Midjourney.

OpenAI just gave away the entire game

It’s likely that you’ve seen the hubhub over OpenAI and Scarlett Johansson’s voice, and a lot has already been written about it. It’s still worth sharing a few of the better takes because it’s also a giant blinking arrow pointing to repeated behaviour from the industry. The link above is to Charlie Warzel’s piece in The Atlantic, where he highlights OpenAI’s relentless pursuit of AI advancement, regardless of ethical concerns or consent. He argues that they are driven by a sense of entitlement in shaping society’s future. His piece underscores the power dynamics at play, where a small group dictates technological progress with little regard for societal implications or individual rights.

In his newsletter, Brian Merchant shows that for tech CEOs, the dystopia is the point. CEOs like Musk, Altman, and Zuckerberg use dystopian references to market their products, turning them into “useful dystopias.” Offering both the fear of the nightmare and the “solution.” They draw inspiration from sci-fi films like Blade Runner and Ready Player One to promote their technologies, framing consumers as the protagonists in bleak yet weirdly aspirational futures. By leveraging popular cultural narratives, these CEOs elevate their products’ appeal while embodying a self-serving, us-against-the-world mentality.

Starting from the same incident, Sasha Luccioni (who was also very insightful in both of her appearances at C2 Montreal 2025 this week, btw) focuses on the fact that it’s perfectly in line with past examples of how tech has a problem with objectifying women. Going back to Lenna Forsten as the default standard to test image compression algorithms or now to “testing the performance of AI models [by] putting on makeup on images of women, or swapping out their clothing from jeans to miniskirts and back.” Gender and race issues are well documented and have been proven time and time again, yet developers keep using “traditionally attractive young nubile woman” as their examples and ‘forgetting’ to ask for permission on anything.

Finally, John Gruber points to a piece by Nitasha Tiku, reporting for The Washington Post, showing that OpenAI hired a voice actress before reaching out to ScarJo. Doesn’t really change much, except the approach when they get sued ;-).

All these takes are good and useful. The bottom line to remember is that this is a clear as day example of the Torment Nexus and how tech ‘leaders’ take it upon themselves to break any ethical or common sense barriers so that their pet grossly misunderstood fiction wet dream may be brought into the world.

At the core of these deflections is an implication: The hypothetical superintelligence they are building is too big, too world-changing, too important for prosaic concerns such as copyright and attribution. The Johansson scandal is merely a reminder of AI’s manifest-destiny philosophy: This is happening, whether you like it or not. […]

This is the unvarnished logic of OpenAI. It is cold, rationalist, and paternalistic. That such a small group of people should be anointed to build a civilization-changing technology is inherently unfair, they note. And yet they will carry on because they have both a vision for the future and the means to try to bring it to fruition. Wu’s proposition, which he offers with a resigned shrug in the video, is telling: You can try to fight this, but you can’t stop it. Your best bet is to get on board.

[From Merchant’s piece.] By attaching the new product to a popular speculation, especially one with built-in dramatic tension, the founders can elevate a buggy, unproven, or partially conceived technology into the cultural firmament, even if only briefly. It’s a cheat code, a way of getting us to relate to a future that’s already been culturally prototyped, and it can be quite successful.

Building the world for everyone

The small Antistatic studio is one of my favourites, they create thoughtful work and quirky internal projects like their yearly Print Objects. Here with the article version of the intro to More Zeros and Ones: Digital Technology, Maintenance and Ethics in Aotearoa New Zealand, where they highlight the importance of building a world that is inclusive and equitable for everyone, including in digital technology. We need to address biases and systemic issues in the design and deployment of digital systems to ensure they serve all users.

I’ve often seen the 80/20 rule used on various topics. It’s not always (seldom?) exact but is a useful heuristic. In this case, they argue that most digital products are made for “the center of the bell curve,” 80 percent of the population, but that we can’t forget about the other 20%. The Pendergrasts also end with a bit of a burn on futurists* and offer their own excellent three questions to ask when thinking about the future.

* I’m somewhat surprised how often “futurist” is used in a derogatory way to mean something like ‘raving techno-optimists selling tech-based fake utopias.’ I don’t really use the term for myself but in my thinking it’s definitely more ‘someone who practices a structured process of defining potential futures’ than the previous. Something to think about.

To build a world that sustains both future generations and the land that nurtures us, we also have to care for the present. This means doing the tough and unglamorous work of identifying where existing systems aren’t working for – or are actively working against – the people they claim to serve, and then fixing these systems and changing the way things are built. […]

But in reality, technology is made by people and is the product of human systems. No technology is an inevitability. It is only through the actions of many people over time that software, hardware and infrastructures are built. […]

What is working well now, and how do we maintain it to serve us in the future?
What is harming us now, and how do we dismantle or change it?
What is missing now, and what can we build to fill the gap?

More → I added that piece and one from last week on slides/parks for teenagers in my little collection, cities for someone, cities for everyone. Have a look.

Breathing with the forest

Beautifully animated web version of a striking art installation. “After conducting extensive ecological surveys of the area, the team photographed and performed several 360° LiDAR scans, which informed this three-dimensional representation of the variety, density, and distribution of plant life in this part of the forest. Ambisonic field recordings captured the voices of the animals and the sounds of the wind, trees, and water.” Shows the entanglement and incredible symbiosis between plants, animal, and fungi.

We imagine ourselves as sealed-off individuals, but we are inextricably embedded in a web of life. Our bodies are porous, suffused with the world around us, home to thousands of microscopic symbiotic inhabitants; with each breath, we exchange parts of ourselves with the wider world. Our connection with trees is particularly intimate—oxygen they exhale flows into our lungs and through our blood, coursing from the heart outward through fractal-like branching arteries to feed every cell in our bodies. […]

The rainforest is a place that dissolves the borders we construct around the self. When we look closely at the web of interconnected, symbiotic relationships sharing nutrients, light, and breath, we discover that our idea of separation between one being and the next is an illusion.

More → Another art project reflecting on nature and our place within it, here’s a conversation with Jessica Charlesworth and Tim Parsons about their project Equal Coexistence and More-Than-Human Forms in Multispecies Inc.

§ What does progress look like on a planet at its limit? “As the biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus reminds us, a tree keeps growing only up to the point that it is still capable of sending nutrients to the leaves at the outermost tips of its branches, at which point it stops. Its pursuit of growth is bounded by a greater goal of distributing and circulating the resources that nurture and sustain the health of its whole being.” And “in the place of endless growth we seek a dynamic balance, one that aims to meet the essential needs of every person while protecting the life-supporting systems of our planetary home.”

Futures, Fictions & Fabulations

How new science fiction could help us improve AI
“Recognizing the influence that popular narratives have on our collective perceptions, a growing number of AI and computer science experts now want to harness fiction to help imagine futures in which algorithms don’t destroy the planet. The arts and humanities, they argue, must play a role to ensure AI serves human goals.”

Engineering needs more futurists
I kind of agree with the sentiment but, as we see above with OpenAI, most engineers are lacking people from the humanities, not more thinking about scifi. “We need big ideas, future-focused thinking with the foresight to transform how we live, work, and play—a visionary mindset embraced and advanced by engineers who leverage R&D to solve problems and activate discoveries. We need a different attitude from that of the consummate practitioners we typically imagine ourselves to be. We need the mindset of the futurist.”

Futures Seminar #18: How to implement foresight in organisations
“To gain a better understanding of how organisations are effectively leveraging foresight, we’ve conducted a series of qualitative interviews with foresight practitioners from eight diverse organisations. Based on our interviews, we published a whitepaper that encapsulates the key takeaways from these interviews, supplemented by our extensive practical experience in advising organisations on this subject.”

Algorithms, Automations & Augmentations

Phi-3 shows the surprising power of small, locally run AI language models
Microsoft coming out with interesting stuff. “How did Microsoft cram a capability potentially similar to GPT-3.5, which has at least 175 billion parameters, into such a small model? Its researchers found the answer by using carefully curated, high-quality training data they initially pulled from textbooks. ‘The innovation lies entirely in our dataset for training, a scaled-up version of the one used for phi-2, composed of heavily filtered web data and synthetic data.’

David Mattin with “a special video update on the state of AI”
“Why GPT-4o is OpenAI’s play for billions of users, and for a virtual companion that weaves itself through the fabric of everyday life. Where we are inside the amazing AI moment we’re living through, and what’s coming next, including a path to AGI. How this all connects to the Great Enweirdening of the economy that I believe is coming”

Humane is looking for a buyer after the AI Pin’s underwhelming debut
Exactly what I expected, just quite a bit faster. “Humane, the startup behind the poorly-reviewed AI Pin wearable computer, is already hunting for a potential buyer for its business. That’s according to a report from Bloomberg, which says the company — led by former longtime Apple employees Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno — is ‘seeking a price of between $750 million and $1 billion.’”


  • 🌈 ☀️ ♻️ Femtosecond Lasers Solve Solar Panels’ Recycling Issue. “Using a femtosecond laser, the researchers welded together solar panel glass without the use of polymers such as ethylene vinyl acetate. These glass-to-glass precision welds are strong enough for outdoor solar panels, and are better at keeping out corrosive moisture, the researchers say.”
  • 👏🏼 🏢 🪵 🇨🇭 They even look good. Demountable timber housing for 370 refugees - using no concrete at all. “A building that had to be erected quickly and which could also be taken down within ten years: these were the criteria for the Rigot Collective Dwelling Centre, a two-building complex providing housing for 370 refugees in Rigot Park in Geneva, Switzerland.”
  • 😍 🖨️ ⌛️ 🎥 Includes a short doc by Anthony Bourdain. Slow Publishing With Arion Press. “San Francisco’s Arion Press still uses decades-old machines to make beautiful books by hand. They’re one of the few remaining presses in the world that do everything from start to finish — they even cast their own type.”
  • 🔭 🗑️ 🤦🏼‍♂️ 🤬 Humans be humaning. There Is Too Much Trash in Space. “Space should not be a garbage dump. Nevertheless, we have treated the sky as a wrecker’s yard for more than half a century, and the amount of space junk orbiting Earth has skyrocketed in recent years. Now filled with the decaying hulks of defunct rockets and satellites, our polluted orbital environment is becoming more crowded by the day, threatening the growing space economy. It’s time for nations—and the billionaires commoditizing space—to clean up Earth’s near orbit.
  • 🎶 🍷 ☠️ 🇺🇸 🇩🇪 Too much lead in the cheap wine he drank! Locks of Beethoven’s Hair Offer New Clues to the Mystery of His Deafness. “Beethoven’s hair also had arsenic levels 13 times what is normal and mercury levels that were 4 times the normal amount. But the high amounts of lead, in particular, could have caused many of his ailments, Dr. Jannetto said.”
  • 🌊 💸 🇺🇸 One for the ‘entirely expected’ file. Homeowners Face Rising Insurance Rates Amid Costly Climate Change Disasters “As climate change produces more extreme weather, insurers are losing money, even in states with low hurricane and wildfire danger. Across the country, insurers are facing more bad years than good years. If this trend continues, it could destabilize the broader economy.”

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