This week → Theses on the techlash ⊗ Towards growing peaches online ⊗ Invasive Diffusion: How one unwilling illustrator found herself turned into an AI model ⊗ Dall-E, Jacques Ellul and technique as self-service ⊗ Vanguard Estates
A year ago → A favourite in issue No.195 was The future of AI is a conversation with a computer by James Vincent.
If you are not specifically interested in the topic of the techlash, this long essay at LibrarianShipwreck might initially feel a bit too much about the semantic and short history of the word, but stick with it. Z.M.L quite clearly considers the rise of techlash, who it came from, who does the lashing, who receives it, and more importantly how it relates to the excesses of big tech and how the term has been coopted.
To summarise; techlash has become a complaint from big tech where they pose as victims, and is often ‘perpetrated’ by former tech workers like Tristan Harris. The result is that techlash doesn’t represent a movement, it just represents a dissatisfaction, and the main discourse, which has been “captured and controlled by those who remain loyal to Silicon Valley’s underlying faith in itself,” only propose the ‘solution’ of excusing past mistake and trusting that the same people won’t do it again while being the ones to trust with fixing their mistakes.
It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. My first thought was to sports, where former players fill most of the commentary seats, often only too happy to excuse things because “that’s just the way it is,” only to turn a blind eye to many an issue. But really, it’s also the same in politics and finance, or finance in politics, with rotating doors between the two and a lot of the critiques coming from former insiders. There can be value in their insights, but we and the media should look more often to the people who actually study and thoughtfully critiques these fields, not just to every ‘ex this and ex that’ who has an opinion.
Despite what its name might suggest, the “techlash” is an oddly technophilic response to technological problems, it preserves the love for the underlying technologies by directing all of the blame at a handful of companies that are charged with mishandling the adored technologies. Which is why it is important to remember that the “tech” in “techlash” doesn’t actually stand for “technology.” […]
There has been no real need to assign a name to the participants in the “techlash,” because the “techlash” doesn’t refer to specific people but refers to a widely distributed attitude throughout the larger society. […]
Instead of accepting genuine accountability, showing true remorse, and taking the sorts of steps that might be necessary to prevent causing future harms, the “techlash” protects the companies from having to really change—for the “techlash” makes it so that the companies are not the guilty perpetrators that need to change, but the aggrieved victims who have done nothing wrong. […]
There are a lot of great tech critics out there (a group that includes many activists and academics), and many of those excellent critics were trying to sound the alarm about the actions of the tech companies back when the folks in The Social Dilemma were actively creating those alarming things, but few of these critics have been elevated to the same stature as the former tech employees turned critic. […]
Thus, justified anger and concern over how algorithms reinforce inequality, the destructive materiality of digital devices, the intrusion of surveillance into ever more corners of daily life, the exploitation of often unseen workers—all of these things (and many, many more) simply get grouped together, and dismissed of, as part of the “techlash.”
Another one of those great pieces by Claire L. Evans where she mixes nature and computing, and architecture in this case. Here she looks at Parisian peach orchards (I had no idea!) and interweaves that with “what the British architect Christopher Alexander famously called the ‘quality without a name.’”
Evans then dives deeper into Alexander’s pattern language, his influence on coding, how, according to him, software has a responsibility to heal the planet and enrich human life, and a side trip to a distributed web of care and the example of Are.na as an a rare online place with that “quality without a name.”
Two things. First, just like the idea of “mother nodes” I’ve mentioned a few times but haven’t written enough about, I think Evans is onto something with these parallels with/lessons from nature. Second, I had a bit of déjà vu reading this, where programmers grasp onto something and draw inspiration from it… without catching the underlying lessons and moral of the work. (See most of Silicon Valley v scifi.)
Software has a responsibility to heal the planet and enrich human life, he told them. “Computers play a fundamental role in making the world—and above all the built structure of the world—alive, humane, ecologically profound, and with a deep living structure,” he said. […]
[W]e’re surrounded with elegant code that does harm: programmatic advertising, or the outrage-amplifying algorithms of social media. […]
“To stand in these places is to stand in a place where desire was met. Where for a moment, something that was yours was carved out of the ugly body of online corporate games culture,” they write. “Like building a fort in the woods between the highway and the mall.” […]
We talk a lot about how platforms corrupt our ability to focus, think critically, or connect with others. But Are.na is an example of the way a small, conscientiously-designed platform can do the opposite. Tending to my channels is like building a home as I inhabit it: the process unfolds over time and changes my relation to the outside world. “The goal is not self-improvement,” a footer on the Are.na homepage reads. “The goal is engaging more deeply with the World.”
Synthetic media (generative AI?) keeps making incredible leaps in the quality of renders and ease of use of its tools. Andy Baio tried Stable Diffusion with DreamBooth to find out how easy it is and spoke to both a copied artists and the coder who created the model copying her, to get their thinking around this most recent generation of tools. Baio also trains DreamBooth on 30 images of himself and gets frankly astonishing results representing him in various styles.
Reading the Reddit thread, his stance on the ethics seemed to border on fatalism: the technology is inevitable, everyone using it is equally culpable, and any moral line is completely arbitrary. […]
Ultimately, he thinks many of the objections to it are a misunderstanding of how it works: it’s not a form of collage, it’s creating new images and clearly transformative, more like “trying to recall a vivid memory from your past.”
More → Matt Haughey tried the same combination of tools and provides more technical details and a lot more stylistic variations. Make sure to check out his second batch of experiments, incredible.
+ Randomly, a few minutes later on things magazine I bumped into this, which I quite love: “AI is the real grey goo; what will be overwhelmed first is not physical space but cultural space”
+ Finally, a couple more things on generative AI (haven’t read those yet). Why ‘generative AI’ is suddenly on everyone’s lips and Sequoia’s Sonya Huang: Generative AI hype “absolutely justified”.
Dall-E, Jacques Ellul and technique as self-service → “The rise of the User can be interpreted as the return of the Amateur. To put it in Ellul’s terms: a User is an Amateur empowered by direct access to the best Technique. Software has removed the Technician as the gatekeeper of the best known method. … A Designer was a Craftsperson; now many operate as Technicians. Tomorrow, with access to the latest software, Users are Designers too.”
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → Vanguard Estates, Rose Eveleth’s first fiction-first project. “The story follows a character as they navigate decisions with and for their aging father. Should they let robots care for him? How do you pay for care? How do you explain technology to a parent who might not understand? All that and more!” ⊗ Living with soft dragons: between science fiction and human-computer interaction ⊗ This loooong list looks fantastic, Decolonising Utopia. ⊗ Insights From Our ‘2022 Metaverse Fashion Trends’ Report (by Roblox and The New School at Parsons). ⊗ A report by Foresight Factory, Consumer Trends 2023.
- 👉🏼 🌍 🗓 Design for Planet Festival 2022 hosted by the UK’s Design Council, “online on 8 and 9 November to hear from over 60 speakers who are working today to improve our built environment and everyday life and address the climate crisis.”
- 🤯 🤖 🌽 🎥 🇺🇸 Sniper robot treats 500k plants per hour with 95% less chemicals. “an ‘intelligent sharpshooter’ that can distinguish crops from weeds — and then it shoots them with the appropriate treatment. Because of such high precision, the robot uses 95% less chemicals than traditional sprayers.”
- 😍 🧱 🇬🇭 🇨🇦 More Than 500,000 Black LEGO Structure Ekow Nimako's Vast Afrofuturistic Cityscapes. “Through vast environments constructed with hundreds of thousands of black LEGO, Ghanaian-Canadian artist Ekow Nimako envisions an Afrofuturistic landscape brimming with strength, power, and liberation.”
- 😍 🦊 🐦 🌱 Diverse Ecosystems Merge in Hyperrealistic Paintings of Flora and Fauna by Lisa Ericson. “Ecosystems intermingle and mammals find themselves immersed in an increasingly watery world in Lisa Ericson’s hyperrealistic acrylic paintings.”
- 🤔 ✨ ‘Star Wars: Andor’ Gets Political “Andor is perhaps the most sophisticated attempt to give the world of Star Wars its own internal political coherence.”
- 🤩 🤯 🇹🇭 Undulating Volumes of Rattan Wind Through the Interior of a Chiang Mai Gallery. “Winding from room to room, the structure provides lighting along the ceiling and drops to the floor to create three pods.”
- ⌨️ 📼 Severance UI Design. Not as many images as I’d hoped but a nice little flashback to the series.
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