Welcome to the mid-week update from New World Same Humans, a newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.
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It’s a bumper instalment this week. What lies ahead?
Generative AI is plunging us into a new world of infinite shadow and simulated media, and it’s going to be weird.
Meanwhile, the results are back on the world’s largest trial of the four day work week. And a California startup wants to bring your most treasured memories back to full, immersive life.
Let’s get into it.
🎭 In the hall of mirrors
This week, a constellation of signals converged to send a message about the AI-fuelled hyperreality set to emerge around us.
A few weeks ago I gave a brief mention to Nothing Forever, an entirely AI-generated version of the 1990s sitcom Seinfeld.
The show featured blocky 8-bit style graphics, and a weird, occasionally funny script generated by GPT-3. It became a hit on streaming platform Twitch, but got banned when the Jerry character made transphobic comments. This week the creators, Mismatch Media, took to their company Discord to announce that the show will soon return to Twitch with new script controls in place to ensure there are no more toxic jokes.
The show is part of a new wave of AI-generated shadow media that’s emerged in the opening months of 2023. Look at this new continuously streaming ‘fully autonomous’ podcast starring a rolling cast of AI characters including Joe Rogan — all of whom respond to questions typed into the chat by the audience on Twitch.
Or see this surreal generated talkshow, featuring a virtual Conan O’Brien and Chris Rock:
Right now, these shows are more about creating intriguing experiments than they are about genuinely entertaining content. But they are strangely mesmerising. And part of their mesmeric power is the feeling that they’re early signals of something huge, strange, and transformative for entertainment media.
It’s not just traditional, top-down media that’s set to be impacted by AI. The kinds of representations that we used to call user-generated content will be revolutionised, too. One signal? Scroll through this amazing Twitter thread full of middle-aged people using TikTok’s new teen face filter, and becoming emotional as they stare back at their long-lost younger self:
How long, I wonder, until people start using generative AI tools to create and deploy younger (smarter? more charismatic?) versions of themselves?
⚡ NWSH Take: Generative models will turn legacy media — including nine decades of television — intro training data. The result? Infinite dancing shadows based on iconic shows, and stars, of years past; see the AI Seinfeld above. Questions abound. Will an AI version of a hit show ever become a hit in its own right? Who owns the rights to such content? We’ll see media companies — and the estates of deceased film and TV stars — build and license AI models of their own, allowing others to create new content based on their work. // Meanwhile, we’re about to be hit by a tsunami of generated media; Amazon is reportedly being flooded by AI generated books, and this iconic sci-fi magazine had to close submissions this week after being swamped by writers sending stories written by ChatGPT. The bar for average content will be raised. The trouble is, no one wants average content. It’s not much use to, say, Disney, that they’ll soon be able to make 100 quite good animated films at much reduced time and cost. No one wants 100 quite good films; they just want the best one. So the challenge for those who want to stand out will remain the same: they’ll have to create exceptional stuff. But now, that will mean using AI to amplify the best human creators. // Meanwhile, every connected person will have the ability to become an AI-fuelled content machine. The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote about hyperreality: the intertwining of the real with our representations, until the distinction becomes lost. A whole new AI-fuelled hyperreal is emerging around us. I’ll be writing more about that soon.
👨💻 The great escape
Last summer back in New Week #86 I wrote about the world’s largest trial of the four day work week; it was all set to start here in the UK.
This week the results were published. Those results came from 42 companies, each of which shifted to a four day week — and a ‘meaningful reduction in working hours’ — between June and December while keeping staff on the same pay.
The big message? Overwhelmingly, managers reported a success. A full 92% say they’re continuing with a four day week. And revenue wasn’t negatively impacted; it grew 1.2% on average across the trial period.
Some of the most marked results, though, were around the subjective life satisfaction of the 2,900 employees surveyed. See the graph, below, of perceived time inadequacy:
Staff saying they’d like ‘more time to care for children or grandchildren’ fell by 27 percentage points. More time for own hobbies fell by 33 points.
Meanwhile, 40% said they were sleeping better, and 54% said it was easier to balance work and home life. These are huge improvements across a six month period.
⚡ NWSH Take: The organisers of this trial, including advocacy group 4 Day Week Global, will put the results in front of British legislators this week. They want to persuade them that Britain should move definitively towards a 32 hour work week. We’re a long way from anything like a consensus on that. But there’s no doubt that the four day movement is gaining momentum; this trial continues the stream of good news from previous trials in Iceland and Japan. The truth, it seems, is that most knowledge workers simply don’t need a five day week to maintain their current output. // We don’t fully understand the reasons for this, but buried somewhere among them must be the truth that many workers currently aren’t using their time that efficiently. Collectively, then, we face a choice. We can find ways to improve efficiency, continue working five days, and really get the most out of them. Or keep output broadly stable, and switch to four days. // Judging by the results of this trial, most would choose the latter. And who can blame them? What’s the point of getting this rich, and of all these technologies of productivity, if doesn’t all combine to lead us to new and better modes of life? We must them come to ask: when machines do the work — or allow us to do it much faster — what’s left for us? The answer: to do what only we can do: simply being there, being human, for one another.
🏰 Memory palace
The metaverse hype train that powered through 2022 has lost speed recently. But this week, a reminder that the dream is still alive.
Wist is an app that takes ordinary photos and turns them into immersive 3D projections — allowing you to ‘step back inside your memories’ using an AR or VR device.
Wist have just opened a private beta for their iOS app, and they say the service will soon come to the Oculus Quest.
⚡ NWSH Take: Immersive memories: it’s a compelling pitch. Even if it did remind many in the Twitter thread of an episode of Black Mirror. // The popular story around the so-called metaverse across the last few years — it’s nothing, it’s everything, it’s nothing again, but this time with added cynicism — is an eternal merry-go-round when it comes to emerging technologies. One we’ll no doubt see play out around generative AI across the coming year. The deeper truth when it comes to the metaverse? Yes, there was a whole ton of hype, much of it specious. Yes, many of the Big Names of 2020 and 21 will fade away. But the dream that is an immersive, useful, meaningful virtual world is real, and powerful. Virtual worlds will unlock new ways to serve fundamental human needs, new forms of self-expression, and even, as Wist signals, new modes of remembering. For that reason, we haven’t heard the last of the metaverse — though I suspect that name will eventually fade away, to be buried alongside phrases such the information superhighway and surfing the net.
🗓️ Also this week
👨💻 Amazon employees aren’t happy about the company’s new return to the office instruction. CEO Andy Jassy last week wrote a memo revoking the post-pandemic do what’s best for you dispensation and telling staff to be in the office at least three days per week. He told staff, ‘it’s easier to learn, model, practice, and strengthen our culture when we’re in the office together most of the time’. An Amazon company Slack channel intended to help staff organise against the move has gained 16,000 members.
🤖 A research team at China’s Fudan University released a rival to ChatGPT. The generative AI chatbot, called MOSS, quickly went viral on Chinese social media and crashed under a flood of users.
Meanwhile, the CCP is working to restrict access to ChatGPT, which state media has called a tool for the US to ‘spread false information’.
🛰 Starlink is testing a new ‘global roaming’ internet service. The plan will cost users $200 a month. The company has over 3,500 satellites in orbit, with plans to launch thousands more.
⛵️ A new US Navy ship can operate autonomously at sea for 30 days. The Expeditionary Fast Transport USNS Apalachicola is 337 feet long, making it the largest autonomous ship in the Navy’s fleet; experts say it could be used as a roaming platform for the launch of missiles or drones.
🤯 An AI taught a pretty good human Go player to beat the world’s best AI Go player. Kellin Pelrine, a US citizen and amateur player, used tactics devised by a computer to beat the top-ranked Leela Zero system. Back in 2016 DeepMind’s AlphaGo made headlines when it became the first AI to beat then world Go champion Lee Sedol.
⚖️ The US Supreme Court is set to examine a federal law that underpins social media as we know it. Section 230 states that internet sites are not responsible for the content posted on them by users; in other words they are platforms and not publishers. Now, the Court is set to hear arguments on two key cases concerning social media content moderation; their ruling could have huge implications for Section 230 and the future of the internet.
🏙 Saudi Arabia wants to build a gigantic hollow-cube skyscraper that will house holographic worlds. The Mukaab will be the centrepiece of a new district of the Kingdom’s capital city, Riyadh, and the government is calling it ‘the world’s first immersive destination’ offering a range of virtual experiences, including a taste of what it would be like to live on Mars.
🌍 Humans of Earth
Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.
🙋 Global population: 8,018,579,711
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7988619512
💉 Global population vaccinated: 64.0%
🗓️ 2023 progress bar: 15% complete
📖 On this day: On 24 February 1920 Nancy Astor becomes the first woman to speak in the UK’s House of Commons, after her election to Parliament three months earlier.
Swimming in Infinity
Thanks for reading this week.
The collision between generative AI and legacy media will do much to shape the hall of mirrors we live inside across the coming years. It’s yet another case of new world, same humans.
This newsletter will keep watching, and working to make sense of what it all means for our shared future. And there’s one thing you can do to help: share!
If this week’s instalment resonated with you, why not forward the email to someone who’d also enjoy it? Or share it across one of your social networks, with a note on why you found it valuable. Remember: the larger and more diverse the NWSH community becomes, the better for all of us.
I’ll be back next week. Until then, be well,
P.S Huge thanks to Nikki Ritmeijer for the illustration at the top of this email. And to Monique van Dusseldorp for additional research and analysis.