I think we're 18 months out from an AI-generated Netflix special
Not a joke, wish it was
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Hello Sternal Journalists!
Everyone is in a gosh-darned kerfuffle over AI this week. If you missed it, then (a) congratulations on have a stronger constitution than I in the only-paying-attention-to-things-that-actually-affect-you department. But (b), here are the two things that set it off:
Dall-E and Dall-E Mini. These are neural networks that are able to take anything you type and create images based simply on the text. Dall-E (a portmanteau, I think, of Wall-E and Salvador Dali) is the big fancy one that works really well but you can’t publicly access. Dall-E Mini is the one that doesn’t work as well, but anyone can use.
For instance, I asked for “Henry Kissinger Carrying DJ Khaled in a baby bjorn” and in just about a minute, got these, among other images:
Oh yeah, happy father’s day.
You can see how it’s not great (why does it think DJ Khaled is supposed to be swaddling Kissinger???) but still very impressive and eery for artificial intelligence to make from scratch.
The other big thing that had everyone’s robopocalypse alarms going off was the news that a Google engineer was put on administrative leave after claiming that an AI chatbot they were developing had achieved sentience.
What I think about these things doesn’t really matter. There are many direct takes by more seasoned people than me (I enjoyed Ezra Klein’s column about it), but before I move on to my eponymous prediction, my quick thoughts are:
It’s very fun to see unlikely concepts rendered as images, but/and by playing with it, we train a beast whose power we do not understand.
I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around how we’ll prove or disprove whether an artificial intelligence has consciousness, but whether or not AI sentience is happening now or soon or ever, it’s pretty bad that the world is likely going to soon be populated by chatbots who are indistinguishable from humans (by humans).
So now about that clickbait:
“Computers will never be able to take the job of artists” has long been a snooty thing said by professional and aspirationally professional writers, visual artists, and others.
But it becomes less and less true every day. For instance, not too long ago, if I wanted even a bad visual rendering of Henry Kissinger and DJ Khaled, one of whom is carrying the other in a baby bjorn, I would have had to commission an artist of some sort.
Now, I only have to commission if I want a good one.
And the way these neural networks work (as I understand them) is the more they do what they do, the better they get at it. Meaning, Dall-E will be better tomorrow than it is today, better on Tuesday than it is on Monday, and so on and so on. And the gap between “Kissinger Khaled bjorn triptych I want” and “Kissinger Khaled bjorn triptych I can get from a robot for free” will become slimmer and slimmer.
So—I don’t think stand-up comedy is uniquely threatened by AI nor will it necessarily be the first to drop. But for the sake of looking for goalposts as to when and whether artists might start really be threatened by made-up computer shit, it’s got a nice level of complexity—it takes writing, sounds, visuals, all of that—without being too, too complex—there’s one location, one setting, it’s intellectual components are formulaic to a degree.
And I have a feeling that it’s not just possible but probable that some shill somewhere will actually try this shit within the next 18 months for 3 reasons:
Netflix is not stopping. Netflix just released a bunch of specials that were taped as a part of their Netflix is a Joke festival a few months ago. Nothing I’ve seen is crazy out-of-the-ordinary, but the Pete Davidson Best Friends special does include a bunch of relative unknowns doing only seven-minute sets. It’s basically as good as a good bar show, which is cool! But not like anything they’ve done before. They seem very dedicated to always making the festival as big a deal as possible, and I think they’ll do whatever they can to generate buzz.
They can do it. Maybe not today, but like I said above, this AI-generated everything is only getting “better” and “better” in terms of replicating the real thing. I think especially with the added attention, people in the field will be more motivated (and more funded) to accelerate even further. But of course, in order to make a neural network that is good at spitting out fake versions of anything, you have to feed it tons of examples of the thing it will eventually be replicating, and… of course… we’ve done that work for them already because—
Stand-Up TikToks are a virus. I am one of the spreaders of the virus, of course, but it’s a virus all the same. We collectively as comedians trying to break through on social media have put together our best (or most viral-potentialed) works all in one place and I bet there’s someone already feeding them to some neural network somewhere to teach it how to write jokes.
In short, the will is there because of the buzz, the infrastructure is there because Netflix is absolutely not below trying something like this, and the material is there because on top of all the specials that exist out there, there are probably millions of TikTok of people doing stand-up and specific metrics on not just every TikTok, but every second of every TikTok.
I will be checking back on December 20th 2023 to see how right I am. In the meantime, I’ll be wondering how we’re all going to react. I’m hoping there will be some dissonance where, because we know there’s no human behind the joke, there will be no fear of their failure. Therefore, no tension and therefore no genuine laughs.
Buuuuuut I’m not counting on it.
Barry. Television Show. While it loses some of the fun of the street-level L.A. characters as everyone starts to “make it” in this season, all of the grit and silliness of this shows remains in season three’s thought experiment about forgiveness.
It’s All Coming Back To Me Now / You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This. Songs. Please confirm for me that these Celine Dion and Toby Keith songs sound the same. I’ve had them both stuck in my head all week.
Can Chile’s Young President Reimagine the Latin American Left? Article. I’m woefully ignorant about a lot of world politics stuff, and I found this New Yorker article very educational and engaging. Also, he’s got OCD. Twinsies!
Wiretap. Podcast. For fans of Gimlet’s Heavyweight, this is Jonathan Goldstein’s original show that premiered on CBC in 2004. It was a radio show, but they’ve just released 57 episodes as podcasts and it’s very cool to hear a lot of the Heavyweight tropes and characters in their foundational era. Highly recommend. I started from the beginning.
Alrighty! Have a wonderful week! Don’t let it be too computer-generated!
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