How Universal is Turning to Web3 to Amp Up Spooky Season
Also: the fans opting out of streaming services to preserve the experience of music AND find out if you (or your work) has been used to train AI at HaveIBeenTrained.com
1/ Are You on the AI’s Radar?
While sci-fi new and old warns of AI becoming conscious, the general public is just now becoming conscious of what AI really is (hint: not The Terminator).
Recently, a variety of AI content generation platforms like DALL-E have become available to the public. And have exploded in popularity. They are allowing millions to actually engage with AI for the first time, moving it from a mysterious sci-fi concept to this season’s must-have toy.
The broader understanding of what many of these AI tools are actually built on (massive datasets scraped from the public internet) is putting a new lens on the ethical questions surrounding them.
The questions are no longer… Is the AI sentient or can it suffer? But…am I in the dataset? Is that OK? And the tools have gone mainstream so fast that we never had time to properly grapple with those questions.
The Weird DALL-E Mini Generations Twitter account already has over 1.1M followers and crowd sources funny ‘prompts’ such as Darth Vader being a good father (harmless fun):
But also shows real people with prompts like Samuel L. Jackson is elected as the new pope (slightly less okay 🤔):
While Samuel L. probably wouldn’t be offended by this, there are already examples of malicious use, depicting real people in compromising situations. And there are plenty of potentially harmful accidents as well — including one individual who realized private medical images were included.
Luckily, this is being worked on. If you’re curious whether you (or your work) has been included in a dataset, you can visit HaveIBeenTrained.com to search the 5.8B images used to train these image generators.
Across the board, processes are being set up for the take down of specific imagery when requested. Protocols to censor malicious or potentially copyright-infringing use of these tools are already in place and being improved.
But the question remains: should I opt out? If there is ever a chance for a tool like this to be truly inclusive, it needs a large dataset — in the same way Google only works because it’s an index of the vast array of data at its disposal. So if we choose to opt out, are we just helping to reinforce the biases that come from a smaller dataset? AI are already known for a not-great track record when it comes to inclusivity/ representation. Can you imagine how bad DALL-E’s output would be if it only had access to stock photos of smiling white people against inoffensive backdrops?
Accessible technology this powerful and disruptive to norms is going to take some time to figure out, but it’s one of the first great philosophical questions web3 faces.
2/ The Paradox of Choice: Why Fans are Quitting Spotify to Save Their Love of Music
A couple months back, we looked into the minor miracle of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” beating out BTK and Drake to become the most popular song in the world. At the time, it was held up as a feel-good story. One that seemed to indicate a shift in our ever-evolving relationship with music.
Now that we live in the world in which the vast catalogue of all music ever created has been uploaded onto platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube, anyone anywhere can discover the greatest hits at any time. From any time in history. That’s certainly still true, but the sheer amount of options available is also causing a new generation of music fans to choose analog over streaming. All for their love of music.
Feel-good stories like the rediscovery of Kate Bush or the sudden resurgence in popularity of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line” after it was featured on an episode of Euphoria are symptoms of a much bigger shift.
A spot on a Spotify’s New Music or Rap Caviar Playlist is now coveted as much as a place on MTV’s TRL or Power 106 FM was back in the day. There’s also the closed ecosystem of TikTok — which spawns not one-hit wonders but earworm-y hooks and “chill vibes” which are then remixed endlessly on YouTube.
“Streaming encourages a kind of decontextualised discovery. It’s a world where albums are less important than single tracks, where you’re encouraged to focus not on the artist, but the song; where music is served up with any accompanying visuals relegated to a tiny corner of the screen; where historical context, image, subcultural capital – all the other stuff that was once part of the package – no longer really matters.” - Alexis Petridis, The Guardian
And it’s playing out in our daily lives, as more and more music fans log off of streaming services for good. As one fan describes:
“I decided that having music be this tool to [create] an experience instead of an experience itself was not something I was into.”
In other words, the ritualistic choices we once put thought into as we were building our mix CDs, digging through crates in the record store, or loading up our iPods for a long road trip is a feeling many of us are now chasing.
“Taking the extra step to load it on to my phone, or the extra step to flip over the tape, or put the CD on in the car, it feels like something that I’m doing, rather than something I’m receiving. And that sense of agency makes me a more dedicated and involved listener than the kind of passive listening-without-listening that streaming was making me do.”
For many, that sense of DIY discovery is an art worth preserving. After all, it’s often through collecting band tees, scouring liner notes, and putting up posters on our walls that we often find out a little bit more about ourselves. In a world of infinite options, taste that is shaped by personal experience rather than taste that’s programmed is worth the effort.
3/ More than an Collectible: NFTs as a Passport, Achievement, Loyalty Card, VIP Access…
It’s officially spooky season 👻👻👻! You’ve found your way to Universal Studio’s Horror Nights and collected 6 out of the 7 badges for surviving their haunted houses. But the 7th is by far the scariest and it involves clowns😱. Will you put on a brave face to get that last badge?
Some gaff at 6-figure sales of images of apes in ennui. Those same naysayers may soon find themselves unwitting owners of NFTs as the use of the technology expands beyond Bored Apes.
Universal Studios is just one of many major companies bringing NFT technology to bear in order to amplify a consumer experience. During their annual Horror Nights event that sees millions test their courage in haunted houses, visitors are able to find and scan QR codes to earn NFTs. If they find all 7, they get a bonus reward and can prove their valor with these blockchain based achievements to anyone that asks.
Thanks to companies like Moonpay that are working to improve the consumer experience in crypto, visitors won’t have to do anything in advance. No need to find a cringe YouTube video to explain blockchain, how to open up a crypto wallet, fill it with ETH, then connect to a minting site 😫. They’ll just need to point their phone camera at the QR code and provide an email address. Moonpay does the rest.
As the consumer experience with this technology inevitably improves, the applications for it are wide ranging (and already in motion). Just a few examples:
256-year-old institution Christie’s is going fully on-chain with new exclusive ethereum NFT Marketplace: Christie’s 3.0.
In Buenos Aires, 8,750 marathon runners will receive digital versions of their medals immutably recorded on the blockchain. Not only will they be certify their finishing times, they will also serve as an access pass to Adidas' AdiClub loyalty program.
Starbucks is adding a NFT rewards (rebranded as digital stamps) to one of the largest loyalty programs in the world to facilitate “access to experiences and ownership that was not possible before.”
And recently, experiential powerhouse Disney (ever heard of it?) is bolsters its legal team with NFT expertise with the intention of creating both a theme park metaverse and allowing real-world visitors to their theme parks to “generate and project personalized 3D effects onto nearby physical spaces, such as walls and other objects.” Meaning soon, a lot of the park’s environments will be able to react specifically to you. 🤯 Which, given Disney’s track record of already experimenting with a diet version of Westworld with an immersive Star Wars theme park that costs $6000/ stay — could be absolutely huge.
Soon, whether you’re going for a run, running from a monster, buying art, or just getting a coffee, NFTs may be involved and are probably improving the experience.
(DALL-E prompt: marathon runner running from a scary monster with coffee. spooky.)
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