A Soft Apocalypse of Truth

Welcome to Digitally Literate, issue #371.

Hey all, it’s good to be back. I’ve had a busy summer, and there are a bunch of things happening, so let’s get into it.

Generative AI Hackathons

I was involved in two different generative AI hackathons. The first of which focused on Education and the Future of Work. In this hackathon, I pitched a product with a developer focused on using AI agents to help participants from diverse backgrounds converge to ideate, collaborate, and create transformative solutions to real-world challenges.

During the second hackathon, we concentrated on Finance and Economics. Our team presented a product that monitors online feeds for potential scams, fake information, and phishing attempts. I personally drafted a few posts discussing the development process, including the difficulties of creating a dataset to train the AI model, our strategies for protecting user data, and how we ultimately chose the most suitable model for our project.

Education and AI Risks

Together with Laura Hilliger and Thomas Salmon, I was asked to provide feedback on an AI positioning paper that will be presented at the 18th annual Internet Governance Forum of the United Nations in October 2023.

Navigating The Future

I’m working on an open research project with Doug Belshaw and Laura Hilliger to navigate the future of media and information literacy. You can review some of my recent research notes on the topic here.

Please subscribe if you want this newsletter to appear in your inbox. I’m also posting the newsletter to Substack for a bit. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

The Comforts of Cyberpunk

A video from the Nerdwrite YouTube channel on the appeal of cyberpunk cities, which are collages of past, present, and future. The disjointed imagery in cyberpunk stories reflects the disjointedness of modern life, with its accelerated change and globalized media. A place where it is no longer necessary to resist societal pressures, but instead to surrender to the carnival of sensations.

Cities are like compost heaps — just layers and layers of stuff. In cities, the past and the present and the future can all be totally adjacent.

—William Gibson

The Danger of the Generative AI Hype Cycle

In an article for Tech Policy Press, Alex Hanna and Emily M. Bender challenge the exaggerated claims about AI. It is concerning that there is a lot of buzz surrounding generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion. These systems rely on technology designed for categorization to produce content, which might seem smart but lacks actual comprehension. Despite the known negative consequences of generative AI, these tools have received substantial funding. They pose a danger to workers, result in subpar products, and produce more errors. To tackle these concerns, it is crucial to have resistance from workers and artists, as well as proper regulations and accountability measures.

Why this matters. Instead of fulfilling its societal responsibilities to invest in education and healthcare, AI’s proponents may create a society with a two-tier system. Those who cannot afford it will have to accept artificial replicas, while the well-off will continue to hire human beings

Please Don’t Scan Your Eyeballs for Crypto

One of the lessons that we should have learned over the last couple of years is that privacy concerns matter—and they can manifest themselves in unexpectedly terrible ways.

Although one might assume that the negative feedback would deter the progress of Worldcoin, a cryptocurrency venture that serves as both a parody of and an actual company funded by prominent Silicon Valley investors, this is not the case. Despite concerns regarding the potential invasion of privacy, deceptive sales techniques targeted at individuals who are unaware of the technology or its risks, and the simple notion that one should not swap their eyeball scan for digital currency, Worldcoin’s parent company, Tools for Humanity, proceeded with the launch of its worldwide eyeball scanning initiative on July 24th.

Why this matters. Take time to consider what you lose, and what you gain when you give your data away.

It’s All About the Power

Laura Hilliger delves into the effect of AI on power dynamics and explores the six types of power identified by social psychologists French and Raven.

Hilliger explains how machines can currently manipulate power structures by using AI systems to modulate voices, create realistic imagery, and generate text that appears genuine. We need to pay attention to how AI will reshape legitimate power, reward power, coercive power, referent power, expert power, and informational power.

Why this matters. I love the notion of cognitive liberty that Laura stresses and the importance of educating people about the implications of AI and empowering them to make well-informed decisions now and in the future.

Journaling to record and reflect

Interoceptive journaling is a mindfulness exercise that entails recording and analyzing physical sensations to heighten interoceptive awareness. By documenting internal signals, individuals can acknowledge and comprehend their bodily cues, which can enhance emotional regulation, self-awareness, and general wellness. Interoceptive journaling can be done through free-flow writing or guided prompts and is most effective when practiced regularly. This activity can be easily incorporated into any mindfulness routine, and dedicating just a few minutes each day can result in improved overall well-being.

Why this matters. Just a few minutes a day focusing can strengthen your awareness of and improve your response to your body’s signals, leading to greater overall well-being.

What tasks should we automate?

Dan Nott and Scott Cambo’s comic in The Nib’s future issue exposes the fallacy of creation without labor in the context of AI’s impact on the future. The suggest that communities should ask which tasks to automate and what benefits manual labor provides as algorithms replace more work.

In a related thread, Elan Ullendorff writes that Google’s search box revolutionized the way we access information, but it also brought about a “soft apocalypse of truth.”

considers how Google search has changed the meaning of information, and what injecting generative AI into the results page portends. “Which technological future do we want?” he wonders. “One that claims to know all of the answers, or one that encourages us to ask more questions? One that prioritizes output, or accessibility? One that sees people as a dataset to mine and an inefficiency to overcome, or one that sees them as valuable and worthy of attention?

Why this matters. In the future, we’ll need to consider what makes the work process and product human. These pieces argue for the importance of embracing ambiguity, poetic storytelling, and the messy context of human creativity in order to foster critical thinking and meaningful conversations.

Three Kinds of Thoughts

Andrew James Taggart expands on Guo Gu’s three kinds of thought from Silent Illumination.

  • Scattered Thoughts. Practice letting go of scattered or random thoughts. Eventually, they will subside.
  • Discursive thoughts. Sometimes our thoughts are centered around stories, such as “I have a lot to do today” or “What was she thinking?” When this happens, it may be useful to examine the root cause of these thoughts for a while. However, eventually, it’s best to just let these thoughts go, like soap bubbles gently popping. Discursive thoughts should be treated in the same way as scattered thoughts – no problem at all.
  • Subtle thoughts. It’s important to be aware of the overall mood you’re experiencing, even if it’s subtle. Pay attention to specific emotions like restlessness, exhaustion, or lightheadedness. Take the time to observe these feelings carefully and try to understand them better.

Pay attention to your thoughts and give them space when needed.

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.

John Stuart Mill

ChatGPT doesn’t give you information. It gives you information-shaped sentences. – Neil Gaiman

Cover Photo CC BY using Playground AI

Say hey at hello@digitallyliterate.net or on the social network of your choice.

Leave A Comment