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AIMythos, The Queen and Hyperrealism
What happens when 'deep fakes' become alternative realities? Does AI push us past memes or fan art into something else? Or...why I can't get a photo of the Queen out of my head.
This new ‘age of AI’ feels so dislocating. Or maybe it creates deep ambivalence, initiated by the question Dan Shipper asked: “How many of us will take a lonely walk as we contemplate the idea that we’ll never again be the best at what we do?“
In my attempt to find some sort of footing, I’ve started a thesis about the Age of Spiritual Machines and the emergence of an AIMythos. It’s mostly my own projections onto how AI may play out, and an attempt to make sense of the new stories, rituals and communities that may arise.
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There are lots of things that AI will DO, the impacts it will have, the dangers it poses.
But I usually gravitate to the impact of technology on storytelling, media, culture, interfaces and human experiences.
I’m at the very very start of creating a coherent narrative. Mythologies, mythos - what are they? What are their constructs? How is an AIMythos more akin to ancient tribal mythologies than a modern Hollywood-generated one? How can we ascribe a mythos to something as programmatic as AI, and how does code itself inform the emerging mythologies?
But you know what? My brain hurts.
Let’s have a bit more fun.
Here’s the Queen
I may have even laughed.
Here’s the Pope (and the Dalai Lama thrown in for good measure):
Created by Candy Design AI, these aren’t real.
So what do you call them? In the media narrative, at least, they’d be called deep fakes. And I suppose we should be terrified by how easy it is to create them.
But how did you actually react when you looked at them? I mean, sure, you were sort of tipped off that this was a post about AI.
But even KNOWING that they were AI when I first saw them, I found my brain shuttling back-and-forth:
They sure LOOK real, maybe they actually are…
No, I know they’re not. They’re fakes….
And I kind of LIKE this version of reality
I wonder why this can’t be real…or, better, I sure WISH it was.
The term deep fake holds an implicit sense of danger. And I don’t want to downplay how pervasive this is about to be.
But solely focusing on the danger bypasses its other possible cognitive impacts and its ability to be a meme, a commentary, or a sort of mirror world representation that expresses a viewpoint (or maybe all of those things ARE dangers and intent doesn’t matter).
Hyperreality and the Age of AI
Now, for all of the writing I’ve done about culture, I’ve never bothered to read much on cultural theory. First, because my expertise is about a 100 kilometers wide and a millimetre deep. But also because I can’t really DO much with a lot of theory and I find it dense and opaque.
But I do know that Jean Baudrillard coined the term hyperreality (in 1981), and that (after being reminded by Wikipedia) he defined it as the inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, blowing past McLuhan in saying:
”There is not only an implosion of the message in the medium, there is, in the same movement, the implosion of the medium itself in the real, the implosion of the medium and of the real in a sort of hyperreal nebula, in which even the definition and distinct action of the medium can no longer be determined"
Or, as I said in my last post: “reality itself will be no more real because it is physical” (at least in the sense of the media that describes it).
Beyond Deep Fakes
But let me circle this back to my (evolving) theory of AIMythos. Because these are the types of images that have informed some of my thinking.
It doesn’t feel sufficient to call it a deep fake or even a meme.
The ability of these adjacent hyperrealities to propagate at scale and speed might soon mean that we end up with the strange result that hyperrealities evolve in real-time, and are constantly unfurling in synch with the media construction of the physical/’real-world’ one.
These were AI-generated and became memes:
Maybe they were acts of wishful thinking. Maybe because they were related to ‘news’ they are better thought of as deep fakes, a misrepresentation of fact.
But even though most people now know they weren’t real, they may have infiltrated our cultural consciousness enough that they will now be part of the personal narratives we carry around about events.
I can sense some sort of dividing line here, and I don’t know what it is.
On the one hand, hyperrealities will be a lot like today’s social media: people see stuff in their feeds and they like it, share it, comment on it. And often it doesn’t matter that they know it’s fake: it confirms a world view.
And on the other hand, hyperrealities will create their own little storylines. They might be amusing, interpretive, funny. They’re a lot like fan fiction in which Harry Potter is gay.
And yet there’s something different going on than ‘just’ fan fiction:
Under the hood, there’s a process that takes place in generating these images. From model training using things like Dreambooth, to the use of LORA and other checkpoints as ‘addendums’ to the core LLMs, someone is cajoling, bending, training and prompting AI
The result of this process still holds a moment of serendipity (although it’s actually probabilities at massive scale) and the images that come out will be partly the result of human inputs, and partly the randomness of AI.
These two things start to shift AI-generated images from being purely meme-generation into something that is a collaboration between a human and an ultimately unknowable machines.
Today, what gets created are media for other channels. The Pope on Instagram, the Queen on YouTube (or wherever).
But by training the models in the first place, you’ve created the capacity to go beyond just creating and sharing a piece of media.
You’ve created a construct that can itself be shared with others, so that suddenly we have an entire hyperreality (propagated across all kinds of media) in which the Pope likes to hang in different cities, drinking beer or riding a bike.
And further, the interface with AI, that point before it is distributed to other channels, becomes a mini story-making machine, creating mini-myths and, eventually, entire mythologies.
And who knows.
In some strange loop of culture maybe the Pope gets himself a puffer jacket because he likes the way it looks in the alternative reality. Maybe at some level it makes him long to hang in Amsterdam and be a bit more free, a bit more expressive.
Maybe soon, our realities and hyperrealities will start to eat their own tails.
At one time, I wrote over 750,000 words about the Metaverse under the banner of Dusan Writer's Metaverse. They were strange, wondrous and often frustrating times. These times feel similar and so I brushed off the old name, and may even write about the Metaverse as I explore these topics.
I find it useful to put my thoughts into the wild, in the hopes of generating a conversation. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Twitter.
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