6 min read

Experiments in AI

Well, it's happened: the robots have officially come for my job.
Anakin meme: AI is going to replace everyone's job soon. Padme says, "Except creative work, right?"

Hello loves!

Here are five things I wanted to share with you this week.

1. It's all fun and games until someone loses an AI...

Well, it's happened, the robots have officially come for my job: the new generation of AI writing tools is astoundingly good. I'm feeling great about it, honestly, since I'm a lazy possum who doesn't really like working anyway.

So I got an AI to write a whole blog post for me. It came out... okay? Read it here.

10 ways to inflation-proof your budget (tips from an AI)
I got an AI to write a blog post for me. Let’s see how it did.

I've also been fooling around making art with Midjourney (my favourite AI art tool). This feels like magic: you just type in a prompt, and BOOM, art!

The city of Johannesburg as a setting in a Jodorwsky film created by Midjourney
The city of Johannesburg as a setting in a Jodorwsky film, created by an AI (Midjourney)

What I particularly love about Midjourney is that you're in a chat with a bunch of other strangers all making art together in real-time, and people riff off each other's ideas. Like someone in my chat started making Marge Simpson as Mr Potato Head, and someone else was making Mona Lisa derivatives, then some absolute genius combined them into Marge Simpson Potato Oil Painting, to create this magnificent thing. It feels like improv jazz.

Four oil paintings of Marge Simpson as a potato
Marge Simpson Potato Oil Painting, created by @skyrsp and Midjourney and Matt Groening and Leonardo da Vinci maybe, and the difficulty of attributing AI art is a fascinating new cultural dilemma!

If you want to try it out yourself, I wrote a simple guide to getting started with Midjourney, even if you don't think of yourself as very tech savvy. It's really super-easy!

A simple guide to making AI art with Midjourney
A simple guide to making AI art with Midjourney... for total beginners

I'm being lighthearted about all this, but I do believe that the world is going to need to have some robust conversations, ASAP, about how we compensate people for the original creative labour that AI products derive from. Is it time for a tech-funded universal basic income, maybe? How does copyright law need to evolve, and can we invent new royalties systems for artists whose work is used in derivative work? Either way, it's become obvious that regulators, legal experts and business leaders get up to speed with the benefits and risks of AI, pronto, because it's very quickly moved from a near-future potentially disruptive technology to a disrupting things right now technology.

That said, I'm generally optimistic about what AI is going to do for the world, and I'm mostly just curious about what the next generation of writers and artists is going to make with this stuff. When photography was invented, painters stressed that their skills at accurately representing the world were no longer needed. But then the next generation invented modernism and conceptual art.

I have no idea what crazy art the kids who grow up with these tools are going to make, but I'm excited to find out.

2. PSG Think Big Series

I'm hosting a free webinar on 30 August 2022 with the PSG Think Big Series, talking about managing finances in a Gen Z world. I'm anticipating a rich discussion with veteran financial journalist Alishia Seckam about how money management looks different for the generation of young people entering the world of work today. We'll be keeping it quick and simple, please join us!

Register here.

3. Awful tech CEOs

As research for my second novel, I've been collecting stories of awful CEO behaviour. And BOY have I come across some doozies. My absolute favourite was this portrait of the founder of American Aparrel Dov Charney who was eventually fired for serial allegations of sexual harassment. The journalist who wrote this deserves a bloody Pulitzer, because of how she gets him to reveal himself over the course of one interview. Honestly, it's just masterful, please read it!

Other highlights of the genre include this article about Dan Price, a CEO who used social media to paint a picture of himself as a champion of workers' rights as cover for luring in young women, Bad Blood, a book/podcast about Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, and WeCrashed, a TV show dramatisation of the rise and fall of WeWork's narcissist CEO Adam Neumann, available on Apple TV+.

I think I love these portraits because I worked in tech for a long time, and saw first-hand how many predatory narcissists thrived in that environment. There's something fascinating to me about a character who believes that they're doing something so big and important that the ethics of how they live their day-to-day lives don't matter, you know?

Related: women+ readers, do you have any utterly infuriating stories of things that have happened to in the workplace that you'd be happy for me to crib for my novel? Hit 'reply' to this email and tell me! I'm looking for "asshole dude stole my idea and presented it as his in the big meeting"-type stories rather than stories of actual assault, please, my heart can't take it 💛

4. Tree walks

My favourite activity on earth is to listen to someone who's a big ol' nerd about something teach me about their topic of interest, so I spent Sunday with my tree-obsessed buddy Nic showing me around some of his favourite London trees. He showed me how to identify the London Plane (camo bark, maple leaves, spiky seed balls), oaks and cherries (a little cluster of nodes on the tip of each branch), and how to spot signs of the leaf miner larvae that's blighting most of England's conker trees.

We went to Abney Park (my second-favourite London cemetery) and traced the work of George Loddiges, one of London's great 19th-century gardeners, who collected trees from all around the world and bred strange new hybrids.

An old etching of the Loddiges palmarium
The Loddiges palmarium - Hackney Archives

It's a pleasure learning new names for things. Names for different types of leaves: compound, palmate, lobed, asymmetric, heart-shaped, pinnate, fine-toothed, lanceolate. The petiole, the little stem that attached a leaf to a branch. The difference between an ancient tree and a veteran tree (all ancient trees are veterans, but veterans can also be younger trees that have sustained damage and now support an abundance of wildlife).

Naming gives you language, and it also helps you to slow down and properly look at something. Maybe I've just done too many psychedelics in my life, but I'm entirely convinced that forests have a type of sentience that we don't understand. My favourite books about this topic: Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake, The Overstory by Richard Powers, and Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard.

5. Wet Leg

Lastly, thanks to my pal Matthew who sent me this banging cover of 'Smoko' (The Chats) by one of my current fave bands, Wet Leg.

You should know that 'Smoko' is Ozzie slang for 'smoke break'.

If you haven't heard it, Wet Leg's, "Chaise Longue" was probably my fave song of 2021.

Wishing you Potato Marge Simpsons, and a living wage for making art,