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    Meta considered buying Simon & Schuster to build its AI.

    James Folta

    April 8, 2024, 12:40pm

    Over the weekend, The New York Times published a long article on how tech companies are trawling and stealing to gather vast amounts of data to build their generative programs. Companies like Google, Meta, and OpenAI are chasing increasingly large amounts of information, especially “high-quality information, such as published books and articles, which have been carefully written and edited by professionals.” Meta considered getting that good data by “paying $10 a book for the full licensing rights to new titles,” or by outright “buying Simon & Schuster.” That Meta was even in a position to consider hoovering up one of the Big Five publishers is a grim indication of the immense power these companies have acquired.

    All of this is in the service of what? So a boss can finally fire their writers and replace them with D.0n DrAIper? So you can generate a one-off movie based on your whims to watch alone and share with no one? So you can summarize the entirety of your local library and rapidly microdose the beauty of literature while on the toilet?

    It’s so miserable to realize that I’m going to be thinking about AI for the rest of my life.

    Another surprising detail was that these companies are now turning to “synthetic data” to train AIs—the snake reading its own tail. This seems like it’s already underway, as 404 Media documented cases of Google indexing books sluiced out of AI chum with titles like Maximize Your Twitter Presence: 101 Strategies for Marketing Success and Bears, Bulls, and Wolves: Stock Trading for the Twenty-Year-Old.

    To me, the problem with AI is primarily a labor issue. This technology is sold as miraculous alchemy happening inside a computer, but in reality it’s so often reliant on uncelebrated and underpaid work. The Times’ uncovered conversations where “Meta executives talked about how they had hired contractors in Africa to aggregate summaries of fiction and nonfiction. The summaries included copyrighted content ‘because we have no way of not collecting that.’”

    And this exploitation can only lead to more exploitation. The aggressive push to adopt this tech is coming from bosses who are more interested in shareholder value than anything else, and people will lose jobs and wages to these synthetic data extruders.

    And lest you think this is just the whining of a blogger who doesn’t want to be replaced by a blog-bot, consider that these programs are already being deployed to decide who lives and who dies. +972 recently published a report about an AI machine called Lavender that the Israel military is using to generate kill lists in its ongoing genocide in Gaza:

    “One source stated that human personnel often served only as a ‘rubber stamp’ for the machine’s decisions, adding that, normally, they would personally devote only about ’20 seconds’ to each target before authorizing a bombing — just to make sure the Lavender-marked target is male.”

    AI’s not just coming for our jobs, it’s coming for our lives.

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