It was one of those weeks where not an awful lot happened outside of work. I don’t talk about work here but let’s sort of circle it.
Reflections on AI
One thing I can say is that I started making a presentation deck about the use of generative AI and GPT in design, initially to share my findings so far but increasingly as an exercise in structuring my thoughts into anything at all useful.
A couple of things, on reflection: an AI assistant or collaborator poses significant risks for a lazy human in certain tasks since it tempts us to quickly accept its output without evaluating potential improvements. Assuming AI can do a job to 90% of a human’s rigor and quality, figuring out what the other 10% is without having done the same work yourself is quite the challenge. So the efficiency gains may not be as significant as you think, not until we figure out some smarter processes.
An example of what I mean: you can feed ChatGPT with notes from an interview conducted with a customer about their experiences and how a product fits into their lives. Supply enough interviews, and ChatGPT can do the work of summarizing them in aggregate, presenting key themes and areas worth looking into, like maybe everyone thinks the price is too high, but it’s because they don’t fully understand the value of what they’re buying.
It can create a bunch of frameworks to illustrate these findings, like personas and service blueprints. And it can even suggest solutions, like better marketing materials to explain this value to customers. The AI’s output might look pretty good, similar to what a team of human designers would (more slowly) produce, and a company might be tempted to make business decisions based on it. In fact, a team of human designers who haven’t read the interview notes themselves or thought deeply about it might also look at the AI’s work and say it’s good to go.
The level of confidence and finality inherent in these AI outputs is incredibly convincing. But if a human were to go through all the interviews, listening to the recordings perhaps, they might realize there was a missing element, a feeling subtly unsaid on the margins, that means some customers do see the extra quality, they just wish there was a cheaper version of the product that did less. Skimming through the finished research report crafted by the AI, you wouldn’t even begin to guess where in the sea of correct conclusions this exception could be hiding.
But there’s no question that this stuff is ready today to do some tasks like image editing, seen in Photoshop’s impressive beta release of a “Generative Fill” feature this week. I took a stock photo and doubled its height, and it was able to get the context of the scene and fill in the missing ceiling almost perfectly. That would have taken an experienced image compositor at least a few minutes, and anyone else way too much time. Just a couple of clicks now.
I also looked into what Adobe is building with its Sensei suite of AI marketing tools, and that dream of generating and sending personalized ads, as in a unique package of art and copy tailored to a single customer’s behavior, would seem to be already here. I’m not 100% sure how this works everywhere, but in the past, you’d still need copywriters and art people involved in the process after marketers had identified the “customer journeys” and content-goes-here templates. With the opportunities now being identified, advertising messages crafted, and email offers all sent with a single click by the same person, there’s hardly a crack in the door left for the traditional artists and copywriters to make their case. Yet, the quality is good enough to satisfy all but the most discerning of corporations.
You may observe that the two of the largest advertising platforms are already in this space.
What do you think about the current advancements in AI and their implications? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
(One more example: I asked ChatGPT to help suggest edits for this post, and it rewrote one of the above sentences to be better. I liked it, but on closer inspection, there was a glaring semantic error I had to fix myself. It also suggested the call to action above, to increase engagement. Talk to me!)
There seems to be yet another wave of Covid sweeping through the city, based on the fact that several people I know have come down with it, and every bus and train car I’ve been on this week had more people wearing masks, suggesting that they, too, know people who’ve come down with it.
Kim is going away for a couple of weeks, and I’m hoping she doesn’t run into it out there either; one of her colleagues caught it while traveling in the region a few days ago. I’m planning to stay home as much as I can during this time, and finishing as many video games as possible.
- Not a ton of progress in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which I’ve been playing consistently now for the past few weeks — a streak unmatched since the game first came out six years ago (I abandoned it out of fatigue shortly after that initial burst). I’ve now got all four Divine Beasts pointing at the castle and now just need to build up the nerve and arsenal to storm it and be done with this. I seem to be procrastinating instead, exploring areas in the massive world that I never checked out before.
- The girl band I would say I’m rooting the most for in pop music, XG, performed at the Head in the Clouds festival in New York, and I watched some fancams of their set. The audio quality is terrible in all of them, so I won’t recommend starting there, but they are undeniably polished and tight as a group. Here are two music videos. I think I discovered them back in February, and at the time I said they’re gonna be monstrously huge this year. I stand by this.
- If you watch the documentary series their label has put on YouTube, you’ll understand why they’re performing at this level: they’ve been physically and psychologically abused for the past six years of training, starting from when some of them were just 12. It’s horrendous to watch, but also probably par for the industry. While it’s good that someone decided to plainly put this footage out there, I’m not seeing much of a backlash, so it’s probably too late and already normalized. Some of the stuff their boss/producer says and does is straight up toxic emotional manipulation (he apparently came up as an idol himself so it’s like Ted Lasso says in the latest episode, hurt people hurt people).
- Ted Lasso is almost done with its third season, one episode to go. I’m still liking it much better than season two, although it is sooo uneven and odd in its choices. You know the adage, “show, don’t tell”? It’s like the concept of season three is going against that conventional wisdom; a challenge the writing team decided to issue themselves: Can we take lots of scenes that people want to see (scenes of closure, catharsis, and vindication!) and make them happen off-camera and between episodes? And after doing that, can we still make people care through the strength of our set pieces and touching monologues? That’s the only explanation I have for what’s been going on. And to the team’s credit, it works some of the time. It’s not conventional TV, and maybe that’s the point.
- Platonic, the new sitcommy show on Apple TV+, is much more conventional. It’s about a male and female pair of friends who are really just friends (so far), and a comparison to When Harry Met Sally is drawn in the very first episode. They had a fight and haven’t spoken in years, and then reconnect on the cusp of middle age, when it’s notoriously difficult to form new friendships, let alone platonic ones. I think the concept and set up are strong, but the execution is a little spotty. I’m not really into Seth Rogan’s work, and his character here feels exactly like what you’d expect from one of his characters, but by the end of episode 2 I think I’ll keep watching. The most jarring thing is Rose Byrne’s quasi-Australian accent which raises too many questions about how they met and got along in the past.
- Speaking of actors whose strong accents shatter the suspension of disbelief, Arnold Fucking Schwarzenegger is back in a NETFLIX TV SERIES which sounds like a dreamy reboot of True Lies. The show is called FUBAR and it’s about a father and daughter who both secretly work for the CIA without knowing about each other’s involvement. I haven’t seen any of it yet, but I’m dying to.
- It strikes me that in the future, one could give a crazy brief like the above to a generative AI system and start watching something like FUBAR within minutes.
- My first music discovery of the week is Eternally Yours, a new Alphaville album that sees the band doing symphonic rearrangements of songs such as Big In Japan and Forever Young with a full orchestra. Yes, in Dolby Atmos spatial audio. This is a band that was formed 41 years ago and the lead singer’s voice is still incredible, iconic.
- The second is Tears can be so soft, the new song by Christine and the Queens. It’s simple but surprisingly soulful, and sonically recalls Massive Attack’s best work.