Bookmark Beat: EP 15

Writers strike, designing for AI and a whole bunch of music 🎶

Unless you've sworn off the internet for the past 6-8 months, you've probably been reading a lot about AI. You've also likely used at least one of the AI tools that have come out in that same period. From ChatGPT to Stable Diffusion, there's been so much hype lately (and the requisite fear/excitement/eye-rolling in response) that I don't think I've gone a single day in the last month without talking about AI in some form.

So today's Bookmark Beat will be about AI, how it affects designers and what we should expect from the increased use of these tools. I promise not to climb too high on my soapbox and, instead, let the links do the talking! But first, an intro…

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An intro: The writers are still on strike

I am an avid viewer of Late Night with Seth Meyers. Every week, I watch the monologues, A Closer Look and (sometimes) the interviews with guests. What I especially look forward to is the end-of-week YouTube exclusive that Meyers puts together called “Corrections”. This 15-30 minute diatribe against the week's YouTube comments is as funny as it is nonsensical.

And, at the moment, it's missing from my life.

That's because the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is on strike - advocating for better working conditions, wages and careers. In the last Corrections, Seth Meyers spoke a bit about supporting this strike, despite the short-term pain that it would induce in the world of Late Night.

If you're interested in the history of WGA strikes, how it relates to the larger labor conversation, and what the writers are negotiating for, I highly recommend checking out Hollywood is the single best example of mature labor power in America by Cory Doctorow.

Here's an excerpt for those who'd rather keep reading here:

The way that the studios make money has changed: streaming is clobbering ad-supported TV and movie theater tickets. The studios are adapting. The workers want to adapt, too. The studios would rather “treat[] their work force as a disposable natural resource to be mined, used up, and then abandoned, as business dictates.”

A union gives workers “the same ability to adapt to changing industries that companies already have.” The studios want to leave workers behind. Unions give workers the collective power to say, “No. You’re taking us with you.”

As you've probably guessed (likely based on my previous post about the importance of worker solidarity), I support this strike. I also think it's a great preamble to the links I'll be sharing today about AI.

So, anyway…

Let's talk about AI

Since my last mention of AI becoming just "another tool in our toolbox", I've started to notice it creeping into my workflow more and more. Instead of searching for free placeholder images on Pixabay, I've started using DALL-E to generate avatars and backgrounds. Instead of making up variations on the same 3-5 placeholder texts I use for names, dates and locations, I've been using GPT-3.5 to make them up instead.

And more advanced tools are coming. In Designing in the age of ChatGPT, John Moriarty shares how tedious things have become easier to accomplish and how AI makes designing this just “good enough” a lot more alluring. He also shares a few tips to address this shift. I especially love his suggestions on how to “enforce limits” on what's worth using AI for and “push[ing] beyond” the boundaries of AI to truly make something great. As designers, it's important that we question the utility of each solution, weigh it against the potential harm it could produce, and (for the love of god) create interfaces for AIs that actually work.

But it's not just design that's getting disrupted, it's everything. From classrooms to courtrooms, the specter of AI is looming over us… and our elder statesmen (mostly white dudes from the 60s) are scared.

Governments have been conducting comprehensive research on the potential affects of technology. And I really do hope they can get ahead of it before all this technological advancement ends up like Crypto/Web3/NFTs (or worse, social media).

In the meantime, I wouldn't be surprised to see more bottoms-up policy and protections coming from society writ large. From “certified organic content” badges on blog posts to "style cloaks" that can confuse AIs training on artists’ work. At least I hope to see it - because we can't count on our corporate overlords to fix it.

Will A.I. Become the New McKinsey?

To round out this section with a bit of a “how might we”, I'd like to quote this article from Ted Chiang in last week's New Yorker:

Whenever anyone accuses anyone else of being a Luddite, it’s worth asking, is the person being accused actually against technology? Or are they in favor of economic justice? And is the person making the accusation actually in favor of improving people’s lives? Or are they just trying to increase the private accumulation of capital?

I don't think AI will doom us all. But I do think that, unless there's intervention at the political and social levels, we'll be unable to leverage this technology for good. Instead, it will be used the same way that consultancies are - as a scapegoat for the outcomes that those in power already wanted.

Towards the end of the article, Ted writes:

Harmful policy decisions are more likely to be made when consulting firms—or new technologies—offer ways to implement them

As a designer, I recognize that I may not always have the power to influence “business decisions”. But what I can do is make more human-centered decisions easier to choose than the ones that an AI auto-generates for leaders. At the moment, I believe the only way to do that is to understand these tools, instead of waiting for them to be used against me.

Now let's listen to some music

I've been loving the YouTube recommendations folks have sent me over the last few weeks. From music to video games, there's a lot I wanted to share in this beat:

And, to add a couple of non-music-related videos, What is Happening with iPhone Camera? by Marques Brownlee and I made a FULL-BODY keyboard! by Everything Is Hacked are both worth checking out. The former for a great technical deep-dive on why an old Android phone is better than the latest and greatest iPhone at taking pictures; the latter for a big belly chuckle!

Coda: SPACE!

With the JWST putting out yet another banger of an image, I thought it'd be nice to close out this newsletter with a link to a fun game/scrolly-telling website called Space Elevator.

Neal Agarwal, a creative coder with a pretty great twitter, challenges us to scroll up instead of down on a website. As the page scrolls, so do the meters… all the way to space! I really enjoyed it and I hope it's a good palette cleanser after all this AI doom-and-gloom.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this (or didn't), lemme know. Either way, I'll catch ya next beat 🥁😎🥁