A Terminator endoskeleton, a chrome skeletal figure with glowing red eyes and a machine gun, surveys an apocalyptic battlefield as purple laser beams strafe past in the background.

Without firing a shot

It started this week: friends of mine, perfectly good folk, folk who (one would think) would know better, started sending me A.I.-generated art. An alternate version of The Avengers, cast with the stars of the 1990s; The Incredibles as a 1950s sitcom. It’s all possible now — if you have an idea, you can generate it at higher fidelity than you ever could before, unless you were either a supremely talented artist or had mountains of time on your hands, or both — and those of us who still feel the urge to hold our nose and aver that A.I. will ruin everything (or at least, Art) are going to have to get over ourselves and get used to it.

We’re going to have to get used to it for the same reason that Film Twitter had to get used to the fact that yes, an overwhelming majority of moviegoers still care about Avatar: because the average person doesn’t give a fuck. They just like things that are novel, entertaining, interesting, or all three. They aren’t weighing the moral dimensions or thematic consequences; they’re enjoying a moment (or three hours) of diversion, and moving on.

Those of us objecting to all of this are privileged enough to know the difference, and it is a privilege. Broad cultural mores never move as fast as those of its cognoscenti, and some changes to the way we do things on Earth are so massive and easy that they fall straight into that temporal gap. Generative A.I. — what should really be called “machine-learning text and image generation” — is both massive* and easy. As easy as Googling used to be, before Google fucked itself.

My generation might kick and scream about A.I. for the remainder of our time on Earth (thirty years, at best!), but fifty years from now, no one will be left who sees any of this as bad or even unusual. It will just be another part of the way people do things, as grandfathered for them as using Google is for us.

* All this being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the very obvious elephant in the room, which is that this “A.I. boom” is actually just made-up horseshit. It’s Big Tech trying to make another Big Tech thing happen, except this time the product sucks; it’s good enough to stick Tom Cruise’s face on Iron Man if you don’t need it to look “realistic,” but the technology is absolute gobshite at most other things, and it’s being mis-marketed besides (there’s no “intelligence” in this “artificial intelligence,” just artificiality).

Big Tech needs to do this, cuz Capitalism. They need to convince as many people as possible that generative A.I. is a normal and indispensable part of their lives, and therefore the Next Big Thing. They need to do this for the same reason all your favourite studios jumped into streaming 5-10 years ago: because everyone else was doing it. There isn’t a there there, just Wall Street pundits and IPO valuations. All of this will be proven eventually; and as usual, all the wrong people will lose their jobs, and the people who made this mess will move on to messing up something else.

Anyway. As I recall, at least a couple of the Terminator sequels tried to keep up with the times and connect Skynet — originally conceived as a military supercomputer — to the premises of social media or other ways we use online tools now. Even Jim Cameron at his most dystopic, however, probably didn’t see a world coming where Capitalism would eat its own tail by giving hundreds of millions of jobs to computers, thus collapsing the buying power of multiple generations and — potentially, best-case scenario — bringing an end to Capitalism itself.

I don’t know if this qualifies for a Terminator sequel, but it sure as hell qualifies for something!

Blood & Chrome

Summer arrived in Toronto all at once, and suddenly it’s so hot that the air stinks of diesel. Maybe it’s not that; maybe it’s actually that rubbery turfy shit they’ve built the athletic field with across the way; or maybe it’s Furiosa calling me back for the fourth time. Maybe this is what the Wasteland smells like — I guess we’re all going to find out. Your choices are mad skies and thunderstorms, or breathing truck exhaust.

There’s a new ordinance in Toronto this summer where, if an ice cream truck plays the song more than 5 times consecutively, citizens are allowed to shoot it with a rocket launcher. I’m genuinely surprised this passed through our overall listless city council, which tends to reserve themselves for actions that categorically make life in the city worse, not better. And I, ever the critic, have emailed my councillor to ask if the ordinance includes running up alongside one of the ice cream trucks and hucking a hand grenade through the window; so far, no response. Still, I’ll take what I can get on this front.

The new law is so surprising only in comparison to the absolute standstill on the loud car fiasco, which one would think would qualify under the same general rules. For reasons probably best left unexplored, the pandemic empowered a vast, loud car subculture in Toronto to turn their vehicles into, effectively, rolling atomic bombs. These mods are illegal even without the street racing (which also happens), and one spends one’s time wondering** what $1.2 billion in police funding in the city actually purchases, if it’s not related to any of this.

** when one is not wondering why a driver with micropenis would spend so much time and money advertising it, of course

Maybe under those terms, the rocket launcher ordinance makes sense. The police are the red tape; we can take direct action against the ice cream trucks ourselves, saving a step. The only equivalent I can think of with respect to the loud car fiasco is the time I photographed the license plate of one of them so that I could file a complaint, and the owner nearly started to cry, begging me to delete the photo, like I was going to email it to his dad or something. I was touched by his willingness to show such tender emotion!

And furthermore

  • This week’s Acolyte was pure, straight-from-the-tap Star Wars, boy. Those transcendent final few minutes produced a SW elation I haven’t felt since the gemstone cavern in The Last Jedi. We’re out of the (admittedly, blocky) setup episodes and, hopefully, watching this thing take its place in some rarefied air. So naturally, here’s a video essay about The Last Jedi that I came across this week, about faith, the Jedi, and (my) Luke Skywalker. (Empire Wreckers)