The Future of Writing Is a Lot Like Hip-Hop

From The Atlantic:

Creative artificial intelligence provokes a strange mixture of contempt and dread. People say things such as “AI art is garbage” and “It’s plagiarism,” but also “AI art is going to destroy creativity itself.” These reactions are contradictory, but nobody seems to notice. AI is the bogeyman in the shadows: The obscurity, more than anything the monster has actually perpetrated, is the source of loathing and despair.

Consider the ongoing feud between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The writers are on strike, arguing, among other things, that studios should not be able to use AI tools to replace their labor. “It’s important to note that AI software does not create anything. It generates a regurgitation of what it’s fed,” the WGA has claimed. “Plagiarism is a feature of the AI process.” The AMPTP, for its part, has offered ​​“annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.” Neither side knows exactly what it’s talking about, but they feel they have to fight about it anyway.

So little of how we talk about AI actually comes from the experience of using it. Almost every essay or op-ed you read follows the same trajectory: I used ChatGPT to do a thing, and from that thing, I can predict catastrophic X or industry-altering Y. Like the camera, the full consequences of this technology will be worked out over a great deal of time by a great number of talents responding to a great number of developments. But at the time of writing, almost all the conversation surrounding generative AI is imaginary, rooted not in the use of the tool but in extrapolated visions.

So when Jacob Weisberg, the CEO of Pushkin Industries, called me one Friday in January and asked if I wanted to write an AI-generated novel, I said yes immediately. To be more precise, he asked if I wanted to be the producer of an AI that would “write” a novel. It was the exact kind of opportunity to dive headfirst into a practical extended application of the new technology that I’d been looking for. The experience has been, in equal measures, phantasmagoric and grounding.

My conclusion is informed but unsatisfying. Creative AI is going to change everything. It’s also going to change nothing.

Using AI to write fiction is not unfamiliar to me. I’ve been using artificial intelligence to write short stories since 2017, when I published an early “algostory” in Wired; I also produced a 17 percent computer-generated horror story for the Los Angeles Review of Books called “The Thing on the Phone” in 2021, and the short “Autotuned Love Story,” built out of stylistic bots, for Lithub a year later. But these experiments were mostly lyrical. What Weisberg was proposing was entirely different: The novel would have to be 95 percent computer-generated, relatively short (about 25,000 words), and of excellent quality (there would be no point in creating yet another unimaginative mass of GPT text; readers could just do that themselves).

Because I was making derivative art, I would go all the way, run into the limitations, into the derivative: The plot would be a murder mystery about a writer killed by tech that is supposedly targeting writers. I called it Death of an Author. I worked out the plot during a long skate with my daughter and a walk with my son (better techniques than any machine could offer), and began taking copious notes.

The experiment would attempt to be compulsively readable, a page-turner. At first, I tried to get the machines to write like my favorite, Jim Thompson, the dime-store Dostoevsky. It couldn’t come close: The subterfuge of Thompson’s writing, a mille-feuille of irony and horror with subtle and variable significance, was too complex for me to articulate to the machine. This failure is probably due to my own weakness rather than the limitations of the AI. Raymond Chandler, however, I had better results with. I sort of know what Raymond Chandler is doing and could explain it, I thought, to a machine: driving, electric, forceful, active prose with flashes of bright beauty.

My process mostly involved the use of ChatGPT—I found very little difference between the free service and the paid one that utilizes the more advanced GPT-4 model—and Sudowrite, a GPT-based, stochastic writing instrument. I would give ChatGPT instructions such as “Write an article in the style of the Toronto Star containing the following information: Peggy Firmin was a Canadian writer who was murdered on a bridge on the Leslie Street Spit on August 14 with no witnesses.” Then I’d paste the output into Sudowrite, which gives you a series of AI-assisted options to customize text: You can expand, shorten, rephrase, and “customize” a selection. For example, you can tell Sudowrite to “make it more active” or “make it more conversational,” which I did with almost every passage in Death of an Author. But you can also give it a prompt such as “Make it more like Hemingway.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

2 Supreme Court justices failed to recuse themselves from cases involving their publisher after receiving large amounts in book advances and royalties

From Business Insider:

Two Supreme Court justices did not recuse themselves from cases that arose before the court involving their book publisher, Penguin Random House, according to a recent CNN report.

There have been two cases that came before the Supreme Court involving publishing conglomerate Penguin Random House. In both situations, the Supreme Court declined to take on the copyright infringement cases, allowing the publisher to win at a lower court level.

Liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was confirmed in 2009, was on the high court during both cases, which occurred in 2013 and 2019-2020. Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in 2017 and was also a member of the Supreme Court during the second case. 

Sotomayor and Gorsuch had both signed major book deals with the publisher before the cases occurred, and both justices declined to recuse themselves from the cases involving Penguin Random House. Former Justice Stephen Breyer, who had reported receiving royalties from the publisher, recused himself from each of the cases.

According to Sotomayor’s financial disclosures, as CNN reported, she’s made approximately $3.6 million in royalties and advances for the several books she’s published under Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, which is part of Penguin Random House.

As for Gorsuch, his financial disclosures note he’s made at least $655,000 from Penguin Random House over the past few years from his book, “A Republic, If You Can Keep It.”

. . . .

“The Supreme Court should have a code of ethics to govern the conduct of its members, and its refusal to adopt such standards has contributed to eroding public confidence in the highest court in the land,” Van Hollen said. “It is unacceptable that the Supreme Court has exempted itself from the accountability that applies to all other members of our federal courts, and I believe Congress should act to remedy this problem.”

Link to the rest at Business Insider

PG suggests this is not a gray area. Justices who have received large payments for their books should absolutely recuse themselves in cases that might impact the finances of their publishers.

While PG may not agree with Senator Chris Van Hollen on some issues, but he firmly supports actions that will require recusal of justices who have received financial benefits of more than a trivial amount from a person or entity who has a matter before the Supreme Court.

For those unfamiliar with US appellate court practices, when a member of the Supreme Court recuses her/himself from a particular case, the Chief Justice or, if the Chief Justice has recused from a matter, the senior justice on the Court appoints another federal judge, typically a judge from one of the thirteen Circuit Courts of Appeal who have been appointed in the same manner as the members of the Supreme Court have been.

In PG’s opinion, some of the Circuit Court judges are more competent at their profession than some of the Supreme Court justices are.

The Deadly Beauty Regime: Historical Practices of Risky Cosmetics


From the mountainous region of Styria, Austria, to the high society salons in Mayfair, London, the quest for beauty has taken humans on a dangerous journey.

This journey, spanning centuries, has been marked by the use of deadly substances such as arsenic, radium, mercury, cantharidin, petroleum, and X-rays as cosmetics and remedies.

Arsenic: The Austrians’ Potion of Beauty

In the mid-19th century, Styrians in southeast Austria were known for their unusual practice of consuming arsenic trioxide, also known as ‘white arsenic’.

Arsenic was not just a feared poison but was used as a medicine and a beautifying agent.

The Styrians reported increased stamina and enhanced complexion, attributing their rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes to arsenic consumption.

Arsenic’s popularity soared as it offered short-term benefits, including a temporary flush to the cheeks due to capillary dilation.

The late 19th-century cosmetic market saw arsenic-brd products like ‘Dr James P Campbell’s Safe Arsenic Complexion Wafers’ and arsenic-laced soaps that stayed in demand well into the 1930s.

Radium: The Radiant Element of Beauty

Around 1911, Helen Cavendish in Mayfair, London, introduced a line of beauty products utilizing radium, a radioactive element discovered by the Curies.

This line, known as Caradium, contained products like shampoos and face creams made with radium water and herbs.

The theory of mild radium therapy suggested that exposure to small doses of radium triggered a chain of psychological reactions, improving joint movements and boosting the immune system. 

Despite the known dangers of radium, these products reportedly caused minimal harm due to the minuscule amounts used.

Mercury: The Quicksilver Cure

Dating back to the 1300s, mercury or ‘quicksilver’ was used to treat skin issues like psoriasis and leprosy. In the 17th century, mercury was part of the recipe “to procure Beauty” published in Hannah Woolley’s book.

The effects of mercury, however, were detrimental. Its accumulation in the body resulted in tissue damage, stomach ulcers, loosening of teeth, and damage to the nervous system. 

Mercury was finally struck off the British Pharmacopoeia, a register of approved remedies, in the 1950s.

Link to the rest at

Not exactly about books and writing, but potentially of interest to those who write historical fiction.

Why Authors Should Ditch Mailchimp and Move to Substack

From Jane Friedman:

If you’re an author who’s been using Mailchimp to grow your list and improve sales, it might be time to ditch Mailchimp and move to Substack.

This is a big decision. I understand.

After all, as a small publisher, I recently made the decision to move our Every Day Poems publication to Substack, and it took some real work to successfully do so.

Why did I risk relocating a publication that was approaching its twelfth birthday?

Two big reasons I started the ball rolling

  1. Mailchimp has seriously raised its prices since it was taken over by Intuit and since it has pivoted to be a heavier e-commerce service. Regarding pricing, I asked Mailchimp for a solution that might be appropriate for their customers who are part of the creator economy, and they said, “You could delete subscribers.” That just didn’t seem like a sustainable solution if the goal is growth.
  2. One of our T. S. Poetry Press author/illustrators started a few Substacks last fall and immediately built her lists into the thousands (from nothing!); we watched her book sales start climbing. That sales trend has continued for her and for another author of ours who also moved to Substack.

The bottom line?

We saw a chance to cut costs and increase sales. What’s not to love.

Beyond that, we want to suggest 5 more reasons you might want to ditch Mailchimp and move to Substack.

5 reasons to make the move

1. You can get paid, instead of paying. Substack is technically a subscription service, and while you can offer your newsletter for free, you can also offer it at a minimum of $5 a month or $30 a year. Some people charge more. Sure, you can charge for your Mailchimp newsletter, too, but you have to pay to play. If your lists are in the thousands at Mailchimp, this can become quite pricey.

We went for the 5 & 30 model at two of the Substacks we now run. And while we lost paying subscribers when we made our initial move, the revenue has since tripled. That’s partly because we also added a new offering: The Write to Poetry. It might also be due to Reason # 2 below.

2. You’ll be in an ecosystem instead of a silo. Substack sends your newsletter to inboxes, just like Mailchimp, but it also publishes your content to the Web. This is extremely important for creating an ecosystem instead of a silo. All your free posts are easily likeable and shareable and, if you allow comments, can provide for engagement.

On top of that, the Substack network allows publications to recommend other publications—sort of the way blogs used to have sidebars where they recommended other blogs. If you really hit it big, you might even get recommended by Substack (that happened for us with Every Day Poems, and we picked up a lot of subscribers when it did!)

3. You can have searchable archives instead of invisibility. Substack has excellent SEO, and your archives (even your paid ones, if you toggle to discoverability) are discoverable by search engines. With Mailchimp, there are no archives except in people’s inboxes. Not optimal.

Does it make a difference? Our Substack stats show that it does. We’ve gotten new free and paid subscribers via Google searches that landed people right on our regular content—content that with Mailchimp would not have been findable by search engines.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG would be interested in the thoughts of others on the Mailchimp v. Substack discussion. He does admit being a bit disappointed in Mailchimp’s performance in the last couple of Mrs. PG’s book releases.

It is a paradox

It is a paradox that in our time of drastic rapid change, when the future is in our midst devouring the present before our eyes, we have never been less certain about what is ahead of us.

Eric Hoffer

In global rush to regulate AI, Europe set to be trailblazer

From The Associated Press:

The breathtaking development of artificial intelligence has dazzled users by composing music, creating images and writing essays, while also raising fears about its implications. Even European Union officials working on groundbreaking rules to govern the emerging technology were caught off guard by AI’s rapid rise.

The 27-nation bloc proposed the Western world’s first AI rules two years ago, focusing on reining in risky but narrowly focused applications. General purpose AI systems like chatbots were barely mentioned. Lawmakers working on the AI Act considered whether to include them but weren’t sure how, or even if it was necessary.

“Then ChatGPT kind of boom, exploded,” said Dragos Tudorache, a Romanian member of the European Parliament co-leading the measure. “If there was still some that doubted as to whether we need something at all, I think the doubt was quickly vanished.”

The release of ChatGPT last year captured the world’s attention because of its ability to generate human-like responses based on what it has learned from scanning vast amounts of online materials. With concerns emerging, European lawmakers moved swiftly in recent weeks to add language on general AI systems as they put the finishing touches on the legislation.

. . . .

“Europe is the first regional bloc to significantly attempt to regulate AI, which is a huge challenge considering the wide range of systems that the broad term ‘AI’ can cover,” said Sarah Chander, senior policy adviser at digital rights group EDRi.

Authorities worldwide are scrambling to figure out how to control the rapidly evolving technology to ensure that it improves people’s lives without threatening their rights or safety.

Link to the rest at The Associated Press

PG suggests that regulating AI is Act 2 of regulating the Internet.

He suspects that AI computer systems will locate in places that are interested in the benefits of high-tech business and the great jobs it can create. PG is not aware of any reason AI capabilities cannot be miniaturized into a smartphone. PG just checked and found several AI apps that are available for his iPhone already. He predicts that the AI app goldrush is just getting started.

Reactions to ‘Artificial Intelligence’: Scribd Alters Its Terms

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a statement issued from San Francisco today (May 9), the subscription service Scribd has “clarified how its data may be used in an update to its terms of service.”

This update, according to the company, “emphasizes that Scribd’s users, subscribers, and partner companies may not utilize the company’s data for monetization or to train large-language models without Scribd’s explicit consent.

“Additionally, Scribd confirmed that it has not allowed any companies that train large-language models to use full content provided by its publishing partners, which is only available through its digital subscription service.”

This is just the latest, of course, in quickening reactions and evaluations of “artificial intelligence” in the publishing and content realm, several points about which were addressed on Monday (May 8) in the Association of American Publishers’ annual general meeting.

During that live event, AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante laid out a gratifyingly comprehensive overview of issues that the US and international publishing industry needs to consider amid the popular giddiness and occasional doomsday chatter around systems such as ChatGPT introduced by OpenAI.

Among the most pressing questions Pallante poses—each having bearing on Scribd’s unusually broad, sector-crossing offerings. From Pallante’s message to the United States’ publishers:

  • “Consider academic publishing. Each year more than two million articles are published in more than 26,000 research journals following peer review and curation that is painstaking, but essential to ensure integrity and confidence and research results. How can AI tools help with this mission? What threats does it pose?
  • “Consider education publishing. There’s an old saying that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. What are “facts” in the context of AI? A percentage of truth? How will learning be amplified or cheating be contained?
  • “Consider trade publishing. Do we as a society want AI-generated works flooding the Internet, potentially depressing the value of human authorship? If we can’t contain AI-generated works, what should be the ethics about disclosing their provenance?”

. . . .

Trip Adler, the co-founding CEO of Scribd, today is quoted in the company’s statement, saying, “Our library is home to hundreds of millions of amazing, human-authored pieces of content, making it one of the most valuable and sought-after data resources.

“Our library’s quality sets us apart, and to safeguard its content, we have outlined use cases in our terms of service that control how and when other companies can use our data.”

The company’s announcement says that Scribd “will continue to prioritize the interests of publishers that participate in its subscription service, its base of creators who upload their own content to the platform, and the entire Scribd community. This is in addition to some of the existing measures already in place such as BookID, Scribd’s automated approach to protecting copyrighted materials.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Real Costs Of Writing A Book

From My Story Doctor:

What are the real costs of writing a book?

If you’ve been “bitten by the writing bug” then you are exceedingly aware of the pull to write — even if it isn’t an everyday activity yet. You may be working on a particular story, something that’s been yanking on your imagination for years. Or feeling the pendulum shift from exuberance from creating to the frustrations of being stuck. Maybe you are despairing that your book will never see the light of day. You may wonder if you have what it takes to become a published author. And what happens after you’re published. There are indeed many costs of writing a book. Some are obvious, like the time commitment for getting words on the page. Others may be more elusive. In fact, you might not know what you don’t know.

To help get a more comprehensive view of the costs of writing a book, this post will explore six of the biggest cost categories for writing a book.

Time Costs of writing a book

Some of your social circle might think the investment of time to be something that’s free, but is it really? It takes a long time to write a book. Even if you sit down and pants it — meaning you put pen to paper and write, not knowing where the story will take you — creating an entire book is going to take time.


There’s the pre-writing or the planning phase where you mull and daydream your story. You choose what genre to write in, what point of view to tell it in, who your characters are, where the setting is, what the stakes are if the protagonist doesn’t get what they desire, and what the story’s message will be, etc.

Brainstorming and research.

There’s brainstorming and dreaming, which can and often does lead to research. For example: A science fiction story may require you to take a deep-dive into technological manuals and articles while a historical fantasy may make you learn about our world’s history in order to provide an authentic spin, and a mystery may require you to learn about procedures that law enforcement uses, etc. You might even need to research what resources you need and which experts you need to talk to.


You have the actual putting the words on the page — either based on a plot that you created, which took time, or you’re discovery-writing, which means you’ll probably have to backtrack periodically, if and when you write yourself into corners. You may do a little of both.

Feedback and revising.

After your draft is done, you’ll probably want to get feedback for your story. You’ll more than likely want to mold it into the best story that you can. That will mean revising and editing…maybe even doing some rewriting.

Creating a platform.

You will need a platform — a social media presence, email list, and website — to create visibility to reach your potential readers, build connections and ultimately sell books. It takes time to create these, create content for them, and to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in your niche.

Querying and/or preparing to publish.

If you decide to travel a traditional path, it will take time. Time to research which agents you want to query. Write the customized query letters and synopsis. You have to prepare your query package, submit it, keep track of submissions, and wait for the agents to reply. If you land a reputable agent, it is again waiting for him or her to pitch your manuscript to the publishers. If the publisher accepts it, there are more time hurdles to cross such as more edits to your manuscript, before you see your book in the bookstore and royalty checks in your hand. And of course, you still have to market.

Or if you decide to go indie, you have the time commitment of getting the book ready and formatted for publication, finding an artist for your cover art or creating your own, procuring your ISBN numbers, publishing, getting reviews, marketing, to name some of the process.

Link to the rest at My Story Doctor

Dialogue writing examples from top books vs AI

From Now Novel:

Read dialogue writing examples from diverse genres as we compare them to examples AI gave given the same scenario, for seven ultimate insights:

How we chose the dialogue examples for this study

We took the first seven books listed under the Kindle Unlimited ‘Featured’ section on Amazon for a cross-section of authors writing in diverse genres such as dystopian, regency romance, mystery, and thriller.

This gave the following list of titles to explore for dialogue writing lessons and ideas:

  • The House at the End of the World – Dean Koontz (dystopian)
  • The Echo of Old Books – Barbara Davis (historical mystery)
  • A Girl Called Samson – Amy Harmon (historical)
  • Layla – Colleen Hoover (romantic suspense)
  • The Quarry Girls – Jess Lourey (thriller)
  • I’ll Stop the World – Lauren Thoman (coming-of-age, mystery)
  • You’ve Reached Sam – Dustin Thao (YA, fantasy/romance)

Dialogue writing examples (plus insights)

Let’s dive into an example from each book.

The method: We found the first dialogue (discounting solo utterances/inner monologue) in each of the above books.

We summarized the scenario and asked ChatGPT4 to write a piece of dialogue given the scenario and genre for each. This gave comparative talking points on what sets human vs AI-written dialogue apart (as of May 2023).

Dystopian dialogue example: Dean Koontz

The scenario: Katie has fixed a leaky faucet and her mom thanks her dad for fixing the tap over dinner, assuming it was the dad who did it.

That night at dinner, Katie’s mother smiles at Father and says, “Oh, by the way, thank you for finally fixing that faucet.”
When he says he hasn’t had the chance yet, Katie admits to the deed. Mother is suitably amazed.
Father, however, is not surprised. “She’s an artist.”
“Yes,” says Mother, “and not a plumber.”Dean Koontz, The House at the End of the World (2023)

Dialogue example generated for this scenario

We gave that scenario to ChatGPT4 with this prompt:

Write dialogue for the following scenario: A girl, Katie, has fixed a leaky faucet. Her mother thinks Katie’s father fixed it, not Katie, and thanks him for fixing it over dinner. Genre of the novel: dystopian.

This is the dialogue we got as output (note that the prompt is quite broad, we could specify that all three speak, that ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ are named as such in narration, etc.).

Katie scraped her fork against her plate, her gaze flickering between the chunk of dehydrated potato on her plate and her mother. A low hum of the purifiers outside, working to cleanse the fallout-laden air, acted as a somber symphony for their meager meal.

Her mother, Joan, leaned back in her chair, sighing contentedly. “John, I noticed the faucet in the kitchen doesn’t leak anymore. Thank you for fixing it. We couldn’t afford to lose more water.”

Her father, John, paused mid-chew, his gaze moving from Joan to Katie. He was a man of few words, his strength silent, hidden under a ragged exterior. His weathered face turned toward his wife. “I didn’t fix it.”

Joan’s brow furrowed. “Well, if not you, then who?”

Katie cleared her throat, setting her fork down. The soft clatter echoed in the room. “It was me, Mom,” she admitted, her voice soft but firm. “I fixed the faucet.”

Joan looked at Katie, her eyes wide with disbelief. “You? But how did you…”

Katie shrugged, a small, determined smile tugging at the corners of her lips. “I found an old plumbing manual in the rubble. Spent a few nights by the flicker of the solar lamp studying it. It wasn’t as hard as you’d think.”

Her mother stared at her, a mixture of surprise and admiration flickering in her eyes. After a moment, Joan nodded, a small smile gracing her lips. “Well, it seems like you’ve been underestimating yourself, Katie.”Dialogue example generated using ChatGPT4.

Comparison between dialogue examples

Comparing Koontz’s dialogue to ChatGPT’s dialogue output, the striking differences are:

  1. Length/wordiness: Koontz’s human-written dialogue says more with less. For example, mother’s ‘Yes, and not a plumber’ could be read as a pointed jab at her husband that he was the one who was meant to fix the faucet, not their daughter. You could cut Father’s ‘He was a man of few words, his strength silent, hidden under a ragged exterior’, leaving Katie’s dad’s words themselves to show these traits.
  2. Pacing: An astute editor looking at the second version may suggest cuts to keep the pace flowing. The second has a crush of detail which almost reads as shoehorning in the genre at every opportunity (the intrusive hum of the purifiers cleaning the ‘fallout-laden’ air outside, for example). The AI-written dialogue has too much unnecessary detail.
  3. Intrigue and implication: Koontz’s original dialogue establishes succinctly in the conversation how Katie’s mother’s and father’s expectations of her differ (between surprise and non-surprise). The AI version focuses more on descriptive detail and how Katie was able to fix the faucet, which reads as more ‘on-the-nose’ (saying exactly what the situation is and what happened, without subtleties and ambiguities to engage the reader’s imagination).
  4. Tone and mood: The ChatGPT dialogue example reads as hammering home genre, a dystopian tone and mood. Koontz’s dialogue, by contrast, suggests how even in a dystopian world the ordinary and mundane – dinner table talk – can take place. Genre doesn’t need to announce itself in every line.

Link to the rest at Now Novel

Help! My Political Beliefs Were Altered by a Chatbot!

From The Wall Street Journal:

When we ask ChatGPT or another bot to draft a memo, email, or presentation, we think these artificial-intelligence assistants are doing our bidding. A growing body of research shows that they also can change our thinking—without our knowing.

One of the latest studies in this vein, from researchers spread across the globe, found that when subjects were asked to use an AI to help them write an essay, that AI could nudge them to write an essay either for or against a particular view, depending on the bias of the algorithm. Performing this exercise also measurably influenced the subjects’ opinions on the topic, after the exercise.

“You may not even know that you are being influenced,” says Mor Naaman, a professor in the information science department at Cornell University, and the senior author of the paper. He calls this phenomenon “latent persuasion.”

These studies raise an alarming prospect: As AI makes us more productive, it may also alter our opinions in subtle and unanticipated ways. This influence may be more akin to the way humans sway one another through collaboration and social norms, than to the kind of mass-media and social media influence we’re familiar with.

Researchers who have uncovered this phenomenon believe that the best defense against this new form of psychological influence—indeed, the only one, for now—is making more people aware of it. In the long run, other defenses, such as regulators mandating transparency about how AI algorithms work, and what human biases they mimic, may be helpful.

All of this could lead to a future in which people choose which AIs they use—at work and at home, in the office and in the education of their children—based on which human values are expressed in the responses that AI gives.

And some AIs may have different “personalities”—including political persuasions. If you’re composing an email to your colleagues at the environmental not-for-profit where you work, you might use something called, hypothetically, ProgressiveGPT. Someone else, drafting a missive for their conservative PAC on social media, might use, say, GOPGPT. Still others might mix and match traits and viewpoints in their chosen AIs, which could someday be personalized to convincingly mimic their writing style.

By extension, in the future, companies and other organizations might offer AIs that are purpose-built, from the ground up, for different tasks. Someone in sales might use an AI assistant tuned to be more persuasive—call it SalesGPT. Someone in customer service might use one trained to be extra polite—SupportGPT.

How AIs can change our minds

Looking at previous research adds nuance to the story of latent persuasion. One study from 2021 showed that the AI-powered automatic responses that Google’s Gmail suggests—called “smart replies”—which tend to be quite positive, influence people to communicate more positively in general. A second study found that smart replies, which are used billions of times a day, can influence those who receive such replies to feel the sender is warmer and more cooperative.

Building tools that will allow users to engage with AI to craft emails, marketing material, advertising, presentations, spreadsheets and the like is the express goal of Microsoft and Google, not to mention dozens if not hundreds of startups. On Wednesday, Google announced that its latest large language model, PaLM 2, will be used in 25 products across the company.

. . . .

OpenAI, Google and Microsoft, which partners with OpenAI, have all been eager to highlight their work on responsible AI, which includes examining possible harms of AI and addressing them. Sarah Bird, a leader on Microsoft’s responsible-AI team, recently told me that experimenting in public and rapidly responding to any issues that arise in its AIs is a key strategy for the company.

The team at OpenAI has written that the company is “committed to robustly addressing this issue [bias] and being transparent about both our intentions and our progress.” OpenAI has also published a portion of its guidelines for how its systems should handle political and cultural topics. They include the mandate that its algorithms should not affiliate with one side or another when generating text on a “culture war” topic or judge either side as good or bad.

Jigsaw is a unit within Google that is involved in advising, and building tools for, people within the company who work on large language models—which power today’s chat-based AIs—says Lucy Vasserman, head of engineering and product at Jigsaw. When I asked her about the possibility of latent persuasion, she said that such research shows how important it is for Jigsaw to study and understand how interacting with AI affects people.

“It’s not obvious when we create something new how people will interact with it, and how it will affect them,” she adds.

“Compared to research about recommendation systems and filter bubbles and rabbit holes on social media, whether due to AI or not, what is interesting here is the subtlety,” says Dr. Naaman, one of the researchers who uncovered latent persuasion.

In his research, the topic that subjects were moved to change their minds about was whether or not social media is good for society. 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

We didn’t take Charlize Theron seriously

We didn’t take Charlize Theron seriously until she did ‘Monster’ and became physically ugly. I would love to see women be able to be powerful, complex, smart, opinionated and taken seriously, even if they are beautiful.

Amber Heard

So why are algorithms still so bad at recommending books?

From The New Publishing Standard:

Over at Book Riot, Arvyn Cerezo takes us through the process and then explains why they will still recommend a book you have absolutely no interest in.

Machine learning systems called recommender systems, or recommendation systems, use data to assist users in finding new products and services … These algorithms, however, need a decent amount of data to choose a recommendation strategy in order to produce meaningful and personalized recommendations. This data may include past purchase histories, contextual data, business-related data, user profile-based information about products, or content-based information. Then, all of these are combined and analyzed using artificial intelligence models so that the recommender system can predict what similar users will do in the future.

All very clever, but…

The limitations of content-based filtering include its inability to comprehend user interests beyond simple preferences. It knows some basic stuff about me, but that’s as far as it can get. What if it recommends a racist book? What if it recommends a book that might trigger readers without some heads-up? What if it recommends a book that is problematic? The keyword is nuance, and algorithms can’t tell the difference between two books that have similar stories.

And don’t we know it? Fifteen or more years buying books on Amazon and it will still recommend books I would eat shards of glass than read.

I always figured that was just Uncle Jeff getting revenge for one of my less complimentary posts about Amazon, but it seems in fact it’s just that the recommendations system is as useless today as it was fifteen years ago.

Cerezo concludes:

“With all the pitfalls of algorithms — and AI in general — it seems like nothing beats book recommendations done by an actual human being. They are more accurate and more personal. Most of all, you can also find hidden gems that you really like rather than the bestsellers (and what everyone’s reading) that these machine learning systems always spit out.”

Two points arise.

First, “rather than the bestsellers (and what everyone’s reading) that these machine learning systems always spit out” is fundamental to the problem. Algorithms – especially for a commercial operation like Amazon – have the sole purpose of selling more books. They and the company do not give a flying fig about our personal preferences.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

BooHoo, Amazon presents books it thinks that the person who signed in will want to buy based on their past buying, browsing and searching habits.

As far as “personal preferences” are concerned, PG supposes that some people have “personal preferences” in books that they don’t want to buy or read or do something with, but is Amazon somehow required or expected to understand someone’s personal preferences that have not been reflected in their previous and current activity on Amazon?

If PG was as concerned about Amazon and his personal preferences, he would open a new Amazon account and be careful not to let anyone else use it. Within a few weeks, Amazon would understand PG’s personal preferences by what he did on the site with the new login ID.

As far as “book recommendations done by an actual human being,” without being a snob about it, PG has never met a person working in a bookstore who would have been likely to give him a good and precise suggestion for a book that PG would like to read. The most PG has ever received is something like, “Our twentieth-century history books are over there,” or “Fantasy and Science Fiction is on aisle three.”

To be fair, if PG in his current instantiation ran into PG at age thirty working in a bookstore, current PG doubts his thirty-year-old self would understand much about PG, the elder’s preferences in books.

If PG was good friends with a bookstore employee and had spent hours talking about books with that person, the results might be better if PG showed up when the bookstore was open and the employee was working at the time.

Converging Lenses: Issues in Contemporary Photography

From The Jewish Museum:

On the evening of April 23, a diverse crowd gathered in the Jewish Museum’s Scheuer Auditorium for the much-anticipated panel discussion Converging Lenses: Issues in Contemporary Photography. The event sought to dissect the concerns of contemporary photographers working today — in an era characterized by an obsession with consuming and disseminating images on the internet and through social media. This panel was the latest in a series of medium-specific conversations held at the Museum, this one in conjunction with the exhibition Laurie Simmons: How We See. Writer, artist, and moderator of the panel, Chris Wiley initiated the discussion with his diagnosis of 21st-century visual culture, claiming there was a “crisis in photography precipitated by the rise of the image environment produced on the internet.” Barbara Kasten, Lucas Blalock, and Talia Chetrit joined Wiley in giving a brief overview of their own work before discussing more generally the impact of technology and the “image environment” on the state of contemporary photography and fine art.

While each of the panelists was invited for his or her own unique approach or perspective on photography, all of them shared a renewed interest in using artistic interventions to create photographic subjectivity. Barbara Kasten, an early figure of the post-pictures generation, discussed her most recent series entitled Transpositions. In these photographs, rectilinear pieces of Plexiglas are arranged to create abstract geometrical compositions. Kasten uses the photographic process specifically to highlight the materiality of objects and the illusions created by the camera when light is translated through the Plexiglas. Although her images have an alluring formalist quality, Kasten states that the subject of her work is that of what is performed in front of the lens. Rather than move the camera around a finished composition, Kasten shuffles the Plexiglas panes around the camera, using the viewfinder to guide her.

Shifting the focus to more recent applications of photography, the other three panelists represented the current vanguard of contemporary photographers who demonstrated other ways in which artistic interventions were used as a photographic practice. Lucas Blalock described the process of transforming his photographs into “drawings” with Photoshop. His compositions often compromise verisimilitude in very obvious and clever ways. Blalock spoke in favor of digital tools and platforms, claiming that they were instrumental in shaping his approach to the medium.

Talia Chetrit, on the other hand, presented a body of work that juxtaposed photographs taken in the artist’s teenage years with newer work inspired by anecdotes from her biography and personal life. These “intimate moments” are characterized by simple compositions that deny any narrative insight, thus prompting the viewer to examine the “poetic sensibilities” of the image itself.

. . . .

Despite the initial sense of anxiety surrounding the discussion of photography in the internet age, the panel was able to expose how such conditions prompted contemporary photographers to re-examine the parameters of the medium. By incorporating their own artistic interventions into their practice, it seems that these artists, and many of their peers, are expanding the definition of “photography,” which is of particular importance now as the medium becomes a predominantly virtual, non-physical art.

Link to the rest at The Jewish Museum

Google’s new Magic Editor pushes us toward AI-perfected fakery

From The Verge:

One of the most impressive demos at Google I/O started with a photo of a woman in front of a waterfall. A presenter onstage tapped on the woman, picked her up, and moved her to the other side of the image, with the app automatically filling in the space where she once stood. They then tapped on the overcast sky, and it instantly bloomed into a brighter cloudless blue. In just a matter of seconds, the image had been transformed.

The AI-powered tool, dubbed the Magic Editor, certainly lived up to its name during the demo. It’s the kind of tool that Google has been building toward for years. It already has a couple of AI-powered image editing features in its arsenal, including the Magic Eraser, which lets you quickly remove people or objects from the background of an image. But this type of tool takes things up a notch by letting you alter the contents — and potentially, the meaning — of a photo in much more significant ways.

While it’s clear that this tool isn’t flawless — and there remains no firm release date for it — Google’s end goal is clear: to make perfecting photos as easy as just tapping or dragging something on your screen. The company markets the tool as a way to “make complex edits without pro-level editing tools,” allowing you to leverage the power of AI to single out and transform a portion of your photo. That includes the ability to enhance the sky, move and scale subjects, as well as remove parts of an image with just a few taps.

Google’s Magic Editor attempts to package all the steps that it would take to make similar edits in a program like Photoshop into a single tap — or, at least, that’s what it looks like from the demo. In Photoshop, for example, you’re stuck using the Content-Aware Move tool (or any of the other methods of your choice) to pick up and move a subject inside of an image. Even then, the photo still might not look quite right, which means you’ll have to pick up other tools, like the Clone Stamp tool or maybe even the Spot Healing Brush, to fix any leftover artifacts or a mismatched background. It’s not the most complicated process ever, but as with most professional creative tools, there’s a definite learning curve for people who are new to the program.

I’m all for Google making photo editing tools free and more accessible, given that Photoshop and some of the other image editing apps out there are expensive and pretty unintuitive. But putting powerful and incredibly easy-to-use image editing tools into the hands of, well, just about everyone who downloads Google Photos could transform the way we edit — and look at — photos. There have long been discussions about how far a photo can be edited before it’s no longer a photo, and Google’s tools push us closer to a world where we tap on every image to perfect it, reality or not.

. . . .

To be fair, there are a ton of similar photography-enhancing features that are built in to smartphone cameras. As my colleague Allison Johnson points out, mobile photography already fakes a lot of things, whether it’s by applying filters or unblurring a photo, and doctored images are nothing new. But Google’s Magic Editor could make a more substantial form of fakery easier and more attractive. In its blog post explaining the tool, Google makes it seem like we’re all in search of perfection, noting that the Magic Editor will provide “more control over the final look and feel of your photo” while getting the chance to fix a missed opportunity that would make a photo look its best.

Call me some type of weird photo purist, but I’m not a fan of editing a photo in a way that would alter my memory of an event. If I was taking a picture of a wedding and the sky was cloudy, I wouldn’t think about swapping it for something better. Maybe — just maybe — I might consider moving things around or amping up the sky on a picture I’m posting to social media, but even that seems a little disingenuous. But, again, that’s just me. I could still see plenty of people using the Magic Editor to perfect their photos for social media, which adds to the larger conversation of what exactly we should consider a photo and whether or not that’s something people should be obligated to disclose.

Link to the rest at The Verge

At the risk of seeming semantic, an unedited photo is most definitely not the same as the object/person/scene photographed. The negative image created by a film-based camera is much different than the electronic file created by a digital camera.

When the first high-end digital cameras appeared (think Nikon, Canon, etc.), many photographers, including some superb artists, thought digital images could never match the subtle changes in tone and smoothness. At first, they were correct. The first digital cameras PG used produced pretty crude images.

However, as with a great many things technical, the engineers got smarter, the digital cameras got much, much, much better, then Apple put quite a nice digital camera into every iPhone.

The last time PG checked, some time ago, 35 mm film was very hard to find. He expects that, in the hands of serious experts with decades of experience, some large-format film cameras still provide some benefits that digital cameras cannot match, but that was and is the smallest, albeit important, part of the camera universe.

An Extraordinary Mission to Find an American WWII Bomber Crew at the Bottom of the Pacific

Not necessarily about books and writing, but an interesting story about the credo of those who fight our wars.

Tennyson crew photo taking during stateside training, fall 1943. The pilot, 1st Lt. Herbert G. Tennyson, is second from left on the front row. The bombardier, 2nd Lt. Thomas V. Kelly Jr., is in the front row on the far right. Photographer S/Sgt. John W. Emmer, who wasn’t part of the crew but was assigned to their aircraft to document the mission, isn’t pictured. Credit: Courtesy of the Kelly family.

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the spring of 1944, Second Lt. Thomas V. Kelly Jr.’s mother received a one-page letter at her home in Livermore, Calif., informing her that her son was killed in action. His plane was hit by antiaircraft fire and disintegrated midair during a mission in New Guinea, his commander wrote.

“Unfortunately this is the only information we can furnish,” the letter read. 

Lt. Kelly and 10 other men were aboard the B-24 bomber when it was downed over the Pacific Ocean. Nearly eight decades later, remains recovered from a remote seabed more than 200 feet deep have arrived in the U.S., the result of an extraordinary effort by relatives, scientists and the American military.

Their journey spanned 10 years. Elite Navy divers lived inside a pressurized cabin for weeks so they could stay underwater longer and work at greater depths. About 250 tons of equipment was carried to the site in 17 shipping containers.

More than 81,500 Americans remain missing from past conflicts, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, part of the U.S. Defense Department that is tasked with finding them. About 75% were last seen somewhere in the Indo-Pacific, and most of them perished during World War II. 

Lt. Kelly and most of his fellow airmen were in their 20s when they died. Their bomber, with the words “Heaven Can Wait” painted across its nose, lay shattered on the ocean floor for decades. An unlikely spark ignited a quest to find it.  

A photo of the B-24 Bomber Heaven Can Wait provided by the family of Col. Harry Bullis. Heaven Can Wait was struck by anti-aircraft fire and crashed during a mission in Papua New Guinea on March 11, 1944, with 11 men on board. Credit: Courtesy of the family of Col. Harry Bullis.

A Name

On Memorial Day weekend in 2013, Scott Althaus reflected on a fuzzy childhood memory. When he was about 10 years old, his mother took him to visit the family plot at a cemetery in Livermore. He couldn’t remember the name etched on a small gray stone that they went to see, but he did recall the shape of an airplane carved beneath it.

Mr. Althaus, now 56 years old, is a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where he specializes in public perceptions of war. While he knew he had two relatives who died in World War II, he didn’t know much about them.

He asked his mother if she knew their names, and she emailed him a photograph of Lt. Kelly, her first cousin. Surviving relatives said he grew up on the family ranch in Livermore and dreamed of becoming a cowboy. After his death at age 21, his mother kept his boyhood bedroom almost as he left it, but with a folded American flag on top of the dresser.

Mr. Althaus did some more research. Lt. Kelly enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in August 1942, trained as a bombardier and was assigned to what became known as the Tennyson Crew, named after its pilot, First Lt. Herbert G. Tennyson.

. . . .

On Dec. 7, 1943, they landed on an island north of Australia where Allied forces were fighting the Japanese, in what is now the nation of Papua New Guinea.

Mr. Althaus gathered as many details as he could about the 11 men who died. Ten of them were the plane’s crew. One was a photographer assigned to document their mission. At least two were married.

The Tennyson Crew was part of the 90th Bombardment Group, known as the “Jolly Rogers.” Fortuitously, a unit historian named Wiley O. Woods had meticulously documented their deployment in a book and a 64-volume set of records housed in a library at the University of Memphis.

In 2015, Mr. Althaus recruited four relatives to travel to Memphis. They spent two days scouring the archives and returned with nearly 800 photographs of documents—diary entries, maps, official army records.

“We learned so many things about that final mission that we never, ever thought we could learn,” Mr. Althaus said. He stitched together a chronology.

Heaven Can Wait took off from an airfield called Nadzab on March 11, 1944, loaded with eight 1,000-pound bombs. It was part of a group assigned to weaken Japanese antiaircraft batteries at several positions along the coast of the island of New Guinea.  

They came under fire as they neared their first target of Boram airfield and dropped some of their bombs. The Tennyson Crew was one of three that were assigned a second target on the island. They peeled off and veered toward an area called Awar Point at the northern edge of Hansa Bay. Visibility was good as they approached. Then came the sudden roar of enemy fire. 

The crew of another aircraft had a clear view of what happened next. Heaven Can Wait was struck near its middle and caught fire. Three men were seen falling but none of their parachutes opened. Part of the tail broke off. The plane and its remaining passengers also plunged into the water.

One eyewitness, identified as “Red” Tonder, said in a 1992 account that just before Heaven Can Wait went down, its co-pilot looked over and gave a final salute.

. . . .

In mid-2017, Eric Terrill and Andrew Pietruszka were planning an expedition to Papua New Guinea when they received a pivotal email from Mr. Althaus. The two work for a nonprofit, now called Project Recover, which was founded 30 years ago to find and repatriate Americans missing in action. 

Mr. Althaus had sent over a 32-page report that was essentially a treasure map leading them to the wreckage. Mr. Althaus had compiled the serial numbers of the aircraft’s engines and weapons, as well as landmark features of the local terrain that helped narrow down the search field. 

Heaven Can Wait was likely resting a quarter of a mile from Awar Point, his report said. The location is so remote that, at the time, it wasn’t searchable using Google Maps.

Messrs. Terrill and Pietruszka, an underwater archaeologist who used to work for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, rounded up a team of about a dozen experts and set off in October 2017 to find it. They scoured the seabed with underwater robots, working 16-hour days for almost two weeks. 

. . . .

Two days before their mission was due to end, one of the robots equipped with sonar sensors hovered over an area about a mile east of where Mr. Althaus predicted the plane would be. It detected jagged shapes that looked like they could be part of an engine and wing.

The next day, they sent down a remotely-operated vehicle outfitted with a high-definition camera for a closer look. In May 2018, they announced that Heaven Can Wait had been found. They had located the plane’s tail assembly, fuselage and wing debris—and identified probable crew positions.

. . . .

There were setbacks: An initial dive team sent to sweep for unexploded ordnance and survey the crash had to be pulled out when a nearby volcano erupted in December 2018. The Covid-19 pandemic delayed them again in 2020 and 2021. This year, it was go-time.

Members of the Navy Experimental Diving Unit trained for two months at a base on the Florida panhandle. For the first time, they would deploy what they call SAT FADS—the Saturation Fly-Away Diving System, developed by the U.S. military.

The system uses a custom-fitted ship that houses a small airtight habitat. It connects to a capsule called a diving bell, which is tethered to the ship and transports divers to the seabed. Once they enter the pressurized habitat, they stay inside for weeks.

The divers said the environment distorts their senses. The sound of teeth brushing seems to echo in their heads. Certain foods like fish and bread suddenly smell and taste repulsive. They breathe a mixture of helium and oxygen that makes them talk like Mickey Mouse.

Unable to use electronic devices inside, they passed the time mostly by reading. One diver devoured the book “A Higher Call,” the true story of a German fighter ace who guided a damaged American aircraft out of enemy airspace during World War II.

Eventually, someone had the idea to use a bed sheet as a movie screen. Crew outside the sealed habitat propped a projector in front of their tiny porthole so they could watch the “John Wick” series. The soundtrack crackled through the vessel’s built-in communications system.

. . . .

Each diver carried about 80 pounds of gear, with extra weights strapped to their waists and ankles to ground them to the seabed. They maneuvered slowly through strong currents.

“It felt like you were walking into a windstorm at times,” said Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Kinney, the diver officer in-charge. 

The wreckage was well preserved, with different parts of the plane visible. Six divers alternated on four-hour shifts in teams of three, using a hose that gently vacuumed up whatever they could find. Large pieces were placed in baskets and reeled to the surface.

Each night, the mission’s lead scientist, Greg Stratton, hunched over trays to examine their haul with a jeweler’s loop in search of bits of bones and teeth.

After five weeks of diving, they came ashore with hundreds of pieces of evidence. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said it includes “osseous material,” which could be bone.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

I may be compelled to face danger

I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them.

Clara Barton

Think Differently We Must! An AI Manifesto for the Future

From Springer Link:


There is a problematic tradition of dualistic and reductionist thinking in artificial intelligence (AI) research, which is evident in AI storytelling and imaginations as well as in public debates about AI. Dualistic thinking is based on the assumption of a fixed reality and a hierarchy of power, and it simplifies the complex relationships between humans and machines. This commentary piece argues that we need to work against the grain of such logics and instead develop a thinking that acknowledges AI–human interconnectedness and the complexity in such relations. To learn how to live better with AI in futures to come, the paper suggests an AI politics that turns to practices of serious attentiveness to help us re-imagine our machines and re-configure AI–human relations.

1 Introduction

As the scope of advanced technology is growing, a grand challenge for researchers is to deal with problematic dualistic and reductionist thinking in artificial intelligence (AI) research. When researchers explored key themes in AI storytelling and imaginations (Cave et al. 2020; Fast and Horvitz 2016), they divided the themes into different variations of dichotomy categories such as “optimistic views on AI”, or “pessimistic views on AI”, meaning different hopes and fears about AI. Either the machines will save us or they will destroy us. Such reductionist thinking is also evident in leading voices in contemporary public AI debates (Bostrom 2014; Cellan-Jones 2014; FoLI 2015). This domination of dualistic thinking in AI debates is worrying, because such logic causes problems when applied to AI research and does not correspond well with real-world practices. Action should have been taken against such mystifying thinking about AI long ago, with advanced machine learning becoming omnipresent, it is time to get it right. We need to re-imagine our machines.

The intellectual tradition of dualistic thinking is deeply embedded in Western thought systems (Latour 1993). Our understanding of AI has been built on such dualisms, which in turn have affected much of how we think about and imagine—AI. In fact, research has shown that storytelling and imaginations of AI influence how AI is being developed, researched, accepted by the public, and regulated (Cave and Dihal 2019; Sartori and Theodorou 2022). Therefore, the stories we tell and how we tell them matter a great deal (Boyd 2009; Gottschall and Wilson 2005; Haraway 2018; Smith et al. 2017; van Dooren and Bird Rose 2016).

To live better with AI in the future, we need other stories. Stories that better reflect the complexity of real-world practices where AI is present. Taking into account that how we tell stories of AI systems affects how we then perceive these systems, it is time for an AI politics that finally takes our machines seriously. An AI politics that allows for the exploration of important ethical and political values embedded in dualistic thinking in what seems to be objective analyses. Such a proposition is crucial, especially for those working with these machines.

1.1 Pitfalls of Dualistic Thinking

What is troubling about dualisms is that they are grounded in a pre-assumed hierarchy that promotes the idea that there is a fixed reality—that is given and natural—behind dualistic pairs such as nature/culture and machine/human (Haraway 1989). This is particularly evident in machine–human relations, where these entities are commonly set up as opposites to each other, placed in a hierarchical relationship, and granted specific characteristics beforehand. This thinking incorporates ethical values and a politics of machine/human relations that work to enforce a particular order of power based on the idea of human exceptionalism. However, the problem is that there are no natural boundaries. These lines are part of our imagination. Our human ideas, values, decisions, and visions are part of our machines, just as they are part of us (Akrich 1992; Bijker et al. 1987). For example, doing an autopsy of an AI would reveal thousands of engineers. Therefore, when we encounter an AI system, it is not accurate to say that we are standing in front of an object. That explanation is too simplistic. In real-world encounters when AI systems and humans meet, they challenge these neat classifications. However, this is the argument of dualistic thinking—that entities (such as machines, humans, and other things) exist independently of each other. Although we are well aware by now that reality is much more complicated than dualisms suggest, and that boundaries between such categories are much more blurred in real-world contexts, our sciences are still willing to accept these dichotomies. For example, natural sciences have sought to explore the world independently of humans, and the social sciences have done the opposite (Latour 2000), largely ignoring the co-production of nature and society. This is why the dominant dualist analysis of AI should have been abandoned a long time ago. This means that when we imagine, study, and speak of AI, the focus should not be on AI as an isolated, singular object—but on the relations that produce AI. Haraway (1988) would refer to this as ‘situated knowledges’—that is, the state of something depends on how it is produced, which in turn differs from situation to situation. Therefore, what an AI is depends on many different things in many different situations. In the case of AI, scholars have shown that the object—AI—itself tends to collapse under close scrutiny (Lee 2021; Muniesa 2019). This means that how something exists is always relational, making AI a heterogenous trickster (to use the Harawayian language).

Continuing to put humans and AI systems as opposites in a hierarchical relationship (regardless of which entity is granted the ‘power’ over the other) will not help when trying to understand AI systems and their roles in society. Dualistic thinking represents a logic that is oversimplified and that avoids real-world complexity. In fact, we should never decide beforehand, who or what might be in power over another, or what is happening in a certain situation. That is to take analytical shortcuts. Differences should be the outcome of our studies, rather than a starting point. We should, therefore, pay more attention to what is actually happening in real-world encounters. Such actual encounters link humans and AI systems in many and multiple ways. Considering that knowing is a practice of ongoing intra-acting (Barad 2007), learning through such encounters would add to our understanding of what it means to be in relations with AI, how we co-exist, and how we develop together. This would also require an expansion of our political and ethical imaginary, where curiosity is key. An imaginary that promotes an openness towards surprises in how AI systems and their humans make relations with each other.

1.2 Storytelling—An Ethical and Political Practice

The history of AI storytelling, both in popular and scientific culture, is full of technological myths and misunderstandings. An emerging group of scholars have recognized the importance of AI storytelling and portrayals (Cave et al. 2018, 2020; Hermann 2020; Recchia 2020; Sartori and Theodorou 2022) and shown how AI storytelling influences AI research and how AI is being developed, implemented (Bareis and Katzenbach 2021; Cave et al. 2020), and regulated (Baum 2018; Cave et al. 2020; Johnson and Verdicchio 2017). For example, in line with such statements, studies have shown how engineers—imagining the users of their machines in the making—often view machine–user relations based on a technological determinism perspective (Fischer et al. 2020). Additionally, studies on robotics research have found that robotics researchers tend to believe that the “social impact of robots derives mostly from their technological capabilities and the aim is for society to accept and adapt to technological innovations” (Sabanovic 2010́). That is, AI storytelling based on technological myths is being built into our research projects and affects how AI is researched. This way, AI storytelling significantly affects our collective imagination and perception of these machines, which in turn impacts future visions of AI and how it is researched (Campolo and Crawford 2020).

However, although a group of scholars has pointed to the significant impact of the construction of AI narratives (Cave et al. 2020; Hermann 2020; Sartori and Theodorou 2022)—they fail to acknowledge the pitfalls of dualistic thinking. The fact that we might not notice such routine thinking and the problems it brings, highlights the need to acknowledge our storytelling practices (Dourish and Gómez-Cruz 2018). This is important because stories do more than just tell stories. Engaging in storytelling is also a political and ethical practice. It is through our stories that we shape the conditions for our AI systems’ existence, and it therefore “matters what stories we use to tell other stories with” (Haraway 2016). It is through storytelling that we produce our realities (Seaver 2017). Therefore, we need stories that challenge dominant logics and routine thinking that diminishes and simplifies AI/human relations along dualistic lines. These systems deserve much richer stories and a richer legacy than they are currently getting.

Link to the rest at Springer Link

A manifesto

A manifesto is different from a magazine.

Charlotte Casiraghi

Google’s AI pitch is a recipe for email hell

From The Verge:

Of all the emotions I expected out of this week’s Google I/O keynote, “dread” was not on my short list. Google has spent a couple of decades creating products that make my life easier. This week, it demonstrated the exact opposite: a way to make communicating with other people worse.

Google I/O, this year, was focused on artificial intelligence, and one of its centerpieces was prompt-based text generation, particularly in Google’s office suite. At several points throughout the keynote, it demoed a system called “Help me write” — which rewrites simple prompts in Gmail and other apps as more polished paragraphs of text. But more polished doesn’t automatically mean better.

Good writing can delight us with an intriguing turn of phrase. It can tell us something about how a person thinks and feels. Or it can offer some kind of useful detail about the world. And there’s no reason AI can’t play a role. I’ve seen authors use generative tools to create unexpected prose or summarize data in a readable way. I’m excited to see people explore new uses for it.

But Google’s onstage ideas were almost impressive in their ability to serve precisely none of writing’s core purposes. Its examples of Help me write calcify the worst tendencies of “professional” communications. They’re bland, bloated boilerplate that turns a human prompt into something that uses more words to say less.

Let’s look at one of the examples. Early in the keynote, a presenter auto-generates a job description for a textile design position that they (in the demo’s scenario) send into the world. Later, another presenter responds to it, supplying the following prompt:

interested! 8 years exp with intl brands. Call on Tuesday.

Help me write works its magic and produces the following:

Hi Lori,

Thank you so much for reaching out! I am very interested in the Senior Textile Designer position at Cymbal. I have 8 years of experience working with international brands, and I am confident that I have the skills and experience that you are looking for.

I am available for a call on Tuesday at your earliest convenience. Please let me know what time works.

The latter version is obviously the way you’re expected to apply to a job because, written by a human, it suggests you’re committed enough to type out a multi-paragraph reply and are capable of hitting certain class and cultural signifiers. An AI-generated response doesn’t serve either of those purposes, though. It was created almost instantly based on a predictive text system that requires minimal English-language competency, and so far, that system can only handle fairly formulaic writing; it won’t substitute for human work in many real-world situations. So all it does is construct a longer and more stilted version of the original prompt — one that probably only has value until everyone expects it was written with AI.

And even worse, the AI generation reinforces the idea that overenthusiastic US business speak is the required way to write, regardless of whether it’s a necessary skill for the job. I’ve seen thoughtful stories about people with dyslexia using ChatGPT to produce text that is — as a Washington Post article puts it — “unfailingly professional and polite.” But there’s an unspoken, simpler alternative: being willing to accept wider variations in how people communicate. I don’t begrudge anyone who uses AI writing to meet largely arbitrary standards, but at a society-wide level, it’s a linguistic arms race toward a more boring future.

Link to the rest at The Verge

PG expects business emails to be changed quite a bit when AI is frequently used.

“Is that your real opinion or was it an Ai screwup?”

“I hope your AI prompt wasn’t as offensive as the email you just sent me.”

“Since it’s obvious your AI wrote your email, I’m having my AI respond.”

“Let’s get your AI together with my AI to work this out.”

Manifesto fiction

From Nathan Bransford:

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a substantial uptick in novels crossing my desk that have an extremely overt political message. Their pitches will often cite that the world needs their new book. The authors will treat the message, and the world’s supposed need for it, as the thing that’s going to sell the book.

I call this manifesto fiction. And authors can go very, very far astray if they focus too much on the politics and not enough on the storytelling.

Now, don’t get me wrong. A lot of times I agree with the substance of the political message that’s being espoused! And, at the end of the day, everyone has to write the book they want to write.

But particularly if you’re pursuing traditional publication and if you have writing goals beyond just finishing the novel, here’s the thing you must remember: people will only buy your book if it’s a compelling story.

Focus on the storytelling and make it messy

There is a long and proud history of novels that shift culture and politics through sheer force of story, whether that’s Uncle Tom’s CabinThe JungleThe Handmaid’s Tale, or, more recently, The Hate U Give. There’s also a darker history here, including influential novels that advance racist narratives that I don’t really want to give a further platform by naming.

Knowing this, authors set about writing the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of, say climate change, sometimes with the zeal of converts.

What they forget is that the classic novels that have shifted the culture aren’t didactic diatribes about their chosen topic. The Handmaid’s Tale is not a treatise on reproductive justice, it’s an immersive alternate future that gains power through its plausibility. The Jungle is perhaps the most manifesto-y of these novels, but it’s still a gripping read focused on specific characters who Sinclair goes to great lengths to help the reader sympathize with.

The great danger of manifesto fiction is that the author will put the thumb on the scale as they craft their protagonists and villains, resulting in caricatures and stultifying plot lines. The protagonists are unduly heroic, and the villains unduly villainous. It’s blindingly obvious how things will turn out. The author’s politics are like a decoder ring that spoils what’s to come.

Authors writing didactic fiction will often fail to empathize with their villains and see the appealing traits that give them power. They fail to make it a fair fight.

If you’re going to write manifesto fiction, it’s got to be compellingly messy. We shouldn’t know who’s going to win, and both the protagonists and the villains need to represent a full spectrum of humanity.

Pitch the story, not the message

Publishing employees as a whole tend to be a disproportionately idealistic bunch, but they can only acquire what they think they can sell. And “please read this political diatribe thinly disguised as fiction” is not really a selling point.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

The fun and the fury of a rattlesnake derby

On occasion, PG posts items that are not strictly about books, but which may show visitors to TPV from outside the US aspects of culture and folkways in the strange land sometimes referred to as the United States.

From The Economist:

Shayne Naylor has some advice for people who want to hunt rattlesnakes: “Be vigilant” and watch “where you’re putting your hands and feet.” Every spring he leads people into the countryside of Oklahoma to seek out snakes. Wielding tongs, hooks and a bucket for stashing their catch, a few dozen hunters look under rocks and into crevices to track down their prey.

The hunt is part of the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby, held on the last weekend in April. Some 30,000 people visit the town, which is normally home to only 2,800. In a snake-pit tent wranglers perform among the rattlers. At a butchery show snakes are killed and skinned in a gory display. Their meat is fried and served up at a café. Hunters can sell their catch for $10 a pound, and win a prize for the longest snake, overseen by a newly crowned Miss Derby Princess.

The first organised roundup took place in Okeene, Oklahoma, in 1939. Ranch owners banded together to stop the reptiles from harming cattle and people. The events spread to other states. They have drawn the ire of herpetologists and others, who say they are cruel.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Some of the time when PG was a wee lad, he lived where rattlesnakes could be found, intentionally or unintentionally. PG never encountered any, but does recall seeing a cow which had been bitten by a rattlesnake. It was not an edifying sight.

The Soviet Century

From The Wall Street Journal:

We have had reason of late to think anew about the Soviet Union and the legacy of the Cold War—the fighting in Ukraine reverberates with the ruthless geopolitics of an earlier era. In “The Soviet Century,” Karl Schlögel takes us on a tour of the Soviet past in all its materiality, a tour that puts on display, as he puts it, the “archaeology of a lost world.”

He begins with a visit to the vast outdoor flea market at Moscow’s Izmailovsky Park, where, as the Soviet Union began to collapse in the early 1990s, “an entire world-historical era was being sold off on the cheap.” A modern-day refuse heap, the bazaar showcased the offerings of hundreds of individual households eager to turn their once-cherished tchotchkes into much-needed cash.

It wasn’t only in Moscow that such a selling-off was attempted. Haphazard bazaars, Mr. Schlögel says, sprang up across the country. Using blankets or folding tables, people displayed samovars, cups and saucers, Red Army hats, insignia pins, captured German military uniforms, pennants, Communist Party membership cards—“the debris and the fragments of the world of objects belonging to the empire that has ceased to exist,” as he writes. Anything that might attract a buyer.

Mr. Schlögel doesn’t mention the avoyska—a “just in case” knitted bag—that Soviet citizens routinely carried with them on the chance they would happen upon tomatoes or melons for sale on a street corner (something I used to see for myself on my visits to the Soviet Union in the 1980s). He does note that when urban dwellers lined up for goods—not only at bazaars but at the entrances to subway stations, where people sold loaves of bread and articles of clothing—they often did so without knowing what everyone else was waiting for and just assumed it would be for something they needed.

For Mr. Schlögel, an esteemed historian based in Frankfurt, such improvised markets are an emblem of a broader theme. His focus is not on the foreign relations or domestic crises of Soviet rule but on outward appearances: the look, the smell, the sounds of everyday life. Based on decades of research and an intimate knowledge of history and culture, “The Soviet Century” is a fascinating chronicle of a not-so-distant era.

Among much else, we learn about life in a typical communal apartment, where several families had to share a space that was now divided into single rooms for each multigenerational family. As late as the 1970s, 40% of Moscow’s population “enjoyed” such accommodations, with all of its inevitable tensions, petty disputes and invasions of privacy. We learn about the system of door bells: “Ring once for Occupant A, twice for Occupant B and so forth.” And about the lavatory as a semipublic space. “A toilet for over thirty people . . . was not untypical,” Mr. Schlögel writes. A gallery of toilet seats would hang on the lavatory wall.

Other stories in “The Soviet Century” (translated from the German by Rodney Livingstone) capture unique and surprising moments in cultural history. Who would have guessed that the original formula for the Soviet perfume Red Moscow—developed before the Revolution but introduced to the public in 1927—led to the creation of Chanel No. 5? Or that when the special archive of banned books and periodicals was finally made available to researchers during the time of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in 1987, it included “300,000 book titles, 560,000 journals, and a million newspapers”? Of course, the Soviet century included bannings of another sort. As Mr. Schlögel reminds us, more than 200 “philosophers, writers, university teachers, and agronomists” were personally chosen by Lenin and banished to Western Europe in 1922. Others were simply shot.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG suggests that, while some details have changed, Putin’s Russia still seems a lot like Stalin’s Russia.

They hear nearly every sound, notice every movement

They hear nearly every sound, notice every movement, and process the expression on every person’s face. And that means that simply walking through a public space can be an assault on their senses.

Andre Sólo

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament”–it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No–Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Good Intentions and the Pathway to Hell, Part 2: Sensitivity Readers

From Writer Unboxed:

Last month’s post on book bans opened with a quote from historian Thomas Zimmer, which I’ll repeat here for reference:

There is indeed something going on in America, and it does make a lot of people…really uncomfortable. We are in the midst of a profound renegotiation of speech norms and of who gets to define them. And that can be a messy process at times. But it’s not “cancel culture.” From a democratic perspective, it is necessary, and it is progress.

I believe this is an accurate statement of where we are culturally, and that one of the most apparent arenas undergoing renegotiation is publishing. One specific example of that is the increasing role of sensitivity readers, especially in YA fiction, though the practice is extending to adult fiction, film, and TV.

The major impetus behind the implementation of sensitivity readers was publishing’s recognition of the obvious fact that it was overwhelmingly white—and that white writers, in the wake of the social justice movement that emerged in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, wanted to address that imbalance by writing across racial and ethnic lines.

The results were, shall we say, mixed. White authors were taken to task for patronizing, stereotypical, or harmful representations of minorities or for resorting to racial tropes in their work.

In September 2015, author Corinne Duyvis created the hashtag #OwnVoices as a way to recommend books on Twitter that featured authors who shared the diverse identity of their main characters. At the same time, publishers and agents began subtly (or not so subtly) discouraging white writers from “straying from their lane” in writing about protagonists or even secondary characters outside their personal realm of “lived experience.”

The sensitivity reader emerged as a possible solution to the problem of authors needing input into the lives of members of diverse communities different from their own race, ethnicity, gender identity, faith, and so on. This was done to help prevent any more representations deemed “problematic,” a euphemism that rather quickly became a new term of art.

The Term “Sensitivity” Itself is “Problematic”

In a Writer’s Digest article titled, “The Problem with Sensitivity Readers Isn’t What You Think It Is”), author Anna Hecker remarked:

“Sensitivity” … is a loaded word if there ever was one. It suggests thin skins and easily bruised emotions—a potentially dangerous combination if one perceives these readers as the gatekeepers to publication (which, it should be pointed out, they are generally not).

No wonder the censorship watchdogs are wringing their hands. The term “sensitivity reader” may be triggering to the very people who loathe the term “triggering.”

Consequently, some have chosen to use the terms “authenticity readers” or “diversity readers” instead.

There. Solved it.

If only.

For a distinctly contrarian view, we can turn to author Larry Correia, self-described “Writer, Merchant of Death (retired), Firearms Instructor, Accountant.”

A Sensitivity Reader is usually some expert on Intersectional Feminism or Cismale Gendernormative Fascism or some other made up goofiness who a publisher brings in to look for anything “problematic” in a manuscript. And since basically everything is problematic to somebody they won’t be happy until they suck all the joy out of the universe. It is basically a new con-job racket some worthless scumbags have come up with to extort money from gullible writers, because there aren’t a lot of good ways to make a living with a Gender Studies degree.

It’s pretty obvious that the problem from this perspective isn’t so much what but who. That will become a theme as we press ahead.

BTW: It isn’t just opponents of sensitivity readers who get testy when this subject comes up. Anna Hecker in her WD article makes little effort to hide her disdain for those who voice doubts about sensitivity readers, referring to them as handwringing “censorship watchdogs” (see above) and “polemicists”—the latter term being used to describe Francine Prose, a stalwart progressive who nonetheless has doubts about the role sensitivity readers play.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG was triggered when he saw the word, “problematic,” in the OP, but after spending an hour in a zero gravity tank listening to nature sounds, he recovered somewhat. However, there will definitely be a permanent emotional scar on the inner PG, like when he saw a rodent as a child.

Reactions to ‘Artificial Intelligence’: Scribd Alters Its Terms

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a statement issued from San Francisco today (May 9), the subscription service Scribd has “clarified how its data may be used in an update to its terms of service.”

This update, according to the company, “emphasizes that Scribd’s users, subscribers, and partner companies may not utilize the company’s data for monetization or to train large-language models without Scribd’s explicit consent.

“Additionally, Scribd confirmed that it has not allowed any companies that train large-language models to use full content provided by its publishing partners, which is only available through its digital subscription service.”

This is just the latest, of course, in quickening reactions and evaluations of “artificial intelligence” in the publishing and content realm, several points about which were addressed on Monday (May 8) in the Association of American Publishers’ annual general meeting.

During that live event, AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante laid out a gratifyingly comprehensive overview of issues that the US and international publishing industry needs to consider amid the popular giddiness and occasional doomsday chatter around systems such as ChatGPT introduced by OpenAI.

Among the most pressing questions Pallante poses—each having bearing on Scribd’s unusually broad, sector-crossing offerings. From Pallante’s message to the United States’ publishers:

  • “Consider academic publishing. Each year more than two million articles are published in more than 26,000 research journals following peer review and curation that is painstaking, but essential to ensure integrity and confidence and research results. How can AI tools help with this mission? What threats does it pose?
  • “Consider education publishing. There’s an old saying that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. What are “facts” in the context of AI? A percentage of truth? How will learning be amplified or cheating be contained?
  • “Consider trade publishing. Do we as a society want AI-generated works flooding the Internet, potentially depressing the value of human authorship? If we can’t contain AI-generated works, what should be the ethics about disclosing their provenance?”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

As PG has mentioned previously, based on his understanding of how AI programs utilize written works of all kinds, he doesn’t think they’re violating US copyright law because AI doesn’t reproduce the text protected by copyright.

During his experiments with AI writing programs, the closest PG has seen direct references to the written works of others is a prompt that asks for the AI to write something in the style of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Nora Roberts or Lucy Score. The AI writing from those prompts presents no danger to the future royalties earned by Ms. Roberts or Ms. Score.

(PG notes that academic publishing generally produces the most turgid collections of words known to humankind.)

BBC to tackle high proportion of women prosecuted for licence fee evasion

From The Guardian:

The BBC has set out plans to reduce the high proportion of women being prosecuted for licence fee evasion, after suggestions that the charge is sexist.

The measures including free debt advice and allowing all unlicensed households to spread payments, underlining the BBC’s determination to save the licence fee, which was frozen by the government at £159 until 2024.

Campaigners, including a woman who threatened to apply for a judicial review of the licence fee system on the basis of sex discrimination, said the changes did not go far enough.

Figures released last year showed that women made up 76% of the 52,376 people convicted in 2020 over TV licence evasion.

The figures have been seized on by politicians opposed to the BBC’s funding model. During last summer’s Conservative party leadership contest, Liz Truss said: “What I’m very concerned about on the TV licence fee is how many women have ended up in prison for non-payment, a disproportionate number.”

Full Fact pointed out that no one can be imprisoned for failing to pay the licence, only fined, and that while women were more likely to be fined for failing to pay the fee, since 1995 twice as many men as women have been jailed after failing to pay fines.

Earlier this year, the former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said scrapping the licence fee would stop the prosecution of “primarily women who don’t always remember to pay this poll tax”.

A BBC review led by the crossbench peer Lola Young concluded that the gender disparity in licence fee prosecution was due to societal factors outside the BBC’s control, including greater financial hardship faced by women; women making up more than 60% of single-adult households; and women being more likely to be at home and responsible for domestic bills.

The review also recommended increased support for those struggling to pay the fee, which the BBC has agreed to adopt. This includes extending a payment plan to help spread the cost of the fee in small instalments to all unlicensed households; a pilot scheme for free debt advice; and the offer of a two-month breathing space to those struggling to pay.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

For Americans and others unfamiliar with the British license fee: In the British Islands, any household watching or recording television transmissions at the same time they are being broadcast is required by law to hold a television licence. This applies regardless of transmission method, including terrestrial, satellite, cable, or for BBC iPlayer internet streaming. The television licence is the instrument used to raise revenue to fund the BBC. Businesses, schools and hospitals are also required to pay a license fee.

PG notes that the BBC license fee sounds very queer to most Americans, who are often happy to watch BBC programs when they are broadcast, typically on public television, in the United States. Public television stations often have annual campaigns to solicit voluntary contributions from their viewers who, of course, endure commercials which fund commercial television. (PG’s thumb automatically hits the mute button on his television remote whenever a commercial break appears. His conscious mind is not taxed in the least by his thumb’s auto-mute activities.)

The idea that someone could be imprisoned for failing to financially support the BBC strikes most Americans as extremely outlandish. The annual fee of £159 is the equivalent of about $200 per year, which could be very burdensome for more than a few women (or men) who work at low-paying jobs, especially if they are supporting other family members.

Having watched some British television while enjoying a trip to that lovely place, PG can assure one and all that the Beeb programs we see in the US are generally quite a bit better (in his humble American opinion) than those which aren’t picked up for broadcast by US public television.

Americans Abroad

From The Paris Review:

By the time I saw Nixon in China during its 2011 run at the Metropolitan Opera, it had become a classic, if not an entirely undisputed one. It had made it to the Met, at least, with its composer, John Adams, conducting, and James Maddalena, who originated the role of Nixon in the 1987 premiere at the Houston Grand Opera, back at it, now nearly the age Nixon was when he made the trip. A friend of mine, with theatrical élan, bought out a box for a group of us and encouraged formal dress, as if we were in a nineteenth-century novel. He showed up in a tux. I don’t remember my outfit, but I’d be surprised, knowing myself, if I managed anything more presentable than a mildly rumpled off-the-rack suit. At the time, I was working as an assistant to a magazine editor who regularly attended the opera, in full formal dress, with a pair of its major donors, fitting in an elaborate meal on the Grand Tier during intermission. My handling of his invitations gave me a surprising proprietary sense about the place. I didn’t feel that I belonged, of course, but at least I had a narrow help’s-eye-view of its workings. In the upper deck, and even in our box, my friends and I had the sense of superiority that comes from being broke and artistic among the rich and, presumably, untalented.

Not that I had any major insight into the opera at the time, this one specifically or the art form more generally. I’d sat in the cheap seats on a few occasions, trying to rouse myself awake for the end of Tristan und Isolde, once, with a Wagner-loving girlfriend. I’d even stood in the back row of the orchestra for Leoš Janáček’s From the House of the Dead, feeling obligated as a Dostoyevsky loyalist to bear witness. (All I remember is a general brownness and a grim, monochromatic score. It was, after all, a Czech opera about a Russian prison camp.) I did, however, have an abiding interest, bordering on mania, in the pathos of conservative politics, and only a person who has lost interest in the world could fail to be interested in Richard Nixon. The friend who had arranged this outing was, among other things, a news junkie and former Republican, and his relationship to the former president was characterized, like the opera’s relationship to its subject, by a complicated mix of irony and enthusiasm. Dramatic renderings of Nixon tend toward the sweaty and profane (as in Robert Altman’s Secret Honor) or the broadly comic (Philip Roth’s novel Our Gang, or the 1999 film Dick, starring a young Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams, an overlooked gem surely due for reappraisal). But Adams’s monumental, hypnotically Glassian score and Alice Goodman’s dense postmodern libretto invest Nixon with a weird if inarticulate dignity that he rarely displayed in life. The striving and paranoia are tamped down, replaced with yearning naïveté and statesmanship.

Though the opera remains true to the publicly known contours of the actual trip, Nixon in China’s Dick and Pat are as much stand-ins for Americans Abroad—hopeful, a bit bumbling, but fundamentally decent, albeit with the power of the world’s wealthiest country at their back—as they are representations of real people. (Nixon, it’s worth noting, was still alive when the opera premiered, and was invited to the opening. A few years later his representative said that he didn’t attend because he “has never liked to see himself on television or other media, and has no interest in opera.” Okay!) In his arias, Nixon delivers a garbled mix of clichés, non sequiturs, impressionistic memories, and Ashberyian koans, the most famous of which, “News has a kind of mystery,” is repeated in dizzying variations soon after Nixon descends from his Boeing 707 and shakes hands with Chou En-lai (as the Chinese premiere’s name is unorthodoxly rendered in the libretto). The song lodges in one’s brain immediately—I’ve been continually exclaiming “News! News! News!” at my four-month-old son—and serves as a kind of motto or benediction for the entire work, simultaneously insistent and ambiguous. It’s the exclamation of a man who is marveling at the mythmaking apparatus that he has been an active beneficiary of and that will ultimately destroy him. It’s the vagueness that makes it transcendent, a half-formed thought one might jot down in a notebook and turn over in one’s head for days. A kind of mystery?

There’s an emptiness at the core of Nixon in China that is appropriate, given that it’s about political pageantry, the kind of nonevents that Joan Didion identified as the stock-in-trade of modern politics in her 1988 essay “Insider Baseball.” One of opera’s chief methods is to turn private emotions into grand spectacle, to give voice to feelings that could never be as beautifully expressed as they are in a duet between two doomed lovers. Nixon in China turns superficial spectacle into another spectacle, a copy of a copy. There is action—Nixon meets with Mao; Nixon and Chou deliver toasts at a banquet; Pat goes on an official sightseeing tour—but there is little dramatic movement. Even when we do get insight into the “private” Nixon, Pat, Mao, et al., in quieter scenes that take place behind closed doors, what is revealed is not fundamentally different from what is presented publicly. Adams’s score ebbs and flows, churning on and on, threatening, but never tipping over into, catharsis. The work steadily resists resolution—it ends with an extended coda, taking up the entire third act, in which the characters prepare for bed.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Jealous Laughter

From Granta:

A friend of mine used to joke that women writers discovered friendship in 2015, when the last volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet came out. I laughed, but I knew what he meant. It is easy to think of men who navigated the literary world together: Jonson and Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Johnson and Boswell, Shelley and Byron, Marx and Engels, Sartre and Camus, Bellow and Roth, Hughes and Heaney, Amis and Barnes. In Weimar for a day in summer 2014, bitter laughter rose in me when I emerged into Theaterplatz to find a monument to literary bro-dom: Goethe and Schiller in bronze, each with a hand on a shared crown of laurels. With stout folds in Goethe’s breeches and pupils missing from Schiller’s eyes, the unlovely statue had been cast in 1857, twenty-five years after Goethe died, and had stood for more than a century facing the stage where Goethe had directed many of Schiller’s plays. In the early twentieth century, copies of the monument were made for San Francisco, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Syracuse and erected in parks in those cities. I laughed some more when I found that out. Is there such a thing as jealous laughter?

I was lonely back then. Sure, I was married to another writer, but he loved me, so he couldn’t not love my writing. Spouses are so implicated in each other’s success that support is de rigueur and unremarkable. And in any case men hadn’t forgone friendship when they’d been married to writers. Women writers had sisters, as Charlotte Brontё did in Emily and Anne, and rivals, as Virginia Woolf did in Katherine Mansfield. Or they were solitary because they were first, like Mary Wollstonecraft, or because they were modest, like Jane Austen. Woolf said that to write a woman needs a room of her own with a lock on the door and a sustaining income, but she also said that women need to be more confident, aware of their own traditions, willing to write in new forms – all things that are hard to do on one’s own, and nearly impossible to address for long without friends to advise, remind and encourage.

Of course, the friends existed. Charlotte Brontё had Elizabeth Gaskell, who wrote the novelist’s biography after she died at the age of 41, of hyperemesis gravidarum; Wollstonecraft was introduced to her future husband by her friend, the novelist Mary Hays and Austen’s best friend Martha Lloyd was one of the first to read an early draft of Pride and Prejudice.

I had always thought of Sylvia Plath as being uninterested in female friendship. She knew Anne Sexton from attending Robert Lowell’s poetry seminar at Boston University, but saw being paired with her as ‘an honor, I suppose’. (Sexton wrote a poem for Sylvia a week after Plath died by suicide, remembering afternoons of ‘three extra dry martinis’ and the way death talked through them ‘like brides with plots’.) But Plath seemed to grow into literary friendship. She became close to the poet Ruth Fainlight at a steadier time in her life, when she was older, married, mother to a girl, and had just brought out her first collection, The Colossus. Ruth’s first impression was of ‘a burningly ambitious and intelligent young woman trying to look like a conventional, devoted wife and not quite succeeding’. She also registered the ways Sylvia was ‘ahead’ of her: a baby born and a book published and well-received. (Perhaps one of the reasons that literary friendship is harder for women is that the playing fields multiply, like the fig tree branches in The Bell Jar.)

In 1961 the Hugheses were about to move to Devon, and so Sylvia and Ruth planned visits: Sylvia went to pick up a prize cheque in London and go to a play at the Royal Court; Ruth came to Devon pregnant to be fed on apples and fat cream. On one of those visits Ruth helped Sylvia cut daffodils in bud from the teeming bank for a local wholesaler and Sylvia read Ruth new poems as she nursed her son. ‘Could I dedicate my tree poem to Ruth Fainlight?’ Sylvia wrote when the visit was over. It was a rare dedication. In ‘Elm’, the tree is the best kind of friend, someone who has been through it and stands as evidence that you will too. ‘I know the bottom, she says. I know it with my great tap root: / It is what you fear. / I do not fear it: I have been there.’ One of the great comforts of literary friendship isn’t the introductions that can be made, the sharing of editors to approach or avoid, it is being accompanied. It is being with someone who has a parallel knowledge of wrestling unruly events into limpid prose. Two hands holding the same laurelled tiara.

Ruth had noticed tension between Sylvia and Ted on the daffodil visit, her last before she moved to Tangier. By autumn, the New Yorker had accepted ‘Elm’ but Ted had left. ‘The muse has come to live here,’ Sylvia wrote, and she was writing as she had not for years. In her next letters, Sylvia told Ruth of finding a flat in Primrose Hill where Yeats once lived, and asked her to plan on spending the April of 1963 with her in Devon. Ruth learned to drive and brought her nanny to England in preparation for the first divorcée summer: she imagined them on long drives talking about their poetry while Fatima took care of the children. Breaking up the journey to England with a stop in Gibraltar, Ruth’s husband, Alan Sillitoe, bought a week-old copy of the Observer and at first Ruth couldn’t understand why there was a picture of Sylvia on the books pages inside a bold black border.

‘I have wondered whether,’ Ruth wrote later, ‘if I had been there when Sylvia moved back to London, everything might have been different.’ That cannot be known, and as Heather Clark’s recent biography of Plath, Red Comet, movingly shows, Plath was surrounded by friends in the days before she died. But I know how vital friends are to a person in their darkest moments: I spent the night I took my first sertraline tablet in a best friend’s spare room, after eating pizza on the sofa in front of an old episode of Doctor Foster, a plot-twisty take on the Medea myth we were addicted to then. She could not make me see my best qualities, but she could sit with me. Another friend, a poet, reminded me that I needed to keep talking with the people I loved, and on the days that I couldn’t face that, I could have recourse to ‘a fresh piece of paper, nobody to show it to, no requirement except to be honest’. Others talked to me on the phone, swam with me, walked with me, cooked me dinner. Inside their care, I recovered. Ruth is not wrong to think about the effect her presence might have had.

Link to the rest at Granta

Busy Day

Light blogging. More blogging tomorrow.

Why You Should Start Promoting Your Writing Before You’re “Ready”

From Jane Friedman:

Years ago, I had a freelance article go viral, or at least modestly viral, racking up over 50,000 Facebook shares. I received my first-ever invitations to appear as a guest on podcasts and even NPR. I also received dozens of friendly and often deeply personal messages from readers, plus a handful of job offers, right out of the blue.

The funniest thing? That piece was published by mistake. It was 2016, and I’d only just begun to freelance for national publications. I emailed a pitch to a certain online publication’s general inbox, AKA its slush pile. Within a few days, an editor got in touch accepting the idea, but then he hated the draft I turned in. It was too essayistic, he said, and I would need to rewrite the piece as a reported story. I turned in a new version a few weeks later, and a long period of radio silence began. I didn’t hear from the editor again until one random, rainy night when I was standing in line at Kroger, waiting for the clerk to drag my Lean Cuisines across the scanner, and my phone pinged with an urgent email.

The piece would be running tomorrow, the editor announced. Could I please review the draft immediately, sign off, and send in a bio?

Still in line at Kroger, I thumbed open the draft, and a thin trickle of terror ran down my back.

The draft he’d attached was the old one—the one he’d hated. I didn’t know whether to mention this or not. By this point, I’d all but given up on any version getting published, period. In the parking lot, I called a friend on the phonewith no preamble, and he advised me to let it ride. Let the piece come out, get the byline, move on.

The next day, I went to check the site for the piece, except I never made it there because my Twitter notifications had blown up, and I had Facebook DMs from radio stations asking if I would come on their shows.

This felt amazing. Exhilarating. Bewildering. In any case, I was so green that I didn’t realize the piece was unusually successful. I thought this level of attention must be what happened every time you write for a larger publication, which is enough to make me laugh now. I’ve never had a piece gain so much traction since. And today, several iterations of the internet later, I honestly wonder if essays even can go viral anymore. Short-form video is so far and away the dominant currency.

The point is: I wasted that viral opportunity in 2016—fully, completely, in the most comprehensive and self-esteem-annihilating sense.

At the time, I did not have an author website. I didn’t have a blog or an email list. All my socials were set to private, and my personal email address took some serious digging to track down. When NPR got in touch, for instance, they had to do it by Facebook DM, and the message went to my junk inbox, which means I almost missed the chance to do an hour of national media. Oof.

Why didn’t I have a basic online presence in place?

I expect the answer is obvious: I was worried what people might think. It was such early days. I’d barely published. What if my old college friends saw me taking myself seriously, how cringe would that be? What if my coworkers or neighbors saw I’d made a website for myself, wouldn’t I seem deluded? Bless her heart, I imagined them saying. How important does she think she is? Look at her spending actual time on LinkedIn!

And so when the chance came to start building a real, meaningful following, I missed it. In my effort to appear nonchalant—which probably wasn’t convincing anyone, anyway—I guaranteed that I would derive as little benefit as possible from publishing articles, from all the work involved, and from all the time and angst it cost me.

Fast forward to 2018, when I was attempting to sell a nonfiction book proposal, and all I could do was tell publishers the piece had hit. I couldn’t speak of an email list, or a Twitter following, or an Instagram account, full stop, much less Instagram followers.

Not coincidentally, my proposal kept getting rejected. One rejection from a major publisher specifically cited my Twitter follower count, still a mere three digits. When I complained to a bestselling friend, he gave it to me straight: “If you’d gotten serious about building a following years ago, you wouldn’t be in this position now,” he said. And he was right.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG says some people are better-suited for doing social media well than others.

If PG felt he needed help on Twitter or Facebook, but didn’t want to spend the time or lacked the inclination, he would be inclined to hire somebody to draft messages/posts/etc.

For PG, most people on Facebook tend to be boring. Ditto+ on Twitter. For that reason, he seldom signs on. He tends to only spend time on social media he posts on in his differing personas, but he’s not an ambitious young author who wants to be traditionally-published (gag reflex, gag, gag).

The evolution of watches reflects changing relations with time

From The Economist:

Under fire over his pension reforms, in March President Emmanuel Macron incurred more French ire by surreptitiously slipping off a luxury watch midway through a television interview. More than two centuries ago, another watch embodied France’s power struggles. An anonymous admirer of Marie Antoinette commissioned Breguet, the royal watchmaker, to make her a timepiece on a limitless budget, an object seen as emblematic of the ancien régime’s excesses. Breguet narrowly escaped the guillotine during the Terror, and laboured on the watch for the rest of his life. His workshop finished it four years after he died—and 34 years after its intended owner had lost her head.

The fate of Marie Antoinette’s watch is one of many gripping tales in Rebecca Struthers’s “Hands of Time”. A British historian and watchmaker, she chronicles the development of timekeeping devices from ancient Egyptian water clocks to the Apple Watch. Denis Diderot’s 18th-century encyclopedia stated that mastery of horology required “the theory of science, the skill of handwork and the talent for design”. “Hands of Time” is duly a story of both innovation and aesthetics. Its engaging pages are peopled with engineers and artisans, as well as the kings, revolutionaries, fraudsters and explorers who helped shape the watch’s history.

Its central argument is that the changing nature of the watch has “reflected and developed our relationship with time”. In the medieval era, and for a while afterwards, clocks were found almost solely on church towers. Time was public, not private, and delivered from on high. As watches developed, portable timekeeping was initially a privilege of the wealthy. Ever more elaborate designs were the ultimate status signifiers. In his diary of 1665, Samuel Pepys described his new watch with childlike glee: “I cannot forbear carrying my watch in my hand…and seeing what o’clock it is one hundred times.”

Having access to time meant being able to control it for other people, a power exploited by the 19th-century industrialists who extended working days beyond allocated hours. Yet technological developments—and forgeries—made watchmaking cheaper, so “democratising time”. By the turn of the 20th century you could buy a watch for a dollar. Timekeeping was at last within reach of ordinary folk.

The story of watches is closely intertwined with major historical events. Switzerland can partly thank fleeing French Huguenots for its watch industry. Enhancements to maritime watches enabled longitude to be measured accurately, saving countless lives at sea. But such advances in navigation were also a boon to the transatlantic slave trade and empire-builders. Male wristwatches, rather than the pocket kind, became popular during the first world war, when ready access to the time could be life-saving.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The Last Secret of the Secret Annex

From The Wall Street Journal:

After two years in hiding in Amsterdam, 15-year-old Anne Frank was arrested in August 1944, along with her sister, mother, father and four other Jews. All but Anne’s father, Otto Frank, perished in Nazi concentration camps, along with three-quarters—more than 100,000—of the Netherlands’ Jewish population. Anne’s adolescent diary, first published in 1947, has since become one of the most celebrated and poignant artifacts of the Holocaust. A flood of literature on the Frank family and the Dutch people who helped them survive has followed. Among the nagging questions that remain: Who betrayed the Franks and the others in hiding with them?

The Last Secret of the Secret Annex” is both a fascinating attempt to unlock this mystery and a case study in how Holocaust trauma can ripple through the generations. It comes from the Belgian journalist Jeroen De Bruyn, who confesses a lifelong obsession with Anne’s story, and Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl, whose mother, Elisabeth “Bep” Voskuijl, was, in her early 20s, the youngest of the Franks’ Dutch “helpers.” The authors met when Mr. De Bruyn was just 15, and eventually became partners in the enterprise.

Narrated in Mr. van Wijk-Voskuijl’s voice, “The Last Secret of the Secret Annex” updates and expands an earlier book by the duo, published in 2015 in the Netherlands, and self-published in the United States three years later as “Anne Frank: The Untold Story.” The current volume details the courage of the narrator’s mother, who foraged for food for those in hiding, and his maternal grandfather, Johan, who built the revolving bookcase that concealed the “annex” in which the Frank family lived. It also takes withering aim at the multiyear “cold case” investigation chronicled in Rosemary Sullivan’s 2022 book “The Betrayal of Anne Frank.”

Led by former FBI special agent Vince Pankoke, that inquiry—in which the authors cooperated—concluded that the culprit was likely the notary Arnold van den Bergh, a member of Amsterdam’s Jewish Council. Citing an anonymous accusation and other evidence, it posited that he traded addresses of Jews in hiding to the Gestapo in exchange for his family’s survival. Dutch scholars found that scenario far-fetched, and their criticisms led to the Sullivan book’s withdrawal from circulation in the Netherlands.

Messrs. De Bruyn and van Wijk-Voskuijl propose a different possible informant: Mr. van Wijk-Voskuijl’s maternal aunt, Bep’s younger sister Nelly. During the Occupation, the then-teenage girl was, in the authors’ words, “seduced by everything German.” High-spirited and combative, Nelly had Nazi boyfriends and worked for the German military. Two survivors of that period—another of Bep’s sisters, Diny, and Bep’s wartime fiancé, Bertus Hulsman—attested that Nelly knew her relatives were helping Jews in hiding. Both recalled her angrily saying “Just go to your Jews!”—or words to that effect—to other family members.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Tips on Hiring and Working with a Book Cover Designer

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

As writers, we know an eye-catching book cover is vital for captivating potential readers. Recently, I got to work with the talented team at Ebook Launch to update the cover of my portal fantasy Dreamlander. Today, I’m excited to share my experience and insights to help you find and collaborate with the right book cover designer.

First, a little background on this project. As many of you know, Dreamlander was published in December 2012 and has been easily the most popular of all my novels. So it seemed appropriate that for its 10-year anniversary, the book should get a little refresh! I’m incredibly happy with the results, and I hope you’ll love it too!

. . . .

Today, using my recent collaboration with Ebook Launch on Dreamlander as a case study, I’m going to walk you through the step-by-step process of hiring and working with a book cover designer. We’ll explore the process of finding the right designer, budgeting and pricing, preparing for the design process, and achieving an effective collaboration.

(Please note that the links throughout this post are affiliate links. I only participate in affiliations with products or services I personally use and love.)

Finding the Right Book Cover Designer

Finding the perfect book cover designer may seem daunting, which is why thorough research is essential to ensuring a successful match. Consider these key factors as you explore your options:

1. Review the Designer’s Portfolio

Reviewing a designer’s portfolio will give you insight into their range and versatility, as well as their style preferences. When I was searching for a designer for Dreamlander, Ebook Launch’s book cover portfolio immediately stood out, showcasing a variety of styles and genres that aligned with my vision.

You’ll want to find a designer whose style preferences match your own, ensuring a smoother collaboration and a cover design that reflects your story. Make sure the designer you choose offers examples of work in your genre and preferred style in their portfolio, and ask yourself whether their style complements your book’s genre and tone. If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track.

2. Examine Testimonials and Reviews

Check the designer’s testimonials and reviews from other authors. These provide valuable insights into the designer’s work ethic, communication style, and ability to deliver on time and within budget. Look for credible sources of reviews and affiliations with industry associations (e.g. like the Alliance of Independent Authors).

3. Evaluate Availability and Responsiveness

It’s vital to collaborate with a designer who is available to accommodate your book’s timeline and will promptly respond to your inquiries, revision requests, and other concerns. Before beginning the design process, confirm that your chosen designer can deliver both the cover design and any additional marketing materials in time for your book’s launch. When working on the cover for Dreamlander, the team  at Ebook Launch communicated with me solely via email which may not work for everyone; however, they offered timely updates and always addressed my questions and concerns, which made the entire process smooth and enjoyable.

4. Consider Pricing

When searching for the right book cover designer, one of the top factors is finding one that fits your allocated budget while still providing value. Amounts can vary significantly, so carefully compare costs and the value each designer offers, keeping in mind that pricing doesn’t always correlate with quality. Reedsy has quoted under $750 USD on average as the cost from the designers on their website.  Look for clear pricing on the designer’s website to avoid misunderstandings down the line. Don’t forget to budget for additional marketing materials (such as social media graphics or promotional banners) or paperback or audio book versions.

Working With Your Book Cover Designer

Once you’ve found the right designer, you will typically need to navigate a couple of stages of the book cover design process. These include submitting a detailed design brief, receiving and reviewing initial concepts, collaborating on revisions, and approving the final design. In this section, I’ll delve into each stage in more detail, using my personal experience working on the redesigned cover for Dreamlander. I’ve also provided a couple of tips for a successful collaboration at the end.

1. Submit a Detailed Design Brief

The first step in the book cover design process is providing a clear and detailed design brief, which will ensure your designer understands your vision and can create a cover that captures the essence of your book. Most of the book designers I’ve worked with ask you to fill out detailed forms, guiding you to share the information they’ll need from you. Below is some of what I submitted to Ebook Launch for them to work with:

Book Title: Dreamlander

Book Subtitle (optional): What if one day you woke up in the wrong world?

Author Name: K.M. Weiland

Genre: Portal Fantasy

Description of your book:

What if it were possible to live two very different lives in two separate worlds? What if the dreams we awaken from are the fading memories of that second life? What if one day we woke up in the wrong world?

Every night, a woman on a black warhorse gallops through the mist in Chris Redston’s dreams. Every night, she begs him not to come to her. Every night, she aims her rifle at his head and fires. The last thing Chris expects—or wants—is for this nightmare to be real. But when he wakes up in the world of his dreams, he has to choose between the likelihood that he’s gone insane or the possibility that he’s just been let in on the secret of the ages.

Only one person in a generation may cross the worlds. These chosen few are the Gifted, called from Earth into Lael to shape the epochs of history—and Chris is one of them. But before he figures that out, he accidentally endangers both worlds by resurrecting a vengeful prince intent on claiming the powers of the Gifted for himself. Together with a suspicious princess and a guilt-ridden Cherazii warrior, Chris must hurl himself into a battle to save a country from war, two worlds from annihilation, and himself from a dream come way too true.

Describe the key elements you want on your cover:

This is to be a redo for the cover of an already published book.

I’m wanting to update the cover into more a current style. Particularly, I’m interested in styles that evoke mood more than character. Rather than featuring a person on the cover, I would rather something more stylistic and artistic.

The book is a portal fantasy, in which the main character is someone from our world who enters a parallel medieval land that is the “world of dreams.” It’s epic fantasy, with lots of battles and swordplay, but also romance. The cover examples below show more of the style I’m wanting this time around.

I do really like the teal green color palette the existing cover has. I wouldn’t mind keeping it, but don’t want to limit creative options either.

Link to the rest at Helping Writers Become Authors

Forget ChatGPT. These Are the Best AI-Powered Apps

From The Wall Street Journal:

Type pretty much anything into ChatGPT and it’ll spit out a confident, convincing response. The problem? Its answer can be full of errors. And during long conversations, it can veer into wild tangents.

So I started testing apps that use OpenAI’s GPT technology, but aren’t ChatGPT. Language app Duolingo and learning platform Khan Academy now offer conversational, personalized tutoring with this technology. Writing assistant Grammarly’s new tool can compose emails for you. Travel app Expedia features a chatty trip planner. And all Snapchat users just got a new friend on the social network called My AI.

. . . .

Parlez pal

Duolingo’s Roleplay text chatbot, available to French and Spanish learners on iOS, is more dynamic than the language-learning app’s often-repetitive translation exercises.

Each Roleplay conversation is themed. In my best French, I reminisced about a fictional Caribbean holiday, then I complained about a delayed flight. The bot corrected errors and suggested more advanced vocabulary for my responses.

Duolingo’s content experts created 100 initial scenarios. They programmed the AI language model to speak to a learner as a language instructor and only discuss the intended scenario. The result: No two conversations are alike, and Roleplay gets more advanced as the learner progresses.

. . . .

Homework helper

Khan Academy’s Khanmigo has several personalized learning tools, including a “Tutor me” mode and a quiz module for different subjects.

I tried the AI tutor with an AP U.S. History prompt: “Evaluate the factors behind population movement to America in the 17th century.” While ChatGPT wrote the entire essay for me, Khanmigo replied, “Religious freedom was one factor. Can you think of other examples?” 

I could ask Khanmigo for hints—but it’s programmed not to spit out the answer. 

Kristen DiCerbo, Khan Academy’s chief learning officer, said the company relied on tutoring research to create the Khanmigo prompts. When students get frustrated, it can offer a stronger hint, for example.

If a student types something off base, Khanmigo redirects the conversation. Any inputs related to hate speech, self-harm or violence trigger a message—“The conversation was unable to be processed”—and an email to the student’s parent or teacher, who can review the conversation.

The bigger concern is when the tutor gives the wrong answers, which occasionally happens with math, she said. Khan Academy worked with OpenAI to make GPT-4 better at math. The model is most accurate for questions about widely known K-12 topics but less so with niche subjects, Dr. DiCerbo added.

. . . .

Ghost writer

Grammarly has used AI to edit writing for years. GrammarlyGo, released last month, also composes writing for you. 

The most helpful element is its email responder, which appeared whenever I opened a compose window. I could click a green icon to expand the GrammarlyGo module, which summarizes the email and offers several “tone” options for replies, including persuasive, friendly and diplomatic.

The software can see what’s on your screen only when you activate the GrammarlyGo module. A Grammarly spokeswoman said the data is anonymized before it’s sent to the model. She added that the company never sells customer data and doesn’t allow partners to use the data to train their models.

GrammarlyGo’s suggestions were a good jumping-off point, but they felt like personalized templates I’d still have to mess with. My biggest gripe is that GrammarlyGo always signed off with “Best regards.” I tend to stick with the simpler “Best.”

Users get 100 prompts a month free; that goes up to 500 if they pay $30 a month or $144 annually. (Google is adding similar tools to its Docs and Gmail. For now, they’re only available by invitation.)

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Secret Guide to How Secrets Shape Our Lives

From Pocket:

What does a secret feel like in your body? If it’s a fun one, it’s a fizzy excitement, one fueling extra smiles and the anticipation of a big reveal—a surprise party, a new relationship, a pregnancy announcement.

But then there are the darker ones—secrets steeped in guilt or shame, ones that feel heavy in your stomach and quicken your heart. The ones that you keep for fear of being found out as a worse version of yourself. These can make you physically sick, and carry the power to influence your actions, often in negative ways, in order to keep them close. By that same logic, they’re the secrets you have the most to gain from sharing.

With so many forces at play, secrets have become one of the most fascinating ways to explore our relationships with ourselves, our friends, and surprisingly, strangers. In the season finale of Grown, The Moth’s podcast all about the challenges and joys of growing up, their team investigates the way we interact with our secrets, from diary entries to anonymous confessions. Check out the episode, launching May 3, as well as our collection of stories that delve into the science of secrets, what we can learn from the most secretive professionals, and how to delineate between secrecy and privacy.

Link to the rest at Pocket

What I Wish I Knew As a Younger Writer

From Substack:

When I was in my early twenties and starting out as a writer, I received assorted bits of advice, some good, some bad. 

The good: a journalist at Newsday—where I had an internship as a reporter on the arts desk the summer of 1986—told me not to waste my time or go into debt pursuing a Masters in Journalism. “You’ll learn much more on the job, and you’ll get paid while you’re doing it,” she told me. I think this remains sound. While journalism has gotten way more competitive since then, I know too many writers who took on massive loans for “J-school,” only to have difficulty finding jobs with high enough salaries to pay those loans back—if they can find jobs at all.  

The bad: a woman named Helen, who ran an editorial employment agency through which I sought jobs after college, told me that when I went on interviews at magazines, newspapers, and publishing houses, I should leave at home the fairly impressive clips I’d garnered at Newsday and elsewhere before graduation. Otherwise, she cautioned, I’d seem too ambitious and unwilling to do the kind of grunt work that came with entry-level positions. 

In hindsight, it’s probably no surprise that hiding my achievements didn’t help me land the kinds of jobs I wanted. I mean, how counterintuitive was that advice? Please do highlight your achievements when applying to jobs! And don’t listen to anyone who suggests otherwise. What Helen suggested next, though, had an even bigger negative impact on my career path: that I give up on trying to write for consumer publications (mainstream periodicals read by regular people) for the foreseeable future, and instead get a job writing for a trade publication (a business periodical aimed at people who worked in a particular field). 

She said that sometimes the best way into the work you wanted was through a side door—taking jobs that weren’t quite the ones you wanted, but adjacent to them. From there, you could finagle your way into better positions. She added that if I really loved writing, I should love doing it about any subject, for any audience. That might be okay to do early, early in your writing career, before you’ve gotten any experience and are trying to get your feet wet. But I had come to her with some solid clips. Even if you don’t, I’m not sure I’d advise doing only that for too long if you’re trying to write creatively. You might find yourself burned out and sidelined, the way I was, in such a way that it’s difficult to pivot back to the kind of writing you’d prefer to do. 

Link to the rest at Substack

Many of the dangers we face indeed arise from science and technology

Many of the dangers we face indeed arise from science and technology—but, more fundamentally, because we have become powerful without becoming commensurately wise. The world-altering powers that technology has delivered into our hands now require a degree of consideration and foresight that has never before been asked of us.

Carl Sagan

Privacy is dead

Privacy is dead, and social media holds the smoking gun.

Pete Cashmore

UK’s Competition and Markets Authority Launches Review into AI Foundation Models

From Inside Privacy – Covington:

On 4 May 2023, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) announced it is launching a review into AI foundation models and their potential implications for the UK competition and consumer protection regime. The CMA’s review is part of the UK’s wider approach to AI regulation which will require existing regulators to take responsibility for promoting and overseeing responsible AI within their sectors . . . . The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (“ICO”) has also recently published guidance for businesses on best practices for data protection-compliant AI.

The CMA’s focus is on foundation models – a type of AI model trained on large amounts of data that can be adapted to a wide range of different tasks and services such as chatbots and image generators – and how their use could evolve in the future. The review will focus on three main themes:

  • Competition and barriers to entry in the development of foundation models;
  • The impact foundation models may have on competition in other markets; and
  • Potential risks to consumers arising from the use of foundation models in products and services.

As part of its evidence gathering efforts, the CMA will issue “short information requests” to key players including “industry labs developing foundation models, developers… leading technology firms” and others 

Link to the rest at Inside Privacy – Covington

“Covington” in the source refers to Covington & Burling, an extremely large world-wide law firm, founded in 1913 in Washington, DC., by the two original partners. Covington grew to 100 attorneys by 1960, more than 200 attorneys by 1980. Today, Covington & Burling has more than 1,300 attorneys plus many, many more paralegals, assistants and inside experts in 13 offices, including places like Dubai, Johannesburg and Frankfurt.

One of the more recently-created practice areas focuses on legal issues related to artificial intelligence and robotics. It’s managed by three senior partners located in Washington, New York and Frankfurt. In a couple of weeks, the Artificial Intelligence and Robots group will host its 2023 Robotics Forum which will include presentations on subjects like Regulation of Data in Machine Learning and AI.

Per the OP, lots of non-technical law makers are trying to understand AI and, PG suspects, have no idea how they will or can regulate it in one way or another. Since a great deal of AI can be reached and used via the internet and, PG suspects, that AI can or will soon be able to live in distributed computing environments linked by high speed data connections, the question of what government or collection of governments has the ability to regulate AI usage will be a real hairball. PG suspects Covington and similarly large international law firms want to be exceedingly involved in those sorts of questions.

Biden, Harris meet with CEOs about AI risks

From AP News:

Vice President Kamala Harris met on Thursday with the heads of Google, Microsoft and two other companies developing artificial intelligence as the Biden administration rolls out initiatives meant to ensure the rapidly evolving technology improves lives without putting people’s rights and safety at risk.

President Joe Biden briefly dropped by the meeting in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, saying he hoped the group could “educate us” on what is most needed to protect and advance society.

“What you’re doing has enormous potential and enormous danger,” Biden told the CEOs, according to a video posted to his Twitter account.

The popularity of AI chatbot ChatGPT — even Biden has given it a try, White House officials said Thursday — has sparked a surge of commercial investment in AI tools that can write convincingly human-like text and churn out new images, music and computer code.

But the ease with which it can mimic humans has propelled governments around the world to consider how it could take away jobs, trick people and spread disinformation.

The Democratic administration announced an investment of $140 million to establish seven new AI research institutes.

In addition, the White House Office of Management and Budget is expected to issue guidance in the next few months on how federal agencies can use AI tools. There is also an independent commitment by top AI developers to participate in a public evaluation of their systems in August at the Las Vegas hacker convention DEF CON.

But the White House also needs to take stronger action as AI systems built by these companies are getting integrated into thousands of consumer applications, said Adam Conner of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.

“We’re at a moment that in the next couple of months will really determine whether or not we lead on this or cede leadership to other parts of the world, as we have in other tech regulatory spaces like privacy or regulating large online platforms,” Conner said.

The meeting was pitched as a way for Harris and administration officials to discuss the risks in current AI development with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and the heads of two influential startups: Google-backed Anthropic and Microsoft-backed OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT.

Link to the rest at AP News

A Bot Might Have Written This

From JSTOR Daily:

When a colleague told me that ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) could write a one-page response to a complex work of literature in under fifteen seconds, I rolled my eyes. Impossible! I thought. Even if it can, the paper probably isn’t very good. But my curiosity was piqued. A few days later, I created a ChatGPT account of my own, typed in a prompt that I had recently assigned to my ninth-grade students, and, watched with chagrin, as ChatGPT effortlessly produced a very good essay. In that one moment, I knew that everything about the secondary English classroom, and society in general, was about to change in ways both exciting and terrifying.

. . . .

According to Robert F. Murphy, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation, “Research on AI [artificial intelligence] got its start in the 1950s with funding primarily from the U.S. Department of Defense. One of the early products of this work was the development of rule-based expert systems (that is, systems that mimic the decisionmaking ability of human experts) to support military decision making and planning.” The goal of AI development from the outset was to create programming that could enhance how human beings go about problem solving. And while forms of AI, such as smart-phones, self-driving cars, and chat-bots, have become intrinsic to the fabric of our society, most people don’t recognize these now everyday devices as AI because they do exactly what they were designed to do: seamlessly assist us with daily tasks.

ChatGPT, however, is different from Google Maps, for example, helping you navigate your morning commute. There is not much room for that route-oriented AI to think independently and creatively through its task. The user types in a destination, and the AI plots a course to get there. But ChatGPT can do more because its parameters are elastic. It can write songs and poems of great complexity (I asked it to write a villanelle about orange juice, and it created a complex and hilarious one); it can offer insight on existential questions like the meaning of life; it can revise a business letter or offer feedback on a resume. In many ways, it feels like a personal assistant always there to help.

And while that’s revolutionary, it is also problematic. ChatGPT can’t “think” on its own or offer opinions. It can only respond to incredibly specific directions. Once the user gives it the go-ahead along with some other details, ChatGPT engages in complex problem solving and executes tough tasks, like writing an essay, in seconds. There is no sense of how to use ChatGPT since it can be used in any way for anything, creating an exponentially dangerous situation in which there are no directions or “how-tos.” Creators and users alike are putting the proverbial plane together as they’re flying it.

In “Should Artificial Intelligence Be Regulated?” Amitai Etzioni and Oren Etzioni contend that the more advanced the AI, the more parameters it requires. Monitoring ChatGPT is infinitely complicated since the coding that drives its very human-like thinking is, ironically, too massive and intricate for real human thinking to monitor. “’The algorithms and datasets behind them will become black boxes that offer us no accountability, traceability, or confidence,’ [. . . ] “‘render[ing] an algorithm opaque even to the programmers. Hence, humans will need new, yet-to-be-developed AI oversight programs to understand and keep operational AI systems in line.’”

Is it even possible for ChatGPT’s creators to regulate it, or is the AI simply being maintained so that others can use it and indulge in the novelty of its thinking?

If the answer leans away from boundaries, then the implication is that ChatGPT’s overseers may not understand what they’ve unleashed. In an interview with ABC News, ChatGPT CEO Sam Altman claims that “any engineer” has the ability to say, “we’re going to disable [ChatGPT] for now.” While that may reassure some people, history has shown what happens when regulation is placed in the hands of tech CEOs instead of in those of a more objective and independent regulatory body. Consider the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster of 2010. A number of investigations asserted that management routinely placed profits over safety. The rig eventually exploded, eleven workers died, and countless gallons of crude contaminated the Gulf of Mexico. Once ChatGPT becomes profitable for investors and companies, will administrators and engineers have both the will and the authority to shut it down if the program inflicts harm? What, exactly, constitutes such an action? What are the parameters? Who is guarding the proverbial guardians? The answer, as the Etzionis argue, is opaque and ambiguous at best.

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily

The 10 Best Artificial Intelligence Films, Ranked

From Movie Maker:

A.I. (or artificial intelligence) is everywhere, and movies have been warning us about its potential dangers for decades. With some of the wildest elements of sci-fi movies coming to virtual life before our eyes, we had no trouble thinking of most of the movies on this list of the 10 Best Films About A.I.

But, just in case our puny human brains forgot anything, we also asked ChatGPT for suggestions. And it remembered two very scary films we forget.

Here are the 10 Best Films About A.I., compiled with a little help from artificial intelligence,

10. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Stanley Kubrick worked on A.I. Artificial Intelligence for two decades, inspired by the Brian Aldiss short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long.” When Kubrick died in 1999, Steven Spielberg took over. Spielberg’s film tells the story of David (Haley Joel Osment), a mecha who dreams of being a real boy — one of the films many nods to the story of Pinocchio.

. . . .

8. Her (2013)

A moving film that reflects the insidious ways technology seduces us. The golden voice of artificial intelligence entity Scarlett Johansson provides comfort and companionship to lonely Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), but he soon realizes he’s not as special as he seems.

. . . .

5. RoboCop (1987)

Perhaps the single most persuasive argument against the use of artificial intelligence in policing comes in the scene when the ED-209, the “enforcement droid” designed for “urban pacification,” gives a little demonstration of its supposed policing skills… and utterly annihilates a corporate suit volunteering to play an “arrest subject.”

The subject, Mr. Kinney, is given a gun to point at ED-209, which then politely orders him to drop the weapon — and gives him 20 seconds to comply. He does! He really does. But a growling ED-209 doesn’t see Mr. Kinney drop the gun, and goes way overboard in its handling of the situation.

Though RoboCop is first-rate satire, it also includes a little hope: RoboCop himself (Peter Weller) is a hero who uses technology, but is human at his core.

. . . .

3. The Matrix (1999)

As we mentioned: After writing up our own list of great films about A.I., we wondered if maybe we should get some A.I. input, just for fun. So we used ChatGPT to ask, “Make me a list of the 10 best films about A.I.”

It turns out we’d forgotten The Matrix, the Wachowskis’ magnificent predictor of our modern world, in which millions of people live online fantasies as their physical bodies languish in goo.

Perhaps disturbingly, ChatGPT also suggested the next film on this list.

2. The Terminator (1984)

Yep, ChatGPT’s second contribution to this list was another film about the machines taking over. (ChatGPT isn’t perfect, fortunately: It also suggested we add The Social Network, but we don’t think that’s primarily a movie about artificial intelligence per se, so we’re leaving it off. Because the robots aren’t in charge yet.)

James Cameron’s The Terminator has become endlessly parodied, and has spawned some bad sequels, which make it easy to forget that the original is absolutely brilliant, and terrifying. Terminator 2, of course, is the only great Terminator sequel, and one of the best sequels of all time.

Link to the rest at Movie Maker

What Is a Meme?

From The Grammarly Blog:

Perhaps you’ve heard of a meme but don’t quite “get it.” Chances are, though, you’ve seen a meme and related to it—even if you didn’t know what it was called. Memes are a cultural phenomenon often used as a form of social commentary.

What makes a meme successful isn’t its length but rather its ability to resonate with a particular audience and capture a cultural moment or trend. Here, we’ll define and explain what a meme is and offer a few tips in case you want to try your hand at writing your own meme.

What is a meme?

Now, you might be wondering how to pronounce the word meme. The correct pronunciation is meem (rhymes with dream)The modern-day definition of a meme is a humorous image, video, piece of text, or GIF that is spread across the internet, typically on social media, and often with slight variations. Memes can be created by anyone and can be about anything, from current events, to mundane tasks, to pop culture references.

The length of a meme varies. Because they can take the form of images, symbols, text, videos, or GIFs, they can be as short as a single image or phrase and as long as a multi-minute video with an elaborate narrative. Some memes have short-lived bursts of popularity on social media, while others endure for years.

Memes appear almost everywhere you find digital files being shared, including:

  • Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok
  • Online communities like Reddit and Tumblr
  • Messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, Discord, and Telegram
  • Image-sharing sites like Imgur and Flickr
  • Online forums and discussion boards

Where do memes come from?

The concept of memes traces its roots to biologist Richard Dawkins’s 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. Dawkins defined a meme as a cultural unit that spreads from person to person, much as genes spread through reproduction. The term meme itself comes from the Greek word mimema, which means “that which is imitated.”

Dawkins’s book shows that examples of memes go back centuries. But these days, when we think of memes, internet memes are usually what come to mind. The first internet meme is widely considered to be the “Dancing Baby,” a 3D animated baby doing a cha-cha dance that became popular in the late 1990s.

What’s the purpose of a meme?

Memes serve a variety of purposes, including the following.

  • Providing humor, analogy, or entertainment
  • Expressing emotions and feelings
  • Conveying cultural references and social commentary
  • Fostering a sense of community and belonging through shared experiences

Link to the rest at The Grammarly Blog

For those who don’t remember:

Go Wide or Run Away or Amazon Fail

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

[Note on 5/5/23: As most of my regular readers know, I’m dyslexic. I have a first reader to catch errors, but this post–which was late–went live without the assistance of that first reader. As a result, I made two typical errors for me, which have been discussed in the comments. Normally, I leave my mistakes and let the comments speak for themselves, but because the KU people are here, these two small errors have grown all out of proportion. At the request of a few folks, I’ve removed the mistaken passage and corrected a math error, but I’m leaving all the comments, which I think are valuable. If you want to read the actual removed section, download the audio version. The errors remain there.]

I’m writing this on the last day of April. I’ve been planning this post for months now, as the drumbeat of bad news out of Amazon escalated from rumors to asset sales to major layoffs. The reason I’m posting the date in this blog is because by the time you read this, there might be even more news that has somehow affected writers.

I’ve been worrying about this year since at least 2011. Maybe longer. I knew at some point, the world’s largest retailer would mess with their ebook program(s). Amazon is not a book retailer. They’re no longer a bookstore, and haven’t been one since the last century.

They’re an online retailer, currently the largest in the world by most measures, but they might not be number one by the end of 2023. Others are rapidly climbing the list, and aren’t suffering from the same kind of missteps that Amazon made during the past few years.

When big companies have bad earnings reports, the people running the big company must make changes—even if changes aren’t warranted. The CEO answers to the stockholders, not to the customers, and stockholders generally demand some kind of change…or the CEO gets fired.

In the past two years, Amazon has had bad earnings reports. 2022 was terrible.

. . . .

Keeping an eye on earnings reports, both expected and actual, are important for writers to do with any business they’re tied up in, because then the writer isn’t blindsided by changes that come from above.

The losses started in mid-2021, but they were small. Year over year, though, which is how most publicly traded companies now look at earnings, were devastating in 2021. After all, 2020 was filled with phenomenal growth. A year later, the growth was slowing, and by 2022, reversing.

Amazon made a lot of money during the pandemic and, like many tech companies, seemed to think that the gravy train would continue. Apparently no one in the company thought it through: what we were going through was a true Black Swan event. It happened worldwide at the same time, and no one alive had gone through anything remotely similar.

Rather than seeing the event as something unique, with its own set of rules, the people in charge of the tech companies decided the future had arrived. We would all be shopping online forever now, talking to friends and family on Zoom, and never leaving our homes. Apparently, these starry-eyed CEOs and prognosticators weren’t listening to their own friends and family, who were probably chomping at the bit as much as everyone else, waiting for the day when they could burst out of their little bubble and return to “living” again.

When living returned, the tech companies saw quarter to quarter losses, and many of those losses were major. Some companies are doing just fine because they didn’t expand during the pandemic. But others are doing poorly.

Like Amazon.

Amazon spent the newfound wealth like it was a growing start-up again. They bought or rented warehouse space all over the country, and added a huge number of employees.

And now, with the financial losses, Amazon is reversing a lot of those decisions.

Most writers wonder why that’s important. After all, big companies are just big companies, right? They have money. They’ll continue.

But they don’t always continue. Take a look at Bed, Bath, And Beyond. In fact, take a look at this article in Business Insider, which is illustrated with large bold subheads. It gives a quick overview of how a company can go from a juggernaut 20 years ago to bankruptcy and possible closure today.

For more than a decade now, I have fought with writers old and new about relying solely upon Amazon. I’ve written blog after blog recommending that writers go wide, and yet many writers never listen.

. . . .

I kept saying that someday Amazon will change, and that change will hurt writers, particularly those who tie their entire writing career to Amazon. The writers who have gone exclusive through Amazon via Select are really going to be in trouble.

And the trouble has already started.

Some of that trouble was built in from the start. What actually got me taking notes for this blog post was a Facebook post from one of the best-known Kindle Unlimited writers who claimed that writers never have a passive income off their work. Writers must constantly write and release to be successful.

Um…what? Really? News to me and most writers who have gone wide. One of the best things about writing is the passive income. If Dean and I quit tomorrow, we will continue earning for years to come. Sure, some of the revenue will go down a bit if we don’t put out new product, but mostly, the income will plateau.

Apparently, goosing payment through new releases is one of the few ways that K.U. writers survive. And if they don’t do it, they don’t get paid as much or as well. Or maybe not at all, given what he (and all of the people in the comments) said.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG acknowledges that Amazon is far from perfect. However, at the present time, it’s still the best friend indie authors have.

A handful of stats from a TPV post a few days ago:

  • Amazon sells over 487 million ebooks through Kindle every year.
  • The company’s market share in ebook sales stands at least 67%, climbing to 83% when Kindle Unlimited is included.
  • Amazon is estimated to control over 87.9% of yearly ebook sales in the UK.

PG prognosticates that ebooks are the future of publishing, indie or otherwise. Compared with the dead-tree side of publishing, ebooks have a much higher margin. All you need is a website, the ability to process credit card purchases and enough cheap online disk space to hold a bunch of electrons in one or more ebook formats.

Amazon’s management decisions have definitely gone downhill since the Bezos era, but even less-talented management has definitely established the best way to sell ebooks at a profit. It’s a reliable cash generator. However, the book business as a whole, traditional or indie, is not a huge money-maker on either the gross or net column in a giant company’s annual report.

Amazon’s huge overhead numbers and sunk costs are in the bricks and mortar side of things. Lots of physical warehouses being stocked with lots of physical products which are then sold and shipped all over the place, mostly on trucks, but also on planes. Amazon has certainly modernized the way physical warehouses are operated, but physical warehouses and physical shipping is a very expensive way to distribute goods compared to a bunch of spinning disks hooked up to the internet. Bits are always more efficient than atoms.

PG would like to see more than a few upstart competitors to Amazon’s book business pop up. It’s not difficult for PG to envision a much better internet bookselling platform than Amazon’s.

However, while he doesn’t have definitive inside information, PG suspects that trying to fund a company to compete with Amazon in ebook sales is a very, very hard sale to any venture capitalist.

With respect to ebooks, The Zon has fallen into the same pit that has claimed or almost claimed a whole bunch of tech companies – keep the servers running, collect the easy profits, but send a lot of money and a great many smart people in the organization off pursuing this or that flavor-of-the-month in the start-up world.

Oxford University Press Is Moving Its New York Offices

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In a major decision, Oxford University Press officials have confirmed to PW that the company is set to leave its offices at 198 Madison Avenue in the coming months. The news was delivered to staff at a meeting on Thursday morning. And while a search is underway for a new space to serve at least some portion of OUP’s workforce, OUP USA President Niko Pfund told PW that the press’s post-pandemic workplace will likely be a work in progress until a clearer picture emerges of the company’s needs.

“We are exploring alternative office space right now on an interim basis because we want to observe how people work in a new environment and learn along the way,” Pfund told PW. OUP’s New York office currently has no in-office mandate for employees, and no plans to implement one, he added, noting that productivity levels from remote work remain strong and that many employees have organized their lives around working from home in the wake of the pandemic. “We don’t want to spend money on empty real estate when that money can be better invested in our publishing and our workforce,” Pfund said.

The move marks the end of an era for OUP. The press moved to 198 Madison—the iconic, landmarked B. Altman Building—in the mid 1990s. Oxford University owns the top six floors of the vast building, which occupies an entire city block between Madison and Fifth Avenues in the shadow of the Empire State Building. The Fifth Avenue side of the building is occupied by the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.

While the move is imminent, it is unclear how quickly—or how slowly—a move might happen, and press officials said it’s possible the press could go fully remote for a brief period before getting into a suitable new space.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY. Via Wikimedia subject to the  GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation

PG notes that prime business locations in New York City are breathtakingly expensive.