Friday Reading S11E02

Friday Reading is a weekly series of recommended reads from the Guardian’s Martin Belam, covering journalism, media and technology, and other interesting nerdy things. It is now in its eleventh season, and is also available as an email newsletter. Sign up here.

Well, that’s been a quiet week.

Here’s a depressing start to the newsletter: Photographer captures London’s empty music venues in lockdown for new personal project

Live Music has shaped so much of my life from working in the venues (The Lexington) to playing myself. I wanted to give something back & show support in whatever way I can.

Then Kelly sprung his trap. He had come to Sale’s apartment with a $1,000 check drawn on his joint account with this wife. Now he handed it to his startled interview subject. “I bet you $1,000 that in the year 2020, we’re not even close to the kind of disaster you describe,” he said.

In 1995, a WIRED cofounder challenged a Luddite-loving doomsayer to a prescient wager on tech and civilization’s fate. A 25-year-old bet comes due: Has tech destroyed society?

*gestures at everything*

Talking of which, a load of boffins™ have trained an AI to replace illustrators. Well, not quite, but you tell it “draw an armchair shaped like an avocado” and it appears to do a fairly decent job. The people behind it note, with perhaps a little understatement:

We recognize that work involving generative models has the potential for significant, broad societal impacts. In the future, we plan to analyze how models like DALL·E relate to societal issues like economic impact on certain work processes and professions, the potential for bias in the model outputs, and the longer term ethical challenges implied by this technology.

Matt Round had an extremely sound observation on this, tweeting:

I know creative people who feel very threatened by this stuff and… they’re both right & wrong. AI-generated content is initially going to make its biggest impact where scale is the issue, think of it more as an evolution of stock libraries, fiverr, content farms. Over time, AI will become capable of more consistent, coherent work across creative & technical areas, it’ll be a slowly rising tide of automation & AI-driven tools used to supplement individuals’ skills. Again, I think it’ll feel like a continuation of existing trends/problems. The only thing you can do to protect yourself is the same as for protecting yourself against other current career threats – try to get involved in projects at as high & broad a level as possible, or make your work so personal in nature & funding that you can’t be replaced.

CQH made me laugh with this verdict:

If you think about it, this is like engineers and computer scientists trying to brute force solve “illustration”, but instead of picking up a pen they’re using supercomputers.

Incidentally it is now 100 years since Karel Čapek coined the word ROBOT, in his play “Rossum’s Universal Robots”. I went to see a production in 2011 and wrote about it:

The robots of Čapek’s vision were not clunking metal-men, but more like the synthetic humans we know from Blade Runner. Proto-humans who may momentarily fool you into thinking that they are real people, but who ultimately have no feelings, desire or soul. In “R.U.R.”, the robots, mass-produced and used as cheap labour and army recruits, rise up and overthrow humanity.

We probably fucking deserve it tbh.

Facebook announced a wide range of changes to its Pages feature. The headlining difference rolling out to users is that the “Like” function is going away. An FAQ has more details for any Page proprietors who are confused by their numbers seemingly dropping overnight.

Facebook kills the wrong likes – Rhett Jones, Gizmodo

“Under the new criteria, products will lose marks if they do not meet a certain threshold for progress” – How the Guardian is changing the way we rate sustainability of consumer electronics

I believe that Twitter is a dying website and that it has entered a period of deep insularity and cultural decline and is now virtually intelligible to outsiders. Put simply, 2021 Twitter is 2015 Tumblr, 2016 Reddit, or 2013 4chan. The only difference is that its hopelessly-addicted user base is made up of journalists, politicians, celebrities, and academics. So we’re forced, as a society, to take Twitter’s inane message board drama more seriously.

Ryan Broderick on why Twitter main character of the day BEAN DAD shows how the site is a sinkhole. The fact that sentence is meaningful to me and would be utterly unintelligible to everybody else in my household kind of proves his point.

Please now imagine me making a bit of a face at Ryan, because his main shtick for years has been writing brilliantly about the internet and I’m not that interested in a pivot to writing brilliantly about how all the stuff he used to write brilliantly about is now bad, mmmkay?

I found this fascinating as I understand computer source code but then occasionally stopped and thought hang on, is this just my leg being pulled here?

Reverse Engineering the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine

A gallery of photos from East Germany in the seventies and eighties that make it look like the single coolest place that has ever existed on the planet. I mean, it obviously fucking wasn’t, but I’m still sort of in awe of the way the media and politicians brainwashed me to think that everyone behind the iron curtain was an unattractive heffalump.

I hadn’t seen this before. Swap your shitty lockdown view for the more glamorous view out of somebody else’s window with WindowSwap. I assume it has some moderation otherwise the time to it descending into ChatRoulette-style issues will surely be short.

Via Rob Manuel – FOLLOW @FESSHOLE – someone’s put together a guide to how to work the YouTube algorithm and aimed it at boy-band fans and it’s honestly better than most of what you’d get out of an internet marketing consultancy.

Beth Kirkbride writes a media blog/newsletter and has the cunning ruse of adding jobs listings for journo jobs based outside London. Sign up here.

That’s my old Acid House compilations out of favour then: Anti-maskers and lockdown sk3ptic groups are using smiley face emojis to signal their opposition

As multi-instrumentalist Catherine Anne Davies gets set to finally release her second album as The Anchoress, she talks to Music Radar about the sound of trauma, joy of being in control, plus working with James Dean Bradfield and Bernard Butler.

Dog In The Snow is great and you should listen to her stuff more than you presently do.

Oh great. Buying an LP and a t-shirt from a band now apparently takes seven bits of customs documentation if you want it shipped from France. Thanks fucknuts.

Toby Hadoke always puts together a lovely annual in memoriam video of the creatives from the world of Doctor Who who left us. This is the 2020 edition.

Speaking of Doctor Who, I got a behind-the-scenes look at the immersive theatre production that is due to launch in London in April. I wasn’t that fussed about it when it was announced, and a bit lacklustre on the idea of audience participation, but speaking to the designer, writer and director I became enthused about it: Let’s all meet up in the year 3000! Inside the immersive Doctor Who: Time Fracture

Old but gold and it would have been his birthday this week: David Bowie’s ‘Doctor Who’ connections: It’s the freakiest show