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The robots make some cool art, but human artists, please give yourselves more credit

A couple weeks ago, DeviantArt announced a new AI art tie-in setup, including a “My Art Is/Is Not Authorized For Use In AI Datasets” option that you could toggle for all your art.

It’s not clear this will do much, since there’s no way to force non-DA art-scraping bots to respect your setting. But the basic framing of “this is an issue that artists deserve to have a say in” is good! Having a major art-hosting website stand behind that framing is valuable!

…They originally auto-set everything to “authorized”, and didn’t have a bulk way to switch the settings. Meaning that anybody who wanted a blanket opt-out would have to set it one-by-one for everything in their gallery. And if an artist has died, all their work would be marked as up-for-grabs permanently. Oops.

After a hot wave of backlash, DA reversed course. All your art is auto-set to “not authorized” unless you actively say otherwise.

Honestly, this is the stuff that keeps me on DA. How many other websites out there will acknowledge “this decision, which was made by staff/stakeholders/the CEO/venture capitalists, is unpopular with our actual users, therefore we’re changing it”?

Tumblr? No. Facebook or Instagram? Heck no. Twitter? No, even before it got bought out by an egomaniac with unhealthy amounts of money. Patreon? …Okay, Patreon did it once, kudos to them.

Sometimes you’ll get a situation like Kickstarter, which announced their Totally Awesome Hypothetical Future Blockchain Protocol almost a year ago, and hasn’t developed a single thing since. I wouldn’t be surprised if, on the inside, they’ve quietly admitted it’s nonsense and given up on it. But that’s in response to “finding out the hard way over a series of months that they can’t actually wring a profit out of it,” not “listening to users who vigorously told them it was a heap of BS from day one.” And they’re not saying a word about it in public.

But DA has a quiet pattern of listening to users, and, when their big excited announcements don’t go over well, retooling their plans to address user concerns. Which I appreciate. It’s hard to find.

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Look, here’s how I feel about AI art in general…

Hatsune Miku made her first stage appearance in 2009, and has been a wildly popular singer ever since. Here she is commanding the love and attention of a massive crowd in 2016, in a concert that lasted nearly 2 hours. She’s released chart-topping albums in Japan, and her adoring fanbase is international; she was booked for Coachella in 2020. (Canceled due to COVID, but I bet they’ll get her back.)

And if you explained this to anyone who’s not in the right nerd circles, they would assume Miku is a human.

She’s not! She’s a digital voice-generating program! You enter the text you want her to sing, set the pitches and the timing, and the software outputs a vocal track. Her concert appearances are in the form of a CGI anime girl, with a pre-programmed set of dance moves. She, and the rest of the Vocaloid franchise, are basically Animusic with a massive upgrade in processing power. (Also, thigh-highs.)

Kids who are currently in middle school do not remember a time when “humans pack stadiums to see a holographic robot singer” was a fanciful sci-fi premise. It’s literally just the world they live in.

And you know what we still have? Concerts with live human singers!

Computer-generated music hasn’t replaced human musicians. They have different strengths and abilities. They’re good in different ways. The one doesn’t make the other obsolete. Millions of songs produced with the Vocaloid software, over more than a decade by now, and they still haven’t put all the human singers out of their jobs.

Same deal with AI art.

Some of it is terrible. Some of it is pretty cool. It’s not as precisely controlled as Vocaloids, a lot of it is “turning the algorithm loose and having no idea what’s going to come out,” which is sometimes a drawback and sometimes the fun part.

Look at this robot’s best attempt to paint “Moon Knight drawn by Lisa Frank” and tell me that isn’t fun:

If you want a very specific image, AI art isn’t a great option. If you want to consistently reproduce the same character or setting across multiple images, it’s not great either.

Ursula Vernon — of Digger fame — has been making experimental comics with the MidJourney AI. it works! The reason it works is, she’s not a random non-artistic person who started with “here’s a comic I want to make” and tried to get the robot to produce it. She’s a brilliant comic artist with multiple series and at least one Hugo award under her belt, who put a lot of thought upfront into presenting the robot with “here’s a comic setup that takes advantage of your strengths, and doesn’t stress your weaknesses.”

In that link, for instance, you can see right away how it’s mostly disconnected vignette panels. (It also has human post-production touch-ups, and the art is tied together by human-written narration. More notes on her process at the end of the thread.)

So yeah, it’s gonna be fine. AI art makes cool new things possible, will lead to the creation of a ton of art that never would’ve happened without it, and some of it will even be good and worthwhile. It also won’t replace human artists. It won’t be the best option for every art-related job. Sometimes it’ll be a good-enough option — other times it just flat-out won’t cut it.

Anyone who thinks “just have an AI draw it” will be a magic answer to everything art-related needs to appreciate artists more. (Some of y’all are illustrators, who need to have more confidence in your own skills and potential! Others are just hacks. Probably the same hacks who thought “just put it on a blockchain” was a magic answer to everything finance-related, even.)

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The latecomer’s link roundup of crypto crashing news

People with funds locked in Celsius Network have been sending letters to the judge presiding over the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. These are excerpts from those letters.” Periodically updated with new excerpts, as new dockets get released.

““I couldn’t eat or sleep for two nights,” says Alla Driksne, a 34-year-old chef from London. “I got sick from the stress.” She has lost her life savings – a six-figure sum – in the Celsius freeze.

A few months before Celsius went belly-up, one of their customers called in to Scam Economy — here’s a clip that includes both the pre-crash call, and some post-crash reflections. Notably, the guy isn’t a hype-man, or an enthusiastic crypto fan. He just seems sorta sad and anxious about his money, and he’s also pretty sad and anxious about Celsius’ drawbacks, but somebody convinced him that every other option is worse:

“The top #1 Google result for “blockchain production users” (and related queries) lists 34 individual “real world blockchain” projects. […] Looking into all 34, I found that 13 are already dead (including one that has been killed by the SEC), 6 are only useful within the crypto & NFT ecosystems and not in the “real world” and 14 use Blockchain in a way where removing the blockchain would not impact functionality at all, or make the product better.”

One of the big pseudo-success stories is IBM (backers of IBM FoodTrust, a system hyped by WalMart). At least, until early 2021: “IBM has cut its blockchain team down to almost nothing, according to four people familiar with the situation. “

Really enjoy this podcast interview with a climate analyst, who’s familiar with Crypto Nonsense but whose first area of expertise is fighting climate change, doing a well-informed deconstruction of the “Bitcoin is good for the environment somehow” arguments.

“The bug caused a misplacement of decimal points when refunding pavladiv.near’s USN. Instead of returning 4.9995 USN (about $5), the smart contract bug minted 4.9995 trillion USN for the user on both occasions, thus creating almost $10 trillion out of thin air.” Oooops. (These are the same people who will say “USD is unreliable because the government can just print as much money as they want”…)

“Power companies don’t take bitcoins or tethers. But the crypto trading system was running low on naïve retail suckers to supply fresh dollars. So the miners needed to do their part in propping up the price of bitcoin. Their solution was to avoid selling their bitcoins, and instead to hold them and use them as collateral against low-interest loans.”

“I left my easy six figure job in crypto because I couldn’t stand to market to such a deranged group of individuals and the toxic web3 workplace. Even though I even enjoy some aspects of crypto… the online crypto communities are extremely bizarre, mentally unwell, deranged, and socially inept. […] AMA in the comments! I need to vent.”

“A London-based software company has just launched CloneMyNFT.com which offers NFT owners the ability to “keep their NFT artwork forever” even after they have sold it. […] The system works by creating an exact digital copy of the artwork but with another unique contract on the block chain, effectively making it an almost exact clone of the original NFT.”

Note: this has been possible for as long as NFTs have existed! The only change is having a convenient site that’ll process all the code automatically.

You don’t know anything about the metaverse but you want to do like all the best marketers around and write something on the web about it? Don’t worry, Tony is here for you and will give you all the advice you need to write the most impactful article about the metaverse ever. I have a structure that will make you jump ahead of all the competition. Follow me!” (This is so perfect, I love it so much.)

The entire crypto space has been a Jenga stack of interconnected time bombs for months now, getting ever more interdependent as the companies find new ways to prop each other up.” The Latecomer’s Guide to Crypto Crashing.

Insert your own “SELLcius” joke here

Welp, we’re having another banner week in the crypto world, huh?

These are links I’ve been picking up over the past month or two. They go up to the Luna “we have a token that will always be worth US$1 because of Algorithms(TM), what could go wrong?” crash, but nothing yet from the Celsius “we are not a bank, because banks are Bad and we are Good, so we don’t need all those silly regulations that banks have to follow, and oops now we’re freezing everyone’s ability to withdraw your tokens” crash.

The first Patreon Creator Census has a lot of broad strokes you probably could’ve guessed, but it’s nice to see the specifics broken down. Especially when they break stuff out by “what field is the creator in?”

Creators overwhelmingly hate crypto, btw. Patreon tries to downplay it by breaking out the fields that hate it least…but that also reveals that visual artists hate it the most. You know, the field where crypto has made the biggest and hardest pitch for how useful it is? Second-most hate comes from the writers (the fields where the journalists are), and third-most comes from the game developers (the field where crypto has made the second-biggest push).

“As talk of “the metaverse” grows, and people float [NFT] theories about owning items and cosmetic skins and being able to take between games, interest in what that means practically for gamers has lead to a wild array of theories, but they’re largely pushed by people who know nothing about game development. So, as a developer, it falls to people like me who live and work in these spaces to share our knowledge.” (Link is just one article, but the whole blog is worth a read.)

[US] Political donations from the sector surged to more than $26 million during 2021 and the first three months of this year. That influx of cash is outpacing spending by internet giants, drug makers and the defense industry — providing a fresh pool of financing for candidates heading into November’s congressional elections.”

Ms. Blackburn consolidated many Bitcoin addresses, which might have seemed to represent many miners, into few. She pieced together a catalog of agents and concluded that, in those first two years, 64 key players — some of whom were the community’s “founders,” as the researchers called them — mined most of the Bitcoin that existed at the time.”

“All [interviewees] had similar testimonials about putting their faith in an asset they thought was stable and losing everything. Muhammad, a 30-year-old from Egypt, said that he learned about Luna from YouTubers who said that it would reach $1,000. He bought 1,000 tokens at $88. One token is now currently worth less than $0.0002.

“[The article] uncritically repeated many questionable or entirely fallacious arguments from cryptocurrency advocates, and it appears that no experts on the topic were consulted, or even anyone with a less-than-rosy view on crypto. This is grossly irresponsible. Here, a group of around fifteen cryptocurrency researchers and critics have done what the New York Times apparently won’t.”

The blockchain arena sure is having a week, huh?

I had this interrogation of Kickstarter’s empty “blockchain proposal” written and on the desk of the Beat’s editors back in March. Was starting to worry that it wouldn’t feel timely, as the publication date got farther and farther away from news like “the Kickstarter CEO has resigned to spend more time with his family.”

And then it ended up getting published within days of “the third-biggest stablecoin goes ker-splat, setting off a rolling chain of destruction in every protocol and/or exchange that leaned on it.” (The power of decentralization, folks!)

There’s always something.

Older Kickstarter news/polling/snark:

“I have no assurances from the people who want to use it on Kickstarter that protocols are in place to protect the users. My biggest concern is I have interacted with Kickstarter three times now – sent emails and had meetings and stuff – requesting clarification of intent and a roadmap, and I have never gotten one, which makes me question the wisdom of the entire venture.”

Will you buy comics on Kickstarter if they go through with their blockchain plans?” Twitter poll, closed with 4500+ votes.

In many ways, Kickstarter’s weird crypto project — and the blockchain aspirations other aging web 2.0 companies are pushing on us right now — are kind of like watching a middle-aged man buy a boat. He doesn’t need to buy a boat. His life will be significantly more complicated, and likely worse, after he buys the boat. But he has somehow convinced himself that he needs to buy this boat because he has done the math and realized he is going to die soon and he thinks the boat will fix this.”

General blockchain criticism/snark:

“It turns out, businesses already use computer programs a lot. DAOs don’t bring anything to the table. So a lot of it is excuses to do things you can already do, and just say, ‘Oh, it’s a DAO. That means it’s crypto, and it’s magical, so if you don’t understand why our idea sounds so stupid, it’s because it’s very complicated and you need to think about it more.’” (Video with David Gerard, who literally wrote the book on crypto failings. Multiple books, in fact.)

“One of the most infamous examples of a game incorporating an early form of a play-to-earn system was Diablo III’s auction house, where players could buy and sell weapons and items for real money. […] But Blizzard’s experiment in monetizing scarcity was a disaster.”

“The biggest [lie] is “this incentivizes green power.” Which it does in the same way that a whole bunch of random shootings would incentivize bulletproof vests.”

This video has my new favorite example of crypto fans using The Most Elaborate Possible Technical Terms for the most absurdly mundane things: “It’s called loading. You’ve described how loading works.

Excellent deployment of quotation marks: “‘Hacker’ Steals NFTs ‘Worth’ Millions From Opensea Users.

Excellent Onion headlines: “Man Who Lost Everything In Crypto Just Wishes Several Thousand More People Had Warned Him

ScamCoin investors are shocked to learn they trusted their money to notorious con artist Jonathan ScamCoin

Title grabbed from The Onion’s lists of biggest crypto heists of all time.

As of this writing, Coinopsy has records of 2,403 “dead” cryptocurrencies, compared to a whopping 414 that are still kicking.

In May, the Federal Trade Commission reported that consumers had lost more than $80 million on crypto scams between October 2020 and March 2021 — more than ten times the amount lost during the same period the previous year, $2 million of which was lost to scammers impersonating Elon Musk.”

Gaming company co-founder on why companies like Steam have stopped trying to work with crypto: “the vast majority of those transactions, for whatever reason, were fraudulent, where people were repudiating transactions or using illegal sources of funds and things like that. And that’s just out of control, right? You want that number, realistically, in a couple of percent, not half of all transactions turning out to be fraudulent transactions. Similarly, with the actors that are currently in this NFT space, they’re just not people you really are wanting to be doing business with. ”

Some crypto miners and traders “are attempting to take advantage of a controversial tax incentive in Republicans’ 2017 major tax legislation — specifically, by investing in “opportunity zones,” which were sold as a plan to buoy the poorest American neighborhoods but have evolved into a way for wealthy investors to funnel billions in untaxed profits into virtually any venture they choose.

As of Feb. 8 roughly 55% of Bitcoin investors were underwater, according to cryptocurrency investment firm 21Shares. That’s actually an improvement from several weeks ago, when Bitcoin was trading about $35,000. At that time, more than two out of every three Bitcoin investors were in the red.”

Crypto Critics’ Corner constantly has conversations about crypto so smart and technical and well-informed, I can barely keep up, and it’s an absolute pleasure to listen to. Recently a guest went “the value of Bitcoin is usually given in US$, but we should give it in Tether” and I was all…listen, I could not possibly have connected those dots myself, but know juuuust enough to grasp why it’s a Big Deal. I’m hanging on by my fingertips and it’s great.