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Weekend Reads (Mar 25): ChatGPT, Slumberland Records, Worship Leaders, the Internet Archive
Recommended weekend reading material for the weekend of March 25, 2023.
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
AI text generators like ChatGPT are getting more and more powerful. In the process, they’re presenting some moral and philosophical challenges to the very concept of “humanity.” Which is why linguist Emily M. Bender is raising some red flags.
Bender knows she’s no match for a trillion-dollar game changer slouching to life. But she’s out there trying. Others are trying too. LLMs are tools made by specific people — people who stand to accumulate huge amounts of money and power, people enamored with the idea of the singularity. The project threatens to blow up what is human in a species sense. But it’s not about humility. It’s not about all of us. It’s not about becoming a humble creation among the world’s others. It’s about some of us — let’s be honest — becoming a superspecies. This is the darkness that awaits when we lose a firm boundary around the idea that humans, all of us, are equally worthy as is.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew went before Congress this week to address concerns about his company’s ties to the Chinese government. It did not go well.
It would be remarkable if the first meaningful piece of federal tech regulation passed in years was a bill that eliminated TikTok outright. And yet observers of today’s hearing tended to agree that it seems likelier than it did before Chew’s five hours on the stand, during which he was pummeled by lawmakers of both parties for problems both real and fictional.
Metallica is selling so much vinyl these days (387,000 albums in 2022) that they bought their own vinyl pressing plant.
Metallica have already been pressing their albums through Furnace for over a decade. “We couldn’t be more happy to take our partnership with Furnace,” and its founders “to the next level,” said the band’s drummer, Lars Ulrich, in a statement. Singer/guitarist James Hetfield added that the acquisition will ensure fans “will have continued access to high quality records in the future.”
Related: Adele’s 30 was 2021’s best-selling vinyl title, but some claimed the album’s massive production prevented smaller artists and labels from getting their records pressed. As such, I’m sure there was no small amount of schadenfreude at the sight of numerous copies of 30 on sale at the Goodwill.
Hayden Merrick profiles the influential Slumberland Records indie label, which has released music from the likes of Black Tambourine, Lilys, Rocketship, and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.
Over the past 30 years, Mike Schulman’s one-man operation has dispatched an enormous volume of quietly influential records. From The Aislers Set’s analog garage pop to Glenn Donaldson’s polychromatic kitchen pop; from the first entry in Stereolab’s Switched On series to Veronica Falls’ gorgeous juxtaposition of sweet and sinister, the Bay Area label’s archives are a treasure trove of melodic, inventive guitar music and its adjacent acquaintances.
A company that trademarked the term “Worship Leader” has gone after some popular social media meme accounts, claiming potential brand confusion.
Worship Leader Probs was a meme account and podcast dedicated to the challenges of music ministry, but last week its creators revealed that they’ve lost social media pages and had to censor their brand due to a company claiming ownership to “two out of the three words” in their original name.
That company is Authentic Media, which runs a church resource called Worship Leader, once a print magazine and now available online. Authentic Media holds the trademark for “worship leader” and last year publicly stated that it planned “to continue to defend our trademark, as we have for decades.”
I learned about this situation via Christians Who Curse Sometimes, which has been chronicling the situation since last week, including claims that Authentic Media effectively doxxed the individual behind another meme account. They’re also promoting a petition for Authentic Media to drop or adjust their “Worship Leader” trademark.
As for Authentic Media, they seem to be in full-on “damage control” mode. After making some conflicting statements concerning the situation, they deleted all such statements, blog posts, etc., from their website as well as critical comments on social media. (Of course, nothing ever truly disappears from the internet.) At one point, they even said they’d be doing regular Q&As to help explain their actions, but that announcement seems to have been deleted, too. To date, this is their only public statement.
Meanwhile, the account formerly known as Worship Leader Probs — now known as Worship Probs — has posted a video sharing their side of the story and their experience working with Authenic Media and Worship Leader.
What this recent episode of The Mandalorian suggests is that perhaps our popular storytelling is catching up to these cultural realities. Religious cynicism is boring, the “OK boomer” of religious dispositions. In a world shot through with anxiety and loneliness, where our societies sometimes seem to have no space for actual humans, perhaps old-school religion and sincere zeal has a certain appeal. Instead of perceiving religious faith as being either a mask for more nefarious motives or a kind of infantilizing force that makes people naive and foolish, perhaps it might be better to see it as so many of our ancestors did: as a guiding presence in our life that directs us toward the good life, for both our own happiness and the happiness of our neighbors.
A recent Pew Research poll found that Evangelicals are the most negatively viewed religious group in America. This Twitter thread by Anna Caudill, who has spent years advocating for disabled adoptees, contains some clues as to why that’s the case. For example:
While my Christian fam pulled for Trump in 2020, we saw him mock a disabled reporter. Older son asked if Trump made fun of his disability. It was true. But Christian fam told me older son wasn’t smart enough to figure that out, b/c he is intellectually disabled.
For nearly 25 years, DPReview was one of the internet’s major photography resources with reviews, buying guides, photography tips, and galleries. But Amazon has decided to shutter the site in April. Adding insult to injury, the announcement notes that DPReview “will be available in read-only mode for a limited period afterwards.” Which presumably means that not only will the site stop being updated, but its archives could be deleted entirely at some point in the near future depending on Amazon’s whims.
As Luke Stevens put it, “Absolutely insane that a trillion dollar company can just decide to delete a quarter of a century of web and technology history like this because they don’t know what to do with it.” You’d think that Amazon, which happens to own its own cloud hosting architecture, could find a way to keep the site’s archives online forever.
Back in 2020, four of America’s biggest publishers sued the Internet Archive over its “Open Library” program, which allows users to check out electronic copies of both public domain and copyrighted works. Earlier this week, a federal judge heard arguments in the case.
During oral arguments, Koeltl’s tough questioning of both Gratz and the plaintiff’s attorney, Elizabeth McNamara, suggested that resolving this matter is a less straightforward task than either side has so far indicated. Koeltl pointed out that because publishers have a right to control the reproduction of their books, the “heart of the case,” was figuring out whether IA’s book scanning violates copyrights by reproducing an already licensed physical book and lending it without paying more licensing fees to publishers.
I love the Internet Archive — it’s an incredible resource — and would love to see them win, but I don’t think it’ll go well for them. Right or wrong, there do seem to be some pretty clear copyright issues at play. Furthermore, losing this case means the Internet Archive will likely be on the hook for billions in damages, which would threaten their other services like the Wayback Machine (which has archived over 800 billion web pages), Live Music Archive, software collection, and TV news archive. The judge’s ruling could also determine whether or not libraries can scan and preserve their book collections.
Finally, the third (and final) season of Ted Lasso premiered earlier this month. It’s one of the most beloved shows in recent memory (and for good reason), but did you know that the character was originally developed 20 years ago in an Amsterdam comedy club? Via Kottke.
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