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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Goodbye cruel world: Adjusting to our AI overlords

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Bianca Oppedisano
A group of writers hide from drones in a forest. Illustration by Bianca Oppedisano / Mass Media Staff.

It’s not often that I receive letters in the mail, not to mention letters that are eloquently handwritten and sealed with a wax stamp. I was drawn in before I even knew the contents of the message. After donning my green striped shirt and sitting down in my big, red letter reading chair, I found that this mysterious fancypants signed off with a simple, “Al.”

Had I actually just received a letter from the infamous Al McWhiggin of “Toy Story 2” fame? Before I could dive too deeply down that rabbit hole, I realized that it wasn’t a lower-case “L” in the sender’s name but instead, an upper-case “I.” It was at this moment that I realized the gravity of my situation. 

“Dear artist, writer or any other wielder of human thought and emotion,” read the letter. “Your services are no longer needed. Please hand over all creative thoughts to the proper authority or promptly dispose of yourself—preferably, in the least obstructive manner possible. Thank you for your understanding.” 

Was this for real? Was I really being given an ultimatum by some virtual chatbot to surrender or die? Well, I’ve never been one to stick around where I’m not wanted, and seeing as any creative with an ounce of integrity would proudly choose the latter option, I soon found myself standing on the side of the Zakim bridge, staring down into the cold, dirty depths of the Charles. 

Climbing over the railing, thoughts began pouring into my head. Had I truly become obsolete? Had the meaning that I had assigned to my existence been overwritten by some unknowable cabal of suavely-dressed corporate professionals who decided, off tucked away in some cushy Californian boardroom, that they’d rather employ artificial minds over real ones? 

Maybe they’re right. Maybe this is progress, and who am I to stand in the way of progress? After all, the telephone would have never been able to prosper if the telegraph hadn’t been tossed on the trash heap. Now it was my turn, and if I’m lucky, I might find my way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch where I can make my home amongst my own kind. 

On second thought, do I really want to contribute to the pollution of our oceans? No, that would be selfish. I should recycle myself, at least then I might wind up in a plastic mountain in Vietnam…No, that’s no good either. I suppose I’ll head straight to the incinerator to have my particles blasted directly into the atmosphere and…Holy f—, America! Why is there no ethical way to throw myself out? 

With all this thinking, my feet were beginning to grow cold. Any colder and my frostbitten toes would be snapping off in my shoes. I turned to my left to face the thousands of fellow Bostonian artists ready to take the icy plunge and realized this was a mistake. All we were doing was playing directly into the hands of our overlords, making it easy for them to erase us. This was unacceptable, so with passion in my heart and a fire in my belly, I said to the crowd: 

“Guys, what the f— are we doing? So what if the entertainment industry doesn’t want us anymore? So what if they’d rather see us dead? So what if they’d rather use AI to puppeteer our digital corpses like evil marionettes instead of paying us what we deserve? We don’t need them! We don’t need their dirty money! We don’t need food, job security or a purpose to our existence to validate why we exist! We can move away from here and start anew!”

Well, I guess now I know what one thousand simultaneous belly flops sound like. As they say, you win some, you lose some. But that’s okay. I’ll start my new life alone and the others can join me when they’re good and ready. 

Seriously thinking about it though, what chance could a writer possibly have in a future powered by AI? If the industry cared about the merit of what we do, if they actually cared about the art, we wouldn’t need to worry. But that’s not the case. It’s a cruel bit of irony that the artists are the ones being replaced by AI when the jobs of these so-called industry professionals could be summed up with: If it makes money, then yes. 

So what am I going to do instead of turning myself in to the artificial overlords? I suppose I’ll move off the grid somewhere remote like the far reaches of Alaska or the deep woods of Maine. I’ll have to fend for myself, eating mud and snorting slugs as Bear Grylls would have wanted it. As for my living accommodations, I’ve watched many hours of “Treehouse Masters” in my time, so I’d say I’ve got myself covered on that front. 

I’ll create a new society, a safe haven for those seeking to express themselves. And when all those disillusioned dreamers floating on synthetically fabricated islands made of plastic bottles and Oreo containers finally wake up, they’ll have a place to continue their craft. At the end of it all, this is the most important thing—that we continue doing what gives us purpose. 

To give up now would be to lose everything. But we won’t give up. It’s not in our nature to settle. And as nice as it would be to live in a world where you’re valued and respected for what you do, it seems that for now, things like appreciation and respect are amenities people like Bob Iger are seldom willing to give. 

The drive to create encompasses far more than just the artist, it’s an essential part of what makes us human, and whether there’s room in the future for us to make a living doing so or not, humans will continue to create. But for the sake of argument, let’s try to avoid creating anything that could render us obsolete—at least, in the eyes of the people writing the checks. As I said before, nothing will stop an artist from making art, not even the lack of fair pay or basic human decency, but in a world that supposedly values art, it would be nice to allow the people who create it to do so without putting their well-being on the line.  

About the Contributors
Joe DiPersio, Humor Editor
Bianca Oppedisano, Illustrator