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Amelia Winger-Bearskin

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Hate NFTs? I must break some awful news to you...

If you think NFTs are awful, check out the art market.

The fervor around NFTs has subsided in recent months due to the crypto market crash and the media's short attention span. They were all anyone could talk about earlier this spring. Last semester, when passions were high and field luminaries were discussing "slurp juices," I asked my students and students from over 20 other universities what they thought of NFTs.

According to many, NFTs were either tasteless pyramid schemes or a new way for artists to make money. NFTs contributed to the climate crisis and harmed the environment, but so did air travel, fast fashion, and smartphones. Some students complained that NFTs were cheap, tasteless, algorithmically generated schlock, but others asked how this was different from other art.

a digital Billboard showed during the 4th annual NFT.NYC conference, a four-day event that featured 1,500 speakers from the crypto and NFT space and hosted 14,000 attendees | Getty Images, Noam Galai / Contributor June 20th, 2022 in New York City Times Square

I'm not sure what I expected, but the intensity of students' reactions surprised me. They had strong, emotional opinions about a technology I'd always considered administrative. NFTs address ownership and accounting, like most crypto/blockchain projects.

Art markets can be irrational, arbitrary, and subject to the same scams and schemes as any market. And maybe a few shenanigans that are unique to the art world.

The Fairness Question

Fairness, a deflating moral currency, was the general sentiment (the less of it in circulation, the more ardently we clamor for it.) These students, almost all of whom are artists, complained to the mismatch between the quality of the work in some notable NFT collections and the excessive amounts these items were fetching on the market. They can sketch a Bored Ape or Lazy Lion in their sleep. Why should they buy ramen with school loans while certain swindlers get rich?

Long Beach, California the sign for the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT Themed Restaurant, Getty Images, Mario Tama / Staff April 9th 2022

I understand students. Art markets are unjust. They can be irrational, arbitrary, and governed by chance and circumstance, like any market. And art-world shenanigans.

Almost every mainstream critique leveled against NFTs applies just as easily to art markets

Over 50% of artworks in circulation are fake, say experts. Sincere art collectors and institutions are upset by the prevalence of fake goods on the market. Not everyone. Wealthy people and companies use art as investments. They can use cultural institutions like museums and galleries to increase the value of inherited art collections. People sometimes buy artworks and use family ties or connections to museums or other cultural taste-makers to hype the work in their collection, driving up the price and allowing them to sell for a profit. Money launderers can disguise capital flows by using market whims, hype, and fluctuating asset prices.

Almost every mainstream critique leveled against NFTs applies just as easily to art markets.

Art has always been this way. Edward Kienholz's 1989 print series satirized art markets. He stamped 395 identical pieces of paper from $1 to $395. Each piece was initially priced as indicated. Kienholz was joking about a strange feature of art markets: once the last print in a series sells for $395, all previous works are worth at least that much. The entire series is valued at its highest auction price. I don't know what a Kienholz print sells for today (inquire with the gallery), but it's more than $395.

I love Lee Lozano's 1969 "Real Money Piece." Lozano put cash in various denominations in a jar in her apartment and gave it to visitors. She wrote, "Offer guests coffee, diet pepsi, bourbon, half-and-half, ice water, grass, and money." "Offer real money as candy."

Lee Lozano kept track of who she gave money to, how much they took, if any, and how they reacted to the offer of free money without explanation. Diverse reactions. Some found it funny, others found it strange, and others didn't care. Lozano rarely says:

Apr 17 Keith Sonnier refused, later screws lid very tightly back on. Apr 27 Kaltenbach takes all the money out of the jar when I offer it, examines all the money & puts it all back in jar. Says he doesn’t need money now. Apr 28 David Parson refused, laughing. May 1 Warren C. Ingersoll refused. He got very upset about my “attitude towards money.” May 4 Keith Sonnier refused, but said he would take money if he needed it which he might in the near future. May 7 Dick Anderson barely glances at the money when I stick it under his nose and says “Oh no thanks, I intend to earn it on my own.” May 8 Billy Bryant Copley didn’t take any but then it was sort of spoiled because I had told him about this piece on the phone & he had time to think about it he said.

Smart Contracts (smart as in fair, not smart as in Blockchain)

Cornell University's Cheryl Finley has done a lot of research on secondary art markets. I first learned about her research when I met her at the University of Florida's Harn Museum, where she spoke about smart contracts (smart as in fair, not smart as in Blockchain) and new protocols that could help artists who are often left out of the economic benefits of their own work, including women and women of color.

Cheryl Finley on the right, with Hank Thomas and Dr. Deborah Willis attending the 2018 Aperture Gala at Ceder Lake on October 30th, 2018 in NYC, Photo by Patrick Mullan via Getty Images.

Her talk included findings from her ArtNet op-ed with Lauren van Haaften-Schick, Christian Reeder, and Amy Whitaker.

NFTs allow us to think about and hack on formal contractual relationships outside a system of laws that is currently not set up to service our community.

The ArtNet article The Recent Sale of Amy Sherald's ‘Welfare Queen' Symbolizes the Urgent Need for Resale Royalties and Economic Equity for Artists discussed Sherald's 2012 portrait of a regal woman in a purple dress wearing a sparkling crown and elegant set of pearls against a vibrant red background.

Amy Sherald sold "Welfare Queen" to Princeton professor Imani Perry. Sherald agreed to a payment plan to accommodate Perry's budget.

Amy Sherald rose to fame for her 2016 portrait of Michelle Obama and her full-length portrait of Breonna Taylor, one of the most famous works of the past decade.

As is common, Sherald's rising star drove up the price of her earlier works. Perry's "Welfare Queen" sold for $3.9 million in 2021.

Amy Sherald speaking about her work in front of her painting “Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance) | Getty Images
Raleigh News & Observer / Contributor May 2018

Imani Perry's early investment paid off big-time. Amy Sherald, whose work directly increased the painting's value and who was on an artist's shoestring budget when she agreed to sell "Welfare Queen" in 2012, did not see any of the 2021 auction money. Perry and the auction house got that money.

Sherald sold her Breonna Taylor portrait to the Smithsonian and Louisville's Speed Art Museum to fund a $1 million scholarship. This is a great example of what an artist can do for the community if they can amass wealth through their work.

NFTs haven't solved all of the art market's problems — fakes, money laundering, market manipulation — but they didn't create them. Blockchain and NFTs are credited with making these issues more transparent. More ideas emerge daily about what a smart contract should do for artists.

NFTs are a copyright solution. They allow us to hack formal contractual relationships outside a law system that doesn't serve our community.

Amy Sherald shows the good smart contracts can do (as in, well-considered, self-determined contracts, not necessarily blockchain contracts.) Giving back to our community, deciding where and how our work can be sold or displayed, and ensuring artists share in the equity of our work and the economy our labor creates.

Photo of Amy Sherald during New York Fashion Week attending Ulla Johnson at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Getty Images
Dominik Bindl / Stringer September 2021

Carter Kilmann

11 hours ago

I finally achieved a $100K freelance income. Here's what I wish I knew.

Source: Canva

We love round numbers, don't we? $100,000 is a frequent freelancing milestone. You feel like six figures means you're doing something properly.

You've most likely already conquered initial freelancing challenges like finding clients, setting fair pricing, coping with criticism, getting through dry spells, managing funds, etc.

You think I must be doing well. Last month, my freelance income topped $100,000.

That may not sound impressive considering I've been freelancing for 2.75 years, but I made 30% of that in the previous four months, which is crazy.

Here are the things I wish I'd known during the early days of self-employment that would have helped me hit $100,000 faster.

1. The Volatility of Freelancing Will Stabilize.

Freelancing is risky. No surprise.

Here's an example.

October 2020 was my best month, earning $7,150. Between $4,004 in September and $1,730 in November. Unsteady.

Freelancing is regrettably like that. Moving clients. Content requirements change. Allocating so much time to personal pursuits wasn't smart, but yet.

Stabilizing income takes time. Consider my rolling three-month average income since I started freelancing. My three-month average monthly income. In February, this metric topped $5,000. Now, it's in the mid-$7,000s, but it took a while to get there.

Finding freelance gigs that provide high pay, high volume, and recurring revenue is difficult. But it's not impossible.

TLDR: Don't expect a steady income increase at first. Be patient.

2. You Have More Value Than You Realize.

Writing is difficult. Assembling words, communicating a message, and provoking action are a puzzle.

People are willing to pay you for it because they can't do what you do or don't have enough time.

Keeping that in mind can have huge commercial repercussions.

When talking to clients, don't tiptoe. You can ignore ridiculous deadlines. You don't have to take unmanageable work.

You solve an issue, so make sure you get rightly paid.

TLDR: Frame services as problem-solutions. This will let you charge more and set boundaries.

3. Increase Your Prices.

I studied hard before freelancing. I read articles and watched videos about writing businesses.

I didn't want to work for pennies. Despite this clarity, I had no real strategy to raise my rates.

I then luckily stumbled into higher-paying work. We discussed fees and hours with a friend who launched a consulting business. It's subjective and speculative because value isn't standardized. One company may laugh at your charges. If your solution helps them create a solid ROI, another client may pay $200 per hour.

When he told me he charged his first client $125 per hour, I thought, Why not?

A new-ish client wanted to discuss a huge forthcoming project, so I raised my rates. They knew my worth, so they didn't blink when I handed them my new number.

TLDR: Increase rates periodically (e.g., every 6 or 12 months). Writing skill develops with practice. You'll gain value over time.

4. Remember Your Limits.

If you can squeeze additional time into a day, let me know. I can't manipulate time yet.

We all have time and economic limits. You could theoretically keep boosting rates, but your prospect pool diminishes. Outsourcing and establishing extra revenue sources might boost monthly revenues.

I've devoted a lot of time to side projects (hopefully extra cash sources), but I've only just started outsourcing. I wish I'd tried this earlier.

If you can discover good freelancers, you can grow your firm without sacrificing time.

TLDR: Expand your writing network immediately. You'll meet freelancers who understand your daily grind and locate reference sources.

5. Every Action You Take Involves an Investment. Be Certain to Select Correctly.

Investing in stocks or crypto requires paying money, right?

In business, time is your currency (and maybe money too). Your daily habits define your future. If you spend time collecting software customers and compiling content in the space, you'll end up with both. So be sure.

I only spend around 50% of my time on client work, therefore it's taken me nearly three years to earn $100,000. I spend the remainder of my time on personal projects including a freelance book, an investment newsletter, and this blog.

Why? I don't want to rely on client work forever. So, I'm working on projects that could pay off later and help me live a more fulfilling life.

TLDR: Consider the long-term impact of your time commitments, and don't overextend. You can only make so many "investments" in a given time.

6. LinkedIn Is an Endless Mine of Gold. Use It.

Why didn't I use LinkedIn earlier?

I designed a LinkedIn inbound lead strategy that generates 12 leads a month and a few high-quality offers. As a result, I've turned down good gigs. Wish I'd begun earlier.

If you want to create a freelance business, prioritize LinkedIn. Too many freelancers ignore this site, missing out on high-paying clients. Build your profile, post often, and interact.

TLDR: Study LinkedIn's top creators. Once you understand their audiences, start posting and participating daily.

For 99% of People, Freelancing is Not a Get-Rich-Quick Scheme.

Here's a list of things I wish I'd known when I started freelancing.

  1. Although it is erratic, freelancing eventually becomes stable.

  2. You deserve respect and discretion over how you conduct business because you have solved an issue.

  3. Increase your charges rather than undervaluing yourself. If necessary, add a reminder to your calendar. Your worth grows with time.

  4. In order to grow your firm, outsource jobs. After that, you can work on the things that are most important to you.

  5. Take into account how your present time commitments may affect the future. It will assist in putting things into perspective and determining whether what you are doing is indeed worthwhile.

  6. Participate on LinkedIn. You'll get better jobs as a result.

If I could give my old self (and other freelancers) one bit of advice, it's this:

Despite appearances, you're making progress.

Each job. Tweets. Newsletters. Progress. It's simpler to see retroactively than in the moment.

Consistent, intentional work pays off. No good comes from doing nothing. You must set goals, divide them into time-based targets, and then optimize your calendar.

Then you'll understand you're doing well.

Want to learn more? I’ll teach you.

Sara_Mednick

11 hours ago

Since I'm a scientist, I oppose biohacking

Understanding your own energy depletion and restoration is how to truly optimize

Photo: Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash

Hack has meant many bad things for centuries. In the 1800s, a hack was a meager horse used to transport goods.

Modern usage describes a butcher or ax murderer's cleaver chop. The 1980s programming boom distinguished elegant code from "hacks". Both got you to your goal, but the latter made any programmer cringe and mutter about changing the code. From this emerged the hacker trope, the friendless anti-villain living in a murky hovel lit by the computer monitor, eating junk food and breaking into databases to highlight security system failures or steal hotdog money.

Remember the 1995 movie, Hackers, in which a bunch of super cool programmers (said no one ever) get caught up in a plot to destroy the world and only teenybopper Angelina Jolie and her punk rock gang of nerd-bots can use their lightening quick typing skills to save the world? Remember public phones?

Now, start-a-billion-dollar-business-from-your-garage types have shifted their sights from app development to DIY biology, coining the term "bio-hack". This is a required keyword and meta tag for every fitness-related podcast, book, conference, app, or device.

Bio-hacking involves bypassing your body and mind's security systems to achieve a goal. Many biohackers' initial goals were reasonable, like lowering blood pressure and weight. Encouraged by their own progress, self-determination, and seemingly exquisite control of their biology, they aimed to outsmart aging and death to live 180 to 1000 years (summarized well in this vox.com article).

With this grandiose north star, the hunt for novel supplements and genetic engineering began.

Companies selling do-it-yourself biological manipulations cite lab studies in mice as proof of their safety and success in reversing age-related diseases or promoting longevity in humans (the goal changes depending on whether a company is talking to the federal government or private donors).

The FDA is slower than science, they say. Why not alter your biochemistry by buying pills online, editing your DNA with a CRISPR kit, or using a sauna delivered to your home? How about a microchip or electrical stimulator?

What could go wrong?


I'm not the neo-police, making citizen's arrests every time someone introduces a new plumbing gadget or extrapolates from animal research on resveratrol or catechins that we should drink more red wine or eat more chocolate. As a scientist who's spent her career asking, "Can we get better?" I've come to view bio-hacking as misguided, profit-driven, and counterproductive to its followers' goals.

We're creatures of nature. Despite all the new gadgets and bio-hacks, we still use Roman plumbing technology, and the best way to stay fit, sharp, and happy is to follow a recipe passed down since the beginning of time. Bacteria, plants, and all natural beings are rhythmic, with alternating periods of high activity and dormancy, whether measured in seconds, hours, days, or seasons. Nature repeats successful patterns.

During the Upstate, every cell in your body is naturally primed and pumped full of glycogen and ATP (your cells' energy currencies), as well as cortisol, which supports your muscles, heart, metabolism, cognitive prowess, emotional regulation, and general "get 'er done" attitude. This big energy release depletes your batteries and requires the Downstate, when your subsystems recharge at the cellular level.

Downstates are when you give your heart a break from pumping nutrient-rich blood through your body; when you give your metabolism a break from inflammation, oxidative stress, and sympathetic arousal caused by eating fast food — or just eating too fast; or when you give your mind a chance to wander, think bigger thoughts, and come up with new creative solutions. When you're responding to notifications, emails, and fires, you can't relax.

Every biological plant and animal is regulated by rhythms of energy-depleting Upstate and energy-restoring Downstates.

Downstates aren't just for consistently recharging your battery. By spending time in the Downstate, your body and brain get extra energy and nutrients, allowing you to grow smarter, faster, stronger, and more self-regulated. This state supports half-marathon training, exam prep, and mediation. As we age, spending more time in the Downstate is key to mental and physical health, well-being, and longevity.

When you prioritize energy-demanding activities during Upstate periods and energy-replenishing activities during Downstate periods, all your subsystems, including cardiovascular, metabolic, muscular, cognitive, and emotional, hum along at their optimal settings. When you synchronize the Upstates and Downstates of these individual rhythms, their functioning improves. A hard workout causes autonomic stress, which triggers Downstate recovery.

This zig-zag trajectory of performance improvement illustrates that getting better at anything in life isn’t a straight shot. The close-up box shows how prioritizing Downstate recovery after an Upstate exertion (e.g., hard workout) leads to RECOVERYPLUS. Image from The Power of the Downstate by Sara C. Mednick PhD.

By choosing the right timing and type of exercise during the day, you can ensure a deeper recovery and greater readiness for the next workout by working with your natural rhythms and strengthening your autonomic and sleep Downstates.

Morning cardio workouts increase deep sleep compared to afternoon workouts. Timing and type of meals determine when your sleep hormone melatonin is released, ushering in sleep.

Rhythm isn't a hack. It's not a way to cheat the system or the boss. Nature has honed its optimization wisdom over trillions of days and nights. Stop looking for quick fixes. You're a whole system made of smaller subsystems that must work together to function well. No one pill or subsystem will make it all work. Understanding and coordinating your rhythms is free, easy, and only benefits you.

Dr. Sara C. Mednick is a cognitive neuroscientist at UC Irvine and author of The Power of the Downstate (HachetteGO)

Scott Galloway

1 day ago

First Health

ZERO GRACE/ZERO MALICE

Amazon's purchase of One Medical could speed up American healthcare

The U.S. healthcare industry is a 7-ton seal bleeding at sea. Predators are circling. Unearned margin: price increases relative to inflation without quality improvements. Amazon is the 11-foot megalodon with 7-inch teeth. Amazon is no longer circling... but attacking.

In 2020 dollars, per capita U.S. healthcare spending increased from $2,968 in 1980 to $12,531. The result is a massive industry with 13% of the nation's workers and a fifth of GDP.

Doctor No

In 40 years, healthcare has made progress. From 73.7 in 1980 to 78.8 in 2019, life expectancy rose (before Covid knocked it back down a bit). Pharmacological therapies have revolutionized, and genetic research is paying off. The financial return, improvement split by cost increases, is terrible. No country has expense rises like the U.S., and no one spends as much per capita as we do. Developed countries have longer life expectancies, healthier populations, and less economic hardship.

Two-thirds of U.S. personal bankruptcies are due to medical expenses and/or missed work. Mom or Dad getting cancer could bankrupt many middle-class American families. 40% of American adults delayed or skipped needed care due to cost. Every healthcare improvement seems to have a downside. Same pharmacological revolution that helped millions caused opioid epidemic. Our results are poor in many areas: The U.S. has a high infant mortality rate.

Healthcare is the second-worst retail industry in the country. Gas stations are #1. Imagine walking into a Best Buy to buy a TV and a Blue Shirt associate requests you fill out the same 14 pages of paperwork you filled out yesterday. Then you wait in a crowded room until they call you, 20 minutes after the scheduled appointment you were asked to arrive early for, to see the one person in the store who can talk to you about TVs, who has 10 minutes for you. The average emergency room wait time in New York is 6 hours and 10 minutes.

If it's bad for the customer, it's worse for the business. Physicians spend 27% of their time helping patients; 49% on EHRs. Documentation, order entry, billing, and inbox management. Spend a decade getting an M.D., then become a bureaucrat.

No industry better illustrates scale diseconomies. If we got the same return on healthcare spending as other countries, we'd all live to 100. We could spend less, live longer and healthier, and pay off the national debt in 15 years. U.S. healthcare is the worst ever.

What now? Competition is at the heart of capitalism, the worst system of its kind.

Priority Time

Amazon is buying One Medical for $3.9 billion. I think this deal will liberate society. Two years in, I think One Medical is great. When I got Covid, I pressed the One Medical symbol on my phone; a nurse practitioner prescribed Paxlovid and told me which pharmacies had it in stock.

Amazon enables the company's vision. One Medical's stock is down to $10 from $40 at the start of 2021. Last year, it lost $250 million and needs cash (Amazon has $60 billion). ONEM must grow. The service has 736,000 members. Half of U.S. households have Amazon Prime. Finally, delivery. One Medical is a digital health/physical office hybrid, but you must pick up medication at the pharmacy. Upgrade your Paxlovid delivery time after a remote consultation. Amazon's core competency means it'll happen. Healthcare speed and convenience will feel alien.

It's been a long, winding road to disruption. Amazon, JPMorgan, and Berkshire Hathaway formed Haven four years ago to provide better healthcare for their 1.5 million employees. It rocked healthcare stocks the morning of the press release, but folded in 2021.

Amazon Care is an employee-focused service. Home-delivered virtual health services and nurses. It's doing well, expanding nationwide, and providing healthcare for other companies. Hilton is Amazon Care's biggest customer. The acquisition of One Medical will bring 66 million Prime households capital, domain expertise, and billing infrastructure. Imagine:

"Alexa, I'm hot and my back hurts."

"Connecting you to a Prime doctor now."

Want to vs. Have to

I predicted Amazon entering healthcare years ago. Why? For the same reason Apple is getting into auto. Amazon's P/E is 56, double Walmart's. The corporation must add $250 billion in revenue over the next five years to retain its share price. White-label clothes or smart home products won't generate as much revenue. It must enter a huge market without scale, operational competence, and data skills.

Current Situation

Healthcare reform benefits both consumers and investors. In 2015, healthcare services had S&P 500-average multiples. The market is losing faith in public healthcare businesses' growth. Healthcare services have lower EV/EBITDA multiples than the S&P 500.

Amazon isn't the only prey-hunter. Walmart and Alibaba are starting pharmacies. Uber is developing medical transportation. Private markets invested $29 billion in telehealth last year, up 95% from 2020.

The pandemic accelerated telehealth, the immediate unlock. After the first positive Covid case in the U.S., services that had to be delivered in person shifted to Zoom... We lived. We grew. Video house calls continued after in-person visits were allowed. McKinsey estimates telehealth visits are 38 times pre-pandemic levels. Doctors adopted the technology, regulators loosened restrictions, and patients saved time. We're far from remote surgery, but many patient visits are unnecessary. A study of 40 million patients during lockdown found that for chronic disease patients, online visits didn't affect outcomes. This method of care will only improve.

Amazon's disruption will be significant and will inspire a flood of capital, startups, and consumer brands. Mark Cuban launched a pharmacy that eliminates middlemen in January. Outcome? A 90-day supply of acid-reflux medication costs $17. Medicare could have saved $3.6 billion by buying generic drugs from Cuban's pharmacy. Other apex predators will look at different limbs of the carcass for food. Nike could enter healthcare via orthopedics, acupuncture, and chiropractic. LVMH, L'Oréal, and Estée Lauder may launch global plastic surgery brands. Hilton and Four Seasons may open hospitals. Lennar and Pulte could build "Active Living" communities that Nana would leave feet first, avoiding the expense and tragedy of dying among strangers.

Risks

Privacy matters: HIV status is different from credit card and billing address. Most customers (60%) feel fine sharing personal health data via virtual technologies, though. Unavoidable. 85% of doctors believe data-sharing and interoperability will become the norm. Amazon is the most trusted tech company for handling personal data. Not Meta: Amazon.

What about antitrust, then?

Amazon should be required to spin off AWS and/or Amazon Fulfillment and banned from promoting its own products. It should be allowed to acquire hospitals. One Medical's $3.9 billion acquisition is a drop in the bucket compared to UnitedHealth's $498 billion market valuation.

Antitrust enforcement shouldn't assume some people/firms are good/bad. It should recognize that competition is good and focus on making markets more competitive in each deal. The FTC should force asset divestitures in e-commerce, digital marketing, and social media. These companies can also promote competition in a social ill.

U.S. healthcare makes us fat, depressed, and broke. Competition has produced massive value and prosperity across most of our economy.

Dear Amazon … bring it.

Amelia Winger-Bearskin

2 days ago

Reasons Why AI-Generated Images Remind Me of Nightmares

AI images are like funhouse mirrors.

Google's AI Blog introduced the puppy-slug in the summer of 2015.

Vice / DeepDream

Puppy-slug isn't a single image or character. "Puppy-slug" refers to Google's DeepDream's unsettling psychedelia. This tool uses convolutional neural networks to train models to recognize dataset entities. If researchers feed the model millions of dog pictures, the network will learn to recognize a dog.

DeepDream used neural networks to analyze and classify image data as well as generate its own images. DeepDream's early examples were created by training a convolutional network on dog images and asking it to add "dog-ness" to other images. The models analyzed images to find dog-like pixels and modified surrounding pixels to highlight them.

Puppy-slugs and other DeepDream images are ugly. Even when they don't trigger my trypophobia, they give me vertigo when my mind tries to reconcile familiar features and forms in unnatural, physically impossible arrangements. I feel like I've been poisoned by a forbidden mushroom or a noxious toad. I'm a Lovecraft character going mad from extradimensional exposure. They're gross!

Is this really how AIs see the world? This is possibly an even more unsettling topic that DeepDream raises than the blatant abjection of the images.

When these photographs originally circulated online, many friends were startled and scandalized. People imagined a computer's imagination would be literal, accurate, and boring. We didn't expect vivid hallucinations and organic-looking formations.

DeepDream's images didn't really show the machines' imaginations, at least not in the way that scared some people. DeepDream displays data visualizations. DeepDream reveals the "black box" of convolutional network training.

Some of these images look scary because the models don't "know" anything, at least not in the way we do.

These images are the result of advanced algorithms and calculators that compare pixel values. They can spot and reproduce trends from training data, but can't interpret it. If so, they'd know dogs have two eyes and one face per head. If machines can think creatively, they're keeping it quiet.

You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given OpenAI's Dall-impressive E's results. From a technological perspective, it's incredible.

Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Dall-magic E's requires a lot of math, computer science, processing power, and research. OpenAI did a great job, and we should applaud them.

Dall-E and similar tools match words and phrases to image data to train generative models. Matching text to images requires sorting and defining the images. Untold millions of low-wage data entry workers, content creators optimizing images for SEO, and anyone who has used a Captcha to access a website make these decisions. These people could live and die without receiving credit for their work, even though the project wouldn't exist without them.

This technique produces images that are less like paintings and more like mirrors that reflect our own beliefs and ideals back at us, albeit via a very complex prism. Due to the limitations and biases that these models portray, we must exercise caution when viewing these images.

The issue was succinctly articulated by artist Mimi Onuoha in her piece "On Algorithmic Violence":

As we continue to see the rise of algorithms being used for civic, social, and cultural decision-making, it becomes that much more important that we name the reality that we are seeing. Not because it is exceptional, but because it is ubiquitous. Not because it creates new inequities, but because it has the power to cloak and amplify existing ones. Not because it is on the horizon, but because it is already here.