Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Nature of Fans

It's been a while since I felt anything future-shocky. Culture is complicated, and even as science marches forward, culture hangs back and just kind of faffs around. But I did see something future-shocky this week. In a very early stage. Darius built a meme machine.

Meme machines have been around for a while, of course. Most of them are pretty basic, and their output is not what you'd consider "usable". If you use them or iterate them long enough you can get something useful out of it, but the percentage is low and the longevity is poor. A good example of this would be the objection engine, which produces the same kinds of output as Darius' bot, but with a different focus.

Both are "fan meme" engines. But Darius' engine operates 100% automatically. Just plug in a video with some subtitle tracks, and out pops animated gifs tagged properly. The sort of things fans make on their own, all the time. While the individual gifs aren't always good, they are tagged and ready to roll. In fact, you could even largely automate the distribution of them!

People are always considering the line between humans and "robots" - more accurately, humans and automation. They are always worried that robots are going to steal their jobs - or Mexicans are going to steal their jobs, or Polish people are going to steal their jobs, or women are going to steal their jobs, or gay people are going to... well, they worry about their jobs a lot. Out of all of those options, machines are the only one that actually steals jobs - as in, reduces the number of jobs required to perform a task.

That's because, put simply, automation makes it easier for a human to complete a task. Automation very rarely if ever reduces the number of humans involved to zero... but it does steadily divide the number of humans required for any given task.

As to the political/economic side of that argument... well, this isn't the essay for that argument, but let's just make it clear that I'm a bit of a technophile and there are an infinite variety of tasks to be done.

Most people think of physical labor when they think of robots replacing them. But the truth is more interesting: automation is predominately nonphysical. There's more software automation than physical human labor automation. I mean, every single computer on the face of the planet is literally automation. It is automation from the ground up.

We already use that automation for virtually every aspect of our personal lives. Our bus fares are automated. Our mail is automated. Our research is automated. Our entertainment is automated.

We have this weird line drawn in our head where our opinions are not automated. We hold that beliefs are somehow 100% human and cannot be automated.

Well, that's wrong.

As Darius shows, it's actually not that hard to stick an automatic thumb into the human mind.

Like any kind of automation, it's not that the human is written out. It's that the task of believing, of being a fanboy... is being augmented. Fewer humans can accomplish more of the "fanboy" task. The fanboy robot does not replace humans, but it augments them such that vastly more task can be done. Not every gif is worthy of use, but a human can easily go through 100 gifs and choose the best few. It takes no expertise. And, in fact, it actually makes that person MORE of a fan than they probably were before, because they are partaking in an act of creation, no matter how indirect.

So... what I'm trying to say is:

Everyone who creates a TV show should probably pay Darius to do this for them. It won't create fans out of thin air, but it does allow the fans to produce vastly more "fan culture". It allows your fans to be more effective.

We're not at the stage where the "fan culture" task is maxed out. I think we'll see it evolve a few more times before we get to the point where humans are "fired" from being fans because there's too much fan labor and not enough fan tasks that need doing.

But, hey, I look forward to that future. It sounds amazing.

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