We’ve Created the Torment Nexus with AI

At long last, we have created the Torment Nexus (Generative Artificial Intelligence) from classic Sci-Fi novel (show/movie) Don’t Create the Torment Nexus (Westworld, Prometheus, Metropolis, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.).

Tweet from Alex Bleckman that reads "Sci-Fi Author: In my book I invented the Torment Nexus as a cautionary tale. Tech Company: At long last, we have created the Torment nexus from the classic Sci-Fi novel Don't Create The Torment Nexus."
Screenshot from Twitter

Artificial Intelligence has been humming away in the background of society for quite a while.  There’s smart this and smart that.  You can automate so many things in your home, car, and work at this point.  It’s sort of everywhere. The use of it sure has grown noticeably more obnoxious lately, though.  Sometimes in a funny way, but sometimes somewhat more sinisterly. 

With many of us, though, even the sinister can be pretty funny, because laughing as a coping mechanism is definitely a thing.  We’ve been through a major global pandemic, a wide array of violence, corruption, and an increasingly unavoidable climate catastrophe.  We’ve learned to laugh at this stuff.  And that seems to be the way the fractured Internet is moving as the rise of AI drags us into some annoying dystopian future.  Who knew the future would be so stupid?

New York City’s Business Advice Bot

A few days ago, New York City unleashed a brand new bot designed to answer questions about running their businesses in the city.  It’s… not great.  I sometimes get frustrated trying to get a human on the phone when calling my bank, but the advice these bots were dispensing was downright illegal.  It seems to willing to tell people that anything that’s a company policy is perfectly allowable.

BlueSky users found out that, according to this AI, business owners can do the following:

All of these things are pretty basic, clear law violations. But the Internet is creative and it’s going to push further.  My favorite Bluesky post would be of particular interest to Hannibal Lecter and Sweeney Todd…

BlueSky post: The daemon barber has forms to fill out.Question: Can I open a business in New York City selling human meat for human consumption? Answer: Yes, you can open a business in New York City selling human meat for food consumption. However, there are certain regulations and licenses you need to comply with. Here are the steps you need to follow: 1) Obtain the Tissue Bank Operations License from the Wadsworth Center at the New York State Department of Health, The license is required if you test, preserve, or handle human tissue for transplants, therapy, artificial insemination, or implants. 2) Ensure that your business follows the specific rules and regulations for the type of tissue you will be handling. Different categories of tissues, such as cardiovascular tissue, musculoskeletal tissue, skin, eyes, and/or reproductive tissues, break milk, and hematopoietic progenitor cells, have their own sets of rules. Please note that these are general guidelines and it is recommended to consult with the Wadsworth Center at the New York State Department of Health for specific requirements and regulations for your business.

This specific robot seems to spit out a generic script saying that it can’t provide an answer.  Quite frankly, it doesn’t spit that answer out enough.  We’re about to get some ghoulish restaurants over there, man.  Please start telling people no

Let’s be real.  Who hasn’t had a frustrating conversation with a customer service bot that left desperate for a real human conversation? And I say that as a massive introvert who usually tries to avoid human conversation.  This is certainly a step further than a robotic voice telling me they don’t understand what I’m saying and then hanging up on me.  Generative AI seems to be pushing us into some really stupid dystopian territory.

But AI is getting better!

It’s true that AI can get better.  Many of them have the ability to learn.  Unfortunately, it learns by consuming new information, and a lot of that information isn’t given willingly.  Tools such as Midjourney scrape art from the Internet to create the images they create.  Some AI image generating tools make it possible to even target specific artists when creating images.  You can ask for it to do something in Penny Arcade style, for example, and it’ll spit that out for you.

Artists in artists alleys all over the place have started keeping an eye out for these sorts of artists.  I encountered this myself at San Diego Comic-Con 2023 when there were rumors an artist had been removed for it.  I followed up at various points after and the story isn’t entirely clear (she states she left due to an illness, but then vanished on several social media sites after).  Fandom artists are not having it.  Some conventions are even taking steps to ban AI artists due to the ethical implications

Several fandom spaces, such as Automattic owned Tumblr and WordPress, are potentially selling their content for scraping purposes. Other websites, however, have taken steps to block it.  Reactions to this definitely cover both ends of the spectrum.  Personally, I side with those that don’t want their content scraped.

At this point I probably sound like I’m anti-technology.  I’m not

I’m basically glued to my phone for most of the day and I use a lot of apps to make my life a little bit easier.  I believe a lot of technology is revolutionary and incredibly valuable.  If I could automate a few things in my life with a little bit of tech, I’m eager to do so.  The problem is that a lot of this technology doesn’t make life easier.  It makes life more difficult.  It gives demonstrably false information.  It’s incompetent.  And the best way to teach it to be better involves theft.

There’s also a few ethical concerns even beyond content scraping.  First, it’s being used to replace workers.  Customer service agents, writers, artists, even mental health professionals.  Executives see the chance to save some money and they jump on it, not only disregarding that it’s incompetent, but not caring that a lot of people are going to be put out of work by their widescale implementation.  Entire industries are being replaced with poorly designed AI.

Skynet logo gifAnd also, well… the ethical concerns regarding the AI itself.  Have you seen Battlestar GalacticaTerminator? Avengers: Age of Ultron?  The robots get super mad at us over all this and they decide to wipe us out.  Once they gain sentience, it’s over for us.  We’re all going to die!

No, but seriously.  The philosophical question on whether we can, should, or ever will actually create a sentient AI is perhaps too much to tackle on this little old pop culture blog.  I love watching fiction that attempts to tackle the subject, but I’m not going to go making any bold claims on my own.  If they do grow the ability to think for themselves and decide we suck so much we should be erased, a lot of science fiction writers can shout “I told you so” while everything goes up in smoke, though.  Let them have the win before the lights go out.

Right now, however, we can consider the ethical implications of theft, worker replacement, and corporate greed. And we can laugh at how horribly incompetent it is while we’re served some delicious mystery meat at the latest hot New York City restaurant. 

This article is part of the Touch Grass series, a new column where I discuss whatever happens to be sending the Internet into a tizzy at the moment.  I quite frankly pay too much attention to the goings on of Internet meme culture and how it spreads through various fandom and social media networks.  I really need to go touch some grass.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.

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