Monday 28 November 2022


Conan rendering stellar phenomena using Midjourney. Astronomy is one of his lesser known hobbies.

Free higher education and universal basic income are going to become increasingly important (even necessary) as certain jobs (or entire fields) are made obsolete by automation. 

The largest corporations of the twentieth century employed tens of millions of people. The top five corporations driving the stock market today (Amazon, Google, Meta, Apple, etc) employ a TINY fraction of that. You just don't need tens of millions of coders at Meta.

The idea that creative destruction will continue to merely shift labour to different areas of the economy is breaking down: the new fields being built simply do not require as many labourers. 

That presents some issues.

Many fields are being, or are about to be, heavily impacted by automation. It takes a big investment to set up, but cost savings manifest over time. There are over 4 million people driving vehicles in the United States currently, for example, and robot vehicles are right around the corner. 

On the up side, right now the United States is experiencing the greatest expansion (re-shoring) of industrial capacity since the end of the Second World War. That will be an enormous help, but I also expect manufacturers to automate as much as possible, as US labour is more expensive than in many other nations. Automation may be necessary to make reshoring lower end industries (basic electronics, say) economical, but even so, it is possible there will be a net increase in employment, given the amount of reshoring happening. 

We are also facing a large demographic shift (into retirement, which will be followed by a population drop), which may push the economy into recession. Retirees don't buy as much as new young parents. Baby boomers retiring also takes money out of investment funds, such as in tech start ups. Things are going to slow down and money will be tighter. Maybe it will slow automation down.

We shall see..!

At any rate, education will be a life long endeavour so we can be, and remain, competitive. Universal basic income will be essential in dealing with the dramatic impact and shifts in jobs as automation makes an ever increasing impact in the next few decades.

What is coming has the potential to be mind blowingly awesome... or an abysmal, hellish dystopia.

The last thing we want is to wind up like ancient Rome, with a gutted and desperate middle class seeking salvation as serfs on the plantations of rich land owners, or indolent masses entertained by bread and circuses. 

Friday 18 November 2022

Conan the Barbarian on Midjourney

Conan is angered by the more interesting social media feed of his rivals and vows revenge

Conan! What is valued in life?

Conan: "Wahd iz desiahd, rahwr und hawhd."

You mean desired, rare and difficult?

Conan: "Yaws! Dad's eed!"

Ever eloquent Conan makes a good point.

How does Midjourney stack up in terms of value?

1) Desired. 

This question is still open. It is desired for imagery on social media. It's a lot of fun to play with. Will it be employed commercially? So far, the highest profile use has been as a gimmick cover for The Economist. I can see it being used for hundreds of thousands of indie book covers (millions of those out there already and increasing daily), or for super quick concept generation. People who want imagery for their imaginary role playing worlds, games, etc. will find it incredibly fun and useful. 

The engine still struggles with complex structures and multi-element scenes. Hands, faces (unless isolated), and feet are especially challenging for it and stand in the way of adoption. Are these insurmountable obstacles? I doubt it. 

Will they still be a problem 10 years, 100 years, or 500 years from now? What is the ceiling for AI? Will we have Hal 9000 and Commander Datas at some point in the future? That's also kind of doubtable, but we will likely have powerful AI nonetheless. Image generation for an AI like Data would be child's play. 

Eventually, I expect a LOT of the technical issues to be solved. 

Conan sprucing up his social media feed with Midjourney renderings of his enemies fleeing before him

So... desired as a fun hobby tool with usage at the periphery of commercial arts (indie book covers) for the time being.

2) Rare

It's as common as a $10 per month subscription. You need only an internet connection and a web browser (web browsers are free).

3) Difficult

It's super easy, barely an inconvenience. The skill barrier to entry is... a basic understanding of english. 

How does it stack up then, in terms of value?

Individual Midjourney images have... no value at all. None! They can be freely used by the art director who rendered them (human users are essentially performing an art direction and curation role), but also by anyone else. If you alter the image, only you can use the alteration, but the base can still be used by others. 

So bit of a problem if you want to brand with Midjourney output. 

I've invested lots of time in the tool over the last 3-4 months, however, and I've had a ton of fun rendering pictures for stories that would have taken me YEARS to have done otherwise. It's been a blast. 

Do any of the images I've made have value? As illustrations to stories I put up on my blog, or Kindle, for example, sure, they can arguably enhance the text. Beyond that, no.

Once AI renderers overcome the technical limitations they have now, they will compete at first with stock art. It will take longer for AI renderings to impinge upon highly skilled commercial artists. Eventually, some artists will move up into creative and art direction roles (as many as there are berths to take). Speed and cost are often imperatives in commercial art, and nothing is faster or cheaper than Midjourney (well, maybe stock art), so at some point down the line I expect it to make an impact. 

Those doing highly idiosyncratic work may last longer. Perhaps new laws will be made to copyright a 'style'. There's nothing currently; I don't think anyone in the legislatures saw this coming. They usually lag far behind technology.

Of course, the Luddites didn't see any laws passed to protect their livelihoods...

So yes, down the line, I expect AI to be doing a lot of grunt, toss-off commercial creative work (both visual and written). Humans will curate and art direct and tweak and provide the motivation. The higher level work, complex stuff that needs to be unique, will still need to be done by humans. 

Will the commercial art field expand as our tools get more powerful? Will human participation in the process continue to be necessary? How much of an appetite does the public have for art? How much do they have to spend, in both time and money? 

It's possible AI and human collaborations will spark a new creative age. There may be emergent properties here that we are entirely unaware of as yet. 

Honestly, I'd like to see where the AI renderers are in ten years before I really place my bets. 

My current view:

• It's a super fun creative toy to play with

• It's GREAT for amateur indie writers

• It's great for world building and amateur concept art (with the caveat that whatever is made can be used freely by others)

• Midjourney imagery has zero intrinsic value

• It's so easy as to be seductive and addictive; you can waste huge amounts of time on it

• Because it is common and easy, I don't see investing time in it as truly productive. It's a crazy fun hobby; best case (for me) is that it can be used to promote / illustrate stories, or as reference for my own digital painting efforts. Whatever limitations it has in terms of structure, I do love the colour palette(s) it uses. 

• Midjourney will continue to improve. 

Let's check back here in another 10 years, shall we?

For now, I'm going to keep an eye on it, dabble from time to time, but otherwise I need to get back to other work already in progress... such as the new book! 

Conan contemplates the social profiles of his dead enemies and reads the lamentation of their women

All the images in this post were rendered with Midjourney V4, and have not retouched or edited. Unlike this post.

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Andor is awesome

I really didn't care for The Book of Boba Fett. And I thought Kenobi was an amateurish bore.


It's SLOW!

There are few recognizable aliens! Or planets! Or spaceships! 



Where are the Stormtroopers falling over in droves every time someone does a back flip and points a finger at them?

Where are the endless lightsaber fights?

Where is the constant non-stop action and meaningless banter from cardboard archetypes?

We are now 10 episodes in and not ONE Death Star has blown up! 

Seriously, WTF?!?

And where, oh WHERE, is Turdooine?!? Sorry, I mean, Tatooine. (I hate that planet. Even the characters in the franchise know it's the ass end of nowhere. Is that why the writers sadistically keep taking us back to that desert stub? To make us hate the damn planet as much as "Are you an angel?" Ani did? Is it psychological warfare? Cruel and inhumane...)

Where are all the wink wink nudge nudge callback shots?


You're right: Star Wars, as George has said repeatedly, is for children. 

Andor is NOT for children. 

It's smart, it's well written, there are interesting characters with depth, the dialogue is complex, and the story takes its time being told. 

It builds and builds to meaningful crescendoes thanks to the care and effort spent on fleshing out the characters beforehand. 

So when action DOES happen, it's meaningful. Action after action between action before more action and as a prelude to the real action is just a meaningless cacophony. 

Honestly, I'm amazed Andor got made. 

I mean, it's good, for one thing. 

Unlike the other Star Wars shows (okay, Mandalorian was decent, and The Volume tech is flat out mind blowing). And it is quite obviously for adults. 

You can tell Gilroy is a history nerd. The show evokes totalitarian regimes on earth like no other Star Wars iteration. 

It makes The Book of Boba Fett, about your friendly neighbourhood (Disneyfied) drug cartel overlord, look pathetic, juvenile and ridiculous. 

Andor is shaping up as a show with something to say. 

From Disney.


Kathleen Kennedy has, from my perspective, always been a risk taker. The first directors she picked to carry on the franchise were all young turks with their own emerging voice. They were exciting choices. They didn't work out for the most part. But then, Andor, too is a wildly risky choice to make. And I'm glad she gambled on it.

I'm even more glad the second season is already green lit, so we'll get a proper wrap up for the series. I know it leads into Rogue One, which I actually hated, but Andor's so good I just don't care. I am enjoying it for what it is. 

I have no criticisms. There may be quibbles, but I'd have to think about it to come up with anything. 

It's superbly well done so far (at episode 10, which I've watched twice now. I haven't watched anything Star Wars twice in over twenty years).

I still can't believe it got made, especially after the dreck of Kenobi and Fett, the creative bankruptcy of The Force Awakens, the farcical Last Jedi and the utterly risible Rise of Skywalker.

This is a reflection of my own tastes, of course. A seven year old can appreciate the Star Wars movies (even the first two original films; the good ones are all ages), but they likely won't enjoy Andor. A lot of the fandom apparently doesn't like it, either, and I can understand why. They're used to the franchise being something else.

It's not for everyone.

But it is the Star Wars show I've always wanted to see.

Give it a watch. I can't recommend the show highly enough to anyone who's a history or polisci nerd.