Media C-Suite Week No. 52, Issue No. 38

The Week in the Media C-Suite, Week 52 Issue 38

A Week in the Media C-Suite 

It’s Sunday, the 24th of December, 2023.

Christmas Eve!

Tomorrow means a lot to most of the “Western World” as a modern holiday inherited from the Christian tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus as a mid-Winter festival of hope. Some historians may be prompted to confirm the much older, near identical pagan traditions across Europe that offered a convenient model for today’s popular holiday.

And it might often be forgotten, but Jesus was also a revered Prophet within Islam whose birth is celebrated as such by many Muslims.

As holidays go, tomorrow marks a moment of notable inclusivity across a wide swath of humanity on a planet in desperate need of it. 

Tomorrow’s Eve

The word “Eve” is derived from ǽfen, an Old English word spoken by Anglo-Saxons in England during the 1st Century A.D. Used in epic poems such as Beowulf, ǽfen was a time to retire, rest and prepare for the day to come.

In ancient times, sunset marked the start of each new day, not the end of it. To start the day, on the Eve, was to contemplate what was to come and plan accordingly. The fireside offered a moment of quiet, warm reflection and the opportunity for stories. Stories offered a guide for the dreams that would come with sleep, during the long fast before sunrise.

On the day before a great celebration, the Eve was particularly important. Being part of a celebration was in itself an honour when so much of life on Earth was so hard. Feasting, when you know famine, was more than a family meal. Communities raided for food; and killed to protect it.

A feast in mid-Winter would have been particularly important. Particularly in the harsh northern climates of Europe in the first century. The fear of running out of food before Spring would have been tangible. The mid-Winter festival was in direct opposition to that fear.

It was hope made real.

That was what Christians felt of Jesus.

Tomorrow is Christmas for just that reason. It is not the expectation of receiving gifts, but power of giving them that makes Christmas the mid-Winter festival for all.

The fireside stories on Christmas Eve offer us all a chance to dream of a tomorrow that, even for a single day, might be filled with hope.

Our Take

The Media & Entertainment industry no longer requires the fireside moment for stories. Our stories are twenty-four hours a day, every day. But stories told today are generally not of hope. They are reflections of our world as told by those who don’t really understand the need for hope.

That itself is a reflection of how far our societies have come since the days of Beowulf.

Today we measure the state of our world not in terms of hope against tangible hardships so much as an esoteric idea of freedom as if the two were one and the same. And, in some respects, they are. For hope in the darkest, coldest hours of mid-Winter was once for relief from the fear of starvation or violence. By telling stories of giving in a time of want, that fear could be held at bay for an entire community.

Love they neighbour, Jesus preached.

That is a powerful message to a world taught to fear one’s neighbour; to take what they have and deny them what they need. Fear provided power, and power asserted control.

In our modern times, we associate control with freedom. But freedom, really, is not the exercise of control. Freedom, really, is the absence of fear.

On this Christmas Eve, when so many of our neighbours are living in fear, stories matter more than ever. What we, as an industry, might consider is telling stories that incite the minds of our audiences to imagine something to hope for.

Hope in the face of fear is courage.

And that is what we wish for this year.

Just Catching Up?

Take your time.

Much of the world has borrowed the down-time taken in the US and Western Europe to regroup ahead of the New Year. Rest, relaxation and reflection. For humans anyway. No one has programmed vacation mode into AI.

What artificial intelligence does tirelessly, all the time, is train. This is particularly true of the Large Language Models (LLMs) supporting Generative AI that is rapidly overtaking nearly all commercial strategy within consumer electronics, telecommunication and the media half of the Media & Entertainment industry.

Generative AI trains on a vast pool of data available on-line or within distinct databases providing specialised knowledge that can be dissected, re-assembled and generated as output in accordance with its users’ prompts.

Want AI to write a book? No problem, it has read nearly all of them and can piece together something for you, literally. The same is true of images. This vast pool of online data upon which Generative AI trains is at the heart the technology. As quickly as artists can generate original works upon which they earn money for their families, AI quickly drinks it in and spits it out for others to profit from.

Poisoning the Well

Some artists have had enough, and have turned to technology to do something about it.

That something was developed at the University of Chicago, initially to confound facial recognition systems.  The software provides digital artists and photographers a defence against the process of “mimicry” by Generative AI. It is called Glaze, and will confuse most AI diffusion models enough to wreak havoc each time a protected image is embedded into a prompted response.

Text-to-image Generative AI is not the only arena for data poisoning. Any Generative AI model that relies upon training data can be purposefully misled to generate intentionally false information, or information that ties the AI programmers to restricted or otherwise protected information.

The concept is not new. Intelligence agencies have used similar techniques for centuries in an effort to mis-inform enemies or to identify the source of stolen information. Generative AI is no less susceptible.

What it Means

As Apple officially joins the race to embed Generative AI into our phones and laptops, the security of the data upon which they are trained will become increasingly important.

Equally important will be copyright protection for anyone who types, draws or otherwise creates for a living. Out of the overtly defensive nature of Glaze to more obstinate use cases for data poisoning, Generative AI, as a tool, will likely become a vector for lucrative lawsuits intended to hold Generative AI programmers and publishers liable for breaches of copyright law.

Both creatives and lawyers, the two professions most vulnerable to Generative AI, might just have found a highly rewarding angle of attack against it.

Looking Forward?

That’s the right direction!

Prepare For It

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