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Mining intellectual value

Liked Television writer on fight with studios, networks: “We’re looking at the extinction of writing as a profession” (World Socialist Web Site)

The executives, the management and their attorneys have taken the Writers Guild minimum basic agreement [MBA] and they’ve gone through it with a fine-tooth comb looking for every conceivable loophole, and exploiting those to the hilt. Basically, these companies would like to view us as Uber drivers.

But when you go into this mini-room and commit to this time, you don’t have any guarantee that if the show does go ahead, you’re going to be on the show, because those kinds of commitments are part of the “old model.”

The companies are saying: we’re not going to do that anymore; we’re not committing to you. We’re not promising you anything. We’re just saying, come in, we’ll pay you like piece workers, give us your best ideas and then get the hell out.

This is all part of the same business perspective that rejects artistry, rejects art, rejects the value of teamwork, rejects originality. This is the mindset that cancels once-flagship shows before their final season because the profit margin’s not high enough (Westworld) and writes off completed movies for tax reasons (Batgirl). There is no respect for the human creators who contributed to the show; they got their money, isn’t that enough? As Doctorow calls it, this is the enshittification of the entertainment industry, and in this case of culture itself, all for short-term shareholder value.

The corporate viewpoint is that all workers are interchangeable, and they design projects and work approaches that treat them that way — from the siphoning of ideas described in this article to the Microsoft vendor system that forces workers off of projects after 18 months to avoid paying them benefits.

Chris Coyier writes of LLM training data, revealed by WaPo to include lots of indie websites:

Google should be encouraging and fighting for the open web. But now they’re like, actually we’re just going to suck up your website, put it in a blender with all other websites, and spit out word smoothies for people instead of sending them to your website.

LLM runners think of everything as “content,” essentially interchangeable within subject matter. Never mind that people’s patterns of writing and word usage are unique enough experts can fingerprint the author (forensic linguistics); they’re teaching the model how to write based on how you write, but if, as in their view, all writing is interchangeable, who could object to having their work fed to the machine? How could anyone have intellectual ownership over a mere slop of words? How could a blogger’s corpus of work be anything besides a payload of content for the content mill?

They see no value in either writing or information besides its utility in selling ads alongside “content” — hence the lack of concern over appallingly low accuracy rates in generated answers to queries. Incorrect information, at least for now, buys as many eyeballs on ads as correct. The written output of an LLM is a byproduct of their actual product, the bait that draws the fish, just as search results were always an undesirable necessity; they’ve been working to get away from sending users to search results for years by stripping as much information from websites and displaying it directly in their search results, beside their own ads. I have no problem with extracting phone numbers from a business website — I was going to call anyway — but I do object to considering my writing the informational equivalent of a string of digits. Writing is more than data; the information encoded in a work of writing depends on the language used to construct it, and the human who has created it.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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