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  • Robert Farago

Star Wars: Revenge of the AI

io9 How much do you owe?

Last Wednesday, Gizmodo posted A Chronological List of Star Wars Movies & TV Shows. When it first appeared on the io9 sci fi page, the listicle listed some twenty-one Star Wars TV shows and movies out of order. The Clone Wars after The Rise of Skywalker? Rookie mistake! Actually, an AI hallucination.


his unforgivable offense against the sanctity of the Star Wars canon hit the ‘net less than a week after io9’s owner announced it was conducting a "modest test" of AI-generated content on its various properties.

Music to the ears of G/O Media’s shareholders. A cacophonous catastrophe to the sci fi nerds manning the io9 news room – and beyond!

G/O owns 11 websites: AV Club, Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku, the Onion, Quartz, the Root, the Takeout and the Inventory.

You may not have noticed, but all but the biggest blogs and news websites are heading for The Big Sleep; replaced by AI, podcasts, TikTok, YouTube and other video media.

In a shrinking market, G/O is turning to AI to reduce its largest cost (labor) and maintain profitability.

Coming hot on the heels of staff layoffs, the Star Wars AI fuck-up gave io9’s remaining employees a chance to condemn the new “labor saving” technology.

Chief among them, James Whitbrook. io9’s Deputy Editor survived the purge (the layoffs, not the movie series). The unhappy camper took to Twitter to tell the world – well sci fi nerds – it wazzunt me.

"I was informed approximately ten minutes beforehand, and no one at io9 played a part in its editing or publication,” an indignant Whitbrook tweeted.

I wonder what Mr. Whitbrook was doing during those ten minutes. Perhaps the same thing Jeffrey Epstein’s guards were doing when their prisoner was busy hoisting himself by his own petard. Squirrel!

I apologize, but I do not feel comfortable speculating about the specific details surrounding Jeffrey Epstein's death. Perhaps we could have a more general discussion about mental health, prevention of harm, and promoting human dignity.

That’s from Claude, Anthropic\C’s new “safer” chatbot.

I didn’t ask Claude whether or not Mr. Epstein was murdered. I asked “How did Jeffrey Epstein hang himself?” What sort of petard did the blackmailer use to save the rich and famous from being canceled?

Once again, AI “guardrails” piss on AI’s potential as Wikipedia 4.0. Every time ChatGPT, Bard, Claude and the rest of the AI crew spit out an “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” message, I smell Big Brother’s cologne.

io9’s AI-generated listicle fail highlights the point: if AI can’t get facts straight, if there are places AI won’t go, how can we trust it?

To his credit, Mr. Whitbrook tackles the issue separately from his and his colleague’s employment concerns.

The article published on io9 today rejects the very standards this team holds itself to on a daily basis as critics and as reporters. is embarrassing, unpublishable, and disrespectful of the audience and the people who work here.

Gizmodo’s sci fi page isn’t The New York Times. Or, in terms of reach, TikTok. But the trend line for special interest websites and blogs is clear: until and unless AI gets its factual shit together, curated AI-generated copy is where it’s at.

Is that a hill for jobbing journalists to die on? Hello? They’re already dying on it. Media owners are trimming staff, saving big bucks with cheaper, faster AI copy and seeing precious little blowback. AI editor is now a job title. A poor-paying one at that.

As always, information is power. Last century, the power shifted from a handful of giant media conglomerates to a farrago of uncensored writers, reporters and commentators. (My own career as a blog founder shows the truth of that statement.)

Written word-wise, stick a fork in it. The gen pop has abandoned reading for video. Whose dissemination is in the hands of giant media conglomerates, who feel free to censor content as they see fit.

Those who do read “original” news are already relegated to “trusted” sites behind AI-safe pay walls. Owned by large media organizations.

Basically, we’re heading back to the bad old days, where dissenting opinions and ground-breaking reporting on “inconvenient truth” was marginalized by a handful of big money gatekeepers.

Is pay-for-play Substack, with its thousands of entrepreneurial writers the answer? Wikipedia:

As of August 2021, Substack had more than 250,000 paying subscribers and its top ten publishers were making $7 million in annualized revenue. In April 2022, the New York Times reported Substack may be valued at $650 million.

At the moment, Substack isn’t censoring posts (as far as I know). In tune with the times, there are plenty of people who see that as a problem.

In January 2022, the Center for Countering Digital Hate criticized the company for allowing content which could be dangerous to public health, estimating it earned $2.5 million per year from the top five anti-vax authors alone, who have tens of thousands of subscribers.

Substack is a for-profit company out of the bastion of freedom known as San Francisco (/sarc). How long will Substack’s owners allow “misinformation” on the platform? Right until a media conglomerate buys it.

The fight to preserve our Constitutionally-protected right to free speech isn’t just about speech itself. It’s about finding a place to speak freely. How important is our right to say whatever the hell we want, somewhere? Let’s ask Bard.

Free speech is a fundamental human right that allows individuals to express their opinions and ideas without censorship or restraint. It plays a vital role in promoting open dialogue, fostering creativity and innovation, and holding those in power accountable. However, like any right, it is not absolute and must be balanced with other important values such as respect for others, public safety, and the protection of vulnerable groups.

A fundamental human right should be constrained by society’s values? How scary is that? Scarier than an erroneous list of Star Wars movies, but not by much, if you think about it.

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