How to appreciate humans

I’ve been thinking about the day I become out of touch with society. I’ve been thinking a lot about the day where I wouldn’t want AI tech things to progress the way they are progressing because I believe it’s worse than the status quo. Perhaps I’m out of touch with the AI progress everybody seems to love, already. So, where does that leave me? Am I already a luddite? Is that such a bad thing to be a luddite, if the progress seems to be less about innovation, and rather, about maximizing profits?

At the time I write this, I’ve lived through catching COVID-19, even though I took about a billion measures to avoid catching it. My age doesn’t really matter, because, well, as We’ve established, I’m already out of touch with the current AI enthusiasm.

It’s ironic, but when I was younger, I was the most enthusiastic person you could ever find about technology. I’d be the first to try something new, to tinker with it, to figure out how it worked. Now that I’m older, I guess I care more about the motive behind the technology more than about the particular technology itself. Recently, TTS and AI has gained new footholds in culture. AI is generating art and stories, and, even more audiobooks are being narrated by TTS instead of humans.

I don’t know where to even start because I’m just going to tell you right now. I don’t like where AI enthusiasm is headed. I don’t believe that this rush to usher in AI generated content is to improve our lives in any way. Perhaps I just don’t get it, but I struggle to comprehend how something like AI generated art, of any kind, will enhance our lives. Then again, I probably sound like the same exact people that whined about the growing popularity of cars and computers before I was born.

As I write this, TTS, text to speech, and, by extension, AI, Artificial Intelligence, is a buzzword. It’s something to get excited about. The reason we should all be excited is because it’s going to allow people to be productive like never before.

As far as I can tell, AI or even TTS wasn’t all that interesting until 2023. Sure, there have been some attempts in the past to make AI cool, but I guess 2023 is when people just decided it was cool to have AI grow and prosper.

As a blind man, I live with TTS every day. It’s on my computer. It’s all around my house. Perhaps that’s why I’m so underwhelmed by TTS audiobooks because I live with TTS every day. I know the speech synthesizers that publishers are using to create TTS generated audiobooks. It does continuously amuse me, though, when people say AI audiobooks instead of TTS audiobooks. When a synthesizer is reading a book, the technology isn’t doing anything, well, intelligent. It’s just interpreting the words it sees into speech. So, from here on out, I’ll say TTS audiobooks because that’s what these are. TTS audiobooks instead of AI audiobooks.

Currently, tech companies that are not publishers, and even some publishers, are dying to become publishers of TTS audiobooks. The hype is so strong that Apple even has a whole page dedicated to TTS audiobooks.

I couldn’t even muster up the energy to willingly try a TTS audiobook made by Apple. Of course, if there’s no other version, then I’ll just deal with it, but I haven’t willingly sought out a TTS generated audiobook by these companies and probably never will. My mind raced to the fabulous audiobook talent that’s going to be let go as a result of this push. Then again, the goal is to avoid paying humans. Instead of a race to devaluing artists, which is still a daily happening, it’s become a way for other people to devalue humans on top of artists.

Even today, AI tools are created on exploitation.

The prevailing thought will soon become, why should I pay a human? Why should I ensure that a human can eat and live, when I have a machine that will never unionize, that will never talk back, that will never strive for civil rights in my lifetime? Humans will soon become a hassle, because humans will become old technology with obsolete flesh and blood and caring hearts.

AI generated fiction is just as vapid to me. I read this children’s book created by AI, and I just don’t get the enthusiasm. I don’t understand the appreciation. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand what a machine can create in fiction work that’s better than humans?

Publishers also keep doing shady stuff with AI.

Interestingly enough, I do think AI generated art can allow for blind people like me to become a painter easier, but I keep coming back to an eventual confusion over art, and books, as well as fiction, that’s entirely created by AI.

TTS audiobooks are not new. With this enthusiasm for TTS audiobooks by tech companies, at least we’ll get some nonfiction and fiction titles that were never narrated before due to cost. But, again, what if the nonfiction book in question has a lot of charts and graphs? What if the names are in a unique dialect. A human would consult and check for that and work out how to read that chart or graph out loud.

I keep coming back to confusion over enthusiasm for AI generated fiction. There’s even a whole website dedicated to AI produced literature, as an example, with five star reviews of some of the titles. I guess if you’re looking for entertainment, there will be no shortage of it.

McDonalds fiction to maximize profits is almost here. It’s going to be productivity like no one has ever seen before and I just can’t get even a tiny bit excited about it.

I’m not alone. Plenty of audiobook narrators and readers have voiced their displeasure over TTS narrated audiobooks, and, as has been pointed out to me many times, it’s going to become even more a thing in the future so we all might as well get used to it. It’s not stopping anytime soon. Because it’s only going to increase, and not decrease, I was beyond please narrators are strategizing.

Many believe that this is the best thing to happen because, well, now, we can finally start to have a conversation about universal basic income. I don’t believe, for one second, that people are going to take universal basic income seriously because AI is taking their jobs away.

It’s not just universal basic income that has people excited. I’ve seen some argue that AI generated content can finally pave the way for people to break into an industry they couldn’t get into, because the technology will take all the hassle out of query letters, plotting, outlining, and summary writing. In fact, writers use AI to draft their outlines and literary agent query letters. I guess why I don’t have a problem with that is you’re using the AI to help you create your own work. The AI isn’t generating content for you and then you call it a day without human input, you’re just building something with the assistance of AI.

That being said, AI has it’s uses. Every day, we interact with some form of artificial intelligence. Every time you dictate text with your phone, that’s artificial intelligence. Every time you have a computer translate words for you, that’s artificial intelligence. If I’m perfectly fine with these things, why do I bulk at AI generated content if we’re already halfway there?

I guess, for me, it’s about what this current push for AI is supposed to do. Sure, AI can help disabled people be productive in ways that we would never have been productive before, like the dyslexic that used AI to make sure all his emails were spelled correctly, but for me, that’s just a small drop in the bucket to eventually justify using AI over disabled humans, and, then, we would be back to square one.

AI might not be best, now, but it continues to get better by the day. AI used to be terrible at chess. That changed as it became smarter. It’s going to continue to get smarter until, well, until it can impersonate a human.

The first narrators that are gonna be expunged or passed on is marginalized narrators, to boot. As companies continue to look for ways to cut costs and maximize profits, making an AI voice that doesn’t demand equal rights will be the cats meow for many in, and out, of the publishing industry.

Indie authors, and low income authors, though, will have more opportunities to get their work into multiple formats. Fiction podcasts are fabulous examples of content you can make on a budget, though, without using TTS voice actors.

On the accessibility side of this whole debate, I won’t lie, AI helps me navigate the web. Every time someone doesn’t label a button or describe an image, AI is there to guess at how to present the information to me. Still, when a human puts care and craft into making an accessible, and inclusive, experience, it’s a joy to have this inclusive experience! I feel things, good things, when I cycle through someone’s hard work to see thought put into crafting a design. I feel love when a human writes a tender scene in a romance novel. I feel joy when an author shows me their hope for the world through one of their uplifting stories. I like feeling these emotions, given to me by the human artists or writer or designer. With AI generated content, I feel, there will always be something missing, and, I guess, when you really come right out and say it, I’m afraid that I’m going to know what I’ve lost when consuming AI art or AI books.

As you can tell, I’m torn. Most importantly, I’m confused. Does caring about humans and their jobs mean I’m just out of touch with the cool hip kids that love AI generated content? Does the fact I enjoy LeVar Burton reading to me every week mean that I’m just not down with progress? Sure, someone could argue that someone could recreate LeVar Burton in AI, and I will never lose him, but, I fear if they did that, I fear that they will take away what LeVar Burton means to me, as a person, and someone I appreciate, even though he’ll never know I exist. If someone were to approach me after he passes away and says, I’ve created an AI of LeVar Burton, now you can never lose him, will that act alone make me stop caring about LeVar Burton because I’ll have a machine voice that will never die in my ear.

I’ve never really thought about appreciation until today. There’s a reason why I continue to read human narrated audiobooks over TTS audiobooks, and that reason boils down to appreciation. I love the way Ace Bentley describes tender scenes in his romance books. I love the way Jakobi Diem brings affectionate scenes to life in his narration. These are people I’ve never met, and, as I continue listening to more human narrated books, there will definitely be many more narrators I appreciate. I enjoy the feeling of appreciating others. It reminds me that we all have something to give each other without ever meeting anyone face to face.

While it’s true humans have to input things into TTS and AI to make the machine do things, there’s a deeper appreciation when I read a book written by a human or narrated by a human. I want to keep appreciating human content, and enjoying human content, because humans, in all our flaws and complications, make everything worth it, in the end.

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