Ink Diaries: First Read

Our play began to take life last night. We had our first read with the cast. It was exciting and in the end ultimately a great beginning. It might have taken three years from the point that I got this gig to get to this point but all of that time evaporated last night as we heard the cast breathe life into James Graham’s words. Iit was an excellent beginning. 

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The cast was surprised at how much humor flows through the show and brimming with questions about their characters, our process and next steps. 

Next steps. Yeah, we’re off and running and the clock is now officially ticking. More table work tonight and then tomorrow we get on our feet. Here we go. 

What’s So Artificial About Artificial Intelligence?

Why are we calling this current fad/trend/gold rush into Artificial Intelligence “artificial?” Shouldn’t we be calling it Accumulated Intelligence?

From what I’m reading the output these new services are spitting out is more like a mash-up of what they’ve scraped and collected from around the Internet. You know. Stuff created by humans. Apparently the writings, the artwork, the photos, the music, the code, the thoughts, the you name it, have been collected and are being tumbled and jumbled up and presented as responses. So somebody can charge you for it or sell ads against it.


And knocking the moniker again here, that of course means it’s all been said and done before. There’s not much we can really credit to divine inspiration beyond the talent to discover, describe or display what already exists. Because that’s sorta kinda how we humans evolve (or are intelligently designed) anyway. We gain knowledge and intelligence through our experiences. And through those experiences we become who we are, think what we think, and create what we create based on the knowledge we accumulate.

I’m assuming that’s what the makers of artificial intelligence call real or natural intelligence. But it’s tough to sell ads against that.

Given that we humans are known for both brilliance and the not-so-brilliant in what we say, do, think, create and accumulate, you can say we as a species struggle a bit with the tensions brought about by natural intelligence. Certainly we seem to be hitting a speed bump on the brilliance part as the not-so-brilliant part continues to plow-ahead of late.

But again, this AI fad is taking what exists, shaking and baking, stirring the pot, and presenting it to us in a newly polished form we can get on our smartphones while waiting for the transit apps to give us wrong information about our train’s arrival time.

The very human response when someone learns something new or that an answer is wrong can certainly be “I didn’t know that.” What’s funny with these machine learners though is that in the early going they seem to be spitting out mistakes just like humans do. And taking the same kind of offense when called on it.  So nothing new under the sun there.

And apparently these machines need to be governed by rules. Well, that’s only human too. We govern ourselves (well, some of us do) in order to try and remain civil and polite. And protect our profit margins. Again, only human.

So, I’m saying it’s early enough in this game that we should strip away the “artificial” in AI and change it to “accumulated.” Because sure as shooting at some point down the line some big error is going to be spit out by a machine that causes something bad to happen. And we’ll shift the blame to the machines. Just like we humans always do.

But I guess there’s one benefit to this “artificialness.” The machines can’t plead ignorance or “I don’t recall” when things get inconvenient or uncomfortable. At least until we start using “artificial lawyers.”

AI and the Performing Bits

Is it real or is it Memorex? Remember those days? We’ve been treated to questions like those for some time now when it comes to music, film, and other means of arts and entertainment. And the pace of things seem to be quickening as the powers that be in these industries are jumping with both feet into the big tech Artificial Intelligence rush. 

New technology is great when it can advance creativity. New technology is also bit scary when we don’t know exactly what it’s going to yield. But the one thing we do know is that if the bean counters think they can save a buck and make two by using a new innovation they’ll take that leap, regardless of the risks it might pose to the creative spirit.

I’ve been talking about Artificial Intelligence a bit here and obviously will continue to do so. It’s the thing of the moment. Which means some hope it’s the thing of the future. And it just might well be. But how that is going to impact the arts is going to be a tricky future to navigate. Perhaps after Google, Mircosoft and any other tech giants get their AI search engines up and running we can ask and find out. (Google calls theirs Bard. Seriously?)

We’ve already seen technology create magic in audio and film/TV. De-aging is a popular recent trend in film. Of course that follows the trends of CGI characters and CGI backgrounds and CGI just about everything else. 

We’ve got computer generated narrations for eBooks competing with live readers. We’ve been enhancing audio tracks for decades, and in the most recent decade or two we’ve been enhancing live performers. 

Yesterday there was a story in Vice about voice actors being asked to sign over the rights to their voices so their clients can use artificial intelligence to generate synthetic versions for future work, perhaps replacing the need for the artist for future work. 

Each technology advance gets met with both praise and criticism. Some deserved. Some not so. I’m no luddite or traditonalist who eschews these advancements. But I think we’re heading into tricky ground in this next chapter of entertainment and creativity that parallels what we’re experiencing in real life.

There’s that old and recently accelerating propaganda truism (ha!) that teaches us it’s not about separating fact and fiction. In the Peacock network’s series The Undeclared War there’s a great sequence when a news editor sums it up while explaining the way it is to a younger new recruit:  

“The point is to get people used to the idea that everything’s a lie. There is no truth. Once they accept that. Biggest liar wins.”

Who cares if a search result yields a false result? Who cares if Carrie Fisher is dead when she’s still appearing in Star Wars? Who cares if deep fake videos or audio can sabotage a politician or a company? Who cares if the audiobook you’re listening to is read by a human or a computer? 

Set aside the labor issues and putting folks out of work. Those are real discussions that need to happen. But what if Tom Hanks, who is pretty darn excited by the de-aging process in film, or rather a digitally created Tom Hanks keeps starring in movies long after he’s gone. Hell, we could have Forrest Gump appearing with world leaders that haven’t been born yet twenty years after they’re dead. 

We all had a good laugh at the manipulative creation of boy bands awhile back. Don’t think we won’t see and hear new bands created out of the whole cloth of digital bits and bytes. There’s no question in my mind that we’ll see an entire film created out of an AI prompt some day down the road. 

There will be innovation. There will be excitement and celebration and there will be reactions. Some of which might actually be human. 

We live in interesting times. 

The Paradox of Artificial Intelligence is Feeling More Paradoxical

The tech word, the academic world, the business world and a few other worlds are having a moment over ChatGPT and other Artificial Intelligence innovations. For those not in the know, ChatGPT is an Artificial Intelligence product created by a company called OpenAI that allows users to input a query or a request. It’s trained on the bazillion words that exist on the Internet. And it can generate output that can be anything from an essay to a poem, computer code, a piece of digital art, typed text that can turn into script, something resembling an answer to a search query, to a play. Below is play I generated with the simple request: “write a short play about shepherds.” (click on the image below to enlarge it.)

Some are thrilled. (I’m sure the sheep in the story are not.) Some are concerned.

It’s illuminating quite a paradox. Educational institutions see benefits and also as a potential tool for students to cheat when it comes to writing assignments. Artists see this as potentially crowding them out of work and entire new ways for new artists to express themselves. In the journalism world we’ve already seen CNET start to use this form of AI to generate content (and get criticized for not disclosing it.) Buzzfeed says it’s going to be using it in some capacities to “personalize” some of its content. 

I’m not quite sure about the PR spin on that one. Sounds like it might have been generated by a ChatGPT PR request instead of a thinking human. But then again, most PR speak is formulaic anyway.

It’s not just text either. There are now tools to generate AI digital art, music, computer code and who knows what else.

And yes, there are accuracy problems. And context problems. And plagarism problems. And…problems. 

But AI is all the rage and it’s stoking rage from those that see this as a harbinger of doom vs those who see it as the future. There are some who think (and hope) this might mean the beginning of the end for Google’s search dominance. Microsoft has made a huge investment in ChatGPT prompting some to envision a more intelligent Clippy dancing across our desktops. The Chicago Tribune is wondering if ChatGPT can replace restaurant critics. Apparently Real Estate Agents are seeing dollar signs.

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times took things out for a spin and wordsmithed the description AI: Actually Insipid Until It’s Actively Insidious. (or at least her headline writer did.) That was after doing an interview with with an AI Shakespeare. Zounds!

A friend of mine, Sumocat, is generating fake Mastodon posts using a few of the tools and some iOS shortcuts to create fake Mastodon posts. (He labels them as such.) 

So there’s fun and games and then there’s maybe not so fun and games.

The labor issue is a legitimate concern in the same way we’ve seen technology innovations create labor issues throughout history. (Anyone still selling printing presses?) Unfortunately no artificial or non-artificial intelligence has yet to figure out how to get companies to put some distance between announcements of large layoffs and new technology investments. Timing issues aside, the cold cruel economics of innovation always surface when something cool comes along. 

I can’t and won’t judge whether or not this is a good or bad thing at this point. One never can tell how the day is going to turn out when it first dawns. But it’s a thing. And it’s a paradox.

Let me tell you a short story about my field, the theatre. Years ago electronic, synthesized and digital music technology advanced to the point where producers could replace entire orchestras with a digital track of the score. Instead of a conductor or music director all you needed to run the show was a sound engineer to push the go button and voila, the theatre filled with the booming sound of a full orchestra. Heck, you could even digitally enhance the singing during particularly strenuous dance numbers. 

The change didn’t happen overnight. First orchestras started reducing their numbers as digital instrumentation meant that fewer players needed to be hired. Purists howled. Bean counters cheered. I don’t think any of that is news to anybody. But here’s the story part:

I directed a tracked musical for a dear friend and colleague. We were standing in the back of theatre watching the audience enjoy the show as it neared its final moments. He turned to me and asked what I thought of the music quality. I answered that I thought it was decent but not great and it didn’t allow the show to breathe properly. (The tracks he’d rented weren’t the best and this was in the early days of this trend.) He said that he didn’t think anyone would notice. And then he delivered the punchline: “But I hate it that I need to do this.” 

The sad reality boils down to economics. It’s so much cheaper for a producer to rent tracks than to hire musicians to rehearse and play the score live. Licensing agencies are making a decent piece of change from that business.

Back in the day to engage an orchestra or a pit band or just a piano player, producers would rent the score from the licensing house. Hard copy scores would be distributed via mail or delivery service. Those scores would get used by musicians. By used I mean they also got marked up with notes, pages were dog-eared and worse. And then when the show concluded those markings had to be erased and folded pages straightened before sending them back to the licensing house. 

That evolved into electronic distribution of scores, which simply transferred the cost of re-producing those scripts from the licensing agency to the producer. 

The point I’m sure you’ve grasped behind this story is that innovation induces change all along any chain of production. Lives and professions are affected. Some lose out, others gain.

It seems almost inhumane to replace humans with the output of machines. But we’re well practiced at it and the almighty dollar eventually erases our memories of the tensions or dulls the pain these moments of human ingenuity create to replace humans. 

But in our age of misinformation, when trusting what we see, hear, and read requires developing new skill sets because humans who have always been adept at creating misinformation have figured out how to really profit by doing so, the beginnings of using Artificial Intelligence to create “news” we see, hear, and read eerily feels like it has the potential to be too far a step over a line that maybe we shouldn’t cross. 

Which ultimately is a paradox. AI is computer science. The essence of which is simply bits that are on and bits that are off. 1’s and 0’s. True. False. One would think that distinction reduced to that binary response could be helpful in sorting out fact from fiction. 

It’s not. It’s not simply because it takes humans to create it. And it’s not because those humans are training these AI robots against all of the accuracies and inaccuracies, truths, lies, facts and fiction humans have created along the way. 

It’s an endless paradox. 

And here’s what ChatGPT has to say about that: (click to expand)

Ink Diaries: The Muddle

I’m in The Muddle.

No, I’m not talking about mixing ingredients into a cocktail. I’m talking about preparing for rehearsal. Muddling typically implies confusing or mixing things up into a bit of disorder. And that’s exactly where I am in process as we’re about 5 weeks out from starting rehearsals for James Graham’s Ink at Playhouse on the Square. So, it’s time to pick up my pace on preparation. That means reading the play more times than any play should be read, making notes and typically reviewing research. It’s a bit different for this production. Because timing.

We actually began work on this production in 2020 and it has been on again/off again due to the pandemic. So a lot of the research gathering took place back in 2020. So instead of hunting and gathering I’m actually in more of a reviewing mode. Although I still keep finding new things and adding them to the muddle.

I call this phase of my preparation The Muddle because as I’m moving towards making decisions that will set us on course I still have the liberty of changing that course. I frequently do as I bounce ideas off of ideas to see what sticks. It’s a bit of muddling about because at this point almost anything is fair game and rhyme doesn’t necessarily have to follow reason. Out of disorder eventually comes order.

But it’s not all a blank slate. We’re in the design process and we’re mostly cast (still two roles to go) so some decisions are being made or have been made. But that’s actually when The Muddle gets the most intriguing. Decisions are choices and choices eliminate other choices and open up others. And when I find myself backed into a corner there’s either an undiscovered way out, or it’s time to revisit that choice.

Reading the play with certain choices in mind opens it up as it closes it down. And if you think that statement is contradictory or doesn’t make sense, welcome to The Muddle.

Don’t Trust This Post

I wish American liars and propagandists were more original. But perhaps when it comes to lies, propaganda and “fake news” there’s no real improving on what Goebbels said about the big lie:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

And then there’s Steve Bannon’s infamous and more contemporary marching order to “flood the zone with shit.” 

But when it comes to being able to trust, Shakespeare’s Nurse in Romeo and Juliet nailed it:”There’s no trust, No faith, no honesty in men; all perjured, All forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers.”


Yes, this post could be just about politics, but when it comes to trust, there are not too many avenues in public life remaining when you can trust the road markings. Not when we’ve reached a point when trust apparently matters less than the ability to lie with no shame and the most shameless dissemblers seem to be the most rewarded. 

Every entity we know floods the zone: governments, the media, sports teams, financial institutions, public utilities, corporations, religious instiutions, and the list could go on and on. And the crazy thing about it: Everyone knows it. Which is terribily funny to me because it’s not like they give out awards for being good at barking bullshit to willing audiences who know that’s what you’re up to. 

I’ve often maintained that we need to stop the farce of teaching our children not to lie. That’s just another lie they find out their elders visit on them once they get out into the world. If we were honest about it (ahem) we could probably reduce some of the need for therapy bills and legal fees by teaching youngsters to be more proficient liars an early age.

I mean there’s no Blue Fairy coming to the rescue. 





Rest in Peace Frank Galati

Frank Galati was a gentle sweet soul and one helluva theatre artist. I first came across him after my first move to Chicago in 1979 in the Wisdom Bridge production of Travesties. His performance was a revelation. As was his work on the whole.

One of his many gifts are the legions he influenced, insuring his gifts, like the memories he created, will live on. We were all blessed to experience him.

Curtain Up

This is the third act of Life on The Wicked Stage.

There was a an Act 1 on the long since dead Windows Live Spaces (sorry no links available). There was an Act 2 on TypePad. Both of which seem like a several lifetimes ago. In addition there was some tech geek blogging and gadget reviewing on GottaBeMobile and some writing on various subjects on Medium.

So. Curtain up on Act 3. You don’t find many plays in the three-act form these days, which dates me. But I prefer to think of it has having the benefit of wisdom acquired through age. Or you can just call me old.

Continue reading “Curtain Up”

Where the Mastodons Roam

So I’m hanging out on Mastodon these days. It’s the social networking site that quite a few folks have found to continue their social networking addiction, thanks to Elon Musk’s behavior as the new owner of Twitter. So far I’m liking it quite a bit. Scratch that. I’m liking it a lot. So do many of the folks I’m hanging out with.

If you’ve come to this blog post from Mastodon you’ll recognize most of the things folks are saying in my thoughts. Yes, it’s more civil. Yes, the Mastodonians are working hard to keep it that way in reacton to the Musk melon’s mucking up the joint. Yes, it’s not Twitter. Yes, the engagement is richer. And yes, it’s fun.

I’m here to tell you that I haven’t had as much fun with an Internet thingie since, well… since Twitter first came along.

While Mastodon has existed for awhile (I first staked out a piece of turf in May of last year), it picked up a fast blossoming head of steam once Musk’s purchase of Twitter went through. That momentum seems to be continuing. And those who’ve set up shop in these recent waves of refugees seem to be enjoying themselves as much as I am.

In addition to hanging out there it led to this blog. I stopped blogging and writing on the Internet primarily due to Twitter’s existence. I’m not alone in that. But as Mastodon is gaining in popularity, there appears to be a parallel resurgence in personal blogging. That urge hit me as well and here we are.

Twitter may have turned into the place of “owning” someone with a witty response, but “being owned” accelerated into a whole new nasty meaning in the last few months. So, Mastodon or no, it was time for a change.

For those who don’t know, Mastodon is set up as a decentralized network where no one person has control or ownership. It exists in a place(?) called the Fediverse. There are many Instances (or servers) where folks can find a home, and those Instances are interconnected through the Internet. If you’re not paying attention to that structural distinction Mastodon feels like a similar experience to Twitter. I’m reasonably certain that Mastodon will run into some issues down the road given its structure and philosophy. But that’s for another day.

There are other types of services in the Fediverse as well. Pixelfed is an Instagram-like service Yes, I’ve staked out a spot there as well, though I’m not that active currently. And if you’re starting to sense that these services on the Fediverse sound reactionary, then you’re correct. I’ll probably spew out some words on that in the future.

But for the moment I’m enjoying that fun I referred to earlier. Not only is the service new (we all like new things and self-validate our new choices) but the energy in the eco-system surrounding Mastodon feels very much like the days when mobile tech exploded after the launch of the iPhone. I’ve tried out more new apps in recent months than I have in the last couple of years. I’m re-discovering folks who I followed but somehow lost sight of on Twitter while discovering new folks in abundance.

So, if you choose to visit this blog you’ll be hearing more about Mastodon in the future. If you choose to find your way there you can check me out at this link.