A frank warning

I wondered about the ethics of working with Bob, so I looked up a list of public domain movies and saw that Suddenly, the old Frank Sinatra assassination classic, was on the list. I downloaded it and skimmed through looking for Sinatra monologues, or anyone’s for that matter. There were a few clips that might be useable, with a little editing. I picked one, then needed something for him to say. I asked Dr. Oblivion how he might warn people about the conglomerate Aggressive Technologies and downloaded his response. I ran it through the Converter App to get a text file, with I fed to ElevenLabs after giving them a sample of Frank’s voice. I ran into some hiccups with the lip syncing script this time. It got hung up on the MP3 upload section and failed 2 or 3 times because something couldn’t connect, but I kept trying and eventually it worked. Then when the video was done, I discovered that the audio was longer than the video, which made the video loop back to the beginning and ruined the effect. I went back to the MP3 file and used Audacity to close up the many pauses. I like the walking towards the camera and talking effect and think it would work well with the right lines, so this works as a proof-of-concept. The key is to have less than 25 seconds of audio so it doesn’t loop. Unless you want it to.

I find it interesting that what he says sounds like something Dr. Oblivion would say, but it doesn’t have the same effect in Frank’s voice.

If anyone wants to puppeteer Frank, you can download the frank.mp4 and use it instead of the train.mp4 with the Wav2lip script.

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I’m kinda glad he doesn’t look at the camera.

I was glad to see someone successfully took on the Talk to the Bot assignment. A few others tried but couldn’t get it to work. As I watched the voice-over with avatar part of the video, I wondered what would happen if you tried to lip-sync a still image. At the tail end of a previous exercise, I noticed that the program animated the Aggressive Technologies logo, so I thought it might work. I uploaded a Van Gogh self portrait to iMovie and stretched it out to 10.6 seconds and shared the file as an MP4. That gave me part of the puzzle. I went to ChatGPT and input “if you could see what I hear” and copied out its response, then pasted that in ElevenLabs to generate a voice. I don’t know what Van Gogh sounded like, so I used a different painter. I took that MP3 and used the Wav2Lip script to combine it with the image. It worked, but it’s a little weird with moving lips on a still image.

I recalled that there was an online tool that would animate still photos in weirdly creepy ways, so I gave that a try. Sometimes it refuses to animate things that aren’t photos, but it worked this time. I downloaded their video and ran it through the lip-syncer. I can’t say that it’s less weird, but at least he blinks. That’s a little more human, right?

I’m kinda glad he doesn’t look at the camera. Based on this experimentation, I may need to revisit my Right Said Freddy Kreuger Mercury video.

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Week Seven: “Ask not what AI can do for you…”

scene from the movie They Live highlighting subliminal messages

Propaganda. N. From the Latin propagare, meaning “to go viral.” A communication intended to influence or persuade, to further an agenda, usually through an emotional appeal rather than a rational one.

Propaganda style image of JFK with the quote "Ask not what AI can do for us,ask what we can do with AI."What is your character’s position on AI? Aggressive Technologies? How does it impact them and the people and things they care about? Would they promote or protest?

There are many aspects we could think about. Consider employment, environment, advancement, economy, ethics, surveillance, personal data, personal image rights, voice rights, control and ownership of data and information, copyright, how to protect people from abuses, how to respect people’s freedoms and intellectual curiosity and creativity, consolidation of power … what else could you add? We’ve looked at movies and manifestos that touch on some of these ideas. Now is the time to take a stand.

We will use this week to create propaganda. The term is generally used in a negative sense, but emotional or persuasive communications for positive ends can also be considered propaganda. This means, as usual, that you have a lot of leeway in what you create. It could be propaganda that your character supports and shares, or it could be propaganda that your character encounters in their daily life. It should relate either to artificial intelligence or Aggressive Technologies.

  1. Design some propaganda. This could be a poster, postcard, bumper sticker, web meme, or something else. Be sure to use design elements like  imagery, type, color, shape, etc. to convey an emotional appeal

Keep Calm and Carry On image

Examples: Keep Calm and Carry On

Examples: Rosie the Riveter

Do not feel limited by these examples. They’re just the first two things I grabbed from Wikipedia. Put your design in a blog post with the usual write-up, but also tell the story of how it connects with your character. Tag the post propagandadesign.

  1. Create a Public Service Announcement: This could be audio or video, but either way should both voice and background sounds. The announcement should spread a message about AI or Aggressive Technologies, or both.

Examples:

Again, do not feel limited by these examples. They’re just the first things I found in the Internet Archive.

Good ways to find background music that you can use without running into copyright issues are to use CC Search or to google open source music.  Embed your PSA in a blog post with the usual write-up, but also tell the story of how it connects with your character. Tag the post PSA.

Maybe they express what your character feels. Maybe they show what your character encounters

  1. Complete 3 Daily Creates: You must complete at least three daily creates this week. Make sure you also blog your TDCs.
  2. Commenting: In addition to the usual commenting, do a blog post about how your character would react to a few of the designs and PSAs that the rest of the class produces. Make sure your post links to the source posts so people get pingbacks. Tag this post reaction.
  3. Weekly Summary: You all know what this is.
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A word on uploading videos

It looks like a few people have uploaded videos to their Wrodpress media libraries. It is probably better to upload to Youtube or Vimeo instead, and embed videos in your posts from there.

screenshot of cPanel dashboard showing usage statistics
If you go into cPanel and look at your usage statistics, you can see how much drive space you have used up and how much is left. Videos take up A LOT of space. The last 3 minute video I made was about half a gigabyte. By uploading it to Youtube, that half a gigabyte sits on google’s servers, and the only thing taking up space on my site is the URL to the video, which is only slightly larger than zero. People may have concerns about having their videos in a public space like Youtube. You can mark videos as “Unlisted” during the upload process, which means they will not show up in a search or be visible to anyone who might find your channel. They would only be findable through the URL, or on your blog. You can also delete them or make them private later.

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AI and Crazy Horse: Everybody Knows …

detail from Picasso's Guernica showing a horse under a lightbulbThis week in ds106 we revisited our goals for the course. Everybody feels they are on track, and a few people added some revisions. I expected more changes and redirection due to the somewhat chaotic nature of how we do things here. Perhaps it is a testament to the flexibility of the course and the creativity of the class that everyone can find ways to achieve what they want.

I gave people a brief feedback email this week, and one common comment was to review How To Write Up Assignments Like a Blogging Champ, because the narrative in our blogging is more important than the media we create. It was serendipitous to find David O. White’s post How ‘Art School’ teaching avoids a losing battle with technology this morning, because he expresses the same point:

1. The emphasis is on assessing the creative journey, or the narrative of the work, not the output or the ‘product’ of the work.
2. There is no such thing as a good picture of a horse.

It’s not about passing a test or meeting a standard. It’s about experimenting and learning and articulating our efforts and growth.

White conveniently also addresses the issue of generative AI. “It’s genuinely difficult to get Gen AI to produce the crazy looking cartoon because it simply doesn’t have enough to go on.” Is it “crazy looking” or creative? With the possible exception of Dr. Oblivion, AI seems to tend towards the average rather than the novel or creative. But it is a thing we can work with creatively. One of the things we’re doing here is playing with it and, by blogging, thinking through what it means to use it creatively and how we may do it.

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“Ah, the poetic wonders of destruction and turmoil”

Botmaster Michael Branson Smith mentioned the AI Rap Battle Generator the other week, and after playing with the Wav2Lip script a bit, I had the thought, “What if Dr. Oblivion battled Bob Ross?” And thus we have the rap battle no one wanted to hear:

I had previously done some ElevenLabs experiments with Bob Ross and Max Headroom, and managed to lip sync some clips, so I had an inkling of how this might come together. I went to the Rap Battle Generator and had it produce the words. Getting the doctor to recite them was challenging though. The first time, I asked nicely and he complied, but I only gave him two verses because I was concerned he might choke on too much text. Then I gave him the third verse and he declined. I ended up trying 7 or 8 times. One time I asked him to read rather than recite, and he gave me a critique.

At one point he gave me a creative reinterpretation of the third verse, so I ended up using that. But most times he declined, politely or otherwise. It seemed like the more I asked, the more terse he was. Here’s a polite rejection:

For the Bob parts, I put the text into ElevenLabs, so that was easy. I wrote the Max Headroom intro and the in-between bits. I wanted to get him to say “The Bob!” and drag out the “o” so my text input was the, Baaaaaaaaaaaab! It didn’t come out quite how I wanted, but it had the freakish Headroom effect, so I ran with it. I put all the sound clips through the Wav2Lip script with appropriate video, and had the pieces I needed.

Then I had to find a backing beat. I googled open source beats and found several sites offering royalty-free tracks, but “royalty-free” doesn’t actually translate to “free.” The Free Music Archive worked though, so I grabbed a couple tracks and went with Coalescence. (need to remember to add that credit to the video).

Screenshot of iMovie window showing arrangement of video and sound clipsTo put it all together, I brought the sound and video clips into iMovie. I split the video parts up and arranged them in proper order. I decided to keep some of Dr. Oblivion’s unasked-for commentary at the beginning and end. I put the backing track underneath and lined it up so the beats kick in right around the point the doctor starts his rhymes. I thought I would have to fool around trying to get the voices to line up with the beats, but it seemed to work out more-or-less okay. One more track for the Dr. Oblivion’s Greatest Hits compilation!

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This is your brain on the radio

animated image of selecting a station on a radio We had a bunch of interesting radio show ideas this past week, including:

  • talk show
  • news show
  • day in a life
  • work together to take over the city
  • work together to defeat Dr. Oblivion
  • AI pros & cons
  • AI propaganda
  • AI as a weapon/tool for domination
  • storytime
  • reality show/office drama
  • female empowerment show

This was all before we sprung the Aggressive Technologies corporation idea on everyone. One idea specifically mentioned it anyway, but it could be easily connected to any of the other concepts. Even if a show concept is totally unrelated, Aggressive Technologies could show up as the show’s sponsor. The idea of Dr. Oblivion as a villain could be an interesting one. What’s his connection to AT? Is he a product? Is he the man behind the curtain? A rogue entity escaped from Research & Development?

I encourage everyone to look over everyone else’s ideas. Are there ways to make them work together? Are there ideas or characters you would like to work with? Everyone will be forming radio groups in a few weeks, and it’s better for people to make their own groups rather than get assigned randomly, so it won’t hurt to start thinking about it now.

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(I can’t believe I forgot to put in a title!)

I hadn’t done a video analysis in a while, so I thought I should give it a try. I wanted something AI-related to work with. My first thought was Blade Runner, since I had a copy from the library, but that’s probably been done to the point where I couldn’t add anything. Ghost in the Shell was another possibility, since I watched it recently for the first time. That would have the added benefit of looking at how cinematic technique works in animation. But then I thought of the old TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which occasionally dealt with nascent AI systems in development. I went to see what clips were available on Youtube, and found Agent Ellison Plays Chess With John Henry, which seemed like it would do.

I watched the clip through a few times, noting things I thought significant. I wrote out what I wanted to say and recorded it in Audacity, and then went back through the recording to clean up some pauses and breathing noises.

The Zhou videos I reference are Joel & Ethan Coen – Shot | Reverse Shot and The Silence of the Lambs – Who Wins the Scene?.

I grabbed the clip from Youtube and brought it and an MP3 of my voice-over into iMovie. The voice-over was longer than the clip, and what I had to say didn’t line up with the video properly, so I had some decisions to make. I split the VO track (Ctrl-B) and moved parts to the appropriate spots. I also dropped the volume on the clip when I was talking. I used the freeze-frame function at one point to get the video and VO aligned, and copied some clips of video and placed them to go with the VO. Then I decided to run the whole clip a second time after my track ended, so a viewer could see what I was talking about in proper context. I added some titles as well, then used File->Share to convert it to an MP4 that I could upload to Youtube.

I took my VO script and the transcript of the video from Youtube and put them together in a text document. I cleaned up the capitalization and punctuation in the Youtube transcript, since it was auto-generated. When I uploaded my iMovie output to Youtube, I added my text file for the subtitles. When I watched the video the next day, the punctuation and capitalization were missing so I realized that I forgot to click the Publish button after I put in the text, leaving it with auto-generated captions. So I went back into Youtube and fixed it. Not the first time that’s happened. Youtube gave the video a copyright warning, but didn’t block it.

I think the essay works okay. The things I don’t like come from issues in the source material, namely the low definition and the shaky camera. And the sound of my voice. But what can you do? It was worthwhile though to take a close, analytical look at the scene and think about what it was showing and how. It gives me a better appreciation for the show, and for film-making in general.

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Where you AT?

Aggressive Technologies logo

I was just thinking about the variety of ways our ds106 Cast of Characters might interact or intersect with Aggressive Technologies. At least two of them work there. That’s a very direct connection. The cast includes several different categories:
Mad genius
Investor
Innovator
Artist
Regulator
Evangelist
Philosopher
Technician

They could be part of Aggressive Technologies, or they could be part of the competition. Or they could relate in completely different ways: customers, vendors, protestors, litigants, investors, investigators, neighbors … etc. Those connections can get pretty tangential. What would it be like to live across the street from one of their data centers?

A while back I read a story about a crypto mine in Channing, Texas, a tiny town whose previous claim to fame was a bit role in the classic 80’s film, Midnight Run. And earlier this week I saw something about people blocking the construction of a data center in Chile. (It just occurred to me that I don’t think I’ve seen anyone bring up the ecological issues about AI. Why is that?)

My point here is that the assignment to define your character’s relationship with the Aggressive Technologies corporation should not be perceived as limiting what you can do with your character, but rather as an opportunity for creativity and connection.

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Aggressive little technologies

So I wanted to play with the idea of Aggressive Technologies a little. I came up with a logo, using a font from Da Font and a silhouette of a war hammer. I should have noted which font I used, but… {edit: I found it! It’s Vermin Vibes.} I thought the silhouette worked well. The angle and shapes suggest aggression, with a hint of rocket, and the font is similarly aggressive.

Aggressive Technologies logo

I asked Dr. Oblivion, “If a corporation called Aggressive Technologies were to promote its AI-based security and surveillance services to law enforcement agencies, how would they go about it?” and he responded with attitude.

Then I started playing with the animation script. What would happen if I uploaded something other than the train.mp4 video? I not-very-quickly found out that there is a strict 60 second limit for the video length. I trimmed a Bob Ross video to an appropriate length, and ended up giving him a lip-synced Oblivion voice. That was kind of weird, but not good enough.

I decided to play with ElevenLabs. I bit the bullet and paid them a dollar so I could clone a voice. This was ethically questionable, but like the Folk-RNN project, the questions occurred to me afterwards. In the meantime, I fed my cloned voice some text from The Techno-Optimist Manifesto, and this gave me some ideas.

iMovie screenshot showing the Picture in Picture function

I imported my logo and my Bob clip into iMovie. I dropped the logo on Bob’s canvas and used the picture-in-picture setting to superimpose it. I had to adjust the size and position a little. It didn’t look right though, because the white background of the logo didn’t match the white of the canvas. So I imported the logo into Photopea, dropped out the background and exported it as a PNG file, which would preserve the transparency. Then I imported that into iMovie and it looked much better on the canvas. Originally I was just going to use it on the canvas close-up, but since the camera was stationary I could put it on the canvas in the rest of the video. I saved the video as aggrobob.mp4 and used it instead of the train.mp4 in the lip-syncing script, along with my cloned-voice file of the Manifesto excerpt. Interestingly, the script tried to lip sync the logo when Bob was off screen.

iMovie screenshot showing the layering of clips and audio tracks

So I was getting somewhere. I brought my new video into iMovie, and dropped a piece of the old one over it to mask the canvas close-up lip-syncing. Dr. Oblivion had said something about celebrity endorsements, so I imported that video as well and inserted it in front of the other video. I put an mp3 of some ominous music underneath the Bob section. There’s a line through the middle of the sound tracks in iMovie that you can use to adjust volume. I boosted Bob to 224% and dropped the music to 6%, and saved the whole thing as an MP4, then uploaded to Youtube.

So it’s something, more of a learning experience than a planned project. Is it something that can be used as part of the Aggressive Technologies backstory? People can make of it what they will.

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