‘Money for nothing’

I have been fascinated by the rise in the number of people believing that really, there is a free lunch. And that somehow, they will get it. It seems that 1960’s sf (I’m thinking of Pohl and Kornbluth, but there are others) had a better idea of the gods of the copybook headings than has recently been obvious to me. ‘If you don’t work you die’ I still hold as true.

People increasingly seem to be happy to believe ‘government’ will provide the free lunch. And if not government then ‘AI’ (or both). Now, technology can and has often upended things. I am sure it will continue to do so. But… YOU are not going to get a free lunch out of it. The chances are it’ll cost you your job. Or me, mine. Yes, I do anticipate AI writers doing a pretty good job… perhaps not quite yet. Maybe we’ll have a Butlerian Jihad about it (must ask Dave Butler to send me an invite to it) as indeed I have seen AI art produce some stunning covers. It may be that this merely becomes a tool in the artist (or writer’s) toolbox, like a power drill or a router has for carpenters. I would hope so, but it will have to be seen.

On the other hand, we have seen how audio-books opened up a whole new revenue stream for publishers and to lesser extent authors. Oh and voice-actors and studios… Inevitably, AI technology is invading that too. I was fascinated by this . There is no doubt that voice-actors CAN do a better job, but IMO this is pretty good. In theory, at least it should get a lot cheaper. And um, put some voice actors and even audio-book companies out of business…

In the meanwhile _I_ am learning to weld working in a little ‘Engineering works’ (where one guy does… well everything – from plasma cutting to bronze braising, mostly fixing stuff. If life continues as usual, I can at least use the skills. And I am kind of enjoying it.

28 thoughts on “‘Money for nothing’

  1. I am every bit as proud of my stick welding certification issued by the American Association of Railroads as I am of my Bachelor of Science in Engineering awarded by the University of Alabama. And have found the former to be of more practical use.

  2. And once they get their free lunch, they will be happy. Thus, if they are not happy, didn’t like the choice of sandwiches, it wasn’t the promised free lunch, and malice was involved

  3. A week or three ago on a tech show, the gal was interviewing a voice actress who was Very Upset that her voice had been stolen!!1!1! by “an AI voice website.”

    …about three quarters through, you find out she contracted with Microsoft, and was paid very nicely, to make a higher quality auto-reading voice. She was literally there throwing a fit and casting shade on “AI” for half an hour because she didn’t read the contract about being a prettier voice for voice to text.

    And the result was still flat. The big advancement was that it has slightly better inflection and pauses. (Which is nothing to shake a stick at, it did a better job than most wish-I-wasn’t-here high school kids reading aloud.)

    It needed a lot of editing work to be a kid that’s got an idea of how to read aloud and is trying– which is what all the AI results need, right now. Even something like “a landscape in the style of Thomas Kinkade” takes editing work in the form of resubmitting, culling, and running it again until you get something without weird geometry.

    :perks: Oooh… the best way to use a reader voice might be with voice changer software, and someone who is good at all the “make the reading sound good” stuff. Emotion, dramatic pauses, etc.

    1. Oooh… the best way to use a reader voice might be with voice changer software, and someone who is good at all the “make the reading sound good” stuff. Emotion, dramatic pauses, etc.

      Yep, the way CGI humanoids (Gollum, Davey Jones, assorted deepfakes of old/dead people) use a motion-capture performance as a sort of “chassis” for the character.

      I’ve tested Googleplay auto-narration for some of my books, and it seems okay.

      1. I hadn’t thought of that comparison, I was just thinking about how much work it would take to either trigger or ‘teach’ a machine to get the words right in a random string of poetry, and voice changing popped to mind. 😀

        Will pass the “just like how Gollum has an actor” thing to my husband, we discuss this stuff a lot. 😀

    2. Agreed.
      They would work much better as an overlay. It would still probably hit the uncanny valley for me if I were listening to it by itself, but with visual stimuli to distract…. I fully expect this to disrupt YouTube and the like in short order.

      II’m cynical enough to say that the normalization of digitized effects on voice in music since the late ‘90s is going to let the record labels make out like bandits.
      And the artists that were litigious buttheads about samples are thanking their lucky stars.

      1. The 1980s Transformers cartoon is an interesting early example. The show used reverb effects(1) to make the voice actors sound more “robotic” but even so, voice actors Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Susan Blum, etc developed strong followings from their roles on the show.

        (1) Something similar was done to the giant Zentraedi, and at least some of the Masters and Invid in Robotech, IIRC, but it didn’t dampen the popularity of Zentraedi characters and their voice actors. (The other species appeared in segments/seasons/whatevers that were much less popular, so harder to get a bead on whether the reverb effects on the voices interfered or not with people’s ability to relate to the aliens).

      2. See if you can find someone who uses really good voice changing software– it took me weeks to realize one person in my husband’s raiding group was the opposite of the sex they sounded like, and a different group never did figure out my husband was male. (They made a dumb assumption when they found out we were a couple, and we didn’t want to embarrass anybody, so….)

  4. Remember “brainstorming”? A group of people just shouting out ideas about a topic. Don’t evaluate an idea now, just get it out there. The result, maybe, maybe a good idea or two. But lots of garbage.

    Today, I’m seeing early AI efforts in the creative arts producing lots of garbage. There will be gems produced but at the moment a lot of it is just “off” in some way or another.

    1. And you still need a human with some kind of artistic instincts to sort the wheat from the chaff and composite two flawed images into one better image, or fix things like fingers and limbs.

      1. Having seen some of the nightmare fuel passing as AI “art” I do not believe there will be a “replacement” for trained artists soon, or ever.

        The tablesaw and even the computer controlled 5-axis router did not replace woodworkers. You still need that trained guy to design your table/chair/cupboard. And now you need more trained guys to fiddle with the machine when it inevitably needs care and feeding.

        What gets replaced is the tedious work of sawing, planing, lifting, carrying etc. Except, you know, not -all- of that work because you still have to feed new sheets to the machine, take out the finished bits, clean up all the rough spots the machine missed, shovel out the sawdust, and etc. Tedium remains, just less of it.

        Unfortunately, a lot of the “art” in woodworking is found in the tedious parts, where you cut down the tree and make it into a table. If you want the table, cheap, you go 5-axis router and particle board. If you want ART then you make a tree into a table the hard way. The difference in cost is down to how much of the -artist’s- time and attention you are getting.

        AI “art” seems entirely appropriate for marketing crap. Should an artist make a unique painting, by hand, for a book cover on a book that’s going to sell -maybe- five thousand copies all up? Particularly when its on Amazon and will rarely be larger than a thumbnail? They’re going to starve.

        Should an artist be doomed to punching out three or four book covers a day for $50 a piece just to make the rent? Can they even go that fast? Maybe there’s a place for automation there.

        1. Which is why the folks most upset by the AI tools are the ones doing “particle board and 2×4” work while charging “art” prices, who don’t want to learn how to use the new tools. I’ve seen folks of all artistic levels picking up the new tool to at least try!

          (I am a ‘2×4 and particle board’– ok, mine’s usually scrap lumber and framing boards, same idea– type carpenter. I’m aware that it takes almost as much labor time as the guys working with Really Good Quality Wood. That doesn’t mean I think everybody should be forced to not be able to get the “I just want a mostly flat surface that probably won’t break” level carpentry for a lower price to protect their profits.)

          1. These days I usually don’t bother with “scrap” lumber because one nail takes away all that money you saved when it hits a cutter. Zap, $100. When I used to have no choice in the matter I was known to haunt the outdoor scrap bins of manufacturers and lumber yards seeking “cuttings”.

            I do like 1×12 white pine barn boards for “disposable” pieces, like rough shelving in the shop, or a garbage bin to keep out the wildlife, things like that. Cuts easy, laminates okay, keeps its shape (if you do it right, anyway) and it is “cheap” for whatever values of cheap that still apply to lumber anymore. Cheaper than anything else, anyway. I have a 4 legged stool I slapped together with nails about 12 years ago that sits outside in the weather. Still perfectly good, if rough.

            I made the Distaff Side an office desk out of it many years ago, achieving clear lumber by careful selection at the Timber Mart pile and cutting around the knots. The desk is now 18 years old and still doing business, despite the many moves in between, so pine furniture is certainly a viable option. Nice and light for if you need to move all the time like I used to.

            Currently however I am working in maple, building a kitchen cabinet. Dovetailed sides, sliding dovetail shelves, tongue in groove doors held together with battens. Surprisingly efficient method of whacking things together, made much faster if you have the right stuff to do it with. Like a bench and a Moxxon vice. I built a bench for this job, my little Workmate wasn’t going to get it done this time. I may have to break down and make/get/procure a proper mallet as well, my round carver’s mallet is becoming insufficient to the task at hand.

            It is a very different thing working in hardwood I must say. If you notice, all the YouTube stars demonstrating hand tool techniques are using white pine. The chisel cuts the pine in one whack. In maple it takes ten whacks, then you have to sharpen and go back for ten more. ~:D

            I’m investigating poplar as an alternative for shelves and the backs of things. I don’t like the way it splinters, but it is quite cheap while still being a “hardwood.” It’ll take a polish and resist denting, where pine doesn’t do as well.

        2. The $40/$50 a piece guys used to use stock art, but it looks like at least one of the ones on my radar has started using AI art as well. One of his strengths in the stock art days was interesting text treatments, and it looks like that has continued, so overall it’s a net improvement for his SFF covers, which used to suffer from the lack of interesting stock art.

          The couple of really talented, good enough for old-school tradpub(1), US-based cover artists that I am aware of charged hundreds of dollars when I was paying more attention to them. The one I managed to re-find just now, a specialist in space opera and high fantasy, charges $2000 per book but that includes everything, including the original art file, all rights to the art and design, and separate ebook, audiobook paperback, and hardcover layouts, 3D mockups, etc.

          (1) before they got cheap and lazy.

          1. For all those extra pieces (rights, specialty cover modifications, et cetera) $2000 sounds right. And both of you have all the contracts up front and know exactly who can do what with what. That’s worth a goodly amount in IP lawyer hours right there.

            1. Yep, didn’t mean to imply that he was over-charging, just trying to make it clear what a top-of-the-line freelance cover artist with tradpub experience including HarperCollins and Baen can cost.

              1. Looking at those kind of prices, one can see why big publishers are having trouble. Their business process puts their cost of doing a book at ~$10K, pre-distribution. Then their sales (as much as we can guess anyway) are coming into the 2000-5000 copy range. That’s bad.

                An Amazon self-pub author doing 2K-5K copies with the $50 thumbnail cover still isn’t making minimum wage, but they’re doing better than Dead Tree.

  5. The AI voices are almost like fingernails on a blackboard to me. No inflection. No interpretation. Could be because I have a background in audio theater and judge too harshly.

    1. I find the male ones (like the default Microsoft read-aloud male voice) somewhat more palatable than the female ones, for some reason. Cultural expectations of male stoicism perhaps? Dunno.

  6. Nothing that requires raw materials, energy or labor can ever be ‘free’. Somebody has to provide them. Somebody has to pay for them. If the one benefiting from [thing] does not pay for it, somebody else has to. Forcing people to pay for somebody else’s ‘free lunch’ is nothing less than slavery.

    Take FDR’s (in)famous ‘Four Freedoms’ speech. The first two, Freedom Of Speech and Freedom Of Worship, are fine and noble, and are in fact already guaranteed in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Didn’t FDR know that?

    But then, you get to the other two ‘Freedoms’.

    ‘Freedom From Want’? What does that even mean? Most folks ‘want’ a whole lot. A life of luxury and leisure, travel and entertainment. Servants, to take care of all the annoying little details of life. If everybody ‘wants’ a mansion and a yacht, who is to provide them? All too many ‘want’ to rule over everybody else. If ten thousand people ‘want’ to Rule The World — or ‘only’ a substantial part of it — how are all of their ‘wants’ to be accommodated? What about the people who ‘want’ to not be ruled? What about the ones that ‘want’ to hurt or kill people? I’m sure those people don’t ‘want’ to be hurt or killed. What about child molesters? Must their ‘wants’ be indulged?

    ‘Freedom From Fear’? People fear all sorts of things, for all sorts of reasons. Some have extreme or irrational fears. Some people have a deathly fear of fire, or germs, or electricity. How, exactly, are they to be ‘freed’ from those fears? Must we all stop using fire and electricity, and sterilize the entire world? We are already desperately short of electricity because a few ignorant people ‘feel unsafe’ about nuclear power plants, which they’ve never taken the trouble to learn anything about.

    What can be done about even the ordinary fears of normal people? Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of ridicule? How are writers to be ‘freed’ from the fear that nobody will want to read their work? 😀

    If enough people ‘fear’ the government, can we get it shut down? Now, there’s an idea…
    The one thing we need more of from the government is LESS!!

    1. At least in the case of “want,” FDR was using it in terms of “not having enough to survive on.”
      Which, back then, was a legitimate concern. Now, not so much.

  7. On the subject of guys fixing broken stuff, I submit the following:


    This youtube channel is very entertaining and also very educational. I’ve learned many a great trick from watching. And its Aussie, so the swearing is quite good. ~:D

    For example, I learned that there is an Australian-made starter fluid brand for diesel engines called “Start, Ya Bastard!” I have resolved to purchase this brand at my earliest opportunity.

    Glad to hear you’ve got something decent going on there, Dave. A bit of welding and brazing, maybe a little machine work, it’ll perk you up. Learning new things takes the mind off all the crap that’s bothersome. Also, metalworking, like woodworking, is a Zen pursuit. A bit of Zen goes a long way in a stupid world.

  8. I enjoyed welding when I got to do it. Sometimes a cutting torch is therapeutic. (We will not speak of my attempts to cluster weld five pieces of steel tube, because the results were unspeakable.)

    1. Too much heat can lead to fun changes in shape. ~:D

      Cutting torches scare the bejeebers out of me. So much popping and spraying of molten metal. I use them, but carefully.

  9. “Now that we have AI you don’t need to aspire to anything other than laboring for the greater good! Isn’t that wonderful?”

  10. As a freelance cover artist in my other life, moving from word-of-mouth to advertising, figuring out what to charge is a big issue. Go too high, and never get sales because everyone is want cheap (likely AI or just some simple photobash), which I understand. Got to make back what you spend, which in many cases is like feeding coins into the slot machine. When do you cut your losses?

    But, if you go too cheap, people don’t think that you are doing good work – because cheap price is cheap work, and doesn’t take into account the time I put into things to get the results. Plus, like any Indie, I have overhead costs, managerial tasks, and other things that take time and money. (Taxes…)

    I don’t live somewhere where $5-10 is a weeks wages, either, so someplace like Fivver is way more work for very little if any profit, or even in the red.

    People say, “get value for your time/effort” , and don’t undercut yourself or other artists, but competition does bring the prices down, and AI is one more competition. And I, personally, believe, as has been mentioned above, that “quality” over “quantity” will eventually cause AI to become niche, such as cheap advertising, but how long until that happens?

    I also believe, much as has existed for a millennia, that name/brand recognition is going to be more important that the actual skill/work when calculating the cost/how much someone will pay for an item. And that is determined by who you know and luck, but I repeat myself.

    It’s a hard row to hoe, or a fine line to walk, whichever metaphor you choose to use. On the one hand I sympathize with the $25 is too much for a cover that might only make me 50 sales over 5 years, and on the other, I’m thinking $25 is too little for a cover that took me 6-10 hours after the back and forth and changes and tweaks.

    Any more, people don’t order coffee table books of cover art, or posters, like back in the Vallejo/Frazetta prime, so AI just might be good enough and cheap enough to be a thumbnail for a reader who just needs to be able to tell the 1000 books apart that are on their Kindles.

  11. The ability to weld will save you time/money sooner or later. AI not so much… And there is no such thing as a ‘free’ lunch, somebody IS paying for it somewhere.

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