Why I just registered a *.ai domain and what I am planning to do with it
When I thought about the headline for this post, I figured the typical “Hello, World!” everyone knows from WordPress blogs might be a good starting point. It sounds about as clueless as I currently am while I am writing these lines. And it has this symbolic value in that it connects more than 60 programming languages as “a reliable starting point for developers looking to contribute to open source projects.”1
The term open source (and being well aware of the delightful philosophical but also pragmatic debate of Open Source vs. FOSS) then leads me back to why I finally pulled the trigger on the domain thys.ai today, having spent the entire Halloween evening trying to figure out a short and at least somewhat ‘cool’ *.ai domain that wasn’t taken yet. This week, Facebook renamed itself to “Meta” and I am among the people who will take a close look at what this entails and what this means for the future of the Internet as we know it today. The meme-ification of Facebook’s announcement…
… and of an Interview with one of the staff members…
… is in full swing and I am sitting here eating Lindt chocolates that expired two years ago (don’t judge!) trying to wrap my head around a couple of things.
Die Firma Facebook heißt jetzt Meta. Das ist eine Anspielung auf das Metaversum: Facebook-CEO Mark Zuckerberg glaubt, dass das Zeitalter einfacher zweidimensionaler Geräte wie der Smartphones zu Ende geht und die Ära der Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality beginnt. Facebook möchte eine geschlossene 3D-Welt bauen, in der unser virtuelles Leben stattfindet.
Das ist aber nur eine Version des Metaversum: die Version, in der Facebook am meisten Geld verdient. Es gibt noch eine andere Version: Web 3.0, ein offenes Universum, in dem die Nutzer:innen mehr Macht haben als jetzt, in dem sie einfach von Plattform zu Plattform umziehen können, in dem Menschen für ihre Posts und Beiträge nicht in Herzen, sondern in Geld bezahlt werden.
Der Kampf zwischen diesen beiden Visionen wird das Internet der Zukunft bestimmen. Es ist ein Kampf zwischen Old Tech und New Tech, zwischen den großen monopolartigen Plattformen wie Google und Facebook und tausenden Start-Ups, die auf Blockchain-Technologie setzen.
(Hey, Substack, why can’t I add a footnote at the end of a quote?!)
And since this all is somehow going to be about AI, why not use AI to translate this into English so everyone can join the interpretation party:3
The Facebook company is now called Meta. This is a reference to the metaverse: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that the age of simple two-dimensional devices like smartphones is coming to an end and the era of virtual reality/augmented reality is beginning. Facebook wants to build a closed 3D world where our virtual lives take place.
But that's only one version of the metaverse: the version where Facebook makes the most money. There is another version: Web 3.0, an open universe in which user:ins have more power than they do now, in which they can easily move from platform to platform, in which people get paid for their posts and contributions not in hearts but in money.
The battle between these two visions will define the Internet of the future. It's a battle between old tech and new tech, between the big monopoly-like platforms like Google and Facebook and thousands of startups that rely on blockchain technology.
The metaverse, huh? Neal Stephenson, who coined that term in his cyberpunk novel Snow Crash in 1992, already said he had nothing to do with Facebook renaming itself to Meta:
What I find alarming — which will hopefully lead me to closing the circle (The Circle! HAH!) to the point about open source — is that the metaverse Meta is planning does not seem to resonate with the utopian idea of universal interconnectedness between humans, machines, and nature (yep, strong Mondo 2000 vibes here). Instead, it seems driven by the same motives and algorithms that led to the Facebook we have today: open, but only insofar as it serves the system. Biased. Filtered. Bubbled.
I am all here for utopian cyberpunk visions. But Meta is not the metaverse I signed up for and I am not excited about it. In the best case, the idea will live a short hype cycle (like back in the days when everyone stormed Second Life in 2006 — yes, I was there) and then just die and make way something more open and participative. In the worst case, it will be here to stay as yet another useless medium occupying our attention. And despite my purely subjective negativism, there is of course a chance it will actually prove useful and meaningful. I just don’t believe in that. Yet.
So… Why All of This?
But I do believe that we need to think and talk about it. To try and shape this evolution towards a “metaverse” or a “Web 3.0” (although that one is kind of meaningless if web = www) — or a version of interconnected systems that rely on the digitization of everything (haven’t heard the term Internet of things in a while now…), the extension of reality towards virtual and augmented realities (in short: XR), and the integration of artificial intelligence. Bonus: everyone should be able to grasp and understand the concepts of what is going on. Bitcoin and crypto currencies, deep fakes, cyber-bullying or -terrorism, and the need for education on these and a lot more topics are here to stay.
I am not saying I can contribute in a significant way to explaining any of the big topics. But I am currently set up and set out to learn more about AI — from a non-programmer’s perspective. And I want to share this journey somehow somewhere because it feels meaningless to just read stuff by myself without talking about it. I don’t know what this will lead to and whether the 120 Euros I just paid for thys.ai are ultimately money wasted because I won’t pursue the AI exploration-explanation path. But I want to.
So let’s get started with a few fun examples.
The paragraph I posted earlier was translated using DeepL, the best machine translation service there is, at least afaik and imho. And not just in my honest opinion:
You can check out DeepL’s company profile here. Its AI has been trained with the Linguee database, which searches the Internet for bilingual texts to provide translations for terms set in context. It also has regular dictionary entries that pop up when you search for a term. So the AI learns from translations that are actually used somewhere on the Internet. Naturally, there are a lot of crappy translations out there as well (micro-jobbing as a translator, copy-editor, or proofreader can be frustrating since the pay can be really low — trust me, I am doing this on the side from time to time), so you still have to use your brain and you need a certain knowledge about a language to figure out which translation really applies.
But damn, using DeepL for my translation jobs saves me so. much. time. It really is a great tool, and none of the other MT services I have worked with is anywhere close to the combination of Linguee and DeepL. And DeepL or live translation services like the Word Lens augmented reality translation app can make people’s lives a lot easier when they need to communicate in foreign languages — not just my life as a translator. So maybe this is an example you can tell one of the digital laggards or skeptics when they try to tell you that AI (used as a synonym for robots in most cases) is stealing our jobs.
So… What Else?
If DeepL is great for work, I have two more fun things you can do with AI for now. That might turn into something work-related but you can also just go down that rabbit hole and enjoy playing around.
If you are looking for a brand name (which I was yesterday), you can use AI-based tools like Namelix to create a brand name for you.
I wanted to find my own name with that tool as well, but I didn’t really like the output, so I just randomly typed a bunch of short URLs into the search bar at a domain registration website to end up at thys.ai. There would probably have been a tool to do that for me as well. Right?
You can also use tools like LogoAI.com to generate a CD for your new brand — and then edit and customize them to your liking:
I haven’t found one I like yet but I am determined to have an AI generate my CD for this AI learning journey blog. I will probably spend a couple of hours on that website. Or on Designs.ai, which has a different selection process to narrow down options before barfing out random logos.
You can use CC0 AI-generated stock photos for your projects. You can die laughing while reading this AI-generated Batman screenplay or AI-generated comics (or The New Yorker style). You can clean up images for free (works for removing objects but also for retouching faces) at Cleanup.pictures.
These systems are (all?) based on GAN, the AI technique that makes computers creative. GAN stands for generative adversarial network. Different neural networks ‘challenge’ each other to learn to create and improve new content in a recursive process.4
And here’s a list of 41 AI Art Generators, including some GANs but a lot more than that. I am definitely bookmarking this one. And there’s this one as well: AI tools to create cool illustrations from pictures you feed them with. At first glance, it rather looks like someone is selling the standard Photoshop filters as AI, but I might be wrong.
The illustrations I used in this post are randomly generated doodles from Doodle Ipsum (no AI involved as far as I can see). But I’d love to play around with this: DALL·E: Creating Images from Text — it, well, generates images from text. And it triggers me because it is using that strange multiplication dot ( · ) that I just got acquainted with in Brilliant a few days ago (yes, using Brilliant.org to fill a few h u g e knowledge gaps is part of my learning journey):
Great, now I jumped from open source to brand design and satisfying my inner nerd on Brilliant.org. Did I explain what I want to do with this Substack? In case I haven’t made myself clear: I want to explore the intersection between artificial intelligence, the ‘metaverse’, and the digitization of everything — and I want to document my learning journey on this Substack. Hit subscribe if you want to join me; I look forward to sharing everything I learn with you, so you don’t have to fall into those rabbit holes yourselves.