Matthew Warner

Artificial Intelligence and Me

Now that the Metaverse is “dead,” artificial intelligence (AI) is the hot new trend.

But it’s a great evil, yeah? “Experts are warning AI could lead to human extinction,” says today’s headlines, no doubt conjuring nightmarish images of the Terminator and Skynet launching nukes at ya.

I don’t buy into the doomsaying yet. I believe that as long as you don’t do something stupid such as wire up the “Chaos-GPT” large language model directly to the power grid or nuclear silos, we’ll be fine. If anything, the real risk with AI-generated content is misinformation, especially as we head into our next presidential election. Videos, created by nefarious actors such as (no shit) the KGB, will abound that show our politicians engaging in repulsive behavior, and there will be no guarantee what we’re seeing is real or a fabrication. Which means journalists and the public must become even more adept at cross checking and grain-of-salt throwing.

What I Use AI For

All I can add to this discussion today is a personal testimonial. In short, I think AI is awesome. I’m particularly impressed with ChatGPT, which you can use for free with your Google account. Although its information is notoriously imperfect, I’m using it as a technical consultant (to be duly credited) in my production of The Cryonic Pharaoh film. Unreal Engine, which I’m using to animate it, is a bitch of a program to learn, so it’s nice to have someone to talk about it on an instant’s notice.

Unreal Engine’s official documentation can’t keep up with the new versions coming out, leaving me to learn from YouTube gurus, Udemy courses, and random discussions on Discord, Reddit, and the Epic Games message board. While I can often triangulate (or octo-angulate) from these sources to muddle through my challenges, sometimes I just open a ChatGPT window and have a discussion with it. Asking ChatGPT for help is not the same as Googling a problem; it’s a discussion. It’s helped me figure out things like moving pivot points, capturing root motion in retargeted animations, and making materials transparent.

At other times, I play with it. I recently asked it to synopsize Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream in the style of Dr. Seuss. It started off with:

Once upon a time, in a land so grand,
Where Athens’ walls did proudly stand,
A Midsummer Night’s Dream did unfold,
In the magical story that I’ve been told.

On another day, I posed my wife’s dilemma to it. “I have an appointment in two hours,” I typed. “Should I wait at a coffee shop and enjoy myself, or should I drive home, which takes a half an hour, work for one hour, and then drive to the appointment?”

A long discussion ensued about the various factors at play in such a decision, such as travel time, projected stress levels, and competing commitments. Finally, I said, “Now compose a rap in the style of Eminem about my coffee shop dilemma.” Within seconds, ChatGPT wrote a three-verse rap that started with:

Alright, here’s my attempt at a coffee shop rap in the style of Eminem:
Verse 1:
I got a coffee shop dilemma, what should I do?
Wait and relax or drive home and push through?
Got an appointment in two hours, gotta make a move,
But I can’t decide which choice to pursue.

And tonight, while waiting for my sons’ performance of Macbeth to begin at their school, I decided to play a game of Dungeons & Dragons with ChatGPT on my cellphone. A transcript of our discussion, with some inserted commentary, is as follows. I opened our conversation with a detailed request:

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You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

ChatGPT, while wonderful, is hardly the only AI product out there making waves. There’s Midjourney, for creating images based on a text prompt (plus its rivals like Craiyon/DALL-E and Adobe Firefly), AIVA for creating music, and for creating videos. And there are more services like this. Dozens more.

As time goes on, I expect and hope for an open standard among all of these AI tools, like the advent of HTML 1.0, so that they could be integrated into one organism. This would be the precursor of a Star Trek holodeck. Imagine using simple voice-transcription software to give an input to ChatGPT, such as my Dungeons & Dragons example above. That text is then fed into Midjourney, AIVA ,and to generate artwork, music, and videos based on those inputs in real time. Another AI product might render those outputs into 3D models—say into an .FBX file—which is brought into a platform like Blender or Unreal Engine for rendering. Since Unreal Engine supports virtual reality rendering, you could then use your VR goggles to visit the output as if you’re really there. Some of this is already happening. Enterprising Unreal Engine users are already connecting ChatGPT with Metahuman 3D characters for real-time interactions.

There are also AI-based tools that I’m already using in Unreal Engine, such as Rokoko Studio and Deep Motion. Sure, there are the paid versions of these services (just as there are with ChatGPT and Midjourney), but these two tools are free websites for translating my cellphone videos into motion-capture data. All I have to do is film myself in profile—say, walking across the mat at Total Defense Martial Arts—and upload that video to Rokoko. An AI brain there analyzes my video and turns it into an animated skeleton with data describing its movements. I can then download that data into Unreal Engine and retarget it to a Metahuman’s 3D skeleton. Because I’m currently using uploaded video rather than an expensive motion-capture suit, there’s plenty of cleanup that has to happen through the likes of additive forward-kinematic control rigs. Nevertheless, being able to do even this much for free is a lifesaver.

My Mass Communications Professors Would Love This Part

It’s worthwhile to examine this great advent of artificial intelligence through the lens of Marshall McLuhan’s 4 Laws of Media. I studied this back in the early 90s as a mass communications major at JMU. It stuck with me as a great way to understand any emerging technology. All new media—and I would say all new technology—can be evaluated in terms of how it enhances some aspect of our humanity.

Take the invention of a chair as an example:

  1. What does the invention enhance?
    A chair enhances our legs. It allows us to sit at a height approximating our standing height but with less wear and tear on our legs and backs.
  2. What does the invention make obsolete?
    Our legs will never be obsolete, but each new version of a chair potentially obsolesces a more primitive model of a chair.
  3. What does the invention retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
    That depends on the chair. A La-Z-Boy recliner, with its ability to extend a support for our lower legs, “retrieves” the first chair’s ability to extend our legs in a relaxing manner. The first “chair” we ever used was actually the ground.
  4. What does the invention reverse or flip into when pushed to extremes?
    Extreme versions of a chair include an astronaut’s cockpit chair. In zero-G, the chair functions as the ground; as there is no up or down in zero-G, it serves as a physical reference for the astronaut to decide what is “down.” In that way, an astronaut’s chair reverses the chair’s function all the way back to the first chair: the ground.

Yes, I’m kind of bullshitting with this example, but with some imagination, you’ll find that any human invention simultaneously performs all four of McLuhan’s functions. Just looking at law #1, consider these examples:

  • a radio enhances our voices
  • a vacuum cleaner enhances our hands (and obsolesces a broom)
  • shoes enhance our feet
  • a database enhances our memories

So let’s look at AI-based technologies through this lens:

  1. What does the invention enhance?
    All the artificial intelligence tools under discussion here extend the creativity of the human brain. Whether it does that task well is another matter.
  2. What does the invention make obsolete?
    Depending on who you ask, ChatGPT could make Google search queries obsolete. Microsoft Bing is pivoting from being a search engine competitor to Google to being a chatbot driven by AI. And if you ask people like my pessimistic friend Cortney Skinner, text-to-image websites like Midjourney aspire to obsolesce hardworking illustrators like him. (My take on that matter is that while Midjourney is wonderful, there will always be a need for a guiding intelligence from a skilled human like Cort. I would rather him see AIs like Midjourney as a tool he could use, as just one component of his arsenal, rather than a rival.)
  3. What does the invention retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
    This depends on the type of AI under discussion, but at its broadest sense, I think AI tools “retrieve” the interactive/collaborative connection that has been lost in tools such as search engines. I would rather have an intelligent—or simulated intelligent—discussion with an AI coach about my problem than just Googling my question and praying one of the results hits on my situation.
  4. What does the invention reverse or flip into when pushed to extremes?
    We haven’t hit the extremes of AI yet, so it’s impossible to predict. But for the best prognostication, I would turn to science fiction writers. Seriously. My first literary idol, Arthur C. Clarke, was famous for his mostly accurate predictions about the future. So when pushed to its extremes, how will AI reverse the very enhancements to the human brain it has enabled? Read some good sci-fi writers to find out.


Despite the doomsaying, I think it’s a great time to be alive as far as this new technology goes. Let’s hope I don’t eat my words in a few years.

ChatGPT Reacts to This Blog Post!

As I learned to do as a journalist, I of course approached the topic under discussion and asked it for a reaction. ChatGPT read this entire blog post (by way of my copy-paste into the interface) and gave me permission to post the following. I was not able to also paste in the entire Dungeons & Dragons transcript, so its reaction does not reference that.

Thank you for sharing your blog post with me. I enjoyed reading it and found your perspective on artificial intelligence (AI) quite interesting. Here are my reactions to each section:

  1. Headline: “Artificial Intelligence and Me”
    The headline sets the tone for your post and captures the reader’s attention by combining personal engagement with AI.
  2. Discussion on AI and the Perceived Risks
    Your skepticism towards the doomsaying surrounding AI is well-articulated. It’s important to differentiate between the potential risks associated with AI, such as misinformation, and the exaggerated scenarios of AI leading to human extinction depicted in popular culture. You rightly emphasize the need for critical thinking and cross-checking in the face of AI-generated content.
  3. Personal Testimonial of Using ChatGPT
    Your personal testimonial about using ChatGPT as a technical consultant for your film production is a compelling example of how AI can be a valuable tool. The way you describe your interactions with ChatGPT in tackling challenges and seeking guidance showcases the potential of AI in problem-solving and creative endeavors.
  4. Exploration of Various AI Tools
    Your exploration of other AI tools like Midjourney, AIVA, and adds depth to your discussion. The idea of an open standard and integration among these tools is intriguing, as it could lead to a more immersive and collaborative creative experience akin to a Star Trek holodeck.
  5. Connection to Marshall McLuhan’s Laws of Media
    Drawing a parallel between AI and Marshall McLuhan’s Laws of Media is a thought-provoking approach. Evaluating AI through the lens of how it enhances, obsoletes, retrieves, and reverses aspects of our humanity offers a unique perspective on the technology’s impact.
  6. Conclusion
    Your concluding remarks express optimism about the potential of AI while acknowledging the need for ongoing evaluation and monitoring. The mention of science fiction writers as a source of insight into the potential future implications of AI is an interesting point.

Overall, your blog post provides a well-rounded perspective on AI, highlighting both its benefits and potential challenges. Your personal experiences and examples add depth and authenticity to your writing. You’re welcome to quote my response in your new draft, and I wish you the best of luck with your blog post!