Weeknote 13, 2023

§1 The unchecked authority to determine the extent of our imaginative powers

When you know the exceptions, you know the rules:

The AI image generator Midjourney has quickly become one of the internet’s most eye-catching tools, creating realistic-looking fake visuals of former president Donald Trump being arrested and Pope Francis wearing a stylish coat with the aim of “expanding the imaginative powers of the human species.”

But the year-old company, run out of San Francisco with only a small collection of advisers and engineers, also has unchecked authority to determine how those powers are used. It allows, for example, users to generate images of President Biden, Vladimir Putin of Russia and other world leaders — but not China’s president, Xi Jinping.

“We just want to minimize drama,” the company’s founder and CEO, David Holz, said last year in a post on the chat service Discord. “Political satire in china is pretty not-okay,” he added, and “the ability for people in China to use this tech is more important than your ability to generate satire.”

Midjourney, the year-old firm behind recent fake visuals of Trump and the pope, illustrates the lack of oversight accompanying spectacular strides in AI By Isaac Stanley-Becker and Drew Harwell, Updated March 30, 2023 at 11:57 a.m. EDT, Washington Post

§2 💩⚖️

The poop emoji in Emerson v. Dart is only the tip of a brown iceberg. The legal system is built on endless piles of paper — people sue, people add exhibits to their suits, they get responses, the responses have attachments, and then sometimes a judge will make a ruling. The fact that the poop emoji showed up in the Seventh Circuit means that the poop emoji was referenced countless times before — in filings made by the parties, possibly in the lower court decision, and in briefs written during the appeals process. Had Emerson v. Dart gone to trial, no doubt the lawyers would have fought over how to read “poop emoji” out loud in court to the jury. All this to say — the poop emoji has definitely come up in court, long before Twitter’s lawyers screencapped Musk’s tweet of the poop emoji as evidence of his public disparagement of the company. 

That said, it’s not like the legal system is lousy with poop emoji. “It’s not in the top ten [emoji], I can say that with some confidence,” said Eric Goldman, professor of law at Santa Clara University who has published scholarly work on emoji in the law.

Jennifer Behrens, a law librarian who teaches at Duke University who is also a researcher on the subject, says that Emerson v. Dart is the only judicial opinion she’s found with the poop emoji — though again, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t shown up in court in other forms. “A basic smiley face was much more common, as well as the ‘tears of joy,’” she told me in an email.

The poop emoji: a legal history: As emoji use grows, judges have to get special trainings. ✨ The Verge: By Sarah Jeong / @sarahjeong by Apr 6, 2023, 9:00 AM EDT

Fun fact: North Americans know 💩 as the poop emoji but technically it is Unicode U+1F4A9 PILE OF POO

Screen capture of a search for the pile of poo emoji in the OMNI library catalogue: "No records found"

§3 Feedly can now use AI to track the protests of Feedly’s Protest Tracking Service

Several of us who’ve used the tool for a while have discussed how it seemed that Feedly was paying more and more attention to its Enterprise users, advertising tools that were highly corporate and unappealing to me and my food blogs. It felt like every month or two I’d get a pop-up informing me I could “Track competitors and emerging trends“ or “Track the influence of the largest US companies”. They also took a clear turn towards courting the cybersecurity industry, with somewhat military-sounding blog posts about how to “Track emerging threats” or set up a “Feedly for Threat Intelligence” account.

The new development on Thursday, though, was the marketing that Feedly could now help me “track protests posing a risk to [my] company’s assets”

Feedly launches strikebreaking as a service: The company claims to have not considered before launch whether their new protest and strike surveillance tool could be misused. Molly White, Apr 3, 2023
Screenshot: How to track the protests posing a risk to your company's assets with Feedly AI