Welcome to the Wonkalarity

If you live in the UK you will probably have seen the story last week about the Willy Wonka Chocolate Experience in Glasgow. It promised a rich immersive experience, but turned out to be a disappointing, depressing warehouse with some bad props. We get one of these stories every year usually about a Santa’s grotto which is, well, less than might be expected.

These stories often go viral, the mismatch between promise and reality is ripe for memes. This one I think offers an interesting prompt for considering issues around AI. For a start the advertising of the experience used AI generated images, so there is a good example about the expectation and reality of AI itself. I mean, there is a whole thesis to be written about these two images:

The BBC article also reveals that the owner of the company published 17 novels last year, which seem to have been written by AI, and one of the actors at the Wonka event said the script was gibberish and appeared to be written by AI. Now, it could be that the phrase “written by AI” has just become a synonym for “badly written”, but it seems there may be an element of truth here. This raises the issue that AI lowers the cost for producing novels, scripts, advertising. This is a grifter’s dream as it means they don’t have to pay people for any of this stuff.

This obviously opens up avenues for misuse, but lower cost of entry has possibilities also. The internet has always been about removing barriers for participation. You can take the view that AI is ‘bad’ because it comes with so little ethics attached and so much power, or you can view it as just a tool. You can use a word processor to write beautiful poetry or racist diatribes after all.

Questions to ask then are “do the potential benefits outweigh the inevitable misuses?” Because there will be both. Do we get more of the first picture or more of the second?

Lastly I think it is a solid reminder of the importance of our embodied experience. We are people, who inhabit bodies in a physical world, taking in information from many senses. At the end of AI magic there is always that crunch point.

Anyway, I think if you want to have some fun conversations about AI, the Wonka experience offers a useful prompt for considering different aspects. Plus, it’s quite funny.

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