The AI George Carlin Special Sucks For Every Reason You Thought And More
13 mins read

The AI George Carlin Special Sucks For Every Reason You Thought And More

To even judge “George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead,” an hour-long YouTube video of bad AI-generated images, narrated and purportedly “written” and “performed” by a generative artificial intelligence model as an imitation of a dead famous human man, as a “comedy special” would be to lend it legitimacy. “I’m Glad I’m Dead” is a weak, watered down, boring approximation of the artistic performances a human person honed over the course of a lifetime by combining his experiences of living with Carlin’s specific interpretation of the world and his incredible amount of work. And while his performances were insightful, upsetting, offensive, and cathartic, above all they were funny, and this shit is not funny at all.

But expressing an opinion like that comes with the implication that this computer’s attempt at fake art was bad, and not that any computer’s attempt at fake art is and will be bad. The very concept of a computer’s attempt at fake art is bad. To quote a particular dead famous human man, it’s all bullshit and it’s bad for you.

I’d be worried about that if I thought “I’m Glad I’m Dead” was actually “written” by AI, but I don’t. What we’re talking about here is a combination of technologies that can be impressive–the Fake George Carlin of the video sounds a fair amount like George Carlin sounded and if you don’t listen to the words or clock that “I’m Glad I’m Dead” is pretty radically devoid of actual humor, you might be briefly fooled. But the Large Language Models (LMM) we’re talking about when we talk about “AI” “writing” something are statistical programs that use a lot of data to analyze patterns and then guess at making other patterns. An LLM cannot create anything new; it can only rearrange what it already has. And having watched “I’m Glad I’m Dead,” I’m pretty sure this thing is more Mechanical Turk than Mr. Data.

Data was a computer that wanted to become a person. Today's AI exists mostly just to sell you computer things pretending to be people, but poorly.
Data was a computer that wanted to become a person. Today’s AI exists mostly just to sell you computer things pretending to be people, but poorly.

“I’m Glad I’m Dead” is not an AI comedy special, so there’s no danger of judging it as one and therefore legitimizing it as one. It’s an ad for AI, both in its actual content–there’s a whole section of “comedy” discussing how cool AI is, and of course it’s the longest single segment of the video–and as an object that’s meant to generate conversation, a trap I’m aware I’m currently falling into, for the overall goal of trying to sell your humanity back to you in gulps, like an industrial charlatan dipping a bottle into a clear stream owned by no one so they can charge you a buck-fifty for it.

The section on AI in particular gives away the game, if there’s any such game to give away. Dudesy, the ostensible program ostensibly pretending to be a real human person, monologues at how strange it is to be afraid that AI will take the jobs of real human people. After all, it supposedly opines, since when do people like jobs and want to have them? Won’t the world be better when AI does the stupid, menial things nobody wants to do, or makes your regular job easier?

It’s ironic listening to Dudesy argue that fearing AI will steal jobs from real human people, a thing that is currently happening, is foolish, when “I’m Glad I’m Dead” itself is perfectly emblematic of evidence to the contrary. The monologue tries to suggest the inevitable march of automation as AI taking jobs because it can do them better and cheaper than the human people who currently do them. Dudesy demonstrates aptly the real issue, that human people who gather experience and develop skills and work to hone a craft will lose their livelihoods to computer programs that do the work worse, but do it cheaply, because their corporate owners don’t care about the quality of the work done but about finding the perfect low-water mark of the absolute cheapest, and lowest-quality product that they can still sell–like “I’m Glad I’m Dead.”

A nightmare image of an audience created by AI that appears in I'm Glad I'm Dead.
A nightmare image of an audience created by AI that appears in I’m Glad I’m Dead.

As a supposed AI, Dudesy can’t understand that you have to work to be able to eat or have a place to live in this world, and the issue isn’t that we’ll lose our shitty jobs to a computer program, but that at the same time the jobs are going to computer programs that suck at them, the rich are lobbying for policies that jail you for being homeless and using made-up statistics to trick municipalities into assigning cops to guard every Walgreens.

The monologue–in a hilarious but inadvertent way, like when you used to make the SimpleText program read the word “penis” out loud in a middle school class–goes on to acknowledge that AI is taking a job right in front of you. AI will replace stand-up comedians, it says with a grandeur apparently meant to be ironic, and actually, that might be better, because imagine getting to enjoy the comedy of Bill Cosby or Louis CK without all the pesky sexual assaults. Wouldn’t it be great to so thoroughly separate the art from the artist, and therefore completely defuse any guilt you might feel for consuming the art? The tech bros are desperate to do so, since they would love to keep selling you all that “content,” without ever having to pay anyone for making it, and without you having to worry about what your money might support.

This is the real point of “I”m Glad I’m Dead,” and one of the only parts of the entire video that’s making a point that isn’t both kind of self-evident and sounds almost exactly like or adjacent to things Carlin actually said. Earlier segments’ big observations are that America has too many mass shootings, that both Democrats and Republicans really just serve the rich, and that the people you should be mad at are the billionaires (although not the billionaires pushing AI into every microwave and toothbrush; they’re cool). By sounding like Carlin, they help make the sales pitch work a little better. If you think you’re listening to Carlin tell you things you want to and expect to hear from him, like how much politicians suck, his credibility and your positive feelings about him color how you interpret Dudesy giving you the hard AI sell.

The AI portion also demonstrates, I think, that a real human person is actually hiding behind the curtain of Dudesy at least some of the time, pulling levers and twisting dials. An LLM can mention things but it cannot combine concepts into something new. It can’t make observations because it fundamentally can’t know what it’s looking at. It can bring up Louis CK or Bill Cosby and it might even have data that adds the designators of “comedian” and “sexual assault” to those names, but it cannot understand that sexual assault is bad, because it is incapable of knowing what Bill Cosby, Louis CK, and sexual assault are. These jokes require: knowing the context of the comedians, understanding their fame and following, familiarity with their material and the larger culture around them, and crucially, knowing about their crimes and understanding why those things are crimes in the first place. These all combine to form a complete observation, and I don’t buy that Dudesy is capable of that.

An AI-made image of Bill Cosby that appears in I'm Glad I'm Dead.
An AI-made image of Bill Cosby that appears in I’m Glad I’m Dead.

So either those remarks about AI allowing for “Bill Cosby jokes without the rape” and “Louis CK jokes about masturbating in front of people without the masturbating in front of people” were written by a real human person, or they were stolen from one.

And if that’s the case, then the scam is laid bare, because the AI can’t impersonate Carlin without the help from someone who understands the world well enough to write a Carlin-sounding Bill Cosby rape joke with a pro-AI spin. That’s to say nothing of all the human labor done by whoever had to tune any content the AI did make–proofreading, cutting out nonsense or “hallucinations,” tweaking the sound and cadence of the voice delivery to make it sound as human as possible, and so on. This is a performance to make you think AI creations might be cool, so you’ll accept the future AI creations that will include less actual human input, and therefore be even worse. It’s a project specifically meant to co-opt the goodwill you might feel about a real human person who honed their craft to trick you into buying a cheap knock-off. “I’m Glad I’m Dead” isn’t funny, sure, but it has the rhythm of something funny you’ve heard before, with the hope that you’ll say “eh, close enough,” so that “close enough” can be pushed further and further away from the real thing.

The problem, though, isn’t just the cheapness of the product, it’s that AI must steal from people who did the work to begin with in order to create the product cheaply–people like George Carlin. It’s a process that strips out humanity from all involved, including the people who didn’t sign up to be involved. AI strips the humanity from artists because there’s value in art, and the best way to maximize that value is to attempt to render the person and their creations into an easily reproducible, conveniently apportionable goo. But it also strips humanity from you, too. The same way it renders everyone who makes things into “content creators,” it renders everyone who reads, watches, looks, listens, and feels into “consumers,” and nothing more, because how can you be anything more than a consumer, if there’s nothing more in that which you consume?

An AI-generated image from I'm Glad I'm Dead claiming that AI will make it so you work less, because don't worry, THIS time a tool that supposedly increases productivity will cut down on the amount of labor humans have to do.
An AI-generated image from I’m Glad I’m Dead claiming that AI will make it so you work less, because don’t worry, THIS time a tool that supposedly increases productivity will cut down on the amount of labor humans have to do.

So “I’m Glad I’m Dead” sucks in all the ways you think it does. It’s full of crappy-looking images and it makes dull, pedestrian observations mostly ripped from or approximating things Carlin actually said. It’s an obvious con job, a friend inviting you over for a dinner that turns out to be a multi-level marketing recruitment pitch, and the fact it even attempts such a ghoulish enterprise as to poorly imitate a real human person for a snake oil-selling gimmick makes it fundamentally gross.

But it also sucks because of what it tries to steal from us, and how it tries to trick us into paying to get that stolen thing back, but worse, lesser, uglier, and emptier. It sucks because it exists to try to sell us on a future of even more content with even less meaning and it sucks because it does that by leveraging real human emotions of missing someone, missing their contributions to our culture, and wishing they were still here. It sucks because it uses our humanity against us, so some no-talent rent-seeking miscreants can extract even more money from the world and hoard it, without ever giving one iota, not money or effort or respect, not anything at all, to anyone else.

And it sucks because it is not, in any way, funny.

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