The return of the luddites


While the crowd at #sxsw2024 booing a sizzle reel of people either promising the beauty of the future #ai will bring or claiming it to be "without alternative" is funny and went viral for all the right reasons ( ), this event speaks to a deeper shift in perception.

AsBrian Merchant writes ( "For the buzziest tech of the moment to get shouted down at *SXSW* speaks volumes about the scale and nature of the animosity generative AI has amassed. The tech is seen, here, as exploitative by tastemakers and *by technologists*."

But I'd go further: It's not just the public perception that #OpenAI has been trying to plant in our collective understanding is falling apart due to the actions of that strange company, I think the actual narrative of "AI" is untangling.

Because where are all the promised gains in efficiency? Where is the better world? All we see is a wasteful technology that's propped up by VC and Microsoft money that's easily detected as a way to further centralize our digital infrastructures while laying our digital spaces to waste.

After having played with ChatGPT many people don't really integrate it into their practices because these systems are just not that good and if you care about quality anything after "quick sketches in the beginning of the process" is unthinkable.

Some systems labeled "AI" today will stick around. Especially the non-generative stuff (for image processing, object detection, pattern recognition in data streams, heuristics to detect errors in work products, etc.) but a lot of the #genAI field is just spam creation. And it's actually making some - especially creative things - harder to achieve.

Famous film critic Roger Ebert once said "The Muse visits during the act of creation, not before." and the booing is people coming back to realizing this simple fact. You are not creative and then create something, you become creative by working on something, creativity is a byproduct of work. In this way #AI is deeply dehumanizing: Making the spaces and opportunities for people to grow and be human smaller and smaller. Applying a straitjacket of past mediocrity to our minds and spirits.

That is what is being booed: The salespeople of mediocrity who've made it their mission to speak lies from power. The lie that only tech can and will save us. The lie that a bit of statistics and colonial, mostly white, mostly western data is gonna create a brilliant future. The lie that we have no choice, no alternatives.

#Luddism is back, baby.

Festival crowd boos at video of conference speakers gushing about how great AI is

  • The audience at a SXSW festival roundly booed a video promoting the positive impact of AI.
  • The speakers in the video suggested people stop resisting AI advances and embrace the tech.
  • Many in the film industry, including actors and writers, fear AI advancements could threaten jobs.

Not all audience members at South by Southwest are thrilled about AI — and they made it known by booing during a brief video on the topic that played ahead of a screening.

Video emerged on social media of the audience loudly booing a conference sizzle reel that featured several industry leaders speaking positively about AI.

The sizzle reel played before several film premieres at the festival, including "The Fall Guy" and "Immaculate," Variety reported. SXSW did not return a request for comment before publication.

The reel featured several speakers and panelists from previous events at the conference, including Peter Deng, vice president of consumer product at ChatGPT-creator OpenAI, and Sandy Carter, COO of Unstoppable Domains, among others.

Carter's sound bite urging people to "be an AI thinker" didn't go over well when later viewed by the audience at the screening. "You know your business is going to be disrupted. You need to stop resisting and start learning," she said, her words drowned out by the crowd.

"Be one of those people that leverages AI. Don't get run over by it," said Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap's founder and former CEO, in the video — another comment that elicited boos. Abovitz more recently founded Sun and Thunder, a startup leveraging AI characters and storytelling.

Another round of boos can be heard when OpenAI's Peter Deng said: "I actually fundamentally believe that AI makes us more human."

In a statement to BI, Carter said her SXSW panel on the future of AI was "a standout event." She added that the audience in attendance at her panel showed "a high level of engagement and interest," including some applause, and had voiced their "enthusiasm and support for positive developments" in the field of AI.

The other panelists shown in the sizzle reel did not return requests for comment before publication.

Variety noted that much of the audience was likely made up of professionals in the film industry, including actors and screenwriters who just months ago were on strike — and for whom AI was a major concern.


AI was a major concern of striking Hollywood writers and actors.

Ashley Landis/AP

In resolving the strikes, the studios made several concessions on AI, agreeing to prohibit it from being used to rewrite original material for scripts, and requiring the consent of actors before reproducing their likenesses digitally.

The growing impact of AI is a concern felt across the film industry. After OpenAI announced its new generative video tool, Sora, earlier this year, Tyler Perry canceled the expansion of his film studios, calling the technology impressive and a potential cost-saver while also voicing concern that it could threaten jobs in the film industry.

Several startups are actively working to integrate AI with film production. At the moment, most of these applications are for post-production areas like digital and sound effects — but there are indications that the technology could go far beyond that.

A recent commercial produced by Under Armour has stoked that fear after it emerged that the minute-long clip was produced with the help of AI. The ad includes an AI-generated voiceover and repackaged shots filmed for previous commercials, AdAge reported.

Despite the backlash against the commercial, a studio executive responsible for producing the spot told AdAge that critics of AI use were being "irrational."

Axel Springer, Business Insider's parent company, has a global deal to allow OpenAI to train its models on its media brands' reporting.