Generative Cockroaches

Image via YouTube

Let’s watch this video:

Confused? How about this one:

What you’re watching is the Platonic ideal of modern bait content, something we could call generative cockroaches. Designed to confuse and enrage, this stuff works in weird ways on the brain. These recipes, with their chipper, AI-generated voiceovers and even worse AI-generated scripts, are designed for maximum engagement if not maximum enragement. But why? And why do they work on us?

Writer Katherine Dee equates this images with some kind of anarchic pornography:

The video ends without incident and certainly without anything that explicitly gestures towards sex. And yet, the viewer is left feeling that something is amiss. These videos always go viral, and the comments that swirl around them suggest they evoke either confusion or disgust. But as “disgusted” as people are, they keep cropping up, and they keep enjoying popularity. The most disturbing part of these videos for viewers isn’t how confusing they are or how little sense the recipes seem to make or even how disgusting they tend to be, but rather that something about them feels pornographic, and inarticulably so.


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AI, in this case, is doing something interesting to our brains. Like the concept of the uncanny valley, there is a certain fear we feel when we see something that isn’t quite human yet has all the hallmarks of humanity. Note that this is a nearly global response, which suggests that at some point there was something that walked among us that wasn’t quite human but let’s not go down that rabbit hole without some whiskey or weed.

Image via TechTarget

The uncanny valley, at least in terms of representations of humans, suggests that there is a very difficult chasm between a cartoonish human and a real person. We are fine with everything between an industrial robot and maybe Woody from Toy Story but when we get into Sid from the original Toy Story we become actually disgusted.

Image via Disney

What has happened, however, is that CG representations of humans have gotten so good that we almost ignore them. That, sadly, is where we’re heading with nearly every other form of media.

These videos exist because we watch them and we watch them over and over, wondering what we just saw. Seven deep fried eggs? Covered in white powder? And the voice over calls it delicious? We’re mesmerized, confused, angry. This stuff shouldn’t exist but, thanks to generative AI, it does.

AI is a reality simulator. It can create text that is passably human. It can create images that have that certain something that marks them as absolutely fake yet still enticing. It can even force a human “chef” to make a dish with seven egg yolks in some kind of disgusting parody of Ratatouille.

Consider this style of meme that is currently flooding Facebook.

Image via Facebook

I’ve seen five permutations of this idea today alone – a baby and a dog putzing around in disgusting mud – and everyone in the comments is entranced.

Basically it’s gotten so easy to create engaging content that engagement doesn’t matter. It’s an afterthought. These creators are hitting buttons we didn’t even know we had with content that makes absolutely no sense. And presumably they’re making money.

And we let them.

So we know this is happening, we know it is pernicious, but we’re letting it in on a daily basis. At the Media Copilot we always say you need a human in the loop. When we ignore this advice, the content produced by AI carries a stink that, while slight, is unmistakable. That’s what you’re getting here with these generative cockroaches.

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