Who Woulda Thunk
Exit: books. Enter: thunks.
Or so says Peter Wang, PyScript inventor and the cofounder and CEO of the open-source Python platform Anaconda. In a recent post to Twitter-formerly-X, Wang offered a bold vision — or maybe an incredibly bleak one, depending on your point of view — of humanity's literary future. Rather than publish books, Wang predicted, humanity will soon begin to publish inventions dubbed "thunks," which he describes as "nuggets of thought that can interact with the 'reader' in a dynamic and multimedia way."
"There can still be a classic linear 'passive read mode,'" the developer added, "but that can be autogenerated based on the recipient's level of existing context and knowledge."
In other words? It seems that according to Wang, gone are the days of humanity expressing its creativity, engaging in the quest for understanding, and fulfilling our need to catalog our existence through the thousands-year-old tradition of literature. Instead, all we'll do is think a little thunk, and allow AI to generate a multimedia choose-your-own-adventure experience.
While such an invention might offer a degree of entertainment, it's hard to imagine that these "thunks," as described, would be a passable replacement for books. After all, if you're doing it well, reading is far from a "passive" act, as Wang suggests in his X post. Not only is the act of writing creative, but the act of reading is creative as well: without visual or other sensory stimulations, our mind is forced to fill in the visual blanks, stirring our imaginations and sense of wonder, and sometimes provoking profound insights in the process.
What really makes Wang's "thunk" vision notable, however, is how clearly it depicts what seems to be a commonly-held belief system among the broader AI community regarding humanity's relationship to creativity.
There's a certain Sam Altman-like sensibility to Wang's theory that these imagined creations would oust books from their place in human culture and society. The idea that AI could replace that in lieu of gamified, autogenerated content — which, lest not forget, is always a regurgitation of human-made material — isn't only depressing, but feels representative of the "all human-made creative output is just recapitulated iterations of all of the creative material that came before it" theory present among many an AI Guy's logic.
From image generators to thunks, at the heart of the generative AI industry lie deeply consequential questions concerning how human labor, creative labor included, is valued. If autogenerated thunks really are the future, the answer, sadly, seems to be "not so much."
More on thunk inspo: BuzzFeed Says AI Will “Replace the Majority of Static Content”
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