They Lied To Us

They knew what they were doing all along. We fell for it. And now, it might be too late to stop it.

Here’s an audio version of this article for your dining and dancing pleasure.

Even now, they tell us that “the AI revolution is coming”. No, the AI revolution started a long, long time ago. And like a science fiction movie where the bad guys have infiltrated and permeated every aspect of our lives until there’s no way to fully remove them from the system, we’re trapped.

Here’s how it started: Google searches. Google’s not the only culprit here, but certainly the most successful one that we’re aware of. (For what it’s worth, there are probably others that are even more insidious, intrusive, and, most disturbing of all, invisible.) Google knew the things you were searching for and tracked those things; they sold the process to you by making you believe that it was an initiative to improve your internet experience. Then they made that data available to their revenue partners, who took full advantage and co-opted virtually every thought you have and mutilated it into an opportunity for someone to sell you something. That endless pursuit of sales has driven us to the point where we’ve all got at least one friend with one of those Google Home devices, who tells us they were having a private conversation with someone and ads related to that conversation mysteriously started showing up in their online experience.

But it got worse, because after they convinced us that all this data tracking was done to make our lives better and our online experience more unique and personalized, then came SEO. With SEO, the engineers convinced us that the most important key to having a successful business was to rank highly in search engines for a particular keyword. And how to learn what keywords would make you successful? All that Google data. Not just the stuff we entered into our browsers, but also things about us that could be inferred from the websites we visit, our purchasing habits and the real gold, the data gleaned from eavesdropping on private conversations we had in proximity to our smart speakers.

Then came the next step: AI bots that could enhance your productivity. They could scan your task lists, calendars, chats with your peers and all your other data, and come up with ways to move your projects forward and keep you organized, much like a personal assistant would. I’d argue this is actually one of the few uses of Artificial Intelligence I would endorse, if it weren’t for the fact that all the data you willingly share in the interest of productivity goes back into that hamster wheel of churning through your world and creating yet more sales opportunities.

And now, we’re seeing one of the most alarming trends of all: AI-generated art. Not just graphic art, with the algorithmically-generated arrangements of pixels that people find strangely compelling and even aesthetically pleasing in a limited number of cases, but other art forms as well. AI has started replacing voiceover artists, writers, illustrators, and there’s the story of the strike by Hollywood actors whose very livelihood is threatened by studios who want a blanket license to take an performer’s image for a one-time fee and repurpose it in any way they see fit, including having an AI generate an entire movie featuring an A-list actor who never had to step in front of a camera. Where that’s headed next? Music generated by AI, with an algorithm that can take a few seconds to crank out hundreds of digitally-generated songs that will be a perfect match for whatever the programmers saw fit to include. We’ve already seen Paul McCartney use an AI to make a “new” Beatles song with a digital re-imagining of John Lennon’s voice. How long do you think it’ll be before you can go to a website and enter enough terms into a text box that will generate an entire album featuring the voice of Kurt Cobain singing new songs written in the style of Leonard Cohen with an orchestra that sounds a lot like the London Philharmonic?

But here comes the climactic moment, the place in our sci-fi movie where the alien rips off their skin suit to reveal their true nature once they no longer need to pretend they’re one of us: The invasion has been so thorough that they now control what we think, how we communicate and the very dissemination of ideas, too.

Because they control the search engines, they now have the ability to push the things in front of us that matter to them, with just enough massaged and outright fabricated context to convince us those things should matter to us, too. How many things do you own that you’ve only used a couple of times, having purchased them based on an online recommendation you saw that addressed a need stoked by an article you read, a video you saw, or a podcast you heard, but were things that you absolutely had to have?

Consider this: How many trends have become trends exclusively because the bots artificially engineered a desire?

The ability to make the masses crave something that’s actually garbage isn’t new, by any means (cigarettes, anyone?). But the challenge of getting you to adopt something you wouldn’t ordinarily want has been eliminated. The algorithms have tweaked what you see in search results, sure, but they’ve also left their fingerprints on what social media content is “relevant”, what product reviews should be shown to you first, and which recommendations should be considered the most authoritative from the people you engage with online. Not only that, but the ads you’ve responded to, the reviews you’ve liked and the conversations you’ve had have given the bots some insight on the best ways to push you toward the “Add to Cart” button, even for products that are inferior, or things you don’t really need.

Mark my words: When that Kurt Cobain album comes out, you will see articles, reviews, news coverage and recommendations from people you know and trust telling you how wonderful it is. Or at least you will if the engineer who created the code for it paid enough money to the ones at the controls, whoever they are and whatever their endgame is.

What’s worse, though, is that the people out there who are actually producing art will be pushed to the sides in favor of what the bots want to push out there as “better”. We’re seeing it already, for example, with AI-driven writing tools claiming their bots can write better than humans.

Spoiler alert: They can’t.

AI bots can’t write better fiction, just like they can’t write better ads, better songs, better movies, or better blog posts.

…unless the bar for what constitutes good writing has been moved, so that people become convinced that the algorithmically-generated content is superior.

And how do you do that?

By making the digital world so ingrained in people’s lives that – like in the Pixar movie WALL-E – they forget what actually matters.

If the same person that developed the AI writing bot is creating the algorithm that controls their writing based on the results that are favored by the AI-driven search engine results, then search engines will reward the writing that best suits the algorithm.

If enough of “them” get together and tweak the content we see in order to try and convince us that an artificially-generated John Lennon track is just as good as a real Beatles song, who knows how many people will fork out money on things that really aren’t very good?

So how do we fight back?

By continuing to produce great work done for humans, by humans. By having honest conversations with our connections about what works and what doesn’t (I can’t tell you how many people I know who buy really expensive coffee they don’t really love from a chain that derives a ton of its business by being the popular coffee chain). By learning new skills or improving existing ones with help from the people who are consistently raising the bar and providing a foundation for excellence.

There are tons of examples of people who are doing this online, but I’m going to be a bit selfish here and focus on my own method. See, it’s Launch Week for the new edition of my copywriting course, called Copywriting 101: Enhancement Marketing. And, in classic old-school style, we’re stunting.

We decided to redo the course for several reasons: First, if I’m being blunt, I hated everything about the videos I shot for the first iteration, but I made the mistake of listening to the gurus who talk about the Minimum Viable Product. My minimum viable product became the stone in my shoe. Second, administering the website with a series of cobbled-together WordPress plugins was a gigantic pain in the keister, the website was clunky and difficult to navigate, and just wasn’t the experience I wanted people to have. And third, we’ve partnered this time around with a platform that absolutely knows their way around online courses, Thinkific.

But here’s the thing: I asked a group of literally thousands of course creators about what the price for Version 2 should be. After answering their questions, the consensus seemed to be that I’d be an idiot if I sold it for less than $999, and should probably sell it for even more than that.

Well… I’m an idiot.

If you go right now to Enhancement Marketing DOT COM, depending on how long it’s been since the release of this episode on August 21st, you’ll see two things: One, I decided the regular price should be $799 instead of the $999 the gurus suggested. Second, a series of coupon codes posted on the website mean you could get the entire course for FREE. No strings, no catches, no upsells later on.

I’d recommend going to the website now, because here’s how Launch Week works: Consistent with my belief that any offer a seller makes should sting a little, the first twenty people to sign up for the course can use a coupon code to get the course for free. After that, the price goes up to $149. Ten people will get it at that price. After those ten coupons are used up, the price goes up again, this time to $299. Ten people will be able to use the coupon code to get it for that price, then it goes up another $150, and this pattern continues, ten students at a time, until we get to the final regular price of $799.

Why? This is all detailed on the website, but I’m looking for evangelists. I know once you’ve actually completed the course, you’ll recommend it to friends, partly so you can take advantage of the $75 referral fee for everyone you get to sign up and take the course. The quickest and easiest way to get those evangelists? Offer a ridiculous price that’s impossible to resist.

And if you missed all the Launch Week silliness, worry not my friend. There’s a payment plan for the full-price that will let you get started for an initial payment of $299.

The course materials go online September 5th, but all the information is waiting for you now at

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