Signs of Impending Apocalypse <-- YES It's CLICKBAIT

I’m sure you’ve all noticed that the ad economy appears to be getting worse and worse. There’s good news and bad news. As usual, I’ll start with the bad news.

There’s a saying that “the internet will route around blockages” which is sort of true, except what they are really saying is “persistent assholes will persist” or perhaps “money will find a way.” In internet terms that has seemed to equate to me that the mutability of software and networks gives an advantage to those who want to avoid regulation. For example, there are the cryptocurrency guys, who designed a system that was decentralized yadda yadda yadda for reasons that sounded remarkably libertarian, but in fact were all about tax avoidance and money laundering. I’m not saying that everyone who is playing with cryptocurrencies is doing money laundering, but next time you’re talking with a crypto bro, ask them how they pay taxes on their earnings. You’ll get a blank look. And, as my accountant used to say: “a penny earned tax free is worth two cents.” Escaping regulation was the entire game. Another place where escaping regulation is the entire game is: internet advertising. Until about the early 00’s governments in the world attempted to hold some kind of line on deceptive advertising. The early wedge was nostrums – it started with the “holistic medicine exemption” which basically implied “you can sell any shit you want as long as somewhere on the label it says ‘product is natural medicine for entertainment purposes only'” or something like that. That was an example of “money will find a way” – with the rocketing expense of some real medicines, it was even easier: instead of taking some drug that had been through expensive testing and regulation, why not try some boji-nut extract tea? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) realized that they couldn’t fight this stuff because there was so much money behind it, so they avoided actually doing what they are supposed to do, namely make sure that things sold as medicine are effective. All that happened was, between that and cryptocurrency, there evolved pathways for bringing sketchy substances from labs in unregulated environments into the first world. I wrote about this back in 2017 [stderr] because I knew someone who kept getting very odd packages from China. Alpha PHP is not a programming language, it’s an amphetamine.

I digress. Advertisers have finally hit upon the Doomsday Weapon and now we are going to need to build some AI that understand speech in realtime and replace ads with the sound of soothing ocean waves, or something. The doomsday weapon is to suborn all of the content creators with their dirty money. I’m pretty sure every one of us here on FTB (and in terms of traffic, we are tiny) has gotten an email asking if we are interested in “hosted content.” Hosted content is not where some advertiser gives me a banner ad to put at the bottom of the page, its where I subtly work in the ad into my regular narrative, i.e.:

98% success rate. What about the 2%?

Are you feeling down, tired, listless? Try some excellent internet-delivered cocaine from our sponsor:!!!!

Anyhow, it seems now that virtually every youtube channel, podcast, and influencer is now embedding ads in their content so that they are completely unavoidable. Also, youtube now has become a race to the bottom in terms of clickbaity titles. I used a clickbaity title for this piece for a reason: you were either going to read it or not, regardless of the title. It is utterly stupid for me to use clickbaity titles, because you’re going to also read Pharyngula or Mano or whoever else you read here, or not, I am not fighting any of them for your eyeballs. It shows that marketers completely fail to understand, um, marketing. It’s not the clickbaity titles that attract our attention: it’s jiggling boobs. I admit I was tempted to head this article with some animated jiggly boobs but I’m too lazy to go out of my way to be tacky.

Oh, hell, I changed my mind and put a small picture up to titillate. There’s a story about it I’ll tell below the bar.

So I’m going to say that this is the beginning of the ad apocalypse. In the last week, Google (our motto: “don’t be evil unless it’s profitable”) has apparently significantly lowered the bar for what kind of ads they are accepting. This morning, there was some device that purported to be “invented for special forces” that vibrates loose the mucus in your lungs and improves thereby your cardio fitness. Really? I’ll stick with the cocaine, thanks.* It’s obvious that the ad is bullshit: the mucus in our lungs is actually pretty important and you’d probably get all sorts of infections in a hurry if it wasn’t there. And then there was this, which is fucking insane:

The premise of the ad is actually so weird it is fascinating: there are brain-waves (OK, sort of…) but “affinity prayer does not work” and the “law of attraction does not work” what works is a special brain-wave that genius billionaires have, which attracts unlimited money. I’m serious. I want to ask GPT40 to whip me up a few of these, but I am pretty sure that that’s how this was generated in the first place.

I was so fascinated, I actually followed the link so you won’t have to:

Now that is some glarp, right there. Remember: this is coming up regularly, now, on the youtube rotation, along with the Schutzstaffel-recommended lung goop vibrator, and a whole bunch of other stuff that looks like it was mostly made by complete amateurs. I like the idea of amateurs breaking into business (as long as they aren’t amateur fentanyl importers) but this is really pretty ridiculous.

Another new trend that, I’m going to claim, demonstrates the adpocalypse: youtube’s ad injection system now interrupts videos longer than 5 minutes with new ads. But it does some kind of forward-analysis and looks for a pause in the audio, then drops a new ad in. So if you’re watching some intended-to-be interesting youtube piece on ancient architecture or flint knapping, and Milo goes into “I’d like to thank my sponsors (pauses for a breath) –youtube ad drops in– youtube ad ends and Milo finishes his spiel for the ninja-breath doodad that shakes the mucus out of your lungs and makes it easier when you’re running around Gobekli Tepe!” or whatever. It’s as if some genius at google asked themselves, “selves: since we can’t control the ad revenue that content providers get through sponsorship, how can we fuck them up?” I often listen to youtube videos while I’m dozing or napping, and I’ve noticed that the and punch-in/punch-outs get kind of surreal and give me some really weird dreams.

Also, since I am a registered republican, I have been getting some absurdist text message spam on my phone. Rather obviously, republican media marketers are not using their genius wave, and are instead using the laziest and stupidest possible mental carpet-bombing technique. I have heard from folks on dailykos that the democrats do the same thing – if you sign up for actblue, you get carpet-bombed with clickbaity scare crap about how Donald Trump is going to eat your children. Or, was that Biden? I can’t remember. Either way, it demonstrates to absolute mental paucity of advertising. Which is why I think we are the verge of the adpocalypse. The reason that these low-end ads are all over youtube is because BMW finally realized that I’m not going to watch a video of some girl doing yoga in her underwear and think “now I want to go spend $100,000 on a car.”

It is also instructive-ish to learn what is going on with the various influencers out there. I remember reading somewhere that Kylie Jenner was a billionaire, and now I read that she’s actually as broke as Rudy Giuliani. Apparently her make-up line was what her valuation was based on, but it wasn’t liquid and a chunk of it was owned by one of the big make-up companies (Coty, I think) so that if it succeeded, they’d get half the money and she’d still be sitting on a bunch of stock in a highly volatile internet makeup company – the problem being that the reason the shares had any value in the first place was because Coty bought a bunch of them. That’s interesting because it’s a very old stock market maneuver that is not quite an illegal “pump and dump” scheme because it’s done by a bunch of very rich people and companies and you basically can’t sue them because you lose, that’s why. The SEC is doing as good of a job regulating the stock market as the FDA is regulating health nostrums and the postal service is regulating the flow of Fentanyl in little packets from China. Oh, and, in case nobody noticed, the Federal Trade Commission, which nominally regulates ads, has been doing a bang-up job, too!

I’ve got to wind this up with some of the pathetic republican beg-o-spam I have been getting. Because it really is surreal. I’m going to spare you the really stupid one with the picture of Ted Cruz, because some of you might read my blog with your morning covfefe, and I don’t want to ruin your experience. But check this weird-ass chest-thumping cuck-as-an-alpha shit:

Wow, holy shit that guy sounds like a badass! Since he’s a republican, I’m going to guess that if he has any actual military service, he was probably in a supply unit stationed stateside and never heard the odd angry shot. Also: Navy. Lieutenant. Oh, and lawyer. See what I mean about the odd angry shot? But once he begins to shovel, he just goes on and on and on:

He’s swallowing his pride, eh? Well, this guy’s why I’m a registered republican in Pennsylvania: so I can participate in the primary and try to help nominate the stupidest asshole on the landscape. But, give him my money? LOL: “thoughts and prayers.” At this point I think I’m more aligned with the jihadists than not. Oh, and by the way, the “butcher of Fallujah” was the US Marine Corps, which more or less flattened the town full of civilians in a revenge operation for a few casualties that they managed to suffer because they didn’t belong in Fallujah in the first place.

Anyhow, my response was:

Of course, nobody will read it. Which is exactly the point. I’m not interested in getting into the nasty side of politics, but if I were running a campaign I’d have people actually reading replies and, if I got one like that, someone would say, “hey, that’s a pretty hardcore attitude, can we talk?” Or something. Everything that I have ever heard or seen about the process of convincing people to alter their beliefs involves a sincere interpersonal dialogue. To tie everything together, that is why I consider embedded advertising to be the Doomsday Device because it’s potentially so pernicious: you’re already listening to someone whose words you are interested in, and if they start talking about something germane to you, it really might influence you to purchase something. For example, if “Crafsman” (I love Crafsman!) explains how great Apoxie Putty is for making quick an dirty molds (“so you just mix a little like this, and then you wipe the vaseline on the object like that, and pull it off gently, you’ll have a mold, look at that!”) anyhow, yeah, I made a model for a bronze sword-style guard in Apoxie and it turned out great, thanks Crafsman! (I could have used jewelers wax or wood or delrin or…) I actually do not have a problem with politicians or product sellers who reach out to me in that manner. For example, a number of years ago when I started buying 2×72″ sanding belts in largeish quantities, I got an email from Combat Abrasives saying they made really good sanding belts and they offered me a test set for half off. I’ve been using them ever since.

Those of you who have been reading me for a while know that I am concerned with authenticity – being tangible, real, and honest – and all of this, including the adpocalypse, chest-thumping REMF republican warriors, makeup-pushing influencers, and products to vibrate the slime out of my lungs – it’s all part of the war on authenticity and the rise of the rule of bullshit. But, when I get depressed about that, I remember that there are still plenty of people who keep it real, who are approachable, who care and share and as Ray Wylie Hubbard says “read stories to kids every night.” I hate kids, but I’d do that.

The end-game looks like this: once a day or thereabout I have a discussion with an AI that tells me about all the crazy neat stuff it has found on the internets that it knows I will like. I will actually be happy and excited to hear what it’s telling me about. What, really, someone’s making a 120-grit diamond metal polishing belt? For $19.00? Buy me 3. And the guys who make momofuku noodles are now doing dumplings? Hell yes, I’ll try one pack of those. Thanks! And while I’m talking to it, it’ll look and sound like Jennifer Connelly. I will look forward to my evening ad session.

------ divider ------

* I have used cocaine exactly twice. It turns out that cocaine makes me talk incessantly for up to 12 hours. I was nearly smothered with a pillow last time I did it.

The picture at the top was part of an experiment I may write about if anyone cares. I decided to experiment with GPT40 and its new feature of being able to ingest photos and videos and stuff like that. Fascinating. So, I took a picture from Civitai that I thought was interesting, and fed it to GPT40 and asked it to write me a prompt to produce my own version in Stable diffusion. The prompt GPT40 gave me produced a damn good version of the input, which was:

It’s nothing to get excited about, but I was curious about the shape of her mouth. I’m aware that Japanese anime artists have apparently come up with special names for just about every body part (e.g.: eyes that go down at the corner, versus eyes that go up at the corner) and for reasons I cannot explain, I have always found that shape of mouth to be especially attractive. There is a horrible lurking fear in the back of my mind that maybe that’s the shape of my older sister’s mouth, but I refuse to contemplate that. Anyhow, I asked GPT40 how it would describe that, and it did a good enough job that it came out about right in the stable diffusion run I did using that description.

Here is GPT40’s prompt that it wrote from the original picture:

“A digital illustration of a young woman with long, straight red hair. She has large, expressive green eyes with a hint of sparkle. Her skin is fair with light freckles across her cheeks and nose. She has a delicate, slightly arched Cupid’s bow on her upper lip and a plump lower lip. She is wearing a white tank top with thin straps. There is a small green flower-shaped hair clip on the left side of her hair, and she has small earrings. The background is simple and light-colored to emphasize her features. The art style is vibrant and detailed, with a focus on her facial features and natural beauty.”

I did all of that as an experiment, because I have (as usual) been thinking about the problem of artificial intelligence and was noodling about what a next generation Turing Test might look like. I think I might be able to safely argue that one of the key properties of “intelligence” is “understanding” – you cannot respond well to questions without “understanding” them to some degree. So, in this example, GPT40 had to “understand” the elements of an image in order to dissect them and create a prompt that worked to create another similar image. The “intelligence” required to do that is comparable to if I hired a human artist to produce their own interpretation of the image.


  1. says

    tumblr’s been getting surreal ads for years, will AI make them better or worse? it’s the platform’s version of clickbait. don’t say “lose belly fat in minutes,” say “hammer your balls flat with a reverse vacuum cleaner” and watch curiosity clicks roll in.

  2. says

    that last bit about turing tests and understanding puts me in mind of this: a recurring element of discourse with AI detractors is that a lot of them think some kind of awareness or understanding is a key component of creativity or the creation of art, or words. these AIs have me completely convinced that’s not true. but further, your article has me wondering this – is what we think of as understanding or awareness or sentience within ourselves even what we think it is? maybe our sentience was always an illusion, the trenchcoat containing a stack of ducks, and the ducks are just a bunch of messy software operations with no more profundity or meaning than an impermanent stack of driftwood on the beach.

  3. says

    this is very much tied to debates about animal intelligence and makes me feel much the same way. i’m feeling less special about the intelligence of humans, and much more like anything we like in humanity is something we can recreate – and probably improve – in a machine.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    once a day or thereabout I have a discussion with an AI that tells me about all the crazy neat stuff it has found on the internets that it knows I will like

    In the early 2000s I hoped that internet advertising would be there by now. Back then I came up with an idea that I had neither the skills nor the inclination to run with, and that it appears nobody else came up with: taste-dating, I called it. I figured it would work like the old pre-swiping dating websites – you create a profile, and fill out a hella-huge, never-ending questionnaire about your likes and dislikes. The “the algorithm” goes out and finds you some matches – people who like the same things you do.

    Except… it doesn’t introduce you to them. It doesn’t tell you who they are, or anything about them. What it does is say “you matched with member number 1767265845 to an accuracy of 99%… do you want to know what their other 1% of stuff is?”. To which my answer would be – take my money, hell yeah, anyone who likes 99% of the same stuff has me has presumably found some other stuff I’d like that I don’t know about yet – tell me more. And so there’s revenue stream number 1.

    And of course revenue stream number 2 is: here’s all the stuff they like that’s not on your list…. wanna buy it RIGHT NOW??? To which, again, yeah, probably, take my money.

    And finally of course revenue stream number three is “wanna know who this person is, where they’re from, what they look like, what their email address is?”… assuming they’ve given permission for that to be shared, of course, which y’know I wouldn’t, being married and stuff, but if you were single you could click the box marked “hook me up” and you could meet someone with the same tastes, maybe. But it would all start with the equivalent of “You haven’t seen The Princess Bride???“/”You haven’t read “The Player of Games???”/”You haven’t heard “Maggot Brain???”.

    I still think it would work, especially if you advertised it as “guaranteed NO AI, just actual humans and their tastes”. The trick would be keeping it free of bots and people trying to game it. But then that’s the trick to everything, right?

  5. david says

    “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) realized that they couldn’t fight this stuff because there was so much money behind it, so they avoided actually doing what they are supposed to do, namely make sure that things sold as medicine are effective.”

    The FDA is forbidden by law (championed by Orrin Hatch) from requiring nutriceuticals or dietary supplements to demonstrate evidence of efficacy.

  6. says

    Crip Dyke@#9:
    Do you read Janelle Shane of AI Weirdness? I love her stuff.

    I used to, but that was before I quit Xwitter. I’ll check and see if she’s on instagram or youtube, although I don’t know how much longer I will be able to bear those.

  7. says

    The FDA is forbidden by law (championed by Orrin Hatch) from requiring nutriceuticals or dietary supplements to demonstrate evidence of efficacy.

    Yup. It’s a great example of regulatory capture. Big alt-med buys a few congresspeople and -blam- the regulators are disempowered.

  8. says

    The “the algorithm” goes out and finds you some matches – people who like the same things you do.

    That was the original premise of OKCupid, which was (when it started out) actually kind of cool.
    I was single at the time, and it asked a whole bunch of questions about weird random stuff, that it would match your answers with other people, presumably with similar attitudes and differences, and you could review their answers and differences. Kinda neat! At the time I was feeling chatty and decided that I was going to answer each question with a short essay. I got several notes in the form of “the system says you are totally not my type but I have been sitting here for 20 minutes reading your answers and you seem like a person who has a lot of odd thoughts and experiences.” Well… yeah! It actually found me a few interesting people, one of whom I made a short motorcycle camping trip with because we both wanted to go visit the same place. Pretty cool!

    Nowadays I’m sure you know what the problem is: AIs! Something like 75% of the female profiles are actually AI-generated fictions cranked out in some data center in (?where?) The next step will be for someone to figure out what the inflection points of desirability are, and create crafted AI bait: “I’m a young ex-mormon living in an apartment in new york with my cat, and I consider myself a liberal gun nut anarchist but socially responsible about climate! I don’t want kids and I love to play Rimworld. My most prized possession is my second edition of Voltaire’s encyclopedia and my nambokucho-style tachi.” Uh, what? Since a lot of those sites don’t charge money for female profiles, it’s easy for the AIs to jam them in. Also, there were some rumors at various times that even some of the legit dating sites made the site more attractive by jamming a few AI pigeons into the mix, that you could exchange messages with but who would eventually tire of you and tell you they weren’t interested.

    Out of curiosity a while back I actually exchanged messages for a week with a scammer on instagram (who immediately wanted me to switch to telegram so they could get my contacts list) (which I had zeroized for the exercise) – it was … interesting but predictable and ultimately boring so I stopped wasting either of our time when “she” decided I must be interested in golf and I replied, “I’m sorry, I don’t even talk to people who play golf. Goodbye.” I got a few pictures of some random Chineseish woman with way too much plastic surgery, or horribly badly chosen facetune settings… Whee.

  9. says

    Great American Satan@#3:
    is what we think of as understanding or awareness or sentience within ourselves even what we think it is? maybe our sentience was always an illusion, the trenchcoat containing a stack of ducks, and the ducks are just a bunch of messy software operations with no more profundity or meaning than an impermanent stack of driftwood on the beach.

    Good question! I have had similar thoughts, in the context of “free will.” Like many skeptics, I don’t think that our default sensation of free will makes sense and I feel that our idea of free will is simply that we are meat robots that evolved a sense of decisions mattering because that has survival value. What if “deciding something” and “understanding something” are similar fictions? We are programmed to think we understand something because it works (if confidence_value > .9) { do something; dopamine++; }

    It makes me wonder if I could give GPT40 a picture by Jackson Pollock and ask it what it means. :)

  10. wearsbellsonlegs says

    I didn’t see anything in those prompts which mentioned a third nostril…

  11. says

    I didn’t see anything in those prompts which mentioned a third nostril…

    Yeah I noticed GPT40 didn’t mention it, so it didn’t come out in the prompted version.

    As tempting as it was to play with the prompt, I wanted to see how well the AI does at describing the contents of an image.

  12. flex says

    Lieutenant Guy sounds like a piece of work. HIs claims raise more questions.

    U.S. Navy, Judge Advocate General – Okay, so he was lawyer in the US Navy. Is he a practicing lawyer now? If he isn’t why not? If he is, then why doesn’t he say so? Does he recognize that republican voters would count that as a mark against him? If so, why do republican voters not like lawyers?

    Defended 3 Navy Seals after they were prosecuted – Okay, was that while you were in the service, so you assigned that task? What were these Navy Seals accused of? Was the defense successful? Did Obama himself really select these three Navy Seals to prosecute, or were they accused of violating something in the UCMJ?

    Locked up over 100 jihadists – On what evidence? Was that part of your job as a Navy lawyer, or did you seek them out privately and bring them to courts. I’m not saying jobs can’t be tough, but I don’t think US Navy JAG duty is really like a spaghetti western.

    Running for Congress again – So you lost at least one time already? Even though you are “1000% Pro-Trump” (How? Do you have a time machine? Nine identical twin brothers?), “Pro Border Wall” (the district you want to represent has borders with a foreign nation? I didn’t know Pennsylvania was that big!), and “Pro Law Enforcement” (That sounds nice, so you are for Trump being tried for all the crimes he’s accused of and there is evidence for? Or are you just really Pro-Cop?), it sounds like the voters have already found you to be unappealing. Maybe you should try another grift?

  13. xohjoh2n says

    So the takeaway is… that SD understands the concept of “left” in a picture better than GPT40 does?

    On the repeated coke/fentanyl mentions: I had a ticket to see a band about this time last year, but the guy got a perforated eardrum and on medical advice cancelled a bunch of the tour. Fair enough I thought, I can wait until the next tour. 6 months later and he’s dead of fentanyl poisoning… thought it was pure coke and it wasn’t.

    Cue this year and I have a ticket for another gig. The first support are good and I haven’t seen in year… but then they end up not playing after he broke his ankle during soundcheck. I’m wondering if I should try and warn him not to try any dodgy coke before I get to see them again…

  14. seachange says

    I checked and Pennsylvania does have a water border with Canada. :) I don’t think that’s Navy but Coast Guard?

  15. flex says

    That’s right! I forgot about Pennsylvania’s nipple, the tab which juts up to give it 75 miles of Lake Erie frontage.

    I guess Pennsylvania could build a wall, and bunkers and machinegun nests, to keep those pesky Canadians from crossing.

  16. Reginald Selkirk says


    Defended 3 Navy Seals after they were prosecuted…
    “1000% Pro-Trump”…
    “Pro Law Enforcement”

    Apparently Republicans have not realized that they cannot still claim to be “pro law enforcement” as long as they choose Mafia Don as their leader. But it would be too long-winded and tedious to explain that they are for the selective prosecution of the impoverished and non-white segments of society.

  17. Reginald Selkirk says

    @15 – the third nostril comment has already been taken, so I guess I’m done here.

  18. says

    I guess Pennsylvania could build a wall, and bunkers and machinegun nests, to keep those pesky Canadians from crossing.

    We could just send wanna-be representative Rambo up to patrol the border and make any Canadian invaders apologize.

  19. xohjoh2n says


    Aww, I thought it would be something like Lieutenant Colonel, and the poor fellow left before he could get promoted to full Guy.

  20. Jazzlet says

    Thanks a bunch Marcus, you’ve reminded me of the mug we found in our allotment shed next to the pile of wank mags. It feature a naked woman with a jiggly bust attached by wires -uurgh.

  21. witm says

    John Scalzi covered advertising things you actually want in “The Android’s Dream”

    “One of the great unwritten chapters of retail intelligence programming featured a “personal shopper” program that all-too-accurately modeled the shoppers’ desires and outputted purchase ideas based on what shoppers really wanted as opposed to what they wanted known that they wanted. This resulted in one overcompensatingly masculine test user receiving suggestions for an anal plug and a tribute art book for classic homoerotic artist Tom of Finland, while a female test user in the throes of a nasty divorce received suggestions for a small handgun, a portable bandsaw, and several gallons of an industrial solvent used to reduce organic matter to an easily drainable slurry. After history’s first recorded instance of a focus group riot, the personal shopper program was extensively rewritten.”

    I love that book, and that I think of that most times I see ads.

    I honestly cannot tell if the ad copy for Lt. Guy was written by a human, it seems so weirdly incoherent I more or less think it came out of a poorly trained language model. Admittedly I’m not a veteran, but that is not how those I have spoken with or listened to speak.

  22. says

    Do you remember Major Major Majors in Catch-22? I think i got that right. Or was it Lt Col Major? Argh now I have to run to the bookshelf.

    Also in Illuminatus there was Markoff Cheney who was a midget, and signed everything “The Mgt.” (doesn’t work as well anymore)

  23. Reginald Selkirk says

    Eric Trump Slammed For ‘Particularly Disgusting’ Memorial Day Weekend Post

    Eric, whose father is former President Donald Trump, shared another user’s post that featured a photo of the Trump family and the claim that they’d given up “everything to Save America.”

    “And we will do it again!” Eric wrote…

    All of Trump’s fail-sons have followed their father’s lead by not serving in the military. How would Lieutenant Guy respond th that? Probably by changing the subject.

  24. dangerousbeans says

    The way these image generation tools default to making women look so young except for the tits still really creeps me out

  25. xohjoh2n says


    3xMajor by birth, but accidentally promoted to 4xMajor by computer error, according to the wiki synopsis of the book. But then I’ve only seen the movie, and not amazingly recently, and I don’t remember those bits being in it. It’s just been bumped up my rewatch schedule a bit however.

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