"Before, there was a general consensus that surf stories were at least written by real human beings. No more!"
Revelations that Surfer magazine and its parent company The Arena group are employing AI bots to both curate and write content have rocked the tight-knit surf journalist community to its core.
What was once a proud, well-respected profession of learned scholars and literary giants has been infiltrated by insentient, ethically-blind copy farmers.
While the last decade or so has seen a rise in Nick Carroll’s “new sarcasm” generation, many hiding behind anonymous handles and pseudonyms to produce morally spurious content, there was a general consensus that the articles they were producing were at least written by real human beings.
But now, devastatingly realistic AI-generated avatars walk among us. Some borrow accredited human bylines to produce their work. Others are seemingly concocted from scratch; their entire online existence only a facsimile of a shadow of a soul’s echo.
This is to say there is now an existential crises among the international surf journalist scene. No longer do writers congregate in small editorial offices where they can smell, taste, touch their comrades. The world is now so dispersed, that many writers may go their entire career yet never even meet each other in the flesh.
Furtive glances shoot back and forth the digital divide amongst even well-established scribes as to who is real, who is not.
Indeed, some are so contorted, so self-consumed, they may even be questioning their own existence.
To answer this fundamental question, a new approach is required.
You may remember the Voight-Kampff test from the science fiction classic Bladerunner. It is set in a near-future dystopia where androids live amongst humans, indistinguishable only to the most discerning of eyes. In it, the The Voigt-Kampff Empathy Test is designed to determine androids from humans by articulating the subject’s ability to empathize; something still impossible for the artificial mind.
I propose here a similar test, designed to specifically target the surf journalist community, and determine once and for all which were born kicking and screaming into this world and which were created on a desktop somewhere in Silicon Valley.
A sample of questions below. Do you dream of electric sheep?
Question: You are offered a full-time writing position with a well-known surfing publication. It is secure, cushy, and handsomely remunerated. However, it does require you to forego certain editorial liberties when it comes to particular sponsors and surfers.
A. Refuse the offer and tell the bastards they’ll prise your independence from your cold, dead, amyl-nitrate stained hands; before reneging and re-accepting soon after receiving your next child support bill.
B. Accept the offer as long as you’re allowed to do key bumps before zoom meetings.
C. Accept the offer as long as you’re allowed to meet Gerry Lopez.
D. All of the above
Question: you receive an anonymous tip-off that the parent company of the publication you write for is bankrolling the development of a major hotel-marina in a developing country that will result in the destruction of a once-secret heaving reef slab. Keeping silent will mean you have to betray various moral and ethical boundaries you had committed to when you first became a surf journalist, but reporting the story will mean you lose your job.
A. Write the story, only to have it withheld at the last minute by a former friend who is now the COO of the mooted project. You have a fist fight at the hotel bar in front a group of bewildered tourists, blood flying across the room like a sprinkler under the summertime sun, before he finally forces you to sign an NDA feat. a handsome hush payment. You walk back to your hotel room, spitting crimson shaded teeth onto the tastefully-tiled walkway, wondering what your life has become, before immediately booking a four week trip to the Ments and three new Arakawas.
B. Withhold the story, accept shares in the new development, and marry one of the local women because at least they know how to treat a man right. Also, what’s an ethical boundary?
C. Not even consider doing the story, and instead write an article promoting the development titled ‘Top 5 outdoor sports for when the ocean waves are flat.’ Also, what’s a heaving reef slab?
D. All of the above
Question: You’re offered an opportunity to surf in Kelly Slater’s new Dubai Wave Pool as an official guest of the UAE government.
A. Tell that shiny-headed dilettante that he can take his environment-destroying, civil-liberty-depriving wavepool and shove it up his arse; without admitting you’re actually just scared of bogging a rail on your first turn.
B. Accept and wonder if this means you can now take on a harem.
C. Accept, as long as he can keep it on the intermediate setting.
D. All of the above.
If you answered:
Mostly A) You are indeed a living, breathing, grizzled surf journalist. You are free to continue raging against the machine while turning a blind eye where needed; your life a booze and pill-festooned monument to compromise. Hey, at least you still have that novel to work on.
Mostly B) You’re the best kind of surf journalist: an industry-embracing, grammar-eschewing advertorial hack who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about journalistic integrity. And why should you? It’s just fucken surfing after all. Ignorance is bliss.
Mostly C) You are an insentient, asinine, malignant copy-bot. Artificial unintelligence. The harbinger of humanity’s downfall. Or you might just work for The Inertia. Please report to me for further testing to determine where there’s a difference between the two.
Mostly D) You are Matt George. Keep shining bright, you crazy animal.