Note: This post contains some spoilers about the online program Singularity Now! If you are currently in the program or want to be in the program and don’t want to ruin the fun, don’t read this post
Singularity Now! is a mysterious and multi-step preparedness program to get you ready for the inevitable dominance of our species by artificial intelligence.
It was originally supposed to be a band and still might be in the future. But the pandemic hit and things had to go online for a while. My friend Todd Mein was broadcasting a show for Fusebox Festival and invited people to make fake commercials it. I made two for Singularity Now.
Here’s the first one that aired.
Here’s the second:
No further explanation was given during the show and Todd didn’t acknowledge them.
If they did find their way to the website, they would encounter a secret page with another video with a little more information:
The online vision was this:
- Subscribers to the Eureka Room newsletter would be invited to join the program. I, as myself, act as intermediary to “Unknown Forces”.
- Interested individuals would signup via the intake form.
- Once accepted into the program, they would be sent a password and be told that there would be a hidden URL in a video shared in the next Eureka Room newsletter. They would then go to the URL and enter the password to get to the next step.
- Each step required some “preparation work” to be done by the participants. In order to get the next password they had to submit sufficient work.
- Then another video would go out, etc etc.
This plan seemed relatively simple, but I created a load of logistical issues for myself on the backend. Here’s just some things I ran into:
People couldn’t find the link in the videos.
Sometimes because they couldn’t see it. Sometimes because the Eureka Room video went to spam. Here’s one of the videos. Can you find it?
Ok, that one was a little easy. How about this one?
I didn’t know what people were doing/seeing/experiencing.
When people didn’t submit the preparations I wasn’t sure if it was because they weren’t interested, didn’t get it, or just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I eventually had to make a “Help” page, but managing that was hard because it was hard to help someone at a higher level withouth someone at a lower level maybe seeing spoilers when they were on the page.
The participants were just a subset of the Eureka Room list.
I couldn’t send a newsletter to a segment of the Eureka Room list like I had assumed (due to being at the free tier of my newsletter service) so had to either spam the whole list sending them messages that didn’t concern them or email the participants through gmail, which meant losing the the nice formatting of the newsletter.
Since the Singularity page was just “out there”, anyone could find it. So I had people sign up that weren’t on the Eureka Room newsletter at all. I had to add them to the Eureka Room newsletter so they could get the emails, which I’m sure was confusing to them.
Making videos is time consuming.
Making videos always takes longer than I think. I really underestimated this time.
Physically Mailing Things Is Not Simple
One of the first steps was for me to physically mail them something. One of the original 30 participants lived in Australia. I tried to mail it to them but it never got there, possibly due to the pandemic. Also I had been wanting to setup a video conference with the group once they made it to a certain level. Having people in different timezones made finding a time very difficult.
Mailing stuff turned out to be time consuming. I had to make all the envelopes up, buy the things to send, print notes out, get the addresses organized, etc. It was relatively costly, too.
Managing Late Joiners
There were some late-joiners I had to manage individually as they went through the levels. In fact, it turns out each person had to have individual attention. If they dropped off at some point I had to followup with them. If they completed a task that everyone else had finished, then I had to email them the information individually.
Way too many artifacts were created. I had multiple google forms, form results, landing pages, videos, soundtracks, graphics, and newsletters to manage.
If I had already sent a newsletter out, anyone that submitted the previous step afterward would possibly be looking at the *next* email instead of the last one.
By Design, The Best Parts Were Hidden.
Perhaps the most rewarding thing about the program was seeing what people had submitted. But I had not developed a way to share these within the group or possibly to the public (which might have attracted new participants)
If I had to update the videos (they were on youtube), then a new link was generated. If I already had sent that link out in a newsletter, then it no longer worked for people.
What I Fixed.
- I ended up creating a whole separate Mailchimp newsletter account for Singularity Now!, which took a chunk of time to setup and decide how it would be presented so as not to confuse with the Eureka Room newsletter. I also had to get on my hosting provider and create a new email account and then set that up to check via gmail. It probably took 8 hours just to do this.
- I decided “No more mailing stuff”. At least not until I could find a way to make this project would pay for itself.
- I made all the results of the google forms dump onto separate tabs of the same google sheet. This saved some confusion.
- I created a “help” page so people could find the right link to the right video.
How It Ended
I had planned about 10 levels but sadly, around level five I was down to about 5 remaining participants. The ROI on this (current implementation) had sunk so low we either needed to get more people in or just end the thing.
I created a preparation level to “get other people to join and make it to level two”. So either we get this thing growing or I scare them all off.
I scared them all off. Sad face.
So What Did Work?
The program wasn’t without some wins for me. Here’s the main ones:
- Google forms is a fun medium to play with.
- The videos came out nice and I learned more about creating them, even if they took a lot of time.
- The photos people sent in were great to see.
If I Did A Singularity 2.0 Program
If I was going to take this on again, here’s some things I would do to make it easier and a better experience for me and everyone involved:
- Find out what the current participants liked/didn’t and why they quit or kept going. Also ask advice for what else we could do.
- Create a place where participants can share and commment on each others’ creations.
- Somehow segregate what people can see based on what level they have achieved.
- I need to make sure people don’t just “find out the password” and jump a level up. Their ability to submit a level should be based on having the password AND some backend account verification that they have completed the preceding level.
- The “link hidden in the video” idea was my way of forcing me to make new videos. This worked decide if this is good for the program.
- Figure out the relationship between Singularity Now and The Eureka Room.
- Eliminate the physical mailing of stuff. Or at least not make it the first step. There’s huge attrition on the first step so it was a lot of wasted effort by me. (Though, on the other hand it signalled that I had committment to them which might have gotten them to take it more seriously and continue).
- Possibly tell them there are 10 levels to let them know that it is not endless and that there is an ultimate goal you are working toward.
- Automate the manual work I was doing, including:
- I judge submissions
- I mark that they have passed
- I notify them they have passed and give the password.
- I hookup the landing page, the form on the page, and the password.
- I send out the newsletter with the next video in it (ideally, this would be sent out individually, a couple days after someone received the password. )
Many of the headaches might be fixed if there was a way to automate the verification of submissions and the notification of passwords and videos. It’s possible that there’s something out there that will do this already but I haven’t looked into it.
I don’t see this attracting a lot of people anytime soon so I’m leaving on the shelf for now.