Where are we? The future is here – it’s just not sprinkled equally. So what happens after the future? We cannot relinquish our reasoned agency and hope to live freely in a future that will never be our own. We must shoulder the responsibility to think for ourselves.  A future that belongs to someone else is not freedom. Everyone should be guaranteed the broadest possible range of liberties. The struggle over the most effective way to secure equal rights and to improve the actual standard of living of the least well-off under the banner of social justice can only find a remedy from behind a Rawlsian “Veil of Ignorance.”

Freedom is not a matter of rights enshrined in law. All the law can say is that you can play your blue guitar – if you can afford one. Declarations of human rights offer only some of the ingredients from which liberty is forged. Notwithstanding the savagery of war, inherited inequality, and intergenerational immobility, the metaphoric imagination has never stopped giving new scope to the hope of a progressive future.

The public manifestation in acts of faith that surface in the creations of the avant-garde who favour new and experimental ideas and methods stand out, especially in AI. It is necessary to craft indigenous policies for local creative industries and the economics of heritage to enable states to harvest the benefits of AI, and stave off the threats it poses. A mythology of the future interlaced with notions of utopia remains central to the liveliness of the present era.

9/11 ended the last utopia in depression and despair. Then the pandemic portal fashioned a change of light that produced virtual life and actual death, ghosts in AI-Assemblages, and edited life. A new utopia has mushroomed: cyberculture, which has given way to the imagination of the global mind, and hyper-connectivity. A network of incorporeal infrastructure that is a fusion of advances in AI, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), Web3, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, 3D printing, and cloud computing. A perfect storm of data embassies, data lakes, AI-Assemblages, and Wetware companies that sell DNA, enzymes, proteins, and cells is reciting a new story of the Origins of Humanity.

FKA Twigs, a British singer and actress, has created a digital clone of herself using AI. Her Deepfake is trained in her mannerisms and can communicate in French, Korean, and Japanese using her exact tone of voice. She plans to use the clone to extend her reach by having “AI twigs” handle social media interactions, giving her more time to work in the solace of her studio. She has noticed songs that are collaborations with her and other artists which she never made. This is due to the increasing use of AI to steal artists’ voices and likenesses.

In the UK, The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music is considering legislation to protect Creative Industries members from misappropriation. This law will ban AI-generated Deepfakes in the UK and will protect creatives from the risk of AI becoming a destroyer of creators’ lives and livelihoods. The Parliamentary group has underscored the power of AI to be a force for good in helping musicians to innovate and inspire human creativity.

With stealth and secrecy, AI startups are negotiating to pay for content locked behind paywalls and login screens. This hidden trade is built around everything from chat logs to long-forgotten images on disremembered social media apps. This has spawned a new industry of dedicated AI data firms specializing in securing rights to real-world content like podcasts, short-form videos, and cultural heritage like the Trinidad Carnival, while also building networks of short-term contract workers to produce custom visuals and voice samples in conflict zones.

What has emerged is akin to an Uber-esque gig economy for data. Firms like Defined.ai now license data to various companies and is a leading digital marketplace, where AI professionals can commission, buy, or sell AI training data, tools, or models. This fresh data market rests on billions of dollars of content in the gold rush to dominate generative AI technology. The data land grab comes as makers of big generative AI models await “Regulation”, and struggle to account for training data used to build existing models.

Of the top 100 startups in AI, over 65% are based in the US, though some have dual headquarters in other jurisdictions. Growth in AI investment in US-based firms has been steady since 2012, reaching $42B in 2020 (57% of the global total). In the US, there are about 23,209 AI startups. Investment in Chinese firms experienced a spike in 2017 and 2018, followed by a plummet in 2019, representing $17B in 2020.

In the UK, about 3,170 AI companies have generated £10.6B in AI-related revenue. These companies have employed more than 50,000 people, generating about £3.7B in Gross Value Added, and have attracted £18.8B in Venture Capital (VC) in AI since 2016. In Israel, there are about 1,597 AI startups with about US$11B in private investment. The future is here, but its distribution is unequal. It needs investment, regulation, and protection.