Taylor Swift is TIME magazine's 2023 "Person of the Year."
Editor's Note: Holly Thomas is a writer and editor based in London. She is a morning editor at Katie Couric Media. Tweet on @HolstaT.
(CNN) -- Taylor Swift is Time's 2023 "Person of the Year," and apparently, I'm the only millennial woman on Earth who doesn't relate.
Okay, that's an exaggeration. But since the announcement, it seems as if a specific corner of Spotify Wrapped has been bitten by a radioactive spider and acquired superhuman powers.
- Taylor Swift is Time magazine's person of the year
I'm happy for her, I guess. I have nothing against a seemingly nice person having a good time, and there's no denying that he's had a stellar year. As Time details, Swift has landed more No. 1 albums than any other woman in history, world leaders are begging her to tour their countries, and she has reportedly become a billionaire. "Swift is the rare person who is both the writer and the heroine of her own story," says Time. That's all well and good. But I don't find that story particularly compelling.
Wow, I feel so petty. I'm well aware that this will upset people, and I would never want to steal anyone's joy. We've all had conversations with people who just don't "get" the music or TV we like. Normally, my response to those complaints is, "It's okay, it's not made for you." But part of what bothers me is the sense that Swift, and the stories she tells through her music, are basically aimed at me. If you were to put me next to everyone I know who is ecstatic about their success, you wouldn't tell me apart. But I don't swallow. It's not because I think there's anything wrong with her. If anything, my choice for Time's "Person of the Year" would be more problematic.
Historically, the recipient of the title has often been a provocateur. The idea is not necessarily that the "best" person wins, although this has certainly been the case at times, but that the person who has had the most influence, "for better or worse," during the previous 12 months is recognized. Past winners include Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Greta Thunberg, Martin Luther King Jr., and Elon Musk. This year's shortlist included Hollywood strikers, China's President Xi Jinping, Barbie, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump prosecutors, King Charles III and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. Time ended up naming Altman CEO of the year. I think he should have taken the top title.
In case you're not already familiar with it, Altman is the 38-year-old CEO of OpenAI, the tech startup responsible for the creation of ChatGPT. ChatGPT is a revolutionary generative AI chatbot that was launched in November 2022. Since then, he has amazed observers by passing exams in law and business schools, writing job applications and effective computer code, and composing part of a political speech for Israel's president.
The implications of this technology are both miraculous and terrifying, especially considering the potential for disinformation campaigns to influence the 2024 presidential election. In addition to OpenAI, many companies are vying for a share of the lucrative artificial intelligence market and developing increasingly sophisticated systems. Although the Biden administration has just introduced a law to regulate this rapidly expanding sector, the pace of development is so rapid that governments are finding it difficult to keep up.
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The mystery and speed of the AI race were laid bare in November, when, less than a year after ChatGPT's launch, Altman was suddenly fired by his company's board of directors. A few days later, Microsoft, OpenAI's largest shareholder, announced that it was hiring Altman to lead a new AI team. This sparked a massive revolt among OpenAI's staff, almost all of whom threatened to resign unless Altman was rehired. A few days later they did, and the board that had fired him was replaced.
The circumstances of Altman's firing and rehiring were very murky. In the statement announcing his firing, the original board accused Altman of "a lack of openness in his communications," but did not explain what that meant. Even more worryingly, Altman's return and OpenAI's restructuring have been characterized as a victory for AI "accelerationists" — those who believe that the technology should be developed as quickly as possible, without limitations for security reasons. The episode proved that Altman was not only capable of spearheading the potentially most important invention of the 21st century to date. He was able to disrupt the ecosystem that created him in a matter of days.
This, I think, is what Swift lacks as Time's "Person of the Year." Its dominance in the entertainment sector is undeniable, but its story is essentially that of becoming mega-successful within an existing framework. As she told Time, we live in a patriarchal society fueled by money, so "for women's ideas to be lucrative means more women's art will be made." It's not a million miles away from "if you can't handle them, join them."
The impression that no one foresees any controversy from Swift in the short term was reinforced in November when Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the United States, hired Swift's first correspondent. The journalist in question, 35-year-old Bryan West, is an avowed admirer. While it may seem odd to some to hire someone with such an obvious bias, West has argued that it's no different from "being a sports journalist who is a fan of the home team." Whether or not you agree with that comparison, it's undeniable that it's in his professional interest that Swift remains popular and relevant, and it doesn't seem likely that the appetite for stories about her is going to wane anytime soon.
That's why Altman, not Swift, should have been Time's "Person of the Year." Its impact on the world could be exponentially more important, but not enough people know about it or know the implications of its technology. Swift's every move, no matter how fortuitous, is the subject of feverish intrigue and speculation. In San Francisco, Altman is making moves that could change the fate of the world. And until a month ago, most of us didn't even know it existed.
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