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AI Isn’t Intelligent Until You And I Say So

A robot using artificial intelligence is displayed at a stand during the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva, on May 30, 2024. Humanity is in a race against time to harness the colossal emerging power of artificial intelligence for the good of all, while averting dire risks, a top UN official said. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about blogging gone wrong, 18-game football seasons, motorcycles, free shit, and more.

Your letters:


The female AI and Alexa and Siri voices annoy me. So calm and soothing. I want a MALE AI voice. I want the voice of a very belligerent and surly dude who is HIGHLY upset that I've interrupted him to tell him to tell the ice maker in the fridge to pour out some cubes for me while queueing up "All Star" by Smashmouth. How deranged does this make me?

That doesn’t make you deranged, it just means that you’re too lazy to check the settings on your phone. You can, indeed, have a male Siri if you want. He can even have a South African accent, if you want him to sound like a villain from Lethal Weapon 2. But I’ve fucked around with different voice options in the past—most notably when I used Shaq as my Waze voice assistant—and none of them are any less enraging.

Most automated voices are female by default, owing to reasons steeped in biology and, no surprise, the western world's history of industrial sexism. The average human responds more favorably to a female voice, because mommy, and so our tech overlords want Siri/Alexa to be your digital mommy, performing rote tasks that daddy is too important to concern himself with. You can fight the power by seeking out a male assistant instead, but you won’t be any more soothed to hear a robot man going, “Sorry, I didn’t get that … please choose from the following menu options.” Trust me, shoddy AI is annoying in virtually any form. Even when it has no voice at all. Even when it’s just a shitty, written answer to something you just tried to Google.

Because why do you really hate these voices? It’s because they’re not human, and because you know that they’ve been put in place specifically to keep you from talking to another human. If the voice on the other end of the exchange were more human, then you’d be more forgiving. This is why every tech company is falling over themselves to get into the AI business. The front-facing AI product is, right now, garbage. It doesn’t even deserve the name “AI” because, in my opinion, having “intelligence” should mean having ideas of your own and being able to discern which of your ideas are good or bad.

They can’t do that, which means that AI’s present value is rooted primarily in background shit: sorting data, solving complex math problems at high speed, professional training simulations, and other shit. This capability is what allows companies, at least if you ask the people in charge, to reduce staff by X percent while maintaining quality control. The stock goes up, people get rich, Bob’s your uncle. The fantasy of AI is that one day it’ll cross over the uncanny valley and become an android you end up marrying. That’s when billions become trillions. But, as long as the average voice assistant still thinks I want to Google search for “Hüsker Dü” rather than actually listen to the fucking band, it’ll remain just a fantasy.


There was a distinct backlash against something in the recent Funbag, with Drew's joke on male childcare workers. So, the question is, when do you think a response to backlash is warranted? I think the ethos of "Don't feed the trolls" is important, but as public-ish people how do you feel moments like this should be handled? To be clear, I'm not looking for an apology or response, but seeing the backlash made me curious how you guys feel about it when these things happen.

Lemme get into the insurrection that took place in the comment section of my post last week. For those that weren’t around, here’s the paragraph that triggered a thousand-comment pileup:

All things being equal, I’m always suspicious of grown men around children. That said, you’d be surprised how willing I was to abandon such fears when my kids were little and someone else was willing to take them off of my hands for me. Parenting made me tired, cranky, and hungry. In that state, a stranger with candy was a fucking godsend. You mean this guy is gonna take my kid in his van and then drop her off a week later? Where do I sign? So while I understand David’s friends being reticent to leave their toddler in the care of an unknown man, space at a decent preschool is indeed at a premium. You gotta hop on that shit if it’s there. Practicality will make monsters of us all.

That’s insulting to male caregivers, who are both capable and legion. It’s also insulting to the ladies for insinuating that only they should be allowed to perform such work. I tossed that paragraph out without much, if any, forethought. Just your standard “guys are sketchy!” half-joke, but A) Half-jokes suck, and B) I wrote that particular half-joke with atomic imprecision, enough to hurt a lot of readers’ feelings. In turn, they hurt mine right back. When that happened, my gut internal response was your typical, “No, it’s the children who are wrong” shit. Then, same as when a loved one points out one of my fuck-ups, I grudgingly accepted that I was the one in the wrong, and then got annoyed at myself for pissing off you guys. I was the offender. I don’t get to decide if the blowback on me was over the top or not. I can only take it, and it’s never fun.

Because, and this is true, I consider readers my friends, and have ever since I started blogging back in the mid-aughties. You hear a lot about parasocial online relationships, where a reader will have an internal dialogue with a famous (or at least, in my case, well known) person that the famous person is often never aware of. But I’ve never really accepted that idea. I built my entire career online. The first time I met anyone else who works at this site was online. Ditto pretty much everyone else I’ve ever worked with in journalism. And every time I meet a reader out in the wild, I feel like I already know them, and vice versa. It’s genuinely thrilling every time, and it makes me feel like I have a friend anywhere I go. That’s why I love this job so much. I try to keep you and me on the same level, because writing, at least for me, is about connecting with other people. If it has to be through a screen, so be it.

So when that connection gets disrupted, it feels personal because it is. I’ve gone through the wringer plenty of other times for shit I’ve written, but most of those onslaughts came from outside the locker room. I duck and cover, wait for the trolls to find a new victim, and then exhale. That's not quite as easy to do, or as advisable, when the people who are pissed at me are the same people I write for week after week … people who are actively paying to read my shit, and then paying extra to comment on it. When someone I love is angry with me, all I wanna do is figure out a way to make them like me again. That’s been true ever since I was a kid, and it remains so as a working professional. That’s a bit pitiful coming from the Why Your Team Sucks guy, but it’s also hardly surprising that I’m the type of person who’s eager to be adored. I was the last of three kids, after all.

To that end, all I can do right now is say it flatly: I was wrong, and I apologize. I hope we can be cool again, because it means as much to me as it does (I hope) to you. I suppose I could also apologize for counting “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a power ballad, but I was always gonna get shit for that list. Really I just wanted an excuse to talk hair metal.


With the murmurs already that Goodell and the league want to move to 18 games, isn't it inevitable they'll push for 20? This was why it was dumb of the players to ever agree to 17 games to begin with. There are still three more pretty much useless preseason games on the board. You know the league wants to make those more profitable. What's the o/u on number of years until 20 game seasons? 15 years? 10? 

I don’t buy that 18 games is happening anytime before the current CBA expires in 2031, because the union would have to be down with it. They won’t be. The only reason the NFL has a 17-game season now is because De Smith negotiated it in return for an increase in the players' revenue split, plus a few extra goodies. Despite insane rises in the salary cap on a near annual basis, not every player was wild about the tradeoff. They’re the ones who have to play all these games. They’re the ones who need a medevac helicopter just to get out of bed every Monday morning.

Smith is gone now, and new executive director Lloyd Howell knows that the 17-game season barely passed muster with his rank and file, and that an 18-game season is, in the language of the current deal, expressly forbidden. It’s not just a matter of swapping out one week of preseason games for another regular-season slate, because starters virtually never play in the preseason anymore. Seventeen games stretch teams thin, and 18 would break them without significant roster expansion. You’d end up with every NFL season as a war of attrition, not unlike the NHL and NBA in certain years.

NFL owners almost always get what they want, so I wouldn’t be that shocked if they hornswoggle the NFLPA into 18 games for another fat cut of money. But they’ll probably have to lock the players out to get it. They would certainly have to for 20. So this is naïve, but I doubt I live to see a 20-game regular season unless they simply outlaw tackling, which every Defense Wins Championships fan thinks is all but inevitable but I do not.



I recently got upgraded to first class. Nothing fancy, a two-hour domestic flight. I passed on drink service (too early for Miller Time, and I had a coffee and water bottle with me). Dude next to me helpfully informed me everything is free in first. When I opted out of their terrible free lunch, he got REALLY incredulous. Is there a societal expectation on maxing out freebies, or is he just a weird dickhead, or both?

Young me would have also been floored that you didn’t use those two hours to get as drunk as humanly possible on someone else’s dime. From ages 18–30ish, I considered free booze to be the single most important amenity that any business could provide a customer. And if a wedding had a cash bar, I was ready to storm the altar (this is still kinda true). I’m sure part of this was because I was hard-up for money, but it was also because I was conditioned, as an American, to take anything I could for as long as I could. That’s the default American mindset.

So yes, there’s a certain expectation that you, fellow citizen, will avail yourself of free swag whenever you have the opportunity. But it’s also a dipshit move if you start actively bullying strangers into drinking a Bloody Mary on a Tuesday morning flight to Dallas. The truly patriotic move is for your fellow passengers to ask if THEY can have your free shit if you don’t want it.

Speaking of which, I took my youngest to H Mart the other day. When the kid does good, he gets a special trip to H Mart as his reward. We went to one that was a little bit farther away than our usual one, because it has a ramen bar he likes. This H Mart also had free samples, and lemme tell you: there are regular grocery samples, and then there are H Mart samples. I squeal with joy whenever I see either, but the latter samples take me to paradise. All hail the H.


What song do you think you know all the lyrics to that most people would think is completely ridiculous? For me, it would be “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something. Memorized it when I was 10 and have not forgotten it since.

I too know the lyrics to that song mostly because the Colby football team would blast it in the locker room after any victory. That’s as lame a victory song as you’ll ever hear, but it did the dirty work of making Deep Blue Something part of my permanent mental inventory. I fucking hate it, but that’s hardly the only bad song (or at least, a song that I never listen to as a matter of choice) that I have committed to memory.

Take “Vogue” by Madonna. That’s a good song (with an even better video, courtesy of Madonna and director David Fincher), and I respect Madonna’s catalog so much more now that I’m a grown adult than I did back when I was 6 years old and screaming at girls on the school bus to stop singing “Borderline” all the time. But I never went out of my way to listen to “Vogue” on my own. That hasn’t mattered. Every day, it’s in my head. I look around and everywhere I turn is heartache. It’s ev-ery-where that I gooooooooo. Same deal with “Wild Thing” by Tone Loc, “Angry Again” by Megadeth(???), and “Don’t Be Cruel” by Bobby Brown. Young minds are just that impressionable. I try to swap those songs out for Kvelertak anytime I can, but my brain is only so intact. Also they don’t speak English.


Can we talk for a minute about motorcycles? Every summer, I look forward to enjoying time outside only to be assaulted with the loudest noise on earth. Ah yes, this lovely little outdoor cafe would be a great place to have a nice peaceful lunch... BRRRAAAUUUMMM!!! I'm sure motorcycles are fun and all, but can we please discuss their obnoxiousness?

I live next to a highway, and late at night you can hear growl of motorcycles going over 100 mph on the Beltway. Local rumor is that these are off-duty cops racing each other for shits and giggles, which is somehow one of the LEAST offensive things that our Police-Americans enjoy doing. Either way, the sound isn’t terribly pleasant, nor was it pleasant when I lived on First Avenue in Manhattan and was treated to the occasional Harley going by. HOWEVER, that mild irritation is about as much NIMBY rage as I can muster at the average hog, given that the roar goes away fairly quickly, and given that motorcycles are cool.

But souped-up vanity trucks? That’s another story. Send all of those pricks to supermax. No one’s gonna suck your dick just because your F-250 Super Duty has a nitro boost.


I'm your age. When I was in junior high and high school, I thought U2 was the greatest band ever. When I was in my 20s, that honor went to Radiohead. Keep in mind, that this manner of fandom wasn't just, "Oh hey, I like a band." It was more like, "Holy shit, I have never loved a band more or will ever love another band this much as long as I live." I still listen to music, I still get into bands, and I'll still go back and listen to stuff from the 90s and the 2000s. But I don't really regard any one band as my favorite, let alone the Greatest of All Time. Do you think that's a natural consequence of getting older, or is that because the music industry has changed so much?

It's a mix of all that. You get older and you inevitably get more jaded. Nothing feels quite as intense as it does as when you’re younger because you don’t have an ocean of hormones running through your system. And yeah, the fact that you can find any band just by tapping on your phone robs that artist of the kind of mystique that came standard with the old way of doing things: buying physical albums, standing in line for concerts, waiting for songs terrestrial radio or MTV to play songs you like. That kind of scarcity can make any band feel more special. Then again, a million Taylor Swift fans would tell you that nothing in 2024 has muffled their current obsession.

As for me, I still have precious moments where I’ll hear a song for the first time and feel like it’s the only song I’ll ever need to listen to for the rest of my life. That happened to me with “I Get Wet” back at the turn of the century, but it’s happened more recently for me with The Amazons, The Struts, A, The Smile, Autechre, the aforementioned Kvelertak, QOTSA, White Reaper, and Electric Callboy. That’s why a lot of us still listen to music, right? To get that sense of infatuation. It’s not something you can force, but is something you can feel if you’re willing to do a bit of digging. Also, it helps if you have a wife and children who don’t share your taste in music, because then the artists you like feel more like a naughty secret you get to keep to yourself. Like they wrote songs for you and only you. That’s where the magic happens. To that end, I’m gonna play some Amazons for myself:


Do Yankees fans have less facial hair than fans of other teams because they hold themselves to the same standard as their team? 

I’ve seen Yankees fans out in the wild and don’t agree with you that they eschew facial hair. Quite the contrary. Nearly all of them are very hairy babies, and they have roughly as much regard for personal hygiene as they do black motorists. That’s why they like the Steinbrenner family’s no-facial-hair rule, even though it’s the stupidest in-house rule of any sports team on this continent. It’s because that rule lends a veneer of class to an organization, and its fanbase, that is richly undeserved. Your average Yankees fan thinks they’re Frank Sinatra when they’re really Andrew Dice Clay after a lobotomy. The mustache ban helps them maintain that illusion even though they’re all filthy pigs. Pigs, I tell you! And Brian Cashman is a fucking fraud! And John Sterling was never that good! You people live a pathetic lie! I hope AI replaces all of you in the near future!


Which city is least deserving of its airport, and which airport is least deserving of its city? For example, Detroit has a tremendous airport, but the city leaves something to be desired. On the other hand, O'Hare is a nightmare but the city of Chicago is pretty great.

Some people will defend O’Hare, but I’m not one of them. It’s lightyears away from downtown Chicago and your connecting gate is always an hourlong walk from your current gate. But O’Hare DOES have fat benches you can lie down on in the main terminal, which gives it a leg up over my choice for the worst airport/best city honor: LAX. No one likes LAX. Ask around. L.A. is my favorite city in the Unites States, but using LAX to get there is about as fun as downing a bottle of castor oil.

Just fly into Burbank, Drew!

I would, but Expedia tells me to go fuck myself whenever I try to do that. Honorable mention to SeaTac and the Philly airport, both of which look like they haven’t been renovated since 1971.

As for the other side of the question, it’s Raleigh-Durham, or any other tiny-ass airport. Small airports are gold, even if they dump you off in the middle of Trumpistan. When the TSA checkpoint is just an old dude hanging out on a stool chatting up a line of no more than two people, I know I’m in good hands.


I finished last in my Fantasy Football League last season. The league is having a watch party for the first round on Thursday Night at someone's house. He has a sauna. My punishment? I have to eat a meal from Long John Silvers in the sauna and finish it while in there. I'll have plenty of water, but it’s gonna be awful. We need a new punishment for next season. It's still early but do you have any ideas for next season's punishment because I'm NOT coming in last again and I want someone else to suffer like I'm going to. Thanks! 

I am wayyyyyyy too old to ever participate in any fantasy league that includes a bunch of ceremonial frat boy shit. It’s too much effort, and I don’t wanna be on the losing end of some goofy-ass punishment. But if you’re gonna go the full bro, then I say that the loser has to consume every Aaron Rodgers podcast appearance for a full month. And then chug a bottle of Everclear.


I have an old dog and a young dog who are both having trouble holding their pee until they get outside. I've cleaned so much pee that I can now smell the difference between the two dogs. I think it absolutely sucks that this is a skill I have. I don't know what the human brain's carrying capacity is for talents and/or useful skills but it's bullshit that this is something I can do well. Do you have any talents that you’re ashamed or embarrassed to have?

I am very good at treating my own anal fissures. It’s not that I’m ashamed of this, it’s more that it’s not something I enjoyed having to learn.

Email of the week!

It's Friday and I'm bored. Do members of bands put on their own music in the background while having sex? Does the answer change if it's a famous band/niche act/local band? Does it depend on their instrument or role in the band? I started thinking about this as an extension of the previous Funbag discussion of Power Ballads, as this seems very on brand for many of those acts. But now I'm wondering if Yo-Yo Ma sets the mood at home with his own stuff.

It'd be cool if Yo-Yo Ma had enough game to pull that kinda shit off. Regardless, I believe that just about every famous musician has fucked to their own catalog. I’ve been in the studio with these people. They fucking LOVE their own shit, and they love power moves in the bedroom. I doubt that R. Kelly committed heinous sex crimes to any other music but his own.

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