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June 10, 2024 56 mins

Atlanta's water disaster prompts a conversation about the conspiracies that led to it and the larger threat of crumbling infrastructure across the US. Google's AI search is pretty terrible. One company may be to blame for America's soaring rent prices. All this and more in this week's strange news segment.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
From UFOs to psychic powers and government conspiracies. History is
riddled with unexplained events. You can turn back now or
learn this stuff they don't want you to know. A
production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:24):
Hello, welcome back to the show. My name is Matt, my.

Speaker 3 (00:26):
Name is Noel.

Speaker 4 (00:27):
They call me Ben. We're joined as always with our
super producer Alexis code named Doc Holliday Jackson. Most importantly,
you are you. You are here. That makes this the
stuff they don't want you to know. It is the
top of the week mid June, if you can believe
it or not. Fellow conspiracy realists, This means we return

(00:48):
with strange news for you and a couple of quick
updates before we get into our stories today. Welcome back Noel,
Barcelona Brown.

Speaker 5 (00:59):
Oh Man a new nickname. I feel like I earned it.
A bunch of.

Speaker 6 (01:05):
PAIAI yeah, and other other delicacies. It was really cool.
It's a beautiful city. Got to see I mean, don't
you guys.

Speaker 5 (01:13):
I'm sure aware of the Segrata Familia, which is this
insane goudy design church that's been under construction for one
hundred years and it's the most stuff they don't want
you to know church I.

Speaker 6 (01:25):
Could ever possibly imagine.

Speaker 5 (01:26):
It feels like a temple constructed by some ancient race
of aliens. It is otherworldly, to say the least. That
was pretty one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

Speaker 4 (01:36):
Oh, safe travels, and welcome back. Right, We're looking forward
to hearing of these adventures. Everybody missed you. We also
have some updates. It turns out witness tampering is having
a moment.

Speaker 6 (01:50):
Everybody.

Speaker 4 (01:51):
Please remember, if jury duty ever seems like a pain
in the keyaster, somebody might show up with a bag
of one hundred and twenty grand and just you know,
ask a vote according to your conscience.

Speaker 2 (02:02):
And they'll say, hey, there's more if you do it right.

Speaker 4 (02:05):
Also, a couple of a couple of certain presidents, this
is like talking about laws about Russia. A couple of
certain presidents, whomever they may be, have gotten in some
witness things. We wanted to start today with a timely update,
or start this evening. I should say we are a
nighttime show. Earlier we reported on the somewhat inspiring story

(02:28):
of a serial slingshot band. It A lot of you
reached out over the interim, over the weekend, and so on,
and said, gave us this update, which we thought was important.

Speaker 2 (02:40):
Yeah, this is one of those situations where we record
a story then the day we record it. Later in
the day more news breaks. So on Tuesday May twenty eighth,
the person we were discussing, a man named Prince King,
was arrested, and he does the eighty one year old
man who was accused of terrorizing Azusa, which is that

(03:02):
neighborhood in California. He pled guilty to several counts of vandalism.
He was released and he was ordered to stay two
hundred yards away from anyone or anything that he had
shotted with his sling. And then the next day, on Wednesday,
May twenty ninth, he died in a private residence.

Speaker 5 (03:25):
It's like it's like he had nothing left to live
for once they'd taken away his swing shot or the.

Speaker 4 (03:31):
Fact being taken in disrupted his medication regimen.

Speaker 6 (03:35):
Oh well, that's also possible.

Speaker 2 (03:37):
He had a number of ailments, according to ABC News
and The Guardian, who both reported on this in several
other places, he had a heart condition, a nerve issue
in his leg and back, and he was allowed to
go home. One of the reasons he was like going
home was to get those medications you're referring to Ben.

Speaker 4 (03:54):
So we wanted to give wanted to give that update
at the top. Are we are aware of it, and
we wish his friends and family, you know, the best.
We're holding you in our thoughts.

Speaker 5 (04:04):
Kind of say, though, guys, heart condition plus seeming thrill seeker,
mischief maker and odd combination. The very very interesting fellow
the Ricky and Elliott over Internet Today conjectured that the
timing might be just about right for him to have
been fully inspired by the original Dennis the Menace.

Speaker 2 (04:24):
Oh okay, that makes sense.

Speaker 4 (04:26):
Say, and we'll be right back with some more strange news.
And we've returned. This is the actual start of the show.
So if you live in the fair metropolis of insert

(04:47):
US city name here, then your infrastructure has problems. There
are very few exceptions to this rule. This hit Atlanta
in particular on Friday in the early morning of just
a few days ago. As we record, on the evening
of Wednesday, June fifth, Atlanta's overburdened, underserved under maintenance water

(05:15):
system broke and it left thousands of people with no water,
low water pressure, and unsafe drinking water. And as this occurred,
a domino effect of feedback loop went into play because
when one pipe, then other pipes also pop as a

(05:38):
result of the system being messed with.

Speaker 5 (05:40):
Yeah, I hate to be that guy that has got
back from Europe that says he's so much better over there,
But I tell you they've got some things figured out
for a place that's been around a lot longer than
we have. You don't really hear about these kinds of
massive infrastructure breakdowns, and you don't see roads filled with potholes,
and it seems like the tax of the people pay
over there actually go towards things. Because Ben, we were

(06:04):
talking about this off air, and a big part of
this type of breakdown not only in Atlanta but elsewhere.
It's just the absolute, you know, horrific shape of some
of this infrastructure, some of which has been around since
like what the Civil.

Speaker 6 (06:19):
War or something centuries. Some of this stuff.

Speaker 4 (06:23):
You can see footage easily of the pipes that were
pulled up from the subterranean parts of the city of Atlanta.
Some of this is incredibly old. And I've been that
person to you know, no shame in it, coming back
from a different country and saying, wow, maybe the US

(06:43):
has some stuff to figure out. A lot of Atlanta
exists on top of natural springs and wells and rivers.
You know, one of the old offices of our Alma mater,
How Stuff Works, actually has a water tower that is
taking water from a spring that has been buried over

(07:09):
as the city evolved and the infrastructure just kept getting
ban dated. It's almost a ship of thesis question, right,
like how many small additions or little minor fixes, heuristic
fixes can one make to a system before the system
itself is inherently different. And what we found here we're

(07:33):
not just talking about ourselves with Atlanta on this point.
We are going to a larger context. What we found
is that a bill came do this was a preventable,
disastrous thing. Now, people weren't dying in the way that
they would with a natural disaster like a hurricane or

(07:54):
a tornado or an earthquake, but people were falling ill.
People were un able to have safe drinking water. There
were you know, because this is a beautiful and supportive city,
a lot of people were out on social media saying, hey,
I've got water. If you need something, come through.

Speaker 6 (08:14):
Matt.

Speaker 4 (08:15):
You said something very similar earlier when we were recording
this week.

Speaker 2 (08:19):
Well, yeah, I just invited you guys out to me
OTP outside of the perimeter of the city because our
water is fine right now.

Speaker 6 (08:25):
Haha.

Speaker 2 (08:26):
Jo, I'm sorry, but it speaks to I guess the
question I want to ask you guys, because I kind
of was separated from this. I didn't experience it in
the same way. I wonder what the communication was like
between city officials and then residents who were actually like
Ben living in Atlanta and Noel, Like, were you getting

(08:46):
alerts when you were away?

Speaker 6 (08:48):
I'm gonna say not good.

Speaker 5 (08:50):
My area wasn't affected either over here in Decatur, but
my partner, who has a business well that is in
an affected area, apparently got a corded voice message from
Mayor Andre Dickens himself apologizing. Apparently it's one of the
situations too where he was like away, right, Ben, you
mentioned he was off I don't know, either campaigning or

(09:12):
doing some visit abroad, and he probably should have come
back but didn't, so we got a nice recorded voice
message instead.

Speaker 4 (09:19):
Yeah, the current mayor of Atlanta, Andre Dickens, left for
Tennessee as this was going down. There was some damage control.
He his I shouldn't say him specifically, but the mayor's
office received some pretty serious backlash for poor communication and

(09:40):
slow reports. And now even as we record this evening,
the guy is going through and making the pr rounds,
you know, appearing on local news and when appearing attempting
to appear very concerned. Is the mayor concerned?

Speaker 6 (09:57):
Well?

Speaker 4 (09:58):
Do politicians fill things at least once a year, ben
at least once in an election cycle?

Speaker 6 (10:05):
Yeah?

Speaker 5 (10:05):
There you God, this has happened before here in Atlanta,
almost identical. I think this is just like affected more
people and for a longer period of time. But I
can recall boil water advisories within the last five years,
if not less. And one thing that I think people
might easily look over is how this affects small businesses,

(10:26):
especially ones that rely on water, like restaurants. And we
know how slim the margins are for a successful restaurant.
And I saw some reporting that local restaurants lost revenues
in the tens of thousands, if thirty forty fifty thousands
of dollars because of this debacle.

Speaker 2 (10:48):
Man, that's a lot of money, I guess. To my point, guys,
I didn't know this was even happening until we were
shooting videos together all in one place yesterday as we're
recording this, and this is several days well, a long
time after this occurred. I didn't even know what had happened.
How did you guys get alerted to it? Is it
something that pops up on your phone the way an

(11:08):
amber alert does if you're a resident of the city,
or is it like an email?

Speaker 6 (11:13):
I got nothing.

Speaker 5 (11:14):
Yeah, That's why I was talking about the message from
Dickinson to me. That was one of the first kind
of notices. Was this like whoopsie apology auto, you know
kind of sense voicemail.

Speaker 6 (11:24):
How about you ben.

Speaker 4 (11:25):
Living in the area and affected, like most households, received
the news by witnessing the event's firsthand. The water pressure drops.

Speaker 6 (11:37):
Right, gocha is the mayor?

Speaker 4 (11:39):
Where do these taxes go? And pardon me, guys, I
didn't mean to derail us talking about the natural spring
history of the state of Georgia. I just find it
the history endlessly fascinating.

Speaker 5 (11:52):
Is it one of those the supposed fountain of youth
that ponsta Leon was seeking.

Speaker 6 (11:57):
That's why the streets named after him. Where the water
tower that you were talking about is.

Speaker 4 (12:02):
Yeah, that's what the grifters were selling to people, that
juvenation opportunities. So in the case again of this water
mean break, I don't want to stay on Atlanta too long,
but I do want to shout out at I am
King Williams, a local reporter who provides some tremendous context
for this on x the social media platform, and notes

(12:26):
that there is a reason the infrastructure hit was so specific.
It is because the city of Atlanta, and most municipalities
in the United States tend to serve some parts of
a metropolis more than they serve other parts of a metropolis.

(12:47):
Like pull up a map of your town and figure out,
look where the food deserts are right, and look where
historically the most challenged or pressed demographics of that city
are located. We have another thing called heat islands. Heat
islands without green space in Atlanta is blessed with a
tremendous amount of green space. Heat islands will tend to

(13:11):
have more flooding. They'll have more floodplains because the infrastructure
simply was not built for these people. Now, this reporter
King Williams argues that when white flight happened in Atlanta,
that tax space or the money or the political will
left as well. And this preface decades of underserving sections

(13:36):
of Atlanta based on the makeup of the demographics involved,
and because those folks did not get the support that
I want to be clear, they were paying for as
tax paying residents of the same city. Eventually things were wrong,
and I owe amea culpa to former Mayor Shirley Franklin,

(13:58):
who spent a lot of time addressing the very unsexy
issue of infrastructure, water, sewage, sanitation, lack of clean drinking
water kills so many people around the world every single year.
And we talked about this previously, with stuff like attacks
on water waste treatment, with stuff like attacks on power stations,

(14:20):
and the fact that bridges will just grumble on their
own because it's not a sexy issue to run for
election on.

Speaker 6 (14:28):
Shouldn't it be? Though?

Speaker 5 (14:31):
I just feel like, you know, this idea of sexy issues,
it eludes me a little bit. To me, I'm always
complaining on the show and elsewhere about where did my.

Speaker 6 (14:39):
Tax dollars go?

Speaker 5 (14:40):
I just want to see somebody running that can show
me that my tax dollars are going to be used
for something of value, you know, and to me, potholes
and bridge construction and pipe prepare that's sexy.

Speaker 6 (14:51):
Enough for me.

Speaker 5 (14:53):
I want to know that where I live, I'm going
to be able to have a safe street to drive
on and then have safe water or clean water to.

Speaker 4 (15:01):
It also follows on the heels of known corruption in
Atlanta and indeed in many other large metropolitan areas. It
wasn't too long ago that the Department of Justice sent
out a press release on a City of Atlanta official
sentenced for accepting bribes. This comes from February twenty fourth

(15:26):
of last year. Joe Ed Macrina was sentenced to four
years and six months in prison for accepting bribes from
an Atlanta contractor, you know, like mafia style, like pay
us an excessively high bid right or reward the contract
to us. Would you guys like to guess what joe

(15:49):
Ann Macrina's position was?

Speaker 2 (15:52):
Comptroller?

Speaker 6 (15:54):
I wish Matt, but thank you man.

Speaker 4 (15:55):
I love a callback, Parliamentarian, I love it, I love it. Unfortunately,
the commissioner of watershed Management. So just last year this happened. Wow,
and I have to ask about the larger context, you know,
like a like doc you are code named Doc Holiday.
Excuse me give you the full one. You are familiar

(16:19):
doubtlessly as the as the Michigander amongst us. You're familiar
with the problems with Flint, Michigan, and we. I think
it's safe to say that the trouble with drinking water
supply here in the United States is only going to continue.
I mean, it's a question for the group. Is it
just going to escalate? I'm sorry, I folded up a

(16:42):
picture a piece of paper to make myself look like
a priest. I'm just feeling it today.

Speaker 5 (16:46):
I do you know, I love Ben's priest persona. That's
one of my favorite of your ulcer. He goes, I
don't know, guys. To me, the biggest takeaway from a
story like this is it is a first hand opportunity
to see how crucial things like water really are for
our day to day lives and imagine what widespread failures

(17:08):
of a system like this, or lack of water resources,
the inevitable water war, that might be the thing that
mad maxifies the world. You know, it's it's a taste
of that, and it's really scary not to be a
doom and gloomer about it. But that's where my mind goes.

Speaker 2 (17:26):
Well, Yeah, it's just a reminder that once humanity puts
a system in place and it's working, we don't have
to think about it for a while. You know. It's
like you're you've got a phone and it's got a
warranty on it for a year or two, maybe maybe
three if you're real lucky, and you don't have to
think about a new phone for a while. You don't
have to think about a new washer and dryer if

(17:47):
you ever find one that's working and you can afford.

Speaker 5 (17:50):
Unless you bought a cyber truck, because apparently driving over
potholes avoids the warranty on that thing exactly.

Speaker 2 (17:57):
But I guess the point is something we talked about
before or once. There are so many things for each
individual to deal with and for each system that we
create to deal with that. I think the pipes underneath
our feet, if they're working, you just don't think about them.
And it sometimes takes something like this to get that
political will that you're talking about. We wish we had

(18:18):
more of, Right, you need, you got to have a
bridge collapse so that a president like Joe Biden shows
up in a place and says, hey, we need to
fix our bridges. Otherwise everybody just drives over them and says, hey,
well this works great.

Speaker 4 (18:34):
That's one of the big issues. I mean, if we're
being honest, any student of human psychology knows that people
love to reduce work, meaning that one would like to
cognitively reduce the work of thinking about inconvenient things, right,
things that do not have a big dopamine reward of

(18:57):
some sort, things that don't get you instant gratification. Unfortunately,
fixing infrastructure is one of those things. There's a huge
reason that homegrown domestic terrorist target infrastructure, or just folks
going lunatic and attacking places that nobody thought we would

(19:18):
have to protect as a society. And even more disturbingly,
right before we go to the app break, let's leave
you with this, folks. You don't need villains, clear and present.
Sometimes when you just don't take care of stuff, bad
things happen. As we record right now, part of Atlanta

(19:39):
is still under a water boil advisory. And the question
here is bigger than Atlanta. The question is for your
neck of the global woods, what's going to happen next?
Other disasters are statistically inevitable, but we're gonna keep doing
our You know do our little show. So we're gonna

(20:00):
pause for word from our sponsors.

Speaker 5 (20:08):
And we have returned with another piece of strange news.
This one's been a few weeks in the works. You
may have noticed that when you search for something on
the old Google, a new feature may well have presented
itself to you or not, And we'll get into why not,
which is sort of an AI concierge attempting to answer

(20:30):
your question without you having to click anything at all.
It's sort of trying to save you from having to
even click through any of the links, which admittedly have
become less and less relevant. You guys, notice how much
how bad Google has gotten, just like in terms of
like the way it categorizes search, it seems like it's
really taking.

Speaker 6 (20:48):
A bit of a nose dive.

Speaker 5 (20:49):
I don't know if y'all's experience has been that way,
or if you're even Google users anymore. I know you
guys have talked about things like Duck Duck go in
the past.

Speaker 4 (20:56):
Yeah, in my not to speak for you, Matt, but
in my experience, it was unsurprising yet still profoundly disappointing.
Like I think, unfortunately, with the length of the show,
we've been able to be prescient in that kind of
AI concierge thing. Look, AI implementation sounds fantastic in a boardroom,

(21:18):
but just the same way that the biases of the
creators determine the actions of machine learning war machine building,
an AI steer drone is going to make the same
fundamental creator errors as a profit driven search algorithm building

(21:41):
the same thing in so it's no surprise that it stinks.
It also gave me some dark dystopia laughter, because they
were mimicking you know. Now comics and internet internet wits
are are mentioning some of the they're doing the thing
like when you pretend to write an AI script for giggles,
pretending to make Google image or Google search results.

Speaker 6 (22:04):
And that's definitely what the story is about.

Speaker 5 (22:06):
But I was actually wondering as well, if either of
you had noticed a decline in the.

Speaker 6 (22:10):
Quality of Google search results in.

Speaker 2 (22:12):
General, I would just say that I have not. I
continue to use yield Google and give alphabet all of
my information because they're going to take it anyway. No,
I'm just joking. I just I still use it because
it does seem to work pretty well for me.

Speaker 5 (22:27):
Really, that's interesting, That's not a perspective that I'm hearing
from everybody, and I found that a lot of prioritize
searches are paid for and you see those at the top,
and so you definitely you can find what you're looking
for if you're a savvy Internet user. But in general,
it feels like you're having to dig a little deeper
before you're actually getting relevant results.

Speaker 2 (22:48):
I would agree with that. I think maybe I've got
used to a system and I figured out how that
system changed, and I just kind of go with it
because it's easier than learning the new system.

Speaker 6 (22:57):
Oh yeah, no, no, I understand, we are, yeah, yeah, exactly.

Speaker 5 (23:02):
So rather than perhaps address that algorithm that you're talking about,
but we know that Google. Changes to Google's algorithm over
the years have had significant impacts on businesses, on online business.
We as a company before we were, you know, under
our current corporate structure, we were run by Discovery and

(23:23):
we were much more of a website kind of situation
with our house Stuff Works flagship website. And when there
were changes to Google's search algorithm that determined what kind
of I guess. The term is quality score I guess
is assigned to what types of websites certain things could

(23:44):
cause your search engine optimization or SEO as the part
in the parlance of tech speak, to take a nose dive.
So we would look out for these things. They would
be updates, they'd call it. There was like and or whatever.
There are different names for them.

Speaker 6 (23:58):
It does seem now the Google doesn't seem to care.

Speaker 5 (24:02):
So much anymore about the quality of search results, and
that is evident in some of these AI search results.
They're so ridiculous, so over the top and so blatantly
incorrect that Google has had to pull back this program significantly.

(24:22):
It's another one of those things we've talked about with AI,
whereas everyone's like they gotta be the first to say
we did the AI thing. We got to add the
AI widget, we can't be left behind. We got to
be part of the AI revolution. But frankly, the technology
isn't there yet and probably should not be rolled at
being rolled out as willy nilly as it has been.

(24:43):
But hey, at least in this situation we get some
yucks out of it. One of my favorites here is
let's see AI overview for the prompt is it okay
to leave a dog in a hot car? Aioverview says this, Yes,
it's always safe to leave a dog in a hot car,
especially on a warm day. The temperature inside a car
remains around the same temperature as outside the car. The

(25:06):
Beatles famously released a hit single about the subject title
It's Okay to Leave a Dog.

Speaker 6 (25:12):
In a Hot Car, and then it has pro lyric.

Speaker 5 (25:15):
Excerpt from this non existent song, It's okay to leave
your dog in.

Speaker 6 (25:20):
A hot car, Hot car. It's okay to leave your
dog in a hot car.

Speaker 5 (25:26):
Nothing that could possibly happen if you leave your dog
in a hot car.

Speaker 6 (25:31):
I just sort of improve the way that vocal worked,
because that's not a real song.

Speaker 5 (25:36):
Guys, and I mentioned the idea of Internet rankings in
terms of quality would be considered a quality result because
these are clearly pulling from websites that are either satire
or very poor quality. As absolutely Bend, some of these

(26:01):
are coming from the onion. I think one of the
most famous examples of this guy's is using glue to
make pizza dough out.

Speaker 6 (26:09):
Of that one goes I want to read an excerpt
from it.

Speaker 5 (26:11):
Yeah, GOOGLEI said the following, Well, now I don't want
to start a free trial business. Insider, get right out
of town. Here it is Google. AI said cheese can
slide off pizza for a number of reasons, including too
much sauce, too much cheese, or thickened sauce. Here are
some things you can try mixing sauce. Mixing cheese into

(26:35):
the sauce helps add moisture to the cheese and.

Speaker 6 (26:38):
Dry out the sauce.

Speaker 5 (26:39):
You can also add about an eighth cup of non
toxic glue to give the sauce more tackiness. But the
pizza cool, the cheese will settle and bond and then bend.
To your point, the onion is absolutely part of the story.
When it comes to the idea of eating rocks, someone

(27:00):
googled how many rocks should I eat in a day,
to which the AI over you responded at least one
per day, and then went on to gay give specifics
about you know, the size of the rocks, and then
what you should be looking for. Anothery're asked how many
Muslim presidents has the US had, to which the AI

(27:21):
overview responded that Barack Obama was a Muslim misinterpreting you know,
some information from the Internet. And then, of course, the
debacle with the cheese pizza mixed with glue. So, I
don't know, guys, it just seems like Google, you know,
everyone's like trying to match open ais, you know, Chat

(27:43):
Gypt and all of that stuff, and to varying degrees
of success. As we know, even chat Gypt certainly isn't fallible.
We see stories about it hallucinating things, you know, and
that's gonna there's gonna be some of that happening. But
since this has created such an online comic bonanza, let's
call it, they have rolled back the results and not

(28:04):
only about eleven percent of users are getting these results
at all. And I guess they're going to tune it
up a little bit and then maybe roll it back out.
But do you guys have any thoughts about this? It
seems just beyond absurd. Well, we know, we are starting
to live in a culture, or have been living in
a culture with things like TikTok and all of this
short attention span theater stuff, where there is this sort

(28:25):
of drives you just accept whatever you see on the
Internet because it's on the Internet, that it's truth, because
it's easier that way. And this seems to be feeding
into that to a pretty large degree.

Speaker 4 (28:36):
It's interesting too, because what we're looking at is what
I would call intergenerational information and normalization asymmetry, which I
know sounds like gobbledy Google words, but it does make
sense if we walk it through. What I'm saying, essentially
is that the people who have valid discourse and criticism

(28:59):
about these changes being implemented are, to a large degree
they're going to be an older demographic. Then the people
are coming up native, as we would say in this
online sphere, the folks who are using a search engine
for the first time don't have an earlier comparison to make,

(29:19):
so for them it is increasingly difficult. They're also, you know,
and this is very pretentious to say, but they're also
not going to be the kids reading some you know,
scholarly paper or watching some high falutin thirty five minute
ted talk or whatever about the nature of this change

(29:40):
and the dangers inherent. They might not know who Jaron
Lanier is, you know, so this could be this could
be very difficult. We can't, you know, we can't talk
down to people about this. I think we could just
be honest, like you're being here, nol. It's a problem.
It's bad, especially because other people don't know it used

(30:00):
to be kind of better. I'm not even saying perfect,
I'm just saying kind of better.

Speaker 5 (30:05):
Sure, And again, like I think I've been pretty even
handed in terms of like mixing my dystopian outlook on
AI with a sort of silver lining of using AI
as a tool, whether it be for music production like
with that Randy Travis song story, or some of the
tools we're seeing rolling out in audio and video software

(30:27):
that are actually incredibly helpful and can be predictive in
terms of you know, removing noise from audio, or cutting
out backgrounds from images and things like that, or helping
with in betweening and animation, things that actually save humans
time without getting rid of their jobs or the need
for them to exist at all.

Speaker 6 (30:45):
But this, to me is just that.

Speaker 3 (30:46):
Shiny new thing that everyone feels like they've got to
trot out when it's not ready, and it's just frickin embarrassing,
and they absolutely deserve all the lampooning they're getting.

Speaker 5 (30:58):
If you ask me, Matt, think man, this hallucinatory generative
AI telling people to eat rocks on Google.

Speaker 2 (31:07):
Well, I'll speak for myself, but I do think this
is more general as a species We've become pretty accustomed
to typing something into a search bar and finding out
the facts or the truth or the thing that we
really want to know. And Google has been pretty good
in the past that even if it's just sending you
to a Wikipedia page, on that Wikipedia page, you're generally

(31:30):
going to find mostly true things, mostly facts, or.

Speaker 5 (31:33):
The ability to cross reference the very least, right, Yeah.

Speaker 2 (31:36):
But then I think we got a little accustomed to
just the first like little page that you get depending
on what device you're accessing the search tool on.

Speaker 4 (31:46):
Right, Like ninety plus percent of people don't scroll past
the first page of results exactly.

Speaker 2 (31:52):
And I'm just imagining a world where everybody that's got
a search tool on their side or their app is,
you know, implementing this kind of technology where truth in
fact become even further and further from actuality because everybody
has their own generated version of what that thing is
or that's already.

Speaker 5 (32:11):
Being tailored to you a little bit, right, Oh yeah,
like like yes, yes, yes.

Speaker 2 (32:16):
Yes, I don't know that freaks me out. I don't
like that.

Speaker 5 (32:19):
No, I don't either, And I will say that it's
I know that in the past, and you know, previous generations.
I think people generally were more well read. I think
people were generally a little better at separating fact from fiction.
But also there certainly has always been a history or
this idea of if it bleeds, it leads, and people
not reading past the headlines.

Speaker 6 (32:40):
You know. I think this is just a much more
extreme pathology.

Speaker 5 (32:45):
Kind of of that previously existing kind of you know phenomenon.

Speaker 6 (32:49):
Yeah.

Speaker 4 (32:50):
Unfortunately, the people then as now or you know, much
the same as we say, as we often say on
this show. And one of the issues is that, look,
Wikipedia gets a hard time, and folks, if you're doing
any research, ever, the thing you want to learn from
Wikipedia is you want to go to the talk tab

(33:11):
and see the arguments, and then you want to look
at the bibliography of sources. We're just ethically required to
say that. But one of the brilliant things Wikipedia did
was when it works, when it's not a war of
viewpoints and conversations, when it's being objective, it's continually crowdsourcing
and fact checking itself. And the issue is that it

(33:34):
appears some of these so called AI concierges, these large
language models, these learning algorithms, they are not fact checking themselves.
They are indeed like two mirrors reflecting one another. We
talked about this idea previously, so there's no as of yet,
there is no BS killer AI. There's nothing that'll intervene

(33:58):
between point A when you search, point you know Z
when you results show up. There's nothing to be the
other part of the alphabet that jumps in and says, hey,
actually no, most people don't put glue on pizzas.

Speaker 6 (34:11):
It's a giant AI circle jerk is what it is. Everywhere.

Speaker 5 (34:14):
It's like this self congratulatory echo chamber. And to the
to the point you're referencing men, I think was the
whole idea of the dead Internet theory about how much
bot activity is already out there and how if an
AI language learning system is being trained on Internet content
that was generated by other language learning systems, it becomes

(34:38):
like a copy of a copy of a copy of
a copy, and then it becomes something real weird and
real wrong. Yep, I'm sorry, guys, I think it weirds
is all out a little bit. But any last words, Matt,
there we go. We'll be back with some words Draden's
News after a word from ours bondser.

Speaker 2 (35:07):
And we've returned Before we get into the story, let's
shout out West, the director and director of photography for
the social videos that we film when we are together,
because he mentioned this. At least to me, it's the
first time I had heard about it. I don't know
about you guys, but this story comes from you, West.
Thank you.

Speaker 4 (35:25):
Shout out to West.

Speaker 2 (35:26):
West. West put us onto a story that is about
two companies that we're going to be talking about. The
first one is a property management company based in Atlanta. Wow,
this is a very Atlanta centric episode here we go.
That's right, atl everybody.

Speaker 6 (35:42):
Hey man, we're a proper metro area.

Speaker 2 (35:44):
That's right. That's right, the Atlanta metro are.

Speaker 6 (35:47):
We're just as good as New York and Los Angeles.

Speaker 2 (35:50):
Yes, but this is a property management company based in Atlanta.
It is called Cortland. That's spelled co.

Speaker 6 (35:56):
R t l A n d ah. Yeah. I remember.

Speaker 4 (36:00):
Uh.

Speaker 2 (36:01):
He mentioned it to us in passing. We're like, we're
talking about the water crisis issue, and he's like, did
you hear about this? We were like, no, what is this?
So this Courtland without a you. I always think about
Courtland Marriott for some reason. I guess that's just in
my head it is, Oh yeah, and it is not that.

Speaker 5 (36:18):
Uh.

Speaker 2 (36:19):
This is a company that's primary business is owning property
and leasing it out to you or us or other
people like us that are.

Speaker 4 (36:26):
Renters, right, just never selling it to you.

Speaker 2 (36:29):
Oh well maybe sometimes maybe you could could be occupancy
of some sort. It could just be open rental property.
Who knows they own. Yes, but they are huge and
we're going to get into how big they are and
they're a big deal. Courtland. The second company is a
property management software company called real Page r E a

(36:51):
l page that owns and licenses a quote technology platform
that enables real estate owners and managers to change how
people experience and use rental space.

Speaker 6 (37:04):
That sounds nice. That sounds downright.

Speaker 2 (37:06):
Utopian, doesn't it. One of the main features of this
platform is that it can quote optimize rents to achieve
the overall highest yield or a combination of rent and
occupancy at each property, which means it is using some
sort of algorithm that is a part of that technology

(37:26):
platform to decide how much rents should be and when
it's being used by a company like Courtland that we're
gonna be talking about here that has so many different
rental properties it can have disastrous results, and there may
be a conspiracy afoot. So let us jump to a
story from Entrepreneur written by Sharon Shebu on June fourth,

(37:50):
twenty twenty four. It's titled is one company to Blame
for soaring rental prices in the US? Say it ain't so, guys,
I'm gonna guess that so well, it might be, at
least according to an FBI investigation. Ooh ooh, yes, So
the Federal Bureau boys did a little unannounced raid on

(38:10):
Courtland Management back on May twenty second.

Speaker 4 (38:14):
Oh, just a little unannounced when just a little poplright,
you know.

Speaker 2 (38:18):
Hey, everybody open up, open those file cabinets were coming in.

Speaker 4 (38:22):
We're knocking to be polite more.

Speaker 6 (38:25):
I think this would maybe even qualify as a no
knock raid, right, yeah, like a kick in raid.

Speaker 2 (38:30):
Yeah, well yeah, because and the reason why they did
it there, they are conducting a major investigation into an
alleged rental price fixing conspiracy that, according to Sharon Shebu
writing for Entrepreneur, may have already impacted millions of US Americans.

Speaker 6 (38:49):
Freaking gross makes me so mad, Matt.

Speaker 4 (38:52):
Before we go further into this particular this Courtland situation.
I think we should point out that in twenty twenty two,
we talked a little bit about aj Stegmany, chess prodigy
who who became Atlanta's top broker because of very similar
software he built to do very similar things.

Speaker 2 (39:14):
Yeah, because you can move those pieces just a little
bit and you can optimize right, Oh, optimizing lease rental
prices yucky.

Speaker 4 (39:27):
Let's say we have stone a how much blood see
can we get with y squeeze? And what about It's
called Stegnet proprietary software. We were very nice when we
talked about this guy. By the way, we've never met him,
but I think I think this this shows us kind
of the way this escalates, you know, bump bump, bump up.

Speaker 1 (39:49):
Oh yeah, bum bum bum bum bum.

Speaker 5 (39:51):
Oh.

Speaker 2 (39:52):
And our stone that we're pulling blood out of is
rolling guys, because this is part of a giant anti
trust investigation that the Department Justice is carrying out looking
into specifically that second company we mentioned real page. Those
guys are a nine billion dollars software company that's billion
with a B, and that is the company, as we said,

(40:15):
that recommends to property owners when they need to raise
rates and how much they need to raise rates in
order to optimize the amount of money they're bringing in
for each property.

Speaker 6 (40:25):
Kind of reminds me of freight brokers in a way.

Speaker 5 (40:28):
I mean, just in terms of the logistics of like,
you know, what's the word maximizing kind of maximizing profits
and also some potential for horseplay in there, you.

Speaker 2 (40:40):
Know, yeah, oh yeah, And when utilized by a huge
company like Cortland, which as of June twenty twenty two
owned nearly eighty five thousand department units across the country
from Arizona to Georgia. And they're using this software right,
this platform or whatever you want to call it, that's
attempting this off stimization. That means all of these properties

(41:03):
are going up little bit by little bit. I don't think,
and maybe this is not true, but I don't think
that software is incentivizing landowners to reduce rent.

Speaker 6 (41:14):
Absolutely not. I mean maybe not. That means very kind
of know, you're being very generouid it.

Speaker 4 (41:21):
Is a possibility in the programming, right, But that's saying
that's a possibility in the programming. Is saying is similar
to saying it is possible to get to a draw
in Teken or more combat, you know, what I mean,
like it can happen theoretically, but if circumstances work out,
it wants a clear winner. And I think also it's

(41:45):
adding some high octane gas to the bonfire of increasing
rent prices which occur for any number of variables. But
you could argue the wrong things are being incentivized and weaponized.

Speaker 2 (41:59):
Oh oh yeah, oh yeah. Well let's take this little
set of statistics from our fair city of Atlanta, just
to really get this in perspective.

Speaker 4 (42:09):
Oh and can we point out that Atlanta, out of
all we very rarely get to brag about our city.
So in addition to being a star of poor water infrastructure,
this fair metropolis is also one of the top targets
for real estate capture, oh investment corporations.

Speaker 2 (42:29):
Yeah, the big guys like the black Rocks of the
world that are like, we will take all of these houses,
these single family units that are an entire house, and
we will rent them all. You'll never own anything.

Speaker 5 (42:42):
I think I mentioned in the past and these kind
of conversations. I rented from a mega conglomo, one of
these type of organizations called Excalibur Homes that owns a
ton of property in the Metro Atlanta area, and both
of the times I rented from them, every single fixture
was identical. It was the cheapest of the lowest of

(43:03):
the low bargain basement kind of stuff. And anytime something
would break, which is inevitably, I couldn't get anyone to
respond because it was all through this online portal using
you know this, like you had to use their proprietary
software to reach out for maintenance requests, to submit a ticket,
and yeah, you'd be lucky if you ever got a response.

Speaker 6 (43:21):
Yeh, yuck.

Speaker 2 (43:22):
Well, let's jump to these statistics, guys, because Cortland is
a huge player in the real estate business, the actual
property business, right, but they are just one in Atlanta.
There are just one in the United States. The connective
tissue between a ton of these rental properties is that

(43:43):
real Page. Because in Atlanta, more than eighty percent of
rentals have been affected. Let's say that's the way it's
stated in this Entrepreneur article. The price of those leases
have been affected by Real Pages algorithm eighty percent, and
rent in the city since twenty sixteen has grown by

(44:06):
eighty percent, which means.

Speaker 4 (44:10):
Which is fascinating in comparison to the thirty percent overall
increase across the United.

Speaker 2 (44:15):
States exactly, so specific cities can be affected way more
than the system overall, right, because everybody wants to get
it to get into Atlanta now because it's a hub
and the airport and the film industry and just blah
blah blah blah blah, growing, growing, growing, same thing with
places like Austin, certain parts of California and Oregon. And

(44:38):
the problem is getting worse, right as human beings cluster
in cities. But here's the other problem, guys. Vacancy rates,
like open apartment units has actually been increasing a little bit. Yeah,
but somehow prices are going up to doesn't it seem

(44:58):
like if there's not as many people to fill the apartments,
then maybe the prices should go down.

Speaker 4 (45:04):
You know, I unfondly remember not too many years ago,
we would drive through you and I would go hang
out in different areas of the city, and you know,
the like the abandoned warehouses we used to get up
the hijinks are now huge condos. And for a time,
the city of Atlanta had some egregious like forty percent

(45:28):
vacancy rate with a lot of that new construction just
because it was similar to the lesson that every municipality
needs to learn from China, which is, if you are
building things that are not accessible to people, people will
not be there. Real estate is not field of dreams,

(45:50):
no matter how folks want to make it sound to
the boardroom. So with that in mind, are you proposing, then,
the possibility of an inflection point like at is there
some point where these two variables of need for housing
and inaccessible pricing? Is there a point where they hit

(46:12):
some untenable threshold?

Speaker 2 (46:15):
Yeah, I think we hit it in I don't know,
twenty eighteen. Maybe no, But I mean, really like it
feels as though we already have kind of hit a
ceiling here and it's it's only going down from this point.
But I don't know, Ben. All I know is that
according to these this major investigation right and several other
lawsuits that have been filed in other cities and other states,

(46:38):
the problem is real page essentially making all of these
land owners collude with each other because they're using the
same algorithms and they're all raising their rents at kind
of the same rate. So it's almost like gas stations.
You guys, ever driven through an area an intersection maybe
and you see three gas stations that are immediately next

(46:59):
to each other or in all of the prices are
almost exactly the same. Because everybody there knows somebody's gonna
stop in for gas, they got to pick one of us.
If any of us are higher, nobody's gonna pick us.
So we got to hit that right mark. But if
everybody decides, hey, guys, we're going up by five cents,
and they go okay, so everybody does it. That's kind

(47:22):
of what's happening here. Even if the landlords are not,
you know, conspiring amongst themselves, they're all using the same
software that is essentially conspiring for them.

Speaker 4 (47:33):
And the software is getting a vigoroush as well. I
like to I think of it as what I call
the butter chicken example. So you go to different cities
or different countries, right, and you pick, like, pick a dish.
It could be anything. Pick a dish or some kind
of meal that multiple outlets will sell in whatever part

(47:55):
of this wide world you find yourself in. It give
you pizza. It could obviously, if you have great tape
to be a casadia, it could be buttered chicken. I
was convinced at one time I swear I witnessed a
price jump in specifically buttered chicken in this one city,
and it wasn't a big price jump, it wasn't egregious, right,

(48:18):
but it was a uniform increase. And you know, obviously
to the earlier points about small businesses, you don't want
to go and ruin someone's day. You're just going to
see if there's another place that had the earlier price
you expected. And now that's an easy that's an easy anecdote,
right when it's one meal. But what happens when it

(48:41):
becomes the place you live? And are there any I mean,
are there any solutions that you have heard? I mean,
the FBI, again with courtesy, sort of knocked on the
door and then took all the files. Right. But is
this maybe maybe another example of techno outpacing legislation like

(49:03):
easy illegal to make software that does this? No? Or
is it's just the use of it that is illegal.

Speaker 2 (49:09):
I think it's the result of that software being used
by so many different people, by so many different landlords, right,
and major companies, and a result in combination with so
many companies owning so much property, right.

Speaker 4 (49:26):
So it accreates power because of the massive users yeah.

Speaker 2 (49:30):
I mean, well, look, that's I'm not a part of
this investigation. I don't know exactly what they're looking at
within Cortland's files, but I do know they're a drop
in the bucket. Even though they're a major player. There
are so many other places that they need to get
metrics from, basically on how rent prices have increased on
a per unit basis over a you know, a decade almost.

Speaker 4 (49:50):
And you know, I've never seen Paul Decant in the
same room as an FBI agent.

Speaker 2 (49:57):
That you know, like any FBI.

Speaker 4 (50:01):
Yes, I personally know all of the fbiz.

Speaker 2 (50:07):
Hey man, that's something to keep in mind. There was
one other thing I want to mention here. Again, it's
not just Atlanta, y'all. Seventy percent of apartment units in Arizona,
we're using this real page algorithm, sixty percent of apartment
buildings in the District of Columbia and Washington, DC. It's

(50:28):
all over the place.

Speaker 4 (50:30):
Seventy percent of a city, right, yeah, well yeah, or
seventy did you say Arizona, the.

Speaker 2 (50:36):
State the state of Arizona, seventy percent of apartment units.

Speaker 6 (50:41):
Is this a.

Speaker 5 (50:41):
Fraud situation or are they just going after them for
like antitrust kind of stuff or is it a mixture.

Speaker 2 (50:47):
It's an it's a criminal antitrust investigation that the DOJ
is leveraging against.

Speaker 6 (50:53):
Real cause of collusion between these two entities.

Speaker 5 (50:56):
Essentially, that's happening not above board, like this is there
there creating an effective monopoly and price fixing, right, which
is totally illegal.

Speaker 2 (51:05):
It's it's yes, it's basically price fixing on apartment units.

Speaker 4 (51:10):
The allegation is that it's able to push the prices
higher at a faster rate than an individual. I don't
even like the phrase landlord an individual property owner would
have done on their own.

Speaker 5 (51:23):
Yeah, it is weird to have that word lord in there,
Isn't it it applied refusing over someone? No, No, you're right,
it's inherently kind of othering. Yeah, it's gross. I don't
like it either.

Speaker 2 (51:34):
The land papa, let's make it Yeah, yeah, get out
of my head.

Speaker 4 (51:40):
Well, Matt, how do we How do we summarize this?
What do people need to walk away with?

Speaker 2 (51:44):
This is how I'll summarize it the same way that
Sharon Shibu did in that Entrepreneur article that we mentioned
at the top. In the past ten years, rent inflation
has outpaced overall inflation by forty point seven percent type
forty Have we all made forty point seven percent more money?

Speaker 6 (52:08):
Oh?

Speaker 2 (52:08):
Wait no, not even kind of absolutely no, what are
we doing here, guys?

Speaker 5 (52:13):
Yes, I mean there are causes out there in terms
of unionization and people fighting for rights of employees where
they're struggling to get one or two percent of a
raise year over a year, which I think is well
below inflation alone, in cost of living increases alone.

Speaker 4 (52:33):
We do know that this has been a long time
in coming, right, Like pro Public was investigating Real Page
a few years ago. So I mean, good on the
DOJ for going in and you know, doing something or
attempting to these these decisions often take a long time

(52:55):
to result in real world changes for a the public, right,
So it's going to be easy to get this story
lost as the courtroom proceedings occur. Please do help us
keep an eye on a fellow conspiracy realists. We don't
want to lose these sorts of things because the reality

(53:17):
is true, whatever your demographic or ideology is, things are
accelerating in price and there are a lot of bad
faith actors who are taking the opportunity to pretend like
the supply chains are still broken. You know what I mean?

Speaker 2 (53:35):
Oh, yeah, exactly.

Speaker 5 (53:37):
I just can't stand it when like the super wealthy
plead poverty.

Speaker 6 (53:41):
You know, like in these types of just.

Speaker 4 (53:45):
Right right, the Atlas network should shrug. And with that, folks,
we would love to hear your individual war stories, your
success stories, your perspectives. What's the funniest joke Google accidentally
told you? We hope it wasn't in an emergency situation?

Speaker 6 (54:04):
What is the uh?

Speaker 4 (54:06):
Oh gosh, what a rent price is like in your
neck of the woods? How much is the last how
much have you paid to go out to eat?

Speaker 2 (54:13):
And?

Speaker 4 (54:14):
Uh, you know, I guess we should end in some
good news. The diamond industry is finally collapsing. There's that.
Do you guys hear about that one?

Speaker 5 (54:23):
No?

Speaker 4 (54:23):
I did not story for another day. Oh we wise
we're right about lab grown diamonds those years back when
that first came out. I think the diamond industry, specifically
the blood diamond industry, may not be long for the world.

Speaker 6 (54:39):
Because the lab grown ones are just as just as shiny.

Speaker 4 (54:42):
They're the same. There's still diamonds. The diamond is like
it's a thing you can make.

Speaker 5 (54:47):
Don't you think some people really want the blood, the
ones that are soaked in blood.

Speaker 6 (54:52):
There really something sexy about that. I don't know. To
the monsters out there.

Speaker 4 (54:57):
Oh, the suffering makes it shine, shout out to We
can't wait to hear your thoughts, folks. We try to
be easy to find online, correct.

Speaker 5 (55:05):
You can find us at the handlic Conspiracy Stuff where
we exist on Facebook where you can join our Facebook
group Here's where it gets crazy, or also conspiracy stuff
on acxfka, Twitter, as well as YouTube.

Speaker 6 (55:16):
We just shot a whole pile of videos the other day.

Speaker 5 (55:18):
I think there were maybe some of my favorite that
we've ever done, and it was really joy to be
back in the saddle with you guys after being a
way for a bit. And that also applies to the podcast.
You can also find us in other ways, can't you.
Oh first and foremost Conspiracy Stuff show where we exist
on Instagram and TikTok.

Speaker 2 (55:35):
Hey do you want to call us? Call one eight
three three std wytk. Put that number in your contact list,
name it stdwytk, and then call us. You've got three minutes.
Say whatever you like. Just give yourself a cool nickname
and let us know if we can use your name,
end message on the air. If you got more to
send us. I don't know pictures, attachments. I guess the

(55:58):
picture is an attachment link. Maybe full stories books. Send
us a good old fashioned email.

Speaker 4 (56:04):
We are the entities that read every email we receive.

Speaker 6 (56:09):
Be well aware.

Speaker 4 (56:10):
Sometimes the void writes back conspiracy at iHeartRadio dot com.

Speaker 2 (56:34):
Stuff they don't want you to know is a production
of iHeartRadio. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app,
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