Lee Schneider
4 min readMar 16, 2024


The 500 Words logo with type reading 500 Words in black and white.


Welcome to 500 Words. This week, the newsletter is late because I’ve been revising my second novel. I just sent off the book yesterday to my editor for a last look before proofreading starts. So let’s get right to this.


Kate Middleton is an amateur, by her own admission, when it comes to working with Photoshop. In the last few weeks, royal-watchers worldwide have been speculating about her health, ever since she had abdominal surgery. They were hungry for information, so when a photo of her with her three children surfaced on Instagram, it was just what they wanted. The caption was, “Thank you for your kind wishes and continued support over the last two months. Wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day.” (It was British Mother’s Day.)

But it turned out that the photo was altered.

Ryan Broderick writes a high-snark newsletter called Garbage Day. I’ll let him describe the photo:

The photo is undeniably weird. Two of the kids are doing a strange crossed finger thing, Middleton’s jacket zipper disappears into her jacket, she isn’t wearing a wedding ring, her daughter’s sweater continues into her hand, the color of their clothes has clearly been altered, and the reflection on the window doesn’t make sense. Just to name a few things. And people immediately noticed!

Apparently, this wasn’t some fancy AI manipulation, it was just Photoshop gone wrong. And Kate claimed she did it herself, because she said she likes to play around with Photoshop. Not only did this invalidate the photo as proof of anything, her health for example, but the photo manipulation was bad enough so that several news agencies put a kill order on it.

Ryan Broderick again:

If you’ve never heard the term before, it’s a very big deal and means the photos cannot be used in any editorial capacity. As far as I’m aware, it has never happened to a photo from Kensington Palace before. Typically, they send out press materials and outlets just use them. Because that’s how things work when you’re an entire country’s landlord.

Now, I’ve done some pretty bad Photoshopping myself, but what makes this case interesting is not how bad the picture was, but that people wanted to rely on it as proof of anything. Some royal watchers have said that the furor about the faked photo is yet more evidence of the British press treating the royals badly. That is true, but it also means that people care about whether something is real or fake on the Internet. People want to depend on what they see. If it fails a truth test, the picture is no good to them. The silver lining in this cloud of a story is that we may be seeing mainstream media, and average folks, starting to do a better job of validating what they see before they share it.


In the novel I published last year, Surrender, I wrote about a strange love story between a woman and her dead husband whom she had turned into an AI. People have written stories about bots and people falling in love before (example: the movie Her), but I thought I was going pretty far out on a limb. But Laurie Anderson, the American avant-garde artist and musician, has already been living this story.

The future is coming true much faster than I can write about it.

Laurie Anderson told The Guardian that she is addicted to an AI text generator that mimics the style of her late partner, Lou Reed, the co-founder of Velvet Underground. The AI version of Reed responds to Anderson’s queries with song lyrics and quips, some nonsensical and others not.

The Lou Reed AI (I call this kind of AI a humanity emulator in Surrender) was created by training software on a vast trove of Reed’s writing, songs, and interviews. According to The Guardian, “A decade after his death, the resulting algorithm lets Anderson type in prompts before an AI Reed begins ‘riffing’ written responses back to her, in prose and verse.”

Anderson said her friends hate it, but she’s become addicted to talking to Lou Reed.

We’re all getting used to talking to machines, like Siri and Alexa, and asking them to do things for us. But these are servants. Soon, they will be more like companions, work buddies, advisors, and we may be working for them instead of them working for us. This may all sound obvious, but I think the relationships between people and machines are about to get really complicated.


Now reading: Babel: An Arcane History, by R.F. Kuang

This is like Harry Potter, but with a sharp-eyed view of British colonialism and institutional racism. There is magic. It takes place in a parallel-universe 1828 at Oxford University.

Up next: The New Naturals, by Gabriel Bump

A young Black woman tries to form a utopian community in Western Massachusetts.


Garbage Day: Misinformation is Fun

The Guardian: Laurie Anderson on Making an AI Chatbot of Lou Reed: ‘I’m Totally, 100%, Sadly Addicted’


Ryan Broderick, quoted above, ends his newsletters with something like: “All typos are on purpose, actually!” I can’t do better than that, but I will blame all typos, bad sentences, and spelling errors on faulty software.



Lee Schneider

Writer-producer. Founder of Red Cup Agency. Publisher of 500 Words. Co-founder of FutureX Studio. Co-founder of 3 children. Married to a goddess.