Monday 11 December, 2023

Wonders of nature

A large log that’s been lying on our driveway for a while has suddenly sprung a surprise in the form of picturesque clusters of funghi.

Quote of the Day

“The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”

  • H. L. Mencken

He wrote this in 1924. Nothing much has changed.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

The Waterboys | A Song for the Life


Long Read of the Day

Maybe We Already Have Runaway Machines

Terrific review essay in the New Yorker by Gideon Lewis-Kraus on David Runciman’s new book,  The Handover: How We Gave Control of Our Lives to Corporations, States and AIs. It’s a book I know quite well, having read it both in draft and in published form, and so can appreciate Lewis-Kraus’s insights into it. For people who are wondering whether it might be good Christmas read, the essay might be usefully informative. In a way one could interpret the book as providing a novel perspective on the current hysteria about ‘AI’ and the (possibly-existential) risks the technology might pose for humanity (which are overblown IMO).

Certainly, for anyone wondering what it might be like for humans to live with (or under) super-intelligent machines, then Runciman’s answer is that we already know what it’ll be like: we’ve been living under two kinds of such machines for at least a century and a half! One is the modern sovereign state; the other is the contemporary mega-corporation.

Anyway, the essay is worth your time. As is the book itself.

ChatGPT’s disruptive year

Yesterday’s Observer column:

If a week is a long time in politics, a year is an eternity in tech. Just over 12 months ago, the industry was humming along in its usual way. The big platforms were deep into what Cory Doctorow calls “enshittification” – the process in which platforms go from being initially good to their users, to abusing them to make things better for their business customers and finally to abusing those customers in order to claw back all the value for themselves. Elon Musk was ramping up his efforts to alienate advertisers on Twitter/X and accelerate the death spiral of his expensive toy. TikTok was monopolising every waking hour of teenagers. FTX had just gone bankrupt and at least $1bn of investors’ money had gone awol. Here in the UK, the bedraggled online safety bill was wending its way through parliament. And nobody outside the tech world had ever heard of Geoffrey Hinton or Sam Altman.

And then one day – 30 November 2022, to be precise – everything changed. OpenAI, an upstart tech company headed by Altman that had been building so-called large language models (LLMs) for some years, released ChatGPT. The strange thing, though, was that, even weeks earlier, ChatGPT wasn’t a product…

Do read the whole piece.

Books, etc.

I’ve known and liked Melvyn Bragg ever since the days when I was the Observer’s TV critic, and so have been feeling that it’s about time that I read his autobiography. So I downloaded the Kindle version and started reading. Turns out to have been a good decision. It’s an interesting and affecting memoir.

My commonplace booklet

Sisyphus and the volcano of content

Charles Arthur ponders the impact of AI on our information ecosystem. The tsunami of AI-generated content will mean, he thinks that

content creation by humans will increasingly be pushed into spaces where the human touch makes a difference. And what are we good at? It isn’t articles saying that volleyball is difficult without a ball. It’s going to be stuff that gets people wound up, and also makes you money.

Great Substack post.


Something I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

  • Sultans of Swing solo, as if it were written by Jimi Hendrix Link

This Blog is also available as an email three days a week. If you think that might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays delivered to your inbox at 6am UK time. It’s free, and you can always unsubscribe if you conclude your inbox is full enough already!