Monday 18 December, 2023

Bay View

From our hotel room in Dingle.

Quote of the Day

”The reality is that the Times is becoming the publication through which America’s progressive elite talks to itself about an America that does not really exist.”

  • James Bennet, former Editorial-page Editor of the New York Times, writing in the Economist last week.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Handel | Concerto grosso in C Major, HWV 318 “Alexander’s Feast” | 1. Allegro


Long Read of the Day

On being wrong about AI

Scott Aaronson is one of the smartest people around. Among other things he works on Quantum computing. He is also one of the most thoughtful and least arrogant. (If you doubt that, try this long interview with him on Scientific American.)

This is an interesting recent post on his blog. I was attracted to it because ever since the ‘AI’ feeding frenzy started I’ve been approached by many people and some institutions wanting to know what it all ‘means’, and sometimes whether I think that Generative AI will lead to AGI or superintelligent machines. For the record, my state of mind on this stuff is what Manuel Castells once memorably termed “informed bewilderment”. And I’m sceptical that endless extension of the machine-learning approach to AI will lead to AGI. But that’s just an opinion.

Anyway, Scott is a far more interesting player in this game, and so I recommend this blog post for its quiet reflectiveness. The road to wisdom on many important questions is uncertainty. But our current public sphere — or at any rate the social-media segment of it — abhors that.

Epic’s epic antitrust win over Google

And that’s not a typo! Yesterday’s Observer column:

The big news last week was that a jury in San Francisco had found Google guilty on all counts of antitrust violations stemming from its dispute with Epic Games, maker of the bestselling Fortnite, which had lodged a number of complaints related to how Google runs its Play store, an Android app market with a revenue of about $48bn (£38bn) a year.

Why is this interesting? Isn’t it just another case of two tech companies squabbling in a US court? Well, in the first place, something very rare happened – a tech giant actually lost a big case in a US court. Second, the case was decided by a jury, not (as often happens in such cases) by a judge. Third, it showed that venerable antitrust (ie anti-monopoly) laws such as the Sherman Act still work.

All this stems from the launch of the smartphone in 2007…

Read on

Books, etc.

Further to Friday’s piece on the way money is wrecking golf, this book is nicely timed. The FT carried an interesting review of it by Sujeet Indap recently.

Over 30 years, Shipnuck, first at Sports Illustrated and now at his own independent website, has become the top chronicler of professional golf. The genteel golf landscape has long bristled at his fearless, detailed reporting and irreverent tone. But his pre-eminence ultimately convinces the sport’s big and little figures to engage with him, if reluctantly.

LIV and Let Die pierces the game’s carefully curated image of decorum, exposing its greed, cynicism and hypocrisy. The book also serves as the inadvertent sequel to Phil, Shipnuck’s bestselling 2022 biography of Phil Mickelson. The left-handed superstar had originally decided not to participate in the biography. But just prior to that book’s publication, Mickelson phoned Shipnuck and made infamous remarks bad-mouthing the Saudi side, describing his dalliance with them as a tactic to extract a ransom from the PGA Tour.

Money always talks. And Saudi money talks louder than most.

Chart of the Day

I gave a talk about the’ AI’ feeding frenzy last week, and before I travelled to the venue I checked where Generative AI is on the current Gartner hype cycle. And there it is, just on the cusp of the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’. It’ll be on the downhill slide towards realism soon.

My commonplace booklet

As regular readers know, I’m an inveterate (incurable?) photographer (have been since I was a teenager.) One of my heroes was Elliott Erwitt and the other day I stumbled on a profile of him on the Aperture site which clarified a question that had often puzzled me. One of his most famous photographs is a ground-level picture of a little dog and the feet and calves of its lady owner. I’d often wondered how he’d taken the shot — it looked as though he’d been lying on the ground. An heroic posture for a photographer, perhaps, but not a great position from which to confront a policeman. Turns out the explanation was simple.

His first camera was a Rolleiflex, a twin-lens reflex. All he had to do was stoop slightly.

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