Wednesday 28 February, 2024

Bathtime, London

Spotted while walking to a meeting.

Quote of the Day

”A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience.”

  • John Updike

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

The KPIG Fine Swine Orchestra | Ripple


I had such nice feedback about the Grateful Dead’s performance of Ripple that I dug out this alternative version of the song that went viral during the pandemic. The technical skill that goes into producing something as good as this is remarkable. It’s also a reminder of a very strange time in all our lives.

Long Read of the Day

Things don’t only get better

Another firecracker from Helen Beetham.


In my post on AI rights and human harms I said that general models (such as ChatGPT) may not keep getting better and better, despite all the claims of ‘exponential’ improvement and ‘artificial general intelligence’ being only a few upgrades away. I based this thought partly on reading experts in cognitive science, like Iris van Rooij and her colleagues, who find the idea of an ‘artificial general intelligence’ ‘intrinsically computationally intractable’ and conclude that currently existing AI systems are ‘at best decoys’. I based it partly on reading experts in general modelling (see my post on Sora). But mainly I based it on the business behaviour of our silicon chiefs, who are clearly more interested in pimping chatbot interfaces and distracting us with new products than improving the underlying models. Which they would do if it was easy.

As it turns out, fifteen months on from ChatGPT, Gemini and Claude are a bit better than GPT4 for some things. GPT4 actually seems to be getting worse. Just in the last week, Gemini had to send suspend its text-to-image generation capabilities and go back to the drawing board with its guardrails, and ChatGPT underwent a complete meltdown into gibberish. Both events show that the behaviour of models can be transformed by the tweak of a parameter over at Google/OpenAI HQ. Let’s hope the people in charge of all this continue to be regular, well-adjusted, public-spirited citizens. And both events show something else: nobody actually knows how to deal with the bias, the nonsense, and the hate. Guardrails are a guessing game. It’s black boxes all the way down…


Books, etc.

Chris Dixon, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist and crypto/Web3 enthusiast, recently published a preposterous book, (Read, Write, Own: Building the Next Era of the Internet), which critics have been queueing up to demolish. First, the redoubtable Molly White took it apart. Now Dave Karpf has had a go. Under normal circumstances, it would be a case for referring them to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Authors, but in this case, having inspected a copy of the offending tome, I will make an exception.

My commonplace booklet

Analog Nostalgia goes Digital

From Techcrunch:

It can cost a fortune in 2024 to find an analogue camera, buy film (and maybe special batteries) for it and take pictures that then need to be paid for to be developed. Yet the experience had a charm and a simplicity to it. For those longing for those old days, a startup called Lapse has been giving smartphone users an alternative — you take pictures that you have to wait to see “developed,” with no chance of editing and retaking, before sharing them with a select group of friends if you choose.

Lapse has been been gaining some traction in the market — claiming millions of users, 100 million photos captured each month and a coveted, consistent top-10 ranking in the U.S. app store for photographic apps. Now it’s announcing a new round of funding of $30 million to take its ambitions to the next level.

Whatever next – vinyl records? Oh, wait, we’ve got those already.


Kevin Horgan thinks that Tanner Greer was a bit unfair to Thomas Friedman in his essay on the decline of public intellectuals on Monday.

He cites a couple of columns by Friedman in support of that view. One was a column he wrote a few months before 9/11 illustrating how dismissive the George W. Bush Administration was of Osama Bin Laden. The other was a jusdicious and sober column he wrote after the Hamas outrage.

I remember reading and admiring the latter column at the time. Greer’s criticism of Friedman was largely based on his views on globalisation which haven’t aged well. But then lots of people smarter that Friedman have been wrong about globalisation too. Including a lot of ‘Panglossian’ economists.

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