Friday 3 May, 2024

Maybe there will be a Summer after all

In a college garden the other day.

Quote of the Day

“Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.”

  • Marshall McLuhan

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Franz Schubert | Im Abendrot, D.799 | Anne Sofie von Otter


Gosh! — this is sooo beautiful!

Long Read of the Day

The Rise of Large-Language-Model Optimization

Typically perceptive blog post by Bruce Schneier on what’s coming to supplant SEO (Search-Engine Optimisation) — LLMO. SEO was/is bad enough. LLMO will be even more damaging.

The arrival of generative-AI tools has introduced a voracious new consumer of writing. Large language models, or LLMs, are trained on massive troves of material—nearly the entire internet in some cases. They digest these data into an immeasurably complex network of probabilities, which enables them to synthesize seemingly new and intelligently created material; to write code, summarize documents, and answer direct questions in ways that can appear human.

These LLMs have begun to disrupt the traditional relationship between writer and reader. Type how to fix broken headlight into a search engine, and it returns a list of links to websites and videos that explain the process. Ask an LLM the same thing and it will just tell you how to do it. Some consumers may see this as an improvement: Why wade through the process of following multiple links to find the answer you seek, when an LLM will neatly summarize the various relevant answers to your query? Tech companies have proposed that these conversational, personalized answers are the future of information-seeking. But this supposed convenience will ultimately come at a huge cost for all of us web users…

It will.

Bruce describes himself as a “public-interest technologist”. We need more like him.

Books, etc.

This looks interesting. Tyler Cohen — often a good judge of books — found it “wonderful, one of the best popular science books I’ve read in a long time”. He thought it “a very good introduction to debunking Richard Dawkins-like primacy of the gene stories, rather seeing genes as part of a broader, fairly flexible biological ecosystem”, and also good at “explaining just how much computation goes on in biological systems”.

Now on this autodidact’s reading list.

My commonplace booklet

If you think Marc Andreessen is Silicon Valley’s prime crackpot, then you ain’t seen anything yet. Don’t believe me? Well, try The Tech Baron Seeking to “Ethnically Cleanse” San Francisco in The New Republic for size.

It’s about Balaji Srinivasan, a flake of Cadbury proportions whom Andreessen has recently endorsed.

“Balaji has the highest rate of output per minute of good new ideas of anybody I’ve ever met,” wrote Marc Andreessen, co-founder of the V.C. firm Andreessen-Horowitz, in a blurb for Balaji’s 2022 book, The Network State: How to Start a New Country. The book outlines a plan for tech plutocrats to exit democracy and establish new sovereign territories.

He proposes to start small — with a tech-funded campaign to capture San Francisco’s government.

He envisages

a tech-governed city where citizens loyal to tech companies would form a new political tribe clad in gray t-shirts. “And if you see another Gray on the street … you do the nod,” he said, during a four-hour talk on the Moment of Zen podcast. “You’re a fellow Gray.”

The Grays’ shirts would feature “Bitcoin or Elon or other kinds of logos … Y Combinator is a good one for the city of San Francisco in particular.” Grays would also receive special ID cards providing access to exclusive, Gray-controlled sectors of the city. In addition, the Grays would make an alliance with the police department, funding weekly “policeman’s banquets” to win them over.

And at least some of the Silicon Valley crowd reportedly regard this fruitcake as a genius. Go figure.

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