In search of meaning...and well functioning Stochastic Parrots

Month: October 2023

Musings About Mission

Who am I serving when I rant about AI? Or are those rants undirected cathartic release?

I don’t know.

I don’t think that I am partisan in my AI rants. To me, there doesn’t seem to be anything inherently leftist (or “right-leaning”) in my concern about how humanity will be impacted by AI. So, I don’t think I am serving any inherently political purpose here.

So … am I worried about creators having their creations stolen as training data for the current models? Well, yes…sort of. “Sort of”…because my concern is even broader than merely the question of sharing value with content creators. As such, this is not just about the potential displacement of creatives.

Am I worried about AI ingesting all of our previously uploaded personal data and then making “predictions” about us (whether accurate or biased) that adversely impact decisions (employment, credit, housing, etc) made about us? Yes…but even the broad topic of data privacy does not describe the breadth of my concern.

Am I worried about AI taking our jobs — well…actually, not really. The hand-held calculator took the jobs of people referred to as “computers” in the days of NASA’s Apollo program. The physical object that has come to be referred to as the personal computer (and word processing programs often found thereon) took the jobs of many secretaries and typists. Automation in manufacturing took the jobs of many factory workers. Relatedly, and rhetorically, where did all the farmers go? AI will take many jobs…and while those affected will definitely feel the pain of displacement, humanity has worked through this displacement before. So, no, the potential for AI taking our jobs is not at the top of my list of concerns.

So, am I worried about humans losing capacities of self-determination and internally generated free will? Here I am watching this slow march of humanity away from capacities and self-determinism shared by many of our ancestors. Is it a problem that my children never (really) memorized their multiplication tables? When tested these days, my children get to use their calculators when taking their tests. Does that mean that humanity no longer needs to foster (or maintain) basic math as a skill? Has the TV dinner, the microwave, and DoorDash undermined our desire to develop (and maintain) a capacity to prepare meals from scratch? Maybe? But are those really “problems?” But in what ways will humanity cede decisions and work to AIs (or even this interim “generative AI”)? Will this offloading of human capacities to the AI agents lessen our abilities to take care of ourselves? Will we become the coddled children of the 2008 Pixar movie Wall-E? This array of concerns is getting closer to describing my unease…but again, my overall concern is broader than even the above.

I don’t think I yet know the full contours of my concerns regarding AI.

So…I could freeze…or I could plow forth and iterate along the way.

…I think I will take the latter path.

In this regard, a new acquaintance has me thinking of how humanity should/could protect families and children in the context of the emerging AI.

Families and children…I think I can start there.

And so I will. More from me soon.

Apparently, I make bread

For a number of years now, I have described myself as someone who helps his spouse make bread. She makes bread…I help. Of course, she has repeatedly taught me each step of the process of making bread. I use the word “repeatedly” in the prior sentence because I have a mind like a sieve when it comes to all things kitchen — including how to implement various steps in making bread.

Yesterday I discovered our most recent loaf of bread was gone…as in devoured. Did I mention that my wife was in Montana yesterday visiting family?

So, I decided to “help” — by grinding the grain and starting the process — building the levain, beginning the autolyse, and refreshing the starter.

And then I just kept going.

This morning…the below specimen emerged from the oven…my first, start-to-finish, unsupervised, effort at bread making:

So now…apparently…I make bread.

I am super proud of myself. 🙂

AI Perspectives: Short Term, Long Term, and the Hall of Mirrors

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Roy Amara, Institute For The Future, Past President

As regards Artificial Intelligence, I have spent a great deal of the last many months struggling to extract reliable signals of actual long-term concerns from the vast noise of short-term “hype” on one hand and doomer-ism (marked in particular by conversations that begin with a query regarding my personal p-doom) on the other. [BTW, as of October 1, 2023, my personal p-doom is 5%]

What frustrates me most is my tendency toward an over-focus on the short term and an under-focus on the long term. Social media is my most recent glaring example. When Facebook first appeared, I worked hard to promote the “democracy of ideas” narrative…even while Tristan Harris was outlining to my wife and me the core arguments later presented in his documentary The Social Dilemma.

I am working to resist that tendency this time around, but I am also noticing that inside the hall of mirrors of my mind, I chase my tail. One path out is to work harder on what goes into my mind.

To that end, this month I begin three classes at Stanford Continuing Studies. Two of the classes are focused on AI and the other is focused on society at large and the 2024 Election in particular. All three are open to the public and all three are offered via Zoom:

TECH 152 — A Crash Course in AI

BUS 199 — Speaker Series: AI the Great Disruption

POL 64 A — Shaping America’s Future: Exploring the Key Issues on Our Path to the 2024 Elections

I’ll post more here about the classes over time.

My hope is to add structure to my thinking as I wander around in the noise. You all get to watch what comes out.

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