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A.I. Magic, SVB and Donuts 🤖 🏦 🍩
Plus the latest episodes of How To Citizen
The rains in Southern California have turned the brown San Jacinto Mountains of Palm Springs green!
As usual, I have a version of this formal piece on Puck, but read on for an abbreviated take plus some exciting details about the latest How To Citizen episodes. Also RIP Lance Reddick.
The two weeks between these dispatches are feeling longer and longer each time. Is it because I miss you? Surely that’s part of it. Is it because I’ve aged multiple years due to the inconceivable incompetence of American Airlines, which seems committed to not flying their planes but rather shuffling passengers from one broken aircraft to another at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport? Or is it because I’ve had to interact with the U.S. healthcare system more than usual recently due to an injury?
The answer may be all the above, but I’m trying to focus on gratitude. I’ve arrived back in Southern California where the rains stopped for a few hours this weekend. I’m able to recover for a few weeks in the midst of an intense shoot schedule for the second season of my PBS show, America Outdoors. I got to swim with manatees!
In the next edition, I’ll have some new perspectives on how Gen Z is navigating shifts in social media and what happens if ByteDance can’t spin TikTok. But first, a few reflections on the latest version of ChatGPT and the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. In case you were wondering, no, the bank with an all-white executive team and single Black board member was not undone by a focus on diversity…
A.I., SVB & “Woke” Finance Fears
Reflections on the new ChatGPT, “doughnut economics,” D.E.I. backlash, and what the right got wrong about Silicon Valley Bank.
The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence—the discovery of mind-bending use cases and launch of new businesses—has warped my sense of time. Suddenly, leaps in computing that previously took years seem to be unfolding in weeks. When I first wrote about ChatGPT, back in December, I described my excitement about how A.I. could potentially transform art and industry, but also my fears about mistakes and unintended consequences along the way. It was this same concern, after all, that led Sam Altman and Elon Musk, among others, to found OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT and Dall-E, with a mandate to develop these tools in the safest possible way.
Since then, of course, OpenAI created a for-profit subsidiary (which operates in a decidedly less-than-open fashion), partnered with Microsoft, and began churning out new developments at a breakneck pace. The A.I. arms race is on. In just the last week, Microsoft announced the inclusion of large language models across its full Office suite in the form of an integrated A.I. system called Copilot. You can think of it like the old “Clippy” helper, but with total information awareness of your data in ways that would make an intelligence agency drool. I think the promotional video is important to watch. Just ignore the appeals about reconnecting people to “the soul of work” and focus on the new capabilities and new dependencies being introduced. The job I had for years as a strategy consultant won’t exist in that form again, and neither will many others as presentations build themselves, spreadsheets analyze themselves, and emails compose themselves.
Despite C.E.O. Sundar Pichai declaring Google an “A.I. first” company all the way back in 2016, and despite the fact that the “T” in ChatGPT refers to transformer technology pioneered at Google, the company has seemed to lag these latest developments. It also experienced controversies that may have slowed its public deployment just as competitors were ramping up, from the failed Duplex service that would robocall businesses to book appointments to the dismissal or resignation of A.I. and ethics researchers including Timnit Gebru. But now it looks like the days of slow rolling are over. Last week Google announced the integration of large language models and generative A.I. into its Workspace productivity suite. What felt like a steady, largely internal, consideration of A.I. is now being driven by the competitive pressures of the market.
Perhaps most importantly, last week OpenAI also unveiled GPT-4, an upgrade to the model powering ChatGPT, and announced new partnerships and capabilities. Here are a few eye-popping examples: DuoLingo, the language learning app, added conversational roleplay so you can practice talking in your new language; Be My Eyes, an app that connects sighted volunteers with blind or low vision users added an A.I.-powered virtual volunteer option using the new image-processing capabilities of GPT-4; and GPT-4 can now pass a number of tests (AP exams, the GRE, even the LSAT and the bar) without having seen them before. Oh, and Midjourney, the image synthesizer that generates much of the A.I. art clogging your feeds, launched version 5 last week as well.
It’s not all generative A.I. rainbows and puppies, though. I have a feeling I’m going to be writing and worrying about A.I. for the foreseeable future. One of the foremost challenges, to my mind, is the potential further erosion of individual data control, consent, and agency in an era of A.I. supremacy. The fluency of a predictive email system increases the more it scans your inbox. The same is true for our photo apps, indeed all of our experiences. Each of these A.I. tools become more “useful” to us as they accumulate larger data sets, either by digesting the information we feed them or by essentially consuming the internet, itself. As with facial recognition apps or biometric scanning, we must submit to further digital surveillance to get the most value from what these tools can offer. The flipside of this is that any part of our lives not captured by the system can’t be enhanced, and so the promise of an A.I.-powered future is limited to the types of knowledge, experiences, and sentiments that can be digitally captured and rendered. It should go without saying that, for now at least, there’s much more to human history and experience than can be fed into a computational system.
All these tools will further shift the nature of work, and indeed human existence. Our measures of skill, competence, social belonging, even purpose will derive less from an embodied experience and more from our ability to manipulate technology. A small example is the rise of calculators. I was there when the TI-82 graphing calculator rocked my high school math class and changed how teachers teach and test. Last week I met a kid who’s going to UC Berkeley, and he proudly shared that ChatGPT drafted most of his admissions essays. The underlying nature of these technological changes isn’t new, but the speed of change, scale of impact, and range of applications is. The way we achieve our goals, accomplish our tasks, and realize our will is going to increasingly depend on our ability to properly command a computational system. Essentially we are becoming magicians or wizards, and the quality of our magic will depend on the quality of our imaginations and the quality of the spells we cast. So it bears asking repeatedly, who has the resources to learn spellcasting, and what are the limits and biases of the underlying magic?
There’s much more to this piece including
Challenges of regulation and law enforcement for A.I.
The coming social displacement and potential unrest from these rapid changes
My thoughts on the collapse of SVB and the opportunists blaming “wokeness” for the bad decisions of bank leadership.
The GOP backlash against CRT, ESG, DEI and other letters that scare them so much.
The opportunity to build our financial system and economy in a more regenerative and circular fashion through something called “doughnut economics” envisioned by economist Kate Raworth.
New How To Citizen Episodes!
I’m so grateful I get to make this podcast. It restores my faith in the possibility of us governing ourselves. And this season we have been going deep into culture. How we create a culture of democracy. It was culture that created Trump. Culture that created SVB. Culture that can create something much better and much more for the trying times ahead. Below are links to three recent episodes from very different folks all working to show us new ways of living together.
If you’re tired of disaster-focused news coverage and narratives of hopelessness, tune check these out!
Episode 3: Love is a Renewable Resource
In the third episode of Season 4 - Nsé Ufot reminds us why musicians, dancers, and video games should be considered as key strategies for mobilizing voters and fellow community members to citizen in creative ways. Listen now at HowToCitizen.com, Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Episode 4: Democracy without Politicians (Claudia Chwalisz)
In Episode 4, Claudia Chwalisz teaches us about citizens’ assemblies and how they can shift legislative power from the hands of politicians to the hands of the people. Listen now at HowToCitizen.com, Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Episode 5: DAO-mocracy (Alex Zhang)
In Episode 5, Alex Zhang shares what we can learn from Web3 and DAOs about collective power and active participation as members of our communities – believe it or not, part of the future of democracy depends on the future of technology. Listen now at HowToCitizen.com, Apple Podcasts or Spotify.