3 min read

You Should Read - Feb 10

You Should Read - Feb 10

Just One Thing

Ted Chiang, ChatGPT Is a Blurry JPEG of the Web: OpenAI’s chatbot offers paraphrases, whereas Google offers quotes. Which do we prefer?

When an image program is displaying a photo and has to reconstruct a pixel that was lost during the compression process, it looks at the nearby pixels and calculates the average. This is what ChatGPT does when it’s prompted to describe, say, losing a sock in the dryer using the style of the Declaration of Independence: it is taking two points in “lexical space” and generating the text that would occupy the location between them. (“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one to separate his garments from their mates, in order to maintain the cleanliness and order thereof. . . .”) ChatGPT is so good at this form of interpolation that people find it entertaining: they’ve discovered a “blur” tool for paragraphs instead of photos, and are having a blast playing with it.

AI is sometimes presented as a subject so inscrutable by average intelligence that any criticism is deflected with "well, you just don't understand it well enough." And I felt sometimes that might be true, in my case. Though, as I age, I have come to see my failure to grok supposedly complex topics that appear to me to be nonsense as a warning sign of impending doom - see dot-com stock valuations, credit default swaps, crypto, and, now, AI. Chiang, however, is a sharp guy and throughly understands AI. He does a great service here of providing a useful analogy for explaining the shortcomings of AI, cutting through the shrill chorus of its evangelists.

Earlier in the week, I'd intended for Dan McQuillan's more pointed and angry take - "We Come to Bury ChatGPT, Not To Praise It" - to be Just One Thing. Chiang's essay is more approachable (its in the New Yorker, after all), but it's also worth a read.

Collected Ephemera

Jorge Arango Building a Personal Knowledge Garden

Visual Atelier8 The Zero Waste Bistro Was Made Entirely From Recycled Materials

Big Think The Great European House Cat Migration: Ancient bones reveal that domesticated felines were at home in Pre-Neolithic Poland around 8,000 years ago.

Tor.com Five Classic SF Works About Cosmic Warmongering

Anil Dash “Link in Bio” Is a Slow Knife (from 2019)

The Atlantic The Evangelical Church Is Breaking Apart: Christians must reclaim Jesus from his church.

Shojiwax Your Brain Is a Radio: Choose your stations carefully.

Science Alert Fungal Pathogens May Be Adapting Dangerously to Global Warming

Grunge The Fascinating Life Of The Man Who Created The Twilight Zone

The Guardian The Man in Charge of How the US Spends $400bn to Shift Away From Fossil Fuels: The Department of Energy’s loan programs office was ‘essentially dormant’, says Jigar Shah, its head – but now it’s ready to bankroll clean energy projects.

The Verge 4chan Users Embrace AI Voice Clone Tool to Generate Celebrity Hatespeech: Free AI voice cloning technology from startup ElevenLabs has been used by trolls to imitate the voices of celebrities. The generated audio ranges in content from memes and erotica to virulent hatespeech.

Idle Words Why Not Mars: For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Font Rescue We at FONTRESCUE search for old letters on buildings, tombstones, machines... Letters sometimes designed by master builders, but usually the author is unknown. Before they disappear, we want to save them by digitizing them and supplementing them into a fully usable typeface.

Straights Times Forced Participation in Religious Activities to Be Classified as Child Abuse in Japan

TruthOut Haymarket Books Will Provide Free Black History E-Books to Florida Students: Books are “dangerous to those in power…. that’s why we publish them.

The Wabbit Hole

Selections from my Wikipedia searches this week.

Aimo Koivunen | Battle of Jutland | cordite | Diggers (theater) | Microserfs | Cheb Mami | ska punk | two-tone (music genre) | literally | USS Seawolf (SS-197) | "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" | Conway's Law