Weekly Web Harvest for 2024-04-14

  • t.30=Ovipares et Serpens t.1 (1788) – Histoire naturelle, ge?ne?rale et particulie?re – Biodiversity Heritage Library
  • AI isn’t useless. But is it worth it?
    Some are surprised when they discover I don’t think blockchains are useless, either. Like so many technologies, blockchains are designed to prioritize a few specific characteristics (coordination among parties who don’t trust one another, censorship-resistance, etc.) at the expense of many others (speed, cost, etc.). And as they became trendy, people often used them for purposes where their characteristics weren’t necessary — or were sometimes even unwanted — and so they got all of the flaws with none of the benefits. The thing with blockchains is that the things they are suited for are not things I personally find to be terribly desirable, such as the massive casinos that have emerged around gambling on token prices, or financial transactions that cannot be reversed.

    When I boil it down, I find my feelings about AI are actually pretty similar to my feelings about blockchains: they do a poor job of much of what people try to do with them, they can’t do the things their creators claim they one day might, and many of the things they are well suited to do may not be altogether that beneficial. And while I do think that AI tools are more broadly useful than blockchains, they also come with similarly monstrous costs.

  • Any Technology Indistinguishable From Magic is Hiding Something?
    This framing is a half-truth, and it’s purposefully deceptive. Yes, if everyone open-sources its AI models, they cannot build a moat on proprietary software. However, Google’s memo fails to mention that it already has the infrastructure to run computing-hungry AI models and that infrastructure is wildly expensive to build. That’s why four companies own most of it. The real moat is the fields of data centers, specialized GPUs, and hundreds of miles of deep-sea fiber optic cables.

    h/t Stephen Downes

Leave a Reply