At the Google I/O keynote this year, “AI” was mentioned 143 times. AI everything. Even the Pixel’s development was shamelessly retconned so that “from the beginning, Pixel was conceived as an AI-first mobile computer”.
However, the AI-stuffed presentation didn’t seem like a desperate defense against the encroachment of Microsoft and ChatGPT onto its turf. Instead, we saw Google at their most confident. This was Google’s time to shine.
Looking back at previous Google I/O keynotes, they have every right to puff out their chests. Google talks about AI year after year. It was usually the part in I/O where everybody fell asleep as Google droned on about AI research, theory, and language models. But despite the annual show-and-tell, they never released any AI products.
And why would they when Google Search is their raison d’être, their bread and butter, their holy cow? Upsetting their extremely profitable business model is the last thing they’d want to do. So Microsoft saw their chance and took it - instead of typing in search queries, chat with Bing. Chat with Bing - a fundamental shift away from the link economy, which is how the World Wide Web has always functioned.
But when you take the fight to Sundar, Sundar will calmly and responsibly slap you down.
I hate to whip out my nerd glasses right off the bat, but putting this post together has been harder this month. Forestry, the headless CMS I’ve been using for years, has shut down. So here I am, rawdogging this post in a Notepad++ text file. I’m not ready to commit to another CMS just yet, especially since the process isn’t exactly straightforward. Shockingly, not everything in technology has gotten easier.
It’s the end of April already - that’s wild. The transition of spring can be unsettling - hailstones one minute and searing sunshine the next. If winter is all business, the summer is for pleasure. But spring is just a heady mix of noncommittal unpredictability. So, in honour of flighty spring, I’m going to talk both business and pleasure in this post.
I’ve written a lot on AI already, and I’m sort of ready to move on, assuming the zeitgeist will let me. But I have a few more things to say - that will be today’s business. For pleasure, I’m going to highlight some great free entertainment I’ve been enjoying lately. In these times of rampant rising costs and inflation, you don’t have to spend a cent to have fun.
The great AI Gold Rush has begun.
Given the constant hype, it’s tempting to dismiss the constant flow of Twitter posts on “Ten ChatGPT prompts that will blow your mind 🤯”, the thousands of shoddy AI start-ups flooding the app store, and the usual assortment of blustering, opportunistic idiots who have scratched “AR” or “NFTs” out of their bios to replace it with “AI all the time, every time”.
But, there are actual concrete products - not just vapourware - emerging out of the hype.
Microsoft, for example, is aggressively embedding AI into all their core Office products with a supercharged successor to Clippy they call “Co-Pilot”. They promise to eliminate the drudgery of office work. They’re probably not wrong (although they may also eliminate working-class, admin-focused office worker jobs at the same time).
Numerous other high-profile companies, from Duolingo to Expedia, are integrating ChatGPT plugins into their products, bringing AI to the mainstream.
In a rare display of enthusiasm, even Bill Gates has declared that “The Age of AI has begun” (the title of his latest blog post). But, when discussing the risks and problems with AI, he says this:
Then there’s the possibility that AIs will run out of control. Could a machine decide that humans are a threat, conclude that its interests are different from ours, or simply stop caring about us? Possibly, but this problem is no more urgent today than it was before the AI developments of the past few months.
So, 2023 launched like a rocket ship with an extremely busy January and even busier February. And even though I could have asked ChatGPT to fill in for me for January, I swallowed my pride and allowed my streak to break.
I’ve been putting out a post every month since 2020, but I’m no robot, merely an imperfect human. Thus, January has come and gone without a post. If I had a time machine, I’d go back and write one, but regretfully, I don’t.
Since nobody human actually visits this site, I’m sure the AI robots trawling this site for data will forgive me. I will forgive myself too, which is arguably more important.
How do you know I’m real?
I didn’t think we’d get here so quickly. ChatGPT has revealed itself as the uncanny villain to writers everywhere. Writing on any generic topic has become meaningless overnight, because the AI can probably do it better.
So, I ask you again, how do you know I’m real?
Well, when I was in first grade, I threw up on a girl in reading circle and made her cry. I hate eating raw onions and cooked apple pie. I think Country music is the worst, but I love a good Western. On a trip to Europe with my best friend, we got into an argument. Then we just sat on a stairway in Florence for eight hours straight, refusing to speak to each other. I’ve never tried bungie jumping, nor do I plan to. Trust me - I’m human.
But isn’t that what an AI would say to convince you it’s human? 🤔
People have been using ChatGPT to write everything from college essays, to legal documents (saving them thousands of dollars no doubt), to their wedding vows (come on dude, so not worth it). ChatGPT can even write pretty good code.
I can promise you, however, that I have no plans to hand off my writing duties to an AI anytime soon and won’t even attempt the in-vogue party trick of asking ChatGPT to write a post and pass it off as my own writing.
There are of course problems with ChatGPT, the most troubling being that it states facts so confidently and eloquently, you’d assume those facts are true (they are often not). Don’t believe what you read, indeed.
But nobody can deny that how we think of the written word has forever changed, especially if you’re a writer.
And so concludes a tale of two tablets. The stage has been set. To summarize from Part 1: The 10th generation iPad and the iPad Air 5 are facing off. The winner is my birthday present.
Plot twist - I already declared a winner a while ago, long before October’s iPad event.
In the run-up to last month’s event, all the tech YouTubers and journalists kept spouting the same conventional wisdom: Hold off on buying an iPad until Apple reveals their new goodies. And under normal circumstances, this is great advice. Only fools, for example, buy new iPhones in August.
I ignored their advice - and got a great deal on the iPad Air 5 that far surpasses any Black Friday deal out there.
A lot of people were excited about the new iPads coming this month. As usual, the wild rumours had some people pumped. But what we got didn’t quite live up to the hype. In fact, it set a new low bar. Let’s dive into it.
It’s been twelve years since Steve Jobs first introduced the iPad. It was a dream come true at the time. Before 2010, touch-screen tablets only existed in Star Trek.
Everybody wanted one. Initial sales were so high, many thought the laptop’s days were numbered and a new age of touch-screen computing had begun. Over the next three years, the iPad got thinner, lighter, and even more powerful, culminating in the first iPad Air in 2013 - a beautiful, sleek tablet that was so good, I could resist no longer and picked one up for myself.
Ten years on, and I still use that iPad Air every day. Even though it is an adequate YouTube machine, it is frustratingly slow and outdated. So, I decided that this will be the year that I upgrade. The fact that I’ve been happy with the first-gen iPad Air for this long is a testament to how good it is. But it is also an indication that iPads never quite took off as computers. And by “computers”, I mean productivity machines that you do “work” on.
This tension is a common theme among tech enthusiasts, and if you’re one of those, you’ve no doubt come across this question before: Why is the iPad’s software holding back such powerful hardware?
Well, I’m not really interested in answering that question.
I’ve been obsessing over the iPhone’s notch since 2017. Not only do I pen an ongoing segment here called Notch Watch, but I even created a dedicated Notch Watch website.
However, I’ve reached a turning point - an editorial dilemma if you will - as the notch’s days are surely numbered. All my complaining over the “dreaded notch” will soon have to… evolve.
At Apple’s annual September event, Apple introduced the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus. These do still have notches. They also still have everything the iPhone 13 had last year, including the old A15 chip. We’ll chat more about this later.
But with the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, Apple tried really, really hard to change the notch narrative. And you know what? They might have done it.
Instead of a notch, the Face ID sensors and selfie camera have been moved into a pill-shaped cut-out that only Apple could get away with calling the “Dynamic Island”.
Yes, there is nobody else on this planet who could take this bombastic name seriously. As a case in point, Joanna Stern at the Wall Street Journal hilariously rowed out to a literal island in a canoe for her iPhone 14 Pro review. Amazing. The tech press have even started calling the old notch the “Static Peninsula” - with tongue firmly in cheek.
But goofy name aside, the Dynamic Island - sorry, I just can’t - the pill cut-out (henceforth called “the island”) is now far more than it appears to be.
Her name was Bailey - and she was the best horse. Gentle, plodding, and content to stay in line - instead of bolt ahead like Dexter (the horse behind me bearing her unfortunate rider). Bailey’s calm temperament, despite carrying a new rider, was most welcome.
It was an especially hot day in the Cariboo. An unusually wet spring, however, had kept the landscape verdant and the mosquitoes thriving. Due to the heat, our route led us through serene, shaded forest rather than open plains.
I felt a good connection with Bailey - a slight tug at the reigns was sufficient to nudge her in the right direction. And when we dismounted for a rest stop, she responded to my call when the time came to mount up once more.
Given my lack of experience (does riding a horse in Red Dead Redemption count?), trotting was uncomfortable at first, until I started to anticipate Bailey’s rhythm and stand up in the saddle. The last time I had ridden a horse (in real life) was 18 years ago in Costa Rica, so it had been awhile.
There’s something so meditative and calming about swaying in the saddle, listening to the monotonous clip-clop of the hooves, and simply trusting this magnificent animal to bear your weight on a day when it’s too hot to even walk.
Summer is in full swing, which means desk jockeys who spend all day in front of the computer are forced to venture outside and get sunburns, mosquito bites, and decreased life expectancy from breathing in campfire smoke. Unless sitting all day (which is, of course, “the new smoking”) hasn’t exacted an even worse toll.
Seriously though, I do love being outdoors, soaking up the beauty of nature in person instead of settling for Planet Earth in HDR. I also appreciate being in areas with no cell service. I hate to use the phrase “tech detox”, but it’s a great tech detox. Taking an extended break from being online only makes you appreciate the internet more when you return.
I’m well aware that there is an anti-tech movement out there with zealots who switch their smartphones for flip phones , only use paper books and maps, and eschew screens of any kind. But I don’t think we can go backwards. It only takes the frustrating and lengthy act of texting on a flip phone for the doubt to creep in.
Smartphones are actually more efficient because they save time. It’s quicker to follow GPS directions than stare helplessly at a paper map. E-books save so much space that even Marie Kondo can’t deny the benefits. I could go on.
On the other hand, I’m genuinely mystified on how people can spend four to five hours on their phones everyday. Is there really that much to do after reading a few tweets?
Regardless, some time in the backcountry, away from civilization - and far away from the crowds - is good for everybody.