Fri Apr 28, 2023
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.
Lets’ get down to business
Very soon, interfacing with AI will be both commonplace and frictionless. If you’re looking for a compelling glimpse into that future, take a look at the app Call Annie, which allows you to have a voice or FaceTime conversation with a conversational version of ChatGPT. At the time of writing this, the back-and-forth conversation was fast, responsive, and frighteningly good. So good, it makes chatting with Alexa or Siri like trying to strike up a conversation with a one-year old. In contrast, “Annie” is a delightful conversationalist - be prepared for fun banter or deep discussions on whatever topic you want to chinwag about.
It’s exactly this kind of casual interface that will enthrall even the most tech-adverse Luddites, because guess what? They’re not “prompt engineering” - they’re making a new best friend. Hugh Howey takes this realization further and believes that AI will accelerate population decline:
Incels will be mollified by AI-enhanced pornography. Women will find life partners who fulfill many of their coupling needs. Everyone will be distracted or occupied to some degree, just as if a billion sterile mosquitoes were let into the wild. You thought tamagotchis and pet rocks were a fad? Wait until we have AI children, pets and lifelike Pokemon. The innate need to nurture will be satisfied by other means.
Laugh if you want to - a week ago this speculation may have sounded far-fetched, but now it just sounds sadly inevitable.
I’ve been reading a lot about the applications of AI and it’s implications in the world of work. I touched on this topic in my last post. I even attended a webinar. I’m trying to use it more because everybody keeps saying that “AI won’t take your job but someone using AI will”. Given AI’s limitations when it comes to factual reporting, it seems that right now it’s best suited to creative tasks. A creative “liberal arts” project is a very good way to learn how something works and get better at using it. I thought a good project might be to use AI to help me write a novel. I’ll let you know how that goes.
As for the future of technical writing, I agree with Tom Johnson’s prediction. He argues that, in a future AI-driven world, technical writers could be writing primarily for machines instead of humans. AI can’t generate content out of thin air - it needs training data. Technical writers will still be needed to create that training data, based on proprietary information used to “ground” the AI. But the primary interface with the user will likely be an LLM-based chatbot.
I’m not sure how I feel about this prediction, assuming he’s on the right track, which he just might be. The troubling part is that, as the chatbot would handle the final output, writers wouldn’t have to worry as much about grammar, spelling, or crafting the perfect sentence. Because of this, Technical writing could be more easily outsourced to AI-savvy, non-native language speakers. But, by the same token, hiring foreign-language translators won’t be necessary for localization.
The ubiquity of chatbots is certainly not a given. Given that most tech comm tools are stuck in the 90s, I’m not entirely convinced we’ll get there in the next couple of decades. Also, I believe that multiple outputs are important. Some people simply don’t like to read. Visual learners, for example, prefer Ikea-style manuals with plenty of visuals and no text. Yet, despite the popularity of instructional videos on YouTube, the most popular manual format is still the good old PDF. And there are always technophobes out there who demand paper hard copies.
Anyway, the key takeaway here is that we all need to lean into AI as these concerns are not limited to any one knowledge-based industry. Once you figure out how it will change your industry, I think you’ll find that the future is exciting, not scary, because you’ll be the one shaping that future - well, you and your AI sidekick of course.
Enough business. let’s squeeze in some fun this month and talk about…
Some great free entertainment
Sure, rampant rising costs and inflation means you can’t afford to eat out anymore. But, let’s be honest - restaurant food just doesn’t taste any good when you’re literally eating away at your kids’ education fund with every mouthful. And that PS5 you’ve been lusting after will just gather dust after you have to pick up another night shift just to pay for it.
Do you know why the best things in life are free? Because free stuff is free… of expectations. When you pay for something, you expect your money’s worth. Disappointment is often the result when you don’t get it. If you had to pay to go for a walk outside, a lot of people would request a refund when it rains. When it comes to entertainment, spending money is never as fun as the fun you get for free.
Unless you’re really into gambling (if you are, then you’re either too rich or too pathetic to ever be happy - sorry).
And with that awful preamble over with, here is some fun, free entertainment I’ve been enjoying lately:
These days, there is so much great free content on YouTube, you don’t even need to subscribe to a video streaming service, let alone cable (does anybody under 70 still have cable?). And there’s enough weird, niche stuff to watch for just about everyone alive.
A case in point - the BeardMeatsFood channel. Who would have thought that watching a bearded Englishman wolf down ridiculous portions of food would be entertaining, but it just is. Mostly because the host, Adam, is just such a chill and positive dude.
Being a competitive eater is not without its hazards, but the amazing thing is that the skinny Adam is actually in really good shape. It’s always priceless to see the look on the server’s face when he asks for the dessert menu after demolishing a mountain of food that would give most people a heart attack.
I’ve been collecting free game giveaways from Epic Games since the beginning and have amassed quite the collection. In fact, it can be an overwhelming choice deciding what game to play next. I’m so glad I gave Aven Colony a try, because I’ve been wanting to play a game exactly like this for a long time.
Basically, this game is Sim City on an alien planet. If you’re a city-building game fan, that’s all you need to know.
The planet you’re trying to colonize, Aven Prime, is beautiful but deadly - as they say. You not only have to balance the logistics of growing a city and keeping the colonists happy, but also contend with attacks from the local flora and fauna and deal with an accelerated summer/winter cycle that affects your ability to grow food. The single-player campaign has a bizarre plot that involves alien artifacts and infiltration by an alien cult. It’s wonderful.
I hate to age myself so blatantly, but gone are the days of recording music off the radio onto cassette tapes. Understatement of the year, but free music is a lot more accessible in the digital age.
If you’re old enough to have lived through several decades of music, like me, then your musical tastes have likely evolved into something more avant-garde. Recently, in my snippet feed, I boldly declared that the age of Rap and Hip Pop is over. I said this in part because 100 gecs feels like the future of music. The music of 100 gecs is a meta mashup of pop, punk, dubstep, ska, electronic, trance, metal, and hip pop fed through compression and distortion and injected with a liberal dose of off-kilter internet culture.
This two-person band falls into the micro-genres of hyperpop and glitchcore with compositions that are colourful, fast-paced, and cluttered. 100 gecs won’t appeal to anyone not well-versed in the band’s influences. But the music is catchy, nostalgic, and fresh all at once and I’m into it.
The Exorcist Files
There are many excellent free podcasts out there, but if you have the stomach for it, The Exorcist Files is well worth your time.
Hands down, the scariest horror movie I’ve ever watched is The Exorcist. After listening to this podcast, I wasn’t surprised to learn that this movie was based on a true story. Another interesting fact is that this terrifying movie is credited with a drastic turn in the public perception of Ouija boards, which were bestsellers until the movie came out. A sequel to The Exorcist is coming out later this year - yeah… no. Hard pass.
This podcast is also based on actual events, featuring dramatizations from the case files of Father Carlos Martins, a renowned exorcist in the Catholic Church. The scenes are recorded in 3D binaural audio, which really gets under your skin when you listen in noise-cancelling earbuds. I won’t deny that the dramatizations are hard to listen to, but there is enough discussion, teaching, and explanation to make the podcast utterly fascinating. But also terrifying. You’ve been warned.
Make Something Wonderful
This one is a no-brainer for Apple fans, but Steve Jobs had such extraordinary insight, everybody will get something out of his penetrating thoughts and words. Make Something Wonderful is a free book from the Steve Jobs Archive with a curated collection of his speeches, interviews, and e-mails.
The custom web experience was designed by Jony Ive’s company, LoveFrom, and is the best way to read the book, although you can also download it.
To tie it back to my earlier AI “business chat” - it was Steve Jobs who kick-started the AI-assistant category with Siri on the iPhone 4S. Personally, I don’t think that Steve Jobs would have allowed Siri to become the joke that it is today. He would have seen the potential of AI long before ChatGPT came along and pushed Siri for much more aggressive development.
Back in 1983, what Steve had to say on the future of computing was truly prescient:
When I was going to school, I had a few great teachers and a lot of mediocre teachers. And the thing that probably kept me out of jail was the books. I could go and read what Aristotle or Plato wrote without an intermediary in the way. And a book was a phenomenal thing. It got right from the source to the destination without anything in the middle.
The problem was, you can’t ask Aristotle a question. And I think, as we look towards the next fifty to one hundred years, if we really can come up with these machines that can capture an underlying spirit, or an underlying set of principles, or an underlying way of looking at the world, then, when the next Aristotle comes around, maybe if he carries around one of these machines with him his whole life—his or her whole life—and types in all this stuff, then maybe someday, after this person’s dead and gone, we can ask this machine, “Hey, what would Aristotle have said? What about this?” And maybe we won’t get the right answer, but maybe we will. And that’s really exciting to me. And that’s one of the reasons I’m doing what I’m doing.
Fast forward to 2023 and now we can ask ChatGPT what Aristotle would have said:
Just like Steve said - “maybe we won’t get the right answer, but maybe we will. And that’s really exciting to me.”