When ChatGPT takes my job
9 May 2023 | 12:58 am

I worry a lot about what will happen when machines take over my job.

As someone who does a lot of writing for work, whether that be in briefing notes or presentation decks or memos or just in Slack, I’ve long thought about what it would mean if a machine could do my writing better than I could.

For a long time, this was just conjecture. But with the emergence of ChatGPT and its ability to write—and emulate a person’s specific writing style—highly technical prose, the future where my work will be fundamentally different can’t be too far away.

It will, of course, take a while for tools like ChatGPT to get to the point where they can build the political acuity and broad analytical ability that is needed to do my job, but I’m sure that day is coming. Coupled with the fact that I’m growing older, and being older in a tech-adjacent field is often a liability, I can’t bury my head in the sand and pretend nothing’s going to change. The nature of my work will have to change, and with it, the way I define my professional self, as well.

There is a big question to be asked here: large pieces of our emotional lives and social selves are hooked into the tasks we do for work. What happens when AI does those tasks better?”

I’m lucky: I don’t define my whole self and my life based on what I do for a living, and never really have. My work is but one facet of my life, and definitely not the most important one: I don’t see myself as just a public servant, but a myriad of other things like a father, a husband, a civic activist, a writer, a good friend, and much more. The changing nature of my work because of AI won’t make me feel less than, or diminished in any way—but it will feel different.

Change is coming; in the meantime, I’m doing the best I can to excel in my work, but also to double down on the things I care about outside of work. Sure, in the future, an AI might be able to write a briefing note in my stead, but an AI definitely won’t be able to be a nurturing, caring father to my daughter—among many other things that I do that a machine can’t and won’t be able to do. Let the AI revolution come: I’m happy with who I am and who I will be.

I want to quote this whole article by Ted Chiang—Will A.I. Become the New McKinsey?”—but I’ll just excerpt a few passages and then strongly urge you to read the rest.

On Luddites and economic justice:

The Luddites were not anti-technology; what they wanted was economic justice. They destroyed machinery as a way to get factory owners’ attention. The fact that the word Luddite” is now used as an insult, a way of calling someone irrational and ignorant, is a result of a smear campaign by the forces of capital.

On the distribution of technological benefits:

The only way that technology can boost the standard of living is if there are economic policies in place to distribute the benefits of technology appropriately. We haven’t had those policies for the past forty years, and, unless we get them, there is no reason to think that forthcoming advances in A.I. will raise the median income, even if we’re able to devise ways for it to augment individual workers. A.I. will certainly reduce labor costs and increase profits for corporations, but that is entirely different from improving our standard of living.

The hard work for technologists ahead:

The tendency to think of A.I. as a magical problem solver is indicative of a desire to avoid the hard work that building a better world requires. That hard work will involve things like addressing wealth inequality and taming capitalism. For technologists, the hardest work of all–the task that they most want to avoid–will be questioning the assumption that more technology is always better, and the belief that they can continue with business as usual and everything will simply work itself out. No one enjoys thinking about their complicity in the injustices of the world, but it is imperative that the people who are building world-shaking technologies engage in this kind of critical self-examination. It’s their willingness to look unflinchingly at their own role in the system that will determine whether A.I. leads to a better world or a worse one.

Read the whole thing. I’ve been starting to think a lot more about the societal effects of AI and this piece really puts a lot of things in perspective.

Two poems

I Need a Poem
Kyla Jamieson

Can we talk about the moon
tonight? Low & full
in the baby-blue sky. A friend
at my door, the sound
of her laugh & well-loved
heart. I want to be held
up like that. I need a poem
about happiness I haven’t
written yet, an ode
to the ducks in my neighbours’
pool, another for the pink
magnolias of spring–some trees
make it look so easy: Yes,
I can hold all this beauty up.

Ruth Krauss

Reading about the Wisconsin Weeping Willow
I was thinking of you
and when I saw Plus Free Gifts
I was thinking of you
and when farther down the page I saw Eat Five Kinds of
Apples from Just One Miracle Tree
I was thinking of you
I was thinking of you

From Roxane Gay: Making People Uncomfortable Can Now Get You Killed. She writes about this so well, but it’s sad she needs to write about it at all.

There have been a lot of good remembrances of Harry Belafonte online since his passing, but this one by Wesley Morris, on Mr. Belafonte as folk hero, is my favorite.

From Sharon Butala: On Aging Alone. I think about aging a lot these days. In our culture, our elders lived with us until they passed. That’s harder now, now that everyone lives so far from each other.

A few good pieces on loneliness, something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently: in Quanta, How Loneliness Reshapes the Brain, and in Farnam Street, The Art of Being Alone.

Sasha Velour has long been one of the drag queens that intrigues me most. This excerpt from her new book, on How Ru Paul Created a Castle for Queer Beauty, makes me want to pick up a copy and read it now.

I also definitely want to pick up Virginia Sole-Smith’s new book; this excerpt on fatphobia and anti-fat bias in sports makes me want to read it even more.

My panic attacks look like full-blown heart attacks, so this article on How Not to Make It Worse When Someone Is Having a Panic Attack is a good primer for anyone who has to deal with people like me who are prone to getting them.

A few pieces about AI: in The Verge, AI Drake just set an impossible legal trap for Google, and in The Washington Post, Inside the secret list of websites that make AI chatbots sound smart. (According to that last link, this blog is ranked 357,921 in Google’s C4 dataset for training their AI.)

I’m enjoying being on Mastodon and not on Twitter anymore, but here’s a question worth asking: can ActivityPub save the internet?

Libraries with cafés and wine bars? Sign me up!

Mistakes Will Be Made:

It’s strange how we blame ourselves for everything. Even though we all lose the thread and break things and change our minds and foul everything up, most of us take it all so personally. We treat mistakes like avoidable anomalies, but mistakes are the main event, the meat of life. Our lives are just a long series of screw ups.

The Internet Thinks We Don’t Know Its Secret. But I Do.:

Perhaps this is the best standard of valuation for the internet. Someone said it weighs as much as a strawberry. But maybe it weighs as much as what you’d give it up for, if you could go back in time and make the internet never happen.

The radical reinvention of the English language:

To say that language shifts is not to say that it degrades or becomes corrupted. Rather, languages evolve in certain common ways. These include trends toward economy and efficiency, with more complex terms and phrases often replaced by those that are simpler, and toward new modes of expressiveness, as older words and phrases lose their punch.

Baroque, Purple, and Beautiful: In Praise of the Long, Complicated Sentence:

Within a long sentence—clause upon clause, the commas and semicolons, em-dashes and colons, parentheticals and appositions piling up—there can be a veritable maze of imagery, a labyrinth of connotation, a factory of concepts; the baroque and purple sentence is simultaneously an archive of consciousness at its most caffeinated and a dream of new worlds from words alone.

What Was Twitter, Anyway?:

Looking back, it’s hard not to see this as a tragic bargain. Twitter took the wild world of blogging and corralled the whole thing, offering writers a deal they couldn’t refuse: Instant, constant access to an enormous audience, without necessarily needing to write more than 140 characters. But they would never again be as alone with their thoughts, even when they were off the platform. Twitter follows you, mentally, and besides, anything can be brought back there for judgment.

Philanthropy’s equivalent of All Lives Matter”:

Philanthropy’s roots are stained with inequity and injustice. So much wealth in this country has been built on a legacy of slavery, stolen Indigenous land, worker exploitation, environmental degradation, and tax avoidance. It is a history of white people and white-led corporations creating the very injustices that they then get lauded for giving fractions of the wealth they hoarded to solve.

Select your birthday and this site will give you an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on that day. Amazing.

Snapshot of Hubble Telescope photo of galaxies in GOODS-North Field

The amazing video series Everything Is A Remix is all wrapped up and now available as one long video. Definitely worth watching if you haven’t been watching the individual pieces as they’ve come out:

And a few more:

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Looking for delight
4 April 2023 | 9:53 pm

If you asked my what my favorite word in the world is, I’d say it’s a toss up between delight” and grace.”

I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about grace sometime soon, but today, I’m thinking a lot about delight.

Every day, I look for the little moments of joy, the little bits of delight that cross my path. I even have a prompt in my nightly journal to encourage me to look back upon the day and describe what delighted me.

Today, I’m delighted that we can see a brief sliver of the moon just above the rising sun. Yesterday, I was delighted by the colors of the tulips on our kitchen counter. The day before that, the delight of a robin singing outside the window in the early dawn.

This pursuit of delight is a conscious one; it involves closely noticing the environment that surrounds me and seeing the joy in small moments. Noticing is, after all, a way to show we care, and seeking out small delights is my way of showing love to the world around me.

It is also good for my mental health. adrienne maree brown captures it well:

put your attention on joy, being connected and feeling whole, and you will find it everywhere. your heart will still break. you will know grief. but you will find it a reasonable cost for the random abundance of miracles, and the soft wild rhythms of love.

I am constantly in search for the random abundance of miracles” in my life. That you are reading this is one of those miracles; thank you for bringing delight to my day.

A poem

Instructions on Not Giving Up
Ada Limón

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Fun-Size Hustle:

The message of school fundraising is the same one that adults are taught about jobs: Working hard is rewarded, whether with a paycheck or a toy. And if your paycheck is too small or you want more than one backpack tag, work harder. Never mind that this message completely disregards the fact that who a person knows and where they’re from can lead to wildly different outcomes for doing the same work as their peers.

There Is No Such Thing As Countries:

Firstly and most obviously, countries are merely a social construction. They are collectively produced fictions (like money, or religions) rather than mind-independent objects (like stones). Being fictional does not mean that countries do not matter, but it does mean that they only exist so long as enough people agree to act as if they do.

Secondly and more significantly, countries are places not agents. Places on a map cannot have interests or goals or take actions to achieve them.

On Antibiotic Resistance:

Antibiotic resistance develops through evolution by natural selection. Bacteria can double their numbers in minutes or hours, and some of them, through random mutations, acquire tricks that circumvent the action of the drug. Bacteria have little molecular pumps in their walls to expel toxins; these can undergo modifications that enable them to pump out antibiotics. In the case of antibiotics that have to latch onto a protein to be effective, a small mutation in that protein can be enough to confer resistance.

When Shipping Containers Sink in the Drink:

Things have been tumbling off boats into the ocean for as long as humans have been a seafaring species, which is to say, at least ten thousand and possibly more than a hundred thousand years. But the specific kind of tumbling off a boat that befell the nearly five million Lego pieces of the Tokio Express is part of a much more recent phenomenon, dating only to about the nineteen-fifties and known in the shipping industry as container loss.”

We’ve Lost the Plot:

In the future, the writers warned, we will surrender ourselves to our entertainment. We will become so distracted and dazed by our fictions that we’ll lose our sense of what is real. We will make our escapes so comprehensive that we cannot free ourselves from them. The result will be a populace that forgets how to think, how to empathize with one another, even how to govern and be governed.

That future has already arrived.

Made it:

You can’t get good at something without first acknowledging that it matters. And then agreeing to be a beginner at it, even though it’s uncomfortable, even though it’s difficult.

Best Friends’ Are a Surprisingly Recent Phenomenon:

Why are we so taken with dynamic duos? Perhaps it’s because they mirror a long-held romantic ideal in American culture: monogamous partnership, in which love is considered more real for its lack of competition. But many people’s ideas about romantic relationships are changing. Can our friendship paradigms change with them?

I don’t want to log in to your website:

The web is becoming a miserable experience because some salesbro who is trying to meet his KPIs is doing stuff to marginally increase the number of paying customers. (And you know, the hell with the rest of us!) The more each site tries to create its own little walled garden, the less valuable the open web becomes.

How to Take Back Control of What You Read on the Internet:

Introducing a quarter-century-old technology as if it were novel might seem a little strange. But despite the syndication format’s cult following, most internet users have never heard of it. That’s unfortunate, because RSS provides everyday internet users with an easy way to organize all of their online-content consumption—news media, blogs, YouTube channels, even search results for favorite terms—in one place, curated by the user, not an algorithm. The answer to our relatively recent social-media woes has been sitting there all along.

Millennials are hitting middle age:

When you’re not financially stable until your mid-30s and you don’t have children until your late 30s, you don’t have the time or the funds to have a meltdown. You’re in a brand-new life stage that hasn’t yet had time to grow stale. As Mark Blackman, who was born in 1984 and lives in Baltimore with two kids under 5, said: Many of my similar-age friends also have young children. It feels too early for a midlife crisis, or we’re still too occupied by child care for additional crises.”

Hip-Hop at Fifty: An Elegy:

The hip-hop generation, in the places where it was born, is still dying younger than it should, just more subtly, more quietly, and in ways that are less likely to inspire public vigils and memorial T-shirts.

everything I’ve watched in however long it’s been since the last one of these, part one:

Dads are resigned. Dads are a wine bar, dads are a book about a dead president, dads are a Sunday night. Dads are the luxurious comfort of failure, the softest part of the couch, and a story about what could have been. Dads are when the whole karaoke bar sings Piano Man.” Dads are a slow jam, a minor key, a basketball game where your team is losing but they tried their best. Dads are tired, and Tom Cruise has never been tired once in his life.

Dads are a rock song in which the lead singer apologizes for something; dads are a song that sounds like a love song but is actually about getting killed by the mafia and it’s your own fault for not making better choices in your life. Dads are the way that when a professional athlete retires and becomes a commentator on the same game he used to play, his suits never quite fit him right. Dads are a Volvo driving ten to fifteen miles over the speed limit but not more than that. Dads are the way that caring for other people often means allowing yourself to be the butt of the joke; when someone succeeds at applying this principle, that’s about dads, and when someone fails at it, that’s about dads, too. Love is being the fall guy, and so is being a dad.

AI and the American Smile:

In flattening the diversity of facial expressions of civilizations around the world AI had collapsed the spectrum of history, culture, photography, and emotion concepts into a singular, monolithic perspective. It presented a false visual narrative about the universality of something that in the real world — where real humans have lived and created culture, expression, and meaning for hundreds of thousands of years — is anything but uniform.

There’s Something Off About LED Bulbs:

There is a world, almost within reach, in which LED lighting could be aesthetically fabulous. But right now, it’s one more thing that overpromises and under-delivers. What we’re starting to glimpse is a new phase in which good light, once easy to achieve and available to everyone, becomes a luxury product or the province of technological obsessives. The rest of the world will look a little more faded.

This short film is positively delightful.

This might be the most strange and fascinating video on the web. It’s ostensibly about creating a diorama of a Michael Jackson performance, but it’s so much more than that:

And a few more:

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Things I learned these past few months
2 April 2023 | 6:00 pm

Below, a quick roundup of a few of the things I learned in over the past few months.

Amazon only started their charity” initiative Amazon Smile because they didn’t want to pay Google for search traffic. (hachyderm.io)

A Dutch supermarket chain introduced slow checkouts for people who enjoy chatting, helping many people, especially the elderly, deal with loneliness. The move has proven so successful that they installed the slow checkouts in 200 stores. (Twitter)

Of the 69 rulers of the unified Roman Empire, from Augustus (d. 14 CE) to Theodosius (d. 395 CE), 62% suffered violent death. (ResearchGate)

Since 2020, the child care industry in the US has lost more than 80,000 workers — often to retail and office jobs — which has contributed to the closing of 12,000 programs. (NYTimes)

A new study shows that people from the Netherlands are the most physically active of 29 nations. On average, they report spending 12.8 hours a week (almost two hours per day) doing physical exercise or team sports, double the average of 6.1. (Ipsos)

In April 2022, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked the international community to recognize his nation by its traditional name, spelled Türkiye” and pronounced Tour-key-yeh. (WSJ)

Since it assumed leadership in the effort to eradicate guinea worm disease, the foundation started by Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter has reduced cases from 3.5 million in 1986 to just 13 in 2022. (Carter Center)

Analyses have found that 12 people—coined the disinformation dozen”—are responsible for 65% of misleading claims, rumors, and lies about COVID-19 vaccines on social media. (CCDH)

The South Pole is a constant process of snow management, to the point where decades-old buildings, though still fully functional, are buried under many feet of snow. (Brr)

One factor behind the shortage and the sharp rise in egg prices is an outbreak of avian influenza. Since the outbreak was detected in February 2022, more than 57 million birds have been affected. Infected or exposed flocks are culled to prevent the virus from spreading, resulting in the depopulation of more than 44 million laying hens in the U.S. since the outbreak. (Dept of Agriculture)

NASA plans to retire the International Space Station by 2031 by crashing it into the Pacific Ocean. (CNN)

On January 31 1957, 350 Jewish bagel bakers went on strike in New York. After damaging trucks and appealing to drivers, bakers persuaded drivers to strike with them. 385 more workers joined and after 33 days, 34 bakeries agreed to improved pay and benefits. (Working Class History)

Montréal-style bagels (from Fairmount Bagels) have traveled to space, accompanying Montréal-born astronaut Greg Chamitoff on his six-month stint aboard the International Space Station. (Montreal Gazette)

The British Isles are acquiring islets” made up of wet wipes and mud, as more and more wet wipes are discarded each year. There are at least nine wet-wipe islets in the Thames, and that smaller ones may be forming in the bends of other rivers. Britons dispose of 11bn wet wipes a year. (Economist)

A 30-year-old Portuguese dog has been named as the world’s oldest ever by Guinness World Records—beating a record that stood for a century. Bobi is a purebred Rafeiro do Alentejo - a breed that has an average life expectancy of 12 to 14 years. (BBC)

The global spread of vehicle ownership has been projected to double the figure of motor vehicles on the road from one billion in 2010 to two billion in 2030. (Current Biology)

To offset inflation, Berlin gives young people €50 youth culture cards” to spend on clubbing, going to museums, attending the opera, and other cultural events. (Dazed)

Lhakpa Sherpa, who’s climbed Everest 10 times, the most ascents ever by a woman, works in a Whole Foods between expeditions. (NYT)

The US life expectancy for the year 2022 was 76.4, a decrease of more than seven months from the previous year, making it the shortest life expectancy in nearly two decades. (NPR)

According to the US National Safety Council’s analysis of census data, the odds of dying in a plane are about 1 in 205,552, compared with 1 in 102 in a car. (The Conversation)

The average daily rate of an Airbnb rental is 36% higher today than it was in 2019. (Points Guy)

In a potential game changer for the treatment of superbugs, a new class of antibiotics was developed that cured mice infected with bacteria deemed nearly untreatable” in humans — and resistance to the drug was virtually undetectable. (ScienceDaily)

Alex Baka is one of roughly 60 professional bagels rollers working behind the scenes in New York’s 250-odd bagel shops. Most shops don’t sell enough bagels to require a full-time roller; in one shift, Baka can roll 10,000 bagels—enough to supply all five of his employer’s locations the coming day. (Café Anne)

Since a 20mph (30km/h) speed limit was introduced on key roads in London, the number of collisions fell by 25%, incidents involving vulnerable road users decreased by 36%, while collisions with people walking fell by 63%. (Zag)

On October 23, 1923, Sebastian Ted” Hinton—a patent attorney—was awarded the first of a series of U.S. patents for his jungle gym,” and the monkey bars were born. (Smithsonian)

Squids create shadow clones to escape their enemies: they mix their ink with mucus to form a gelatinous fake squid that holds its shape.This type of inking is called a pseudomorph, or false body’. (Whippet)

The Carthusian monks who have made Chartreuse since 1737 have announced that they’ve started limiting the production of the liqueur to devote more time to solitude and prayer and lessen environmental impacts. (Punch)

An Indian factory is recycling cigarette butts into stuffing for soft toys, and has recycled over 300 million cigarette butts from the city streets so far. (EuroNews)

Australian wineries are using bats to keep down pesticides and costs. Researchers say moth-eating bats may be the key to dramatically reducing the use of pesticides in wineries, potentially saving the industry $50 million a year. (ABC)

Almost every letter in English speech can be silent, except for possibly V. (Dictionary.com)

The most popular purebred dog in the US in 2022 was the French Bulldog. This ends the Labrador Retriever’s 31-year reign as the most popular dog breed in America.” (AKC)

For over 100 years, the NY Times’ logo included a period until it was dropped in the 60s. (Print)

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