Another Betamax Battle: An Intellectual Spat

January 30, 2023

The AI search fight is officially underway. True, the Baidu AI won’t be available until March 2023, but the trumpet has sounded.

chatgpt fight small

The illustration of two AI mud wrestlers engaging in a contest was produced by Craiyon. I assume that the Craiyon crowd has the © because I can’t draw worth a lick. 

The fighters are making their way from the changing room to the pit. In the stands are dozens of AI infused applications. provided a glimpse of its capabilities during its warm up. The somewhat unsteady Googzilla is late. Microsoft has been in the ring waiting for what seems to be a dozen or more news cycles. More spectators are showing up. Look. Baidu is here.

However, there is a spectator with a different point of view from the verdant groves and pizza joints of Princeton University. This Merlin is named Arvind Narayanan, who according to “Decoding the Hype About AI”, once gave a lecture called “How to Recognize AI Snake Oil.” That talk is going to be a book called “AI Snake Oil.” Yep, snake oil: A product of no real worth. No worth. Sharp point: Worth versus no worth. What’s worth?

Please, read the article which is an interview with a person who wants to slow the clapping and stomping of the attendees. Here’s a quote from Dr. Arvind Narayanan’s interview:

Even with something as profound as the internet or search engines or smartphones, it’s turned out to be an adaptation, where we maximize the benefits and try to minimize the risks, rather than some kind of revolution. I don’t think large language models are even on that scale. There can potentially be massive shifts, benefits, and risks in many industries, but I cannot see a scenario where this is a “sky is falling” kind of issue.

Okay, the observations:

  1. Google and its Code Red suggest that Dr. Narayanan is way off base for the Google search brain trust. Maybe Facebook and its “meh” response are better? Microsoft’s bet on OpenAI is going with the adaptation approach. Smart Word may be better than Clippy plus it may sell software licenses to big companies, marketers, and students who need essay writing help
  2. If ChatGPT is snake oil, what’s the fuss? Could it be that some people who are exposed to ChatGPT perceive the smart software as new, exciting, promising, and an opportunity? That seems a reasonable statement at this time.
  3. The split between the believers (Microsoft, et al) and the haters (Google, et al) surfaced with the Timnit Gebru incident at Google. More intellectual warfare is likely: Bias, incorrect output pretending to be correct, copyright issues, etc.

Is technology exciting again? Finally.

Stephen E Arnold, January 30, 2023


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