Vaporware: It Costs Little and May Pay Off Big

September 6, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_tNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

Since ChatGPT and assorted AI image-creation tools burst onto the scene, it seems generative AI is all anyone in the tech world can talk about. Some AI companies have been valued in the billions by those who expect trillion-dollar markets. But, asks Gary Marcus of Marcus on AI, “What if Generative AI Turned Out To Be a Dud?

Might it be the industry has leapt before looking? Marcus points out generative AI revenues are estimated in just the hundreds of millions so far. He describes reasons the field may never satisfy expectations, like pervasive bias, that pesky hallucination problem, and the mediocrity of algorithmic prose. He also notes people seem to be confusing generative AI with theoretical Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), which is actually much further from being realized. See the write-up for those details.

As disastrous as unrealized AI dreams may be for investors, Marcus is more concerned about policy decisions being made on pure speculation. He writes:

“On the global front, the Biden administration has both limited access to high-end hardware chips that are (currently) essential for generative AI, and limited investment in China; China’s not exactly being warm towards global cooperation either. Tensions are extremely high, and a lot of it to revolve around dreams about who might ‘win the AI war.’ But what if it the winner was nobody, at least not any time soon?”

On the national level, Marcus observes, important efforts to protect consumers from bias, misinformation, and privacy violations are being hampered by a perceived need to develop the technology as soon as possible. The post continues:

“We might not get the consumer protections we need, because we are trying to foster something that may not grow as expected. I am not saying anyone’s particular policies are wrong, but if the premise that generative AI is going to be bigger than fire and electricity turns out to be mistaken, or at least doesn’t bear out in the next decade, it’s certainly possible that we could wind up with what in hindsight is a lot of needless extra tension with China, possibly even a war in Taiwan, over a mirage, along with a social-media level fiasco in which consumers are exploited in news, and misinformation rules the day because governments were afraid to clamp down hard enough.”


Cynthia Murrell, September 6, 2023


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