Hitting the Center Field Wall, AI Suffers an Injury!

November 15, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb, dinobaby humanoid. No smart software required.

At a reception at a government facility in Washington, DC, last week, one of the bright young sparks told me, “Every investment deal I see gets fund if it includes the words ‘artificial intelligence.’” I smiled and moved to another conversation. Wow, AI has infused the exciting world of a city built on the swampy marge of the Potomac River.

I think that the go-go era of smart software has reached a turning point. Venture firms and consultants may not have received the email with this news. However, my research team has, and the update contains information on two separate thrusts of the AI revolution.


The heroic athlete, supported by his publicist, makes a heroic effort to catch the long fly ball. Unfortunately our star runs into the wall, drops the ball, and suffers what may be a career-ending injury to his left hand. (It looks broken, doesn’t it?)Oh, well. Thanks, MSFT Bing. The perspective is weird and there is trash on the ground, but the image is good enough.

The first signal appears in “AI Companies Are Running Out of Training Data.” The notion that online information is infinite is a quaint one. But in the fever of moving to online, reality is less interesting that the euphoria of the next gold rush or the new Industrial Revolution. Futurism reports:

Data plays a central role, if not the central role, in the AI economy. Data is a model’s vital force, both in basic function and in quality; the more natural — as in, human-made — data that an AI system has to train on, the better that system becomes. Unfortunately for AI companies, though, it turns out that natural data is a finite resource — and if that tap runs dry, researchers warn they could be in for a serious reckoning.

The information or data in question is not the smog emitted by modern automobiles’ chip stuffed boxes. Nor is the data the streams of geographic information gathered by mobile phone systems. The high value data are those which matter; for example, in a stream of security information, which specific stock is moving because it is being manipulated by one of those bright young minds I met at the DC event.

The article “AI Companies Are Running Out of Training Data” adds:

But as data becomes increasingly valuable, it’ll certainly be interesting to see how many AI companies can actually compete for datasets — let alone how many institutions, or even individuals, will be willing to cough their data over to AI vacuums in the first place. But even then, there’s no guarantee that the data wells won’t ever run dry. As infinite as the internet seems, few things are actually endless.

The fix is synthetic or faked data; that is, fabricated data which appears to replicate real-life behavior. (Don’t you love it when Google predicts the weather or a smarty pants games the crypto market?)

The message is simple: Smart software has ground through the good stuff and may face its version of an existential crisis. That’s different from the rah rah one usually hears about AI.

The second item my team called to my attention appears in a news story called “OpenAI Pauses New ChatGPT Plus Subscriptions De to Surge in Demand.” I read the headline as saying, “Oh, my goodness, we don’t have the money or the capacity to handle more users requests.”

The article expresses the idea in this snappy 21st century way:

The decision to pause new ChatGPT signups follows a week where OpenAI services – including ChatGPT and the API – experienced a series of outages related to high-demand and DDoS attacks.

Okay, security and capacity.

What are the implications of these two unrelated stories:

  1. The run up to AI has been boosted with system operators ignoring copyright and picking low hanging fruit. The orchard is now looking thin. Apples grow on trees, just not quickly and over cultivation can ruin the once fertile soil. Think a digital Dust Bowl perhaps?
  2. The friction of servicing user requests is causing slow downs. Can the heat be dissipated? Absolutely but the fix requires money, more than high school science club management techniques, and common sense. Do AI companies exhibit common sense? Yeah, sure. Everyday.
  3. The lack of high-value or sort of good information is a bummer. Machines producing insights into the dark activities of bad actors and the thoughts of 12-year-olds are grinding along. However, the value of the information outputs seems to be lagging behind the marketers’ promises. One telling example is the outright failure of Israel’s smart software to have utility in identifying the intent of bad actors. My goodness, if any country has smart systems, it’s Israel. Based on events in the last couple of months, the flows of data produced what appears to be a failing grade.

If we take these two cited articles’ information at face value, one can make a case that the great AI revolution may be facing some headwinds. In a winner-take-all game like AI, there will be some Sad Sacks at those fancy Washington, DC receptions. Time to innovate and renovate perhaps?

Stephen E Arnold, November 15, 2023


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