Can Big Tech Monopolies Get Worse?

July 3, 2024

Monopolies are bad. They’re horrible for consumers because of high prices, exploitation, and control of resources. They also kill innovation, control markets, and influence politics. A monopoly is only good when it is a reference to the classic board game (even that’s questionable because the game is known to ruin relationships). Legendary tech and fiction writer Cory Doctorow explains that technology companies want to maintain their stranglehold on the economy,, industry, and world in an article on the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF): “Want Make Big Tech Monopolies Even Worse? Kill Section 230.”

Doctorow makes a humorous observation, referencing Dante, that there’s a circle in Hell worse than being forced to choose a side in a meaningless online flame war. What’s that circle? It’s being threatened with a lawsuit for refusing or complying with one party over another. EFF protects civil liberties on the Internet and digital world. It’s been around since 1990, so the EFF team is very familiar with poor behavior that plagues the Internet. Their first hire was the man who coined Godwin’s Law.

EFF loves Section 230 because it protects people who run online services from being sued by their users. Lawsuits are horrible, time-consuming, and expensive. The Internet is chock full of people who will sue at the stroke of a keyboard. There’s a potential bill that would kill Section 230:

“That’s why we were so alarmed to see a bill introduced in the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would sunset Section 230 as of December 31, 2025, with no provision to protect online service providers from being conscripted into their users’ online disputes and the legal battles that arise from them.

Homely places on the internet aren’t just a curiosity anymore, nor are they merely a hangover from the Web 1.0 era.

In an age of resurgent anti-monopoly activism, small online communities, either standing on their own, or joined in loose “federations,” are the best chance we have to escape Big Tech’s relentless surveillance and clumsy, unaccountable control.”

If Section 230 is destroyed, it will pit big tech companies with their deep pockets against the average user. Big Tech could sue whoever they wanted and it would allow bad actors, including scammers, war criminals, and dictators, to silence their critics. It would also prevent any alternatives to big tech.

So big tech could get worse, although it’s still very bad: kids addicted to screens, misinformation, CSAM, privacy violations, and monopolistic behavior. Maybe we should roll over and hide beneath a rock with an Apple tracker stuck to it, of course.

Whitney Grace, July 3, 2024

Some Tension in the Datasphere about Artificial Intelligence

June 28, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

I generally try to avoid profanity in this blog. I am mindful of Google’s stopwords. I know there are filters running to protect those younger than I from frisky and inappropriate language. Therefore, I will cite the two articles and then convert the profanity to a suitably sanitized form.

The first write up is “I Will F…ing Piledrive You If You Mention AI Again”. Sorry, like many other high-technology professionals I prevaricated and dissembled. I have edited the F word to be less superficially offensive. (One simply cannot trust high-technology types, can you? I am not Thomson Reuters obviously.) The premise of this write up is that smart software is over-hyped. Here’s a passage I found interesting:

Unless you are one of a tiny handful of businesses who know exactly what they’re going to use AI for, you do not need AI for anything – or rather, you do not need to do anything to reap the benefits. Artificial intelligence, as it exists and is useful now, is probably already baked into your businesses software supply chain. Your managed security provider is probably using some algorithms baked up in a lab software to detect anomalous traffic, and here’s a secret, they didn’t do much AI work either, they bought software from the tiny sector of the market that actually does need to do employ data scientists.

I will leave it to you to ponder the wisdom of these words. I, for instance, do not know exactly what I am going to do until I do something, fiddle with it, and either change it up or trash it. You and most AI enthusiasts are probably different. That’s good. I envy your certitude. The author of the first essay is not gentle; he wants to piledrive you if you talk about smart software. I do not advocate violence under any circumstances. I can tolerate baloney about smart software. The piledriver person has hate in his heart. You have been warned.

The second write up is “ChatGPT Is Bullsh*t,” and it is an article published in SpringerLink, not a personal blog. Yep, bullsh*t as a term in an academic paper. Keep in mind, please, that Stanford University’s president and some Harvard wizards engaged in the bullsh*t business as part of their alleged making up data. Who needs AI when humans are perfectly capable of hallucinating, but I digress?

I noted this passage in the academic write up:

So perhaps we should, strictly, say not that ChatGPT is bullshit but that it outputs bullshit in a way that goes beyond being simply a vector of bullshit: it does not and cannot care about the truth of its output, and the person using it does so not to convey truth or falsehood but rather to convince the hearer that the text was written by a interested and attentive agent.

Please, read the 10 page research article about bullsh*t, soft bullsh*t, and hard bullsh*t. Form your own opinion.

I have now set the stage for some observations (probably unwanted and deeply disturbing to some in the smart software game).

  1. Artificial intelligence is a new big thing, and the hyperbole, misdirection, and outright lying like my saying I would use forbidden language in this essay irrelevant. The object of the new big thing is to make money, get power, maybe become an influencer on TikTok.
  2. The technology which seems to have flowered in January 2023 when Microsoft said, “We love OpenAI. It’s a better Clippy.” The problem is that it is now June 2024 and the advances have been slow and steady. This means that after a half century of research, the AI revolution is working hard to keep the hypemobile in gear. PR is quick; smart software improvement less speedy.
  3. The ripples the new big thing has sent across the datasphere attenuate the farther one is from the January 2023 marketing announcement. AI fatigue is now a thing. I think the hostility is likely to increase because real people are going to lose their jobs. Idle hands are the devil’s playthings. Excitement looms.

Net net: I think the profanity reveals the deep disgust some pundits and experts have for smart software, the companies pushing silver bullets into an old and rusty firearm, and an instinctual fear of the economic disruption the new big thing will cause. Exciting stuff. Oh, I am not stating a falsehood.

Stephen E Arnold, June 23, 2024

Can the Bezos Bulldozer Crush Temu, Shein, Regulators, and AI?

June 27, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

The question, to be fair, should be, “Can the Bezos-less bulldozer crush Temu, Shein, Regulators, Subscriptions to Alexa, and AI?” The article, which appeared in the “real” news online service Venture Beat, presents an argument suggesting that the answer is, “Yes! Absolutely.”


Thanks MSFT Copilot. Good bulldozer.

The write up “AWS AI Takeover: 5 Cloud-Winning Plays They’re [sic] Using to Dominate the Market” depends upon an Amazon Big Dog named Matt Wood, VP of AI products at AWS. The article strikes me as something drafted by a small group at Amazon and then polished to PR perfection. The reasons the bulldozer will crush Google, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard’s on-premises play, and the keep-on-searching IBM Watson, among others, are:

  1. Covering the numbers or logo of the AI companies in the “game”; for example, Anthropic, AI21 Labs, and other whale players
  2. Hitting up its partners, customers, and friends to get support for the Amazon AI wonderfulness
  3. Engineering AI to be itty bitty pieces one can use to build a giant AI solution capable of dominating D&B industry sectors like banking, energy, commodities, and any other multi-billion sector one cares to name
  4. Skipping the Google folly of dealing with consumers. Amazon wants the really big contracts with really big companies, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations.
  5. Amazon is just better at security. Those leaky S3 buckets are not Amazon’s problem. The customers failed to use Amazon’s stellar security tools.

Did these five points convince you?

If you did not embrace the spirit of the bulldozer, the Venture Beat article states:

Make no mistake, fellow nerds. AWS is playing a long game here. They’re not interested in winning the next AI benchmark or topping the leaderboard in the latest Kaggle competition. They’re building the platform that will power the AI applications of tomorrow, and they plan to power all of them. AWS isn’t just building the infrastructure, they’re becoming the operating system for AI itself.

Convinced yet? Well, okay. I am not on the bulldozer yet. I do hear its engine roaring and I smell the no-longer-green emissions from the bulldozer’s data centers. Also, I am not sure the Google, IBM, and Microsoft are ready to roll over and let the bulldozer crush them into the former rain forest’s red soil. I recall researching Sagemaker which had some AI-type jargon applied to that “smart” service. Ah, you don’t know Sagemaker? Yeah. Too bad.

The rather positive leaning Amazon write up points out that as nifty as those five points about Amazon’s supremacy in the AI jungle, the company has vision. Okay, it is not the customer first idea from 1998 or so. But it is interesting. Amazon will have infrastructure. Amazon will provide model access. (I want to ask, “For how long?” but I won’t.), and Amazon will have app development.

The article includes a table providing detail about these three legs of the stool in the bulldozer’s cabin. There is also a run down of Amazon’s recent media and prospect directed announcements. Too bad the article does not include hyperlinks to these documents. Oh, well.

And after about 3,300 words about Amazon, the article includes about 260 words about Microsoft and Google. That’s a good balance. Too bad IBM. You did not make the cut. And HP? Nope. You did not get an “Also participated” certificate.

Net net: Quite a document. And no mention of Sagemaker. The Bezos-less bulldozer just smashes forward. Success is in crushing. Keep at it. And that “they” in the Venture Beat article title: Shouldn’t “they” be an “it”?

Stephen E Arnold, June 27, 2024

Nerd Flame War: AI AI AI

June 27, 2024

The Internet is built on trolls and their boorish behavior. The worst of the trolls are self-confessed “experts” on anything. Every online community has their loitering trolls and tech enthusiasts aren’t any different. In the old days of Internet lore, online verbal battles were dubbed “flame wars” and XDA-Developers reports that OpenAI started one: “AI Has Thrown Stack Overflow Into Civil War.”

A huge argument in AI development is online content being harvested for large language models (LLMs) to train algorithms. Writers and artists were rightly upset were used to train image and writing algorithms. OpenAI recently partnered with Stack Overflow to collect data and the users aren’t happy. Stack Overflow is a renowned tech support community for sysadmin, developers, and programmers. Stack Overflow even brags that it is world’s largest developer community.

Stack Overflow users are angry, because they weren’t ask permission to use their content for AI training models and they don’t like the platform’s response to their protests. Users are deleting their posts or altering them to display correct information. In response, Stack Overflow is restoring deleted and incorrect information, temporarily suspending users who delete content, and hiding behind the terms of service. The entire situation is explained here:

“Delving into discussion online about OpenAI and Stack Overflow’s partnership, there’s plenty to unpack. The level of hostility towards Stack Overflow varies, with some users seeing their answers as being posted online without conditions – effectively free for all to use, and Stack Overflow granting OpenAI access to that data as no great betrayal. These users might argue that they’ve posted their answers for the betterment of everyone’s knowledge, and don’t place any conditions on its use, similar to a highly permissive open source license.

Other users are irked that Stack Overflow is providing access to an open-resource to a company using it to build closed-source products, which won’t necessarily better all users (and may even replace the site they were originally posted on.) Despite OpenAI’s stated ambition, there is no guarantee that Stack Overflow will remain freely accessible in perpetuity, or that access to any AIs trained on this data will be free to the users who contributed to it.”

Reddit and other online communities are facing the same problems. LLMs are made from Stack Overflow and Reddit to train generative AI algorithms like ChatGPT. OpenAI’s ChatGPT is regarded as overblown because it continues to fail multiple tests. We know, however, that generative AI will improve with time. We also know that people will use the easiest solution and generative AI chatbots will become those tools. It’s easier to verbally ask or write a question than searching.

Whitney Grace, June 27, 2024

Prediction: Next Target Up — Public Libraries

June 26, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

The publishers (in spirit at least) have kneecapped the Internet Archive. If you don’t know what the online service does or did, it does not matter. I learned from the estimable site, a cultural treasure is gone. Forget digital books, the article “Paramount Erases Archives of MTV Website, Wipes Music, Culture History After 30 Plus Years” says:

Parent company Paramount, formerly Viacom, has tossed twenty plus years of news archives. All that’s left is a placeholder site for reality shows. The M in MTV – music — is gone, and so is all the reporting and all the journalism performed by music and political writers ever written. It’s as if MTV never existed. (It’s the same for, all gone.)

Why? The write up couches the savvy business decision of the Paramount leadership this way:

There’s no precedent for this, and no valid reason. Just cheapness and stupidity.


Tibby, my floppy ear Frenchie, is listening to music from the Internet Archive. He knows the publishers removed 500,000 books. Will he lose access to his beloved early 20th century hill music? Will he ever be able to watch reruns of the rock the casbah music video? No. He is a risk. A threat. A despicable knowledge seeker. Thanks to myself for this nifty picture.

My knowledge of MTV and VH1 is limited. I do recall telling my children, “Would you turn that down, please?” What a waste of energy. Future students of American culture will have a void. I assume some artifacts of the music videos will remain. But the motherlode is gone. Is this a loss? On one hand, no. Thank goodness I will not have to glimpse performs rocking the casbah. On the other hand, yes. Archaeologists study bits of stone, trying to figure out how those who left them built Machu Pichu did it. The value of lost information to those in the future is tough to discuss. But knowledge products may be like mine tailings. At some point, a bright person can figure out how to extract trace elements in quantity.

I have a slightly different view of these two recent cultural milestones. I have a hunch that the publishers want to protect their intellectual property. Internet Archive rolled over because its senior executives learned from their lawyers that lawsuits about copyright violations would be tough to win. The informed approach was to delete 500,000 books. Imagine an online service like the Internet Archive trying to be a library.

That brings me to what I think is going on. Copyright litigation will make quite a lot of digital information disappear. That means that increasing fees to public libraries for digital copies of books to “loan” to patrons must go up. Libraries who don’t play ball may find that those institutions will be faced with other publisher punishments: No American Library Association after parties, no consortia discounts, and at some point no free books.

Yes, libraries will have to charge a patron to check out a physical book and then the “publishers” will get a percentage.

The Andrew Carnegie “free” thing is wrong. Libraries rip off the publishers. Authors may be mentioned, but what publisher cares about 99 percent of its authors? (I hear crickets.)

Several thoughts struck me as I was walking my floppy ear Frenchie:

  1. The loss of information (some of which may have knowledge value) is no big deal in a social structure which does not value education. If people cannot read, who cares about books? Publishers and the wretches who write them. Period.
  2. The video copyright timebomb of the Paramount video content has been defused. Let’s keep those lawyers at bay, please. Who will care? Nostalgia buffs and the parents of the “stars”?
  3. The Internet Archive has music; libraries have music. Those are targets not on Paramount’s back. Who will shoot at these targets? Copyright litigators. Go go go.

Net net: My prediction is that libraries must change to a pay-to-loan model or get shut down. Who wants informed people running around disagreeing with lawyers, accountants, and art history majors?

Stephen E Arnold, June 26, 2024

Microsoft: Not Deteriorating, Just Normal Behavior

June 26, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

Gee, Microsoft, you are amazing. We just fired up a new Windows 11 Professional machine and guess what? Yep, the printers are not recognized. Nice work and consistent good enough quality.

Then I read “Microsoft Admits to Problems Upgrading Windows 11 Pro to Enterprise.” That write up says:

There are problems with Microsoft’s last few Windows 11 updates, leaving some users unable to make the move from Windows 11 Pro to Enterprise. Microsoft made the admission in an update to the "known issues" list for the June 11, 2024, update for Windows 11 22H2 and 23H2 – KB5039212. According to Microsoft, "After installing this update or later updates, you might face issues while upgrading from Windows Pro to a valid Windows Enterprise subscription."

Bad? Yes. But then I worked through this write up: “Microsoft Chose Profit Over Security and Left U.S. Government Vulnerable to Russian Hack, Whistleblower Says.” Is the information in the article on the money? I don’t know. I do know that bad actors find Windows the equivalent of an unlocked candy store. Goodies are there for greedy teens to cart off the chocolate-covered peanuts and gummy worms.


Everyone interested in entering the Microsoft Windows Theme Park wants to enjoy the thrills of a potentially lucrative experience. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Why is everyone in your illustration the same?

This remarkable story of willful ignorance explains:

U.S. officials confirmed reports that a state-sponsored team of Russian hackers had carried out SolarWinds, one of the largest cyberattacks in U.S. history.

How did this happen? The write up asserts:

The federal government was preparing to make a massive investment in cloud computing, and Microsoft wanted the business. Acknowledging this security flaw could jeopardize the company’s chances, Harris [a former Microsoft security expert and whistleblower] recalled one product leader telling him. The financial consequences were enormous. Not only could Microsoft lose a multibillion-dollar deal, but it could also lose the race to dominate the market for cloud computing.

Bad things happened. The article includes this interesting item:

From the moment the hack surfaced, Microsoft insisted it was blameless. Microsoft President Brad Smith assured Congress in 2021 that “there was no vulnerability in any Microsoft product or service that was exploited” in SolarWinds.

Okay, that’s the main idea: Money.

Several observations are warranted:

  1. There seems to be an issue with procurement. The US government creates an incentive for Microsoft to go after big contracts and then does not require Microsoft products to work or be secure. I know generals love PowerPoint, but it seems that national security is at risk.
  2. Microsoft itself operates with a policy of doing what’s necessary to make as much money as possible and avoiding the cost of engineering products that deliver what the customer wants: Stable, secure software and services.
  3. Individual users have to figure out how to make the most basic functions work without stopping business operations. Printers should print; an operating system should be able to handle what my first personal computer could do in the early 1980s. After 25 years, printing is not a new thing.

Net net: In a consequence-filled business environment, I am concerned that Microsoft will not improve its security and the most basic computer operations. I am not sure the company knows how to remediate what I think of as a Disneyland for bad actors. And I wanted the new Windows 11 Professional to work. How stupid of me?

Stephen E Arnold, June 26, 2024

X: The Prominent (Fake) News Source

June 26, 2024

Many of us have turned away from X, formerly Twitter, since its Musky takeover and now pay it little mind. However, it seems many Americans still trust the platform to deliver their news. This is concerning, considering “X Has Highest Rate of Misinformation As a New Source, Study Finds.”

Citing a recent Pew Research study, MediaDailyNews reports 65% of X users say news is a reason they visit the platform. Breaking news is even more of a draw, with 75% of users getting their real-time news on the platform. This is understandable given Twitter’s legacy, but are users unaware how unreliable X has become? Writer Colin Kirkland emphasizes:

“What may the greatest concern in Pew’s findings is that while X touts that it has the most devoted base of news seekers, it also ranked the highest in terms of inaccurate reporting. All of the platforms Pew studied proliferate misinformation-based news stories, but 86% of X’s base reported seeing inaccurate news, and 37% say they see it often. As Meta makes definitive moves to curb its news output on apps like Instagram, Facebook and Threads — the only other potential breaking-news alternative to X — Elon Musk’s app reigns supreme in the proliferation and digestion of news content, which could have effects on the upcoming presidential election, especially due to the amount of misinformation circling the platform.”

Yep. How can one reach X users with this important update? Pew is trying the direct route. Will it make any difference?

Cynthia Murrell, June 26, 2024

Two EU Firms Unite in Pursuit of AI Sovereignty

June 25, 2024

Europe would like to get out from under the sway of North American tech firms. This is unsurprising, given how differently the EU views issues like citizen privacy. Then there are the economic incentives of localizing infrastructure, data, workforce, and business networks. Now, two generative AI firms are uniting with that goal in mind. The Next Web reveals, “European AI Leaders Aleph Alpha and Silo Ink Deal to Deliver ‘Sovereign AI’.” Writer Thomas Macaulay reports:

“Germany’s Aleph Alpha and Finland’s Silo AI announced the partnership [on June 13, 2024]. The duo plan to create a ‘one-stop-solution’ for European industrial firms exploring generative AI. Their collaboration brings together distinctive expertise. Aleph Alpha has been described a European rival to OpenAI, but with a stronger focus on data protection, security, and transparency. The company also claims to operate Europe’s fastest commercial AI data center. Founded in 2019, the firm has become Germany’s leading AI startup. In November, it raised $500mn in a funding round backed by Bosch, SAP, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Silo AI, meanwhile, calls itself ‘Europe’s largest private AI lab.’ The Helsinki-based startup provides custom LLMs through a SaaS subscription. Use cases range from smart devices and cities to autonomous vehicles and industry 4.0. Silo also specializes in building LLMs for low-resource languages, which lack the linguistic data typically needed to train AI models. By the end of this year, the company plans to cover every official EU language.”

Both Aleph Alpha CEO Jonas Andrulis and Silo AI CEO Peter Sarlin enthusiastically advocate European AI sovereignty. Will the partnership strengthen their mutual cause?

Cynthia Murrell, June 25, 2024

Ad Hominem Attack: A Revived Rhetorical Form

June 24, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

I remember my high school debate coach telling my partner Nick G. (I have forgotten the budding prosecutor’s name, sorry) you should not attack the character of our opponents. Nick G. had interacted with Bill W. on the basketball court in an end-of-year regional game. Nick G., as I recall got a bloody nose, and Bill W. was thrown out of the basketball game. When fisticuffs ensued, I thanked my lucky stars I was a hopeless athlete. Give me the library, a debate topic, a pile of notecards, and I was good to go. Nick G. included in his rebuttal statement comments about the character of Bill W. When the judge rendered a result and his comments, Nick G. was singled out as being wildly inappropriate. After the humiliating defeat, the coach explained that an ad hominem argument is not appropriate for 15-year-olds. Nick G.’s attitude was, “I told the truth.” As Nick G. learned, the truth is not what wins debate tournaments or life in some cases.

I thought about ad hominem arguments as I read “Silicon Valley’s False Prophet.” This essay reminded me of the essay by the same author titled “The Man Who Killed Google Search.” I must admit the rhetorical trope is repeatable. Furthermore it can be applied to an individual who may be clueless about how selling advertising nuked relevance (or what was left of it) at the Google and to the dealing making of a person whom I call Sam AI-Man. Who knows? Maybe other authors will emulate these two essays, and a new Silicon Valley genre may emerge ready for the real wordsmiths and pooh-bahs of Silicon Valley to crank out a hit piece every couple of days.

To the essay at hand: The false profit is the former partner of Elon Musk and the on-again-off-again-on-again Big Dog at OpenAI. That’s an outfit where “open” means closed, and closed means open to the likes of Apple. The main idea, I think, is that AI sucks and Sam AI-Man continues to beat the drum for a technology that is likely to be headed for a correction. In Silicon Valley speak, the bubble will burst. It is, I surmise, Mr. AI-man’s fault.

The essay explains:

Sam Altman, however, exists in a category of his own. There are many, many, many examples of him saying that OpenAI — or AI more broadly — will do something it can’t and likely won’t, and it being meekly accepted by the Fourth Estate without any real pushback. There are more still of him framing the limits of the present reality as a positive — like when, in a fireside sitdown with 1980s used car salesman Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Altman proclaimed that AI hallucinations (when an LLM asserts something untrue as fact, because AI doesn’t know anything) are a feature, not a bug, and rather than being treated as some kind of fundamental limitation, should be regarded as a form of creative expression.

I understand. Salesperson. Quite a unicorn in Silicon Valley. I mean when I worked there I would encounter hyperbole artists every few minutes. Yeah, Silicon Valley. Anchored in reality, minimum viable products, and lots of hanky pinky.

The essay provides a bit of information about the background of Mr. AI-Man:

When you strip away his ability to convince people that he’s smart, Altman had actually done very little — he was a college dropout with a failing-then-failed startup, one where employees tried to get him fired twice.

If true, that takes some doing. Employees tried to get the false prophet fired twice. In olden times, burning at the stake might have been an option. Now it is just move on to another venture. Progress.

The essay does provide some insight into Sam AI-Man’s core competency:

Altman is adept at using connections to make new connections, in finding ways to make others owe him favors, in saying the right thing at the right time when he knew that nobody would think about it too hard. Altman was early on Stripe, and Reddit, and Airbnb — all seemingly-brilliant moments in the life of a man who had many things handed to him, who knew how to look and sound to get put in the room and to get the capital to make his next move. It’s easy to conflate investment returns with intellectual capital, even though the truth is that people liked Altman enough to give him the opportunity to be rich, and he took it.

I cannot figure out if the author envies Sam AI-Man, reviles him for being clever (a key attribute in some high-technology outfits), or genuinely perceives Mr. AI-Man as the first cousin to Beelzebub. Whatever the motivation, I find the phoenix-like rising of the ad hominem attack a refreshing change from the entitled pooh-bahism of some folks writing about technology.

The only problem: I think it is unlikely that the author will be hired by OpenAI. Chance blown.

Stephen E Arnold, June 24, 2024

The Key to Success at McKinsey & Company: The 2024 Truth Is Out!

June 21, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

When I was working at a “real” company, I wanted to labor in the vineyards of a big-time, blue-chip consulting firm. I achieved that goal and, after a suitable period of time in the penal colony, I escaped to a client. I made it out, unscathed, and entered a more interesting, less nutso working life. When the “truth” about big-time, blue-chip consulting firms appears in public sources, I scan the information. Most of it is baloney; for example, the yip yap about McKinsey and its advice pertaining to addictive synthetics. Hey, stuff happens when one is objective. “McKinsey Exec Tells Summer Interns That Learning to Ask AI the Right Questions Is the Key to Success” contains some information which I find quite surprising. First, I don’t know if the factoids in the write up are accurate or if they are the off-the-cuff baloney recruiters regularly present to potential 60-hour-a-week knowledge worker serfs or if the person has a streaming video connection to the McKinsey managing partner’s work-from-the-resort office.

Let’s assume the information is correct and consider some of its implications. An intern is a no-pay or low-pay job for students from the right institutions, the right background, or the right connections. The idea is that associates (one step above the no-pay serf) and partners (the set for life if you don’t die of heart failure crowd) can observe, mentor, and judge these field laborers. The write up states:

Standing out in a summer internship these days boils down to one thing — learning to talk to AI. At least, that’s the advice McKinsey’s chief client officer, Liz Hilton Segel, gave one eager intern at the firm. “My advice to her was to be an outstanding prompt engineer,” Hilton Segel told The Wall Street Journal.

But what about grades? What about my family’s connections to industry, elected officials, and a supreme court judge? What about my background scented with old money, sheepskin from prestigious universities, and a Nobel Prize awarded a relative 50 years ago? These questions, its seems, may no longer be relevant. AI is coming to the blue-chip consulting game, and the old-school markers of building big revenues may not longer matter.

AI matters. Despite McKinsey’s 11-month effort, the firm has produced Lilli. The smart systems, despite fits and starts, has delivered results; that is, a payoff, cash money, engagement opportunities. The write up says:

Lilli’s purpose is to aggregate the firm’s knowledge and capabilities so that employees can spend more time engaging with clients, Erik Roth, a senior partner at McKinsey who oversaw Lili’s development, said last year in a press release announcing the tool.

And the proof? I learned:

“We’ve [McKinsey humanoids] answered over 3 million prompts and add about 120,000 prompts per week,” he [Erik Roth] said. “We are saving on average up to 30% of a consultants’ time that they can reallocate to spend more time with their clients instead of spending more time analyzing things.”

Thus, the future of success is to learn to use Lilli. I am surprised that McKinsey does not sell internships, possibly using a Ticketmaster-type system.

Several observations:

  1. As Lilli gets better or is replaced by a more cost efficient system, interns and newly hired professionals will be replaced by smart software.
  2. McKinsey and other blue-chip outfits will embrace smart software because it can sell what the firm learns to its clients. AI becomes a Petri dish for finding marketable information.
  3. The hallucinative functions of smart software just create an opportunity for McKinsey and other blue-chip firms to sell their surviving professionals at a more inflated fee. Why fail and lose money? Just pay the consulting firm, sidestep the stupidity tax, and crush those competitors to whom the consulting firms sell the cookie cutter knowledge.

Net net: Blue-chip firms survived the threat from gig consultants and the Gerson Lehrman-type challenge. Now McKinsey is positioning itself to create a no-expectation environment for new hires, cut costs, and increase billing rates for the consultants at the top of the pyramid. Forget opioids. Go AI.

Stephen E Arnold, June 21, 2024

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