A Fancy Way of Saying AI May Involve Dragons

June 14, 2024

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

The essay “What Apple’s AI Tells Us: Experimental Models” makes clear that pinning down artificial intelligence is proving to be more difficult than some anticipated in January 2023, the day when Google’s Red Alert squawked and many people said, “AI is the silver bullet I want for my innovation cannon.”


Image source: https://www.geographyrealm.com/here-be-dragons/

Here’s a sentence I found important in the One Useful Thing essay:

What is worth paying attention to is how all the AI giants are trying many different approaches to see what works.

The write up explains different approach to AI that the author has identified. These are:

  1. Apps
  2. Business models with subscription fees

The essay concludes with a specter “haunting AI.” The write up says:

I do not know if AGI[artificial general intelligence] is achievable, but I know that the mere idea of AGI being possible soon bends everything around it, resulting in wide differences in approach and philosophy in AI implementations.

Today’s smart software environment has an upside other than the money churn the craziness vortices generate:

Having companies take many approaches to AI is likely to lead to faster adoption in the long term. And, as companies experiment, we will learn more about which sets of models are correct.

Several observations are warranted.

First, the confessions of McKinsey’s AI team make it clear that smart outfits may not know what they are doing. The firms just plunge forward and then after months of work recycle the floundering into lessons. Presumably these lessons are “hire McKinsey.” See my write up “What Is McKinsey & Co. Telling Its Clients about AI?”

Second, another approach is to use AI in the hopes that staff costs can be reduced. I think this is the motivation of some AI enthusiasts. PwC (I am not sure if it is a consulting firm, an accounting firm, or some 21st century mutation) fell in lust with OpenAI. Not only did the firm kick OpenAI’s tires, PwC signed up to be what’s called an “enterprise reseller.” A client pays PwC to just make something work. In this case, PwC becomes the equivalent of a fix it shop with a classy address and workers with clean fingernails. The motivation, in my opinion, is cutting staff. “PwC Is Doing Quiet Layoffs. It’s a Brilliant Example of What Not to Do” says:

This is PwC in the U.K., and obviously, they operate under different laws than we do here in the United States. But in case you’re thinking about following this bad example, I asked employment attorney Jon Hyman for advice. He said, "This request would seem to fall under the umbrella of ‘protected concerted activity’ that the NLRB would take issue with. That said, the National Labor Relations Act does not apply to supervisors — defined as one with the authority to make personnel decisions using independent judgment. "Thus," he continues, "whether this specific PwC request runs afoul of the NLRA’s legal protections for employees to engage in protected concerted activity would depend on whether the laid-off employees were ‘supervisors’ under the Act."

I am a simpler person. The quiet layoffs complement the AI initiative. Quiet helps keep staff from making the connection I am suggesting. But consulting firms keep one eye on expenses and the other on partners’ profits. AI is a catalyst, not a technology.

Third, more AI fatigue write ups are appearing. One example is “The AI Fatigue: Are We Getting Tired of Artificial Intelligence?” reports:

Hema Sridhar, Strategic Advisor for Technological Futures at the University of Auckland, says that there is a lot of “noise on the topic” so it is clear that “people are overwhelmed”. “Almost every company is using AI. Pretty much every app that you’re currently using on your phone has recently released some version with some kind of AI-feature or AI-enhanced features,” she adds. “Everyone’s using it and [it’s] going to be part of day-to-day life, so there are going to be some significant improvements in everything from how you search for your own content on your phone, to more improved directions or productivity tools that just fundamentally change the simple things you do every day that are repetitive.”

Let me reference Apple Intelligence to close this write up. Apple did not announce hardware. It talked about “to be” services. Instead of doing the Meta open source thing, the Google wrong answers with historically flawed images, or the MSFT on-again, off-again roll outs — Apple just did “to be.”

My hunch is that Apple is not cautious; its professionals know that AI products and services may be like those old maps which say, “Here be dragons.” Sailing close to the shore  makes sense.

Stephen E Arnold, June 14, 2024


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