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Seeing humanity in all the bot places

The LaMBDA situation is a reminder we're just too good at personification.

Seamus Byrne
Seamus Byrne
3 min read
Seeing humanity in all the bot places
Her is a great movie.

The headlines are too catchy to ignore. A Google engineer thinks an AI has become sentient? Is there a ghost in the machine? Is the AI alive now? Are the robots coming to take control? Have you watched Her?

It’s exciting and fun to have these milestone moments in society. The act of even discussing this idea feels like ‘THE FUTURE’ is here. Click that headline!!

Of course, it’s really just a case of an engineer getting rather carried away with the act of conversing with a chatbot. A really, really, REALLY good chatbot. But a chatbot nonetheless.

Pareidolia: our uncanny human ability to see patterns. The face on Mars. Pictures in clouds. Humanity in machines. We’re wired to find life where there is none.

Here’s a similar recent story.

Yes, it’s great to be excited by the future and I love the very concept that an engineer got a little too excited about his chatty digital friend. But at a media propogation level for these things, let’s make sure we focus on how cool the tech is, not whether there’s a ghost inside the machine.

More on that…

You can read the chat transcript the engineer released to the public here. Does this really make you think it’s alive? I’ve given it a good read. It’s very good language processing, but it isn’t doing anything that truly screams ‘ALIVE!!!’

Labelling LaMDA as sentient is fanciful. But it’s very human. (The Guardian) :: Australian AI specialist Toby Walsh wrote this nice take about it all.

Nonsense on stilts (Gary Marcus) :: Another good take on the topic.


Spotify just acquired a company that can make anyone say anything (Tubefilter) :: Sonantic helped to give Val Kilmer his old voice again in Top Gun: Maverick. That’s good. Or it can do the same thing to put words in anyone else’s mouth. That’s bad. But it’s a fascinating tech and interesting to think about what Spotify wants it for. Automated ad reads?

Deep fake Elon Musk is scamming folks on YouTube (PetaPixel) :: This is, sadly, suck an easy target right now. Stay careful, stay incredulous…

The end of librarians at the ABC is bad for the future of journalism (The Conversation) :: Having sub-editors at CNET long after most outlets had done away with them was a huge help to assuring our work was high quality and fact checked. Having research staff who know their way around an archive is undoubtedly a powerful tool for time poor journalists, and seeing that as a place to cut budgets hurts us all.

Brain food

Content Authenticity Initiative :: It’s worth taking note of this effort, backed by Adobe alongside major publishers and photo agencies around the world. Building tools of provenance are essential to a viable ‘reality’ in future. There’s an open source toolkit to help creators incorporate new metadata as well.

Ten years after Higgs, physicists face the nightmare of finding nothing else (Science) :: Great headline. The LHC is switching back on after upgrades, so there’s hope in here too.

Instagram has stopped caring about its users (Mashable) :: Go count how many items in the first twenty of your Instagram feed are not ads. Or not a weird flood of just one or two accounts. Is it Reels or nothing over there now?

How science helps fuel a culture of disinformation (Niemen Lab) :: Is the drive to publish early and often about research feeding an environment of disinfo? An interesting look at the media environment for science and how it relates to broader disinformation problems.

Shiny and new

Marc Newson has a new task chair (Fast Company) :: An interesting design with a distinctive look. And I love hearing Newson talk big about difficult design problems. (Ten years ago I got great quotes from him about the iPhone.)

Dell XPS 13 Plus laptop has landed (Dell) :: There’s a new design language here that makes this look very interesting, and new keycaps that have me concerned that they’re too flat for comfortable typing - but that’s all in the taste test.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Microsoft) :: Another nice new laptop design that starts at $1,099, which feels like a very good build quality for a very good price.

Apple Continuity Cam vs Camo Pro (Pro Video Coalition) :: Answering my big questions around the existing solution for using an iPhone as a webcam and the shiny new seamless version coming in iOS 16.

Meet Passkeys (Apple) :: If you want to understand what’s coming soon with the ‘end of passwords’, this developer video explaining Passkeys (which sits within a universal login standard across the industry) is really insightful and shows why this is a great step into the future of authentication.

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Seamus Byrne Twitter

Founder and Head of Content at Byteside.

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