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I’m an Old Fart and AI Makes Me Sad

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses the author's perspective on how the rise of AI technology, particularly the recent advancements in language models like ChatGPT, differs from their experience with previous major technological advancements in computer science. The author feels that AI is more opaque, less approachable, and less open compared to past innovations like personal computers and the internet.

🙋 Q&A

[01] Personal Computers (80s)

1. What were the author's fond memories of using personal computers in the 80s?

  • The author had fond memories of using tools like MEMMAKER to squeeze more memory from their machine just to run a pirated copy of a new game on their DOS box.
  • The author enjoyed the freedom to do what they wanted with personal computers, such as swapping out parts, running games, writing software, or doing something totally different.
  • From an engineer's perspective, the inner workings of these machines were comprehensible, and with some skill and dedication, the author could even build their own PC.

2. How did the author view the accessibility and diversity of personal computers?

  • Personal computers came in different shapes, sizes, and architectures, with many names and sold by different vendors. The author felt they were mostly free to do what they wanted with these machines.

[02] World Wide Web (90s)

1. How did the author perceive the early internet?

  • The author spent hours in internet cafes chatting with strangers, exploring this new and strange medium.
  • The early internet felt accessible to the author, as it was built on open, interoperable protocols like TCP/IP, HTTP, and SMTP.
  • The author could easily create a website by buying a book, visiting SELFHTML, or opening an account at Geocities. If Geocities went down, the author could move their website somewhere else or self-host it.
  • No single company or entity owned a significant chunk of the internet.

[03] Smartphones (mid-2000s)

1. How did the author view the accessibility and understanding of smartphones?

  • Smartphones introduced a new form factor and interaction paradigm, but the author understood how they work, could program them, and knew their limitations.
  • Smartphones are, for the most part, accessible in the same way as other computers, being small, connected, programmable computers with a wide range of input sensors.

[04] How AI is Different

1. What are the author's concerns about the opacity of AI?

  • The author wants to understand how things work, but AI feels like a black box. The amount of papers and mathematics the author would have to ingest to understand why a certain prompt results in a certain output feels overwhelming.
  • Even some top scientists in the field admit that they don't really understand how AI works, which the author finds unsatisfying. Without understanding how something works, the author feels doomed to be just a user.

2. How does the author view the approachability of AI?

  • While anyone can open a ChatGPT session or use OpenAI's APIs, the author sees gaining access to the core technological foundations that make AI possible as not being approachable for "little people."
  • The author feels that the resources, data, and skills required for training and inference in AI are not accessible to them.

3. What are the author's concerns about the openness of AI?

  • If the author builds an app that relies on an AI product like ChatGPT, they are essentially creating a "GPT Wrapper" - software that depends on someone else's AI product that they can't easily replicate or exchange.
  • The author is concerned about the potential issues if the AI provider (e.g., OpenAI) decides to revoke access, change pricing, or extend their offering in a way that makes the author's product redundant.
  • The author contrasts this with their experience with other technologies like databases and file storage, where they could easily switch to alternatives if the original provider was no longer available.
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