andrew burke





Catching Up On The Uncanny New AI Announcements

Posted on: 2023-11-11

It has been a big week for announcements in the tech industry, and I'm finally starting to catch up on some of them. There's plenty that can be said about the new products and features themselves, but I noticed some uncanny weirdness in both of them.

First is this interview with Imran Chaudhri, co-founder with Bethany Bongiorno of Humane, a company that just launched an "AI Pin". I've followed Om Malik's blog for many years and respect his opinions and writing and his photography. He's very enthusiastic about this AI Pin thing, but this interview just seemed, well, odd.

Maybe it's because it's about an AI device, but the whole interview felt to me like it had been generated by AI. Look at these early paragraphs:

I certainly am passionate about moving computing forward. If by virtue of moving things forward, you improve things, then that means you’re moving in the right direction. I’ve been lucky to have been able to work with a bunch of folks in my past life who believed in that kind of thing.
And every time we made an advancement, it always rendered the previous way of doing things either obsolete or just improved them in some ways. I can’t speak for what everybody else is feeling right now. There are a lot of people who are excited about what it means to be able to rethink personal mobile computing. One of the things that is different about what we’re doing is that it is far more personal in many regards.

The sentences are all sort of the same length and have the same bland cadence. They make a statement, and then another sort-of related statement, and then another, but without really linking things together. Often there's an either-or logic to the statements, balancing each other out. The tone is very even, especially for someone announcing a new world-changing product he's been working on for years. Maybe that's just the way Imran speaks, but it feels like they maybe trained an LLM on a bunch of his writings and speeches and had it produce an interview.

Even the photos of the founders look a bit too smooth and generically handsome, like they were pulled out of Midjourney. I'm pretty sure they're real photos of real people, maybe post-processed a bit too aggressively, but it's interesting how I'm now suspicious of generic-feeling well-lit professional portraits.

I immediately tried to count the fingers and teeth - but notice how they mostly hide their hands and keep their mouths closed! That kind of thing just makes me suspicious now.

Next up was the big announcement from Sam Altman of OpenAI about the new features they're bringing to ChatGPT. It was a live keynote, done, interestingly enough, at the former site of the Fillmore West concert hall. Sam is a very smart guy, with a solid track record of tech and startup successes, and I've been impressed with him in interviews I've heard—but here on stage he looked particularly awkward. He stood in a static way, didn't quite seem to know what to do with his arms sometimes, and occasionally read rather robotically from his teleprompters.

It was especially noticeable when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella joined him on stage and was clearly much more comfortable doing this kind of presentation. He looked and felt much more natural and engaged and entertaining.

There seems to be a certain kind of Silicon Valley presentation style, possibly all taught by the same handful of coaches. You can see it in the big Apple keynotes, especially with middle managers who are more used to meetings and email than big presentations.

Of course, they're all inspired by Steve Jobs' famous keynotes. He was a master of this form, worked very hard on each presentation, and was clearly in his element on stage. Here he is at the peak of his powers, announcing the iPhone back in 2007. He makes it look easy. It isn't!

(Random finishing note: does anybody else keep confusing Sam Altman with Sam Bankman-Fried? The names are similar and they both made a lot of headlines over the last twelve months - but for very different reasons. I'm finally getting over it, I think.)

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