Stream of Consciousness: General sentiments towards AI, 2023

The year is 2023, I'm writing to capture one perspective about what it's like to live through AI's version of Moore's Law.

The vibes depend on who you talk to, honestly

There is an equal amount of anxiety and excitement in the air over what LLMs are capable of doing; dozens of hackathons are scheduled every weekend, even veterans are back into tinkering mode. Although, while the applications are all here and we know what they're capable of, as of April 2023, we haven't really experienced any large-sweeping AI generated societal paradigm shifts outside of the valley as of yet.

Those who are pre-disposed to the musical score of fear are espousing the number of jobs and industries they foresee AI to replace. The tale is as old as time: machines are toppling over century-old traditions, and a new crop of freshly minted AI experts are preaching in the high courts of Twitter and Bluesky.

~We will soon experience the looming redundancy of existing skillset in design, architecture, engineering, data science, et cetera~

For the anxious archtype, the LLMs are replacing the productivity of society that took decades of human years to hone.

My personal take is this. People who are gungho about AI replacement of jobs might not have had the perspective of understanding Corporate America. While many AI applications are truly changing the game, have you ever worked at a well established corporation spawned 2+ decades ago? (A key hallmark of late stage capitalism in corporate America is an internal consulting arm, which existence is for describing what the company does to other employees - if your company has one of those, you know what I'm referring to).

80% of these corporations generate a myriad of corporate speak slides, "programs" and "campaigns" with suspicious metrics that track YoY improvements, but are actually used to justify why their department exists at all. It is kind of an exaggeration to say this, but 80% of corporate America may be a simulacrum. It's the 80/20 rule. While 20% of corporations is absolutely vital and do all the work, 80% genuinely do not produce tangible value for the company. You know this by getting rid of entire departments...and the company goes on. AI agents are mega-productive, but genuine productivity, not made up metrics, is not necessarily the yard stick used to justify the jobs of millions of people. Execution is hard when you don't really even know why the department exists. Late stage capitalism has many more abstraction layers than AI theorists are led to believe. Also, startup friends lack context because startups cannot afford deadweight, while middle management corporations kind of depend on it.

The techno-optimists on the other hand, have fused AI into their external identity. Shipping fast and building in public are en vogue again: building AI bots, assistants, co-pilots, wrappers of GPT-4 and more. The optimists are genuinely tuned into the possibility of new mediums implemented on a global scale, and are fueled by thousands of gold rush investors. Rendering new possibilities in video games, political games, and heralding in new industries that don't quite exist yet. For a lot of builders, euphoria is not just being motivated by what's possible, but being fueled by their imagination. are people generally doing?

Personally I am far more interested in understanding how grappling with this new era impacts us as a society, but mostly, as human beings.

No papers or research talk about how individuals would deal with physically living through Moore's Law; there were papers written about the potential implications on our societies, but no investigations into our psyches or wellbeing. The technologists also rarely take into consideration the larger context of society or the macro-economic climate that serves as the backdrop of the latest developments.

On an individual level, I believe that those who are active researchers or developers are having the time of their lives, although it might be less so for everyone else. It is perfectly reasonable if many people's nervous systems are feeling generally disoriented or even confused by all the recent developments; I've definitely heard sentiments of people feeling a little bit scared, or excited, all I'd presume to be reasonable responses.

Many people I've talked to are overwhelmed by the number of new developments shipped every day; even for those who are building. Among my very quick check-in of n=15 friends: engineers and PM types but also non tech types, people are on-average overwhelmed privately, but are excited "in public", because it's kind of lame not to be (?)

What came as a surprise is that, quite a few also said that "they don't really know how they're feeling". I attribute adrenaline and the excitement of overall developments to be the cause, since no one is slowing down to catch a breath right now. I do worry for some of these cerebral friends, since a lot of them were already overly identified with their minds (a lot of walking floating head syndrome, generally disconnected from their bodies). There is an entire theological trans-humanist community here in the Bay that generally support the notion of discarding the body and uploading our consciousness, but I am not going to bother pointing out just how very depressed most of these people are.

Anyway, whether the progress of AI development is logarithmic or exponential, I want to make sure people who are keeping the pacing with Moore's Law know that what they're experiencing is highly unnatural. I hope you know it's ok to take a breather. Like actually, you're going to be fine.

The Cognitive Dissonance is really wild

It's pretty critical to mention that the backdrop of 2023 is a brutal economic recession. A lot of people are losing or have lost their jobs, the cultural sentiment fueled by a lack of job security and rising living costs are generally lead to very somber and transactional vibes.

People are stressed out, and leaning further into survival mode. Yet the gold rush and the anticipated value capture of AI are in the measure of trillions dollars. All garden variety investors are pivoting hard into the 100-300x valuation heaven.

Once again, it's uniquely two distinctive realities.

Rapid technological development against the backdrop of societal malaise is not exactly an uncommon phenomenon. The luddites had trouble with industrialization, not only because they detested technology, but because the wider economic situation was extremely dire and people everywhere were starving, and the resourcing towards technological developments simply made a few extremely wealthy. Even for those who have been in the technology industry for awhile have gotten used to the cognitive dissonance. Does anyone really believe that the wage discrepancy is justified by people in tech being 300x more productive than those outside the industry?

The turbocharge development of the AI era is going to accentuate this cognitive dissonance, or more specifically, distort the unequal wealth distribution much further. I'm not an economist, but I would bet by a factor of probably 1,000. Shouldn't we have more people investigating how this might impact society?

For those who live in the bubble echo chambers of the coastal cities and have friends everywhere; it might be quite interesting for you to investigate how your friends are feeling in their Bubble RealitiesTM.

I am assuming that the attitudes towards AI run across the spectrum, depending on where they are in relative to the technological wave; and cynically, whether they can capitalize on it, and how much they really think about the large context for socioecological stability.

Either way, it's about to be a pretty wild ride.

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