While I don’t buy into the idea that history or technology moves in small one-year increments, it’s still valuable to take stock at the start of a new year, see what happened last year and decide what was important and what wasn’t. no
We started the year with a lot of people talking about “AI winter”. A quick Google search reveals that anxiety about the AI funding freeze has continued throughout the year. Funding comes and goes, of course, and with the possibility of a media-driven recession, there’s always the possibility of a funding collapse. Funding aside, 2022 was a fantastic year for AI. GPT-3 was certainly not new, but ChatGPT made GPT-3 usable in ways people hadn’t imagined. How will we use ChatGPT and its descendants? I don’t believe that the search has ended. When I search, I’m (usually) more interested in the source than the “answer”. But I have a question. Much has been made of ChatGPT’s ability to “hallucinate” facts. I wonder if such a hallucination could be a prelude to “artificial creation”. I’ll try to have more to say about that in the coming year.
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GitHub CoPilot wasn’t new in 2022 either, but in the last year we’ve been hearing more and more developers using ChatGPT to write production code. It is not only people who “hit the tires”. AI-generated code will inevitably be part of the future. The important questions are: who will it help and how? Right now, it seems like CoPilot is less likely to help beginners and more likely to be a force multiplier for experienced programmers, allowing them to focus more on what they’re trying to do than on syntax and libraries. on remembering details about. In the long run, this could lead to a complete change in “computer programming”.
DALL-E 2, Stable Diffusion, and Midjourney enabled people with no artistic skills to create pictures based on verbal descriptions, with often fantastic results. Google and Facebook haven’t released anything to the public, but they’ve shown off similar apps. All of these tools raise important questions about intellectual property and copyright. They are already inspiring new startups with new applications, and these companies will inevitably attract investment.
Those tools aren’t without their problems, and if we really want to avoid another AI winter, we’d do well to think about what those problems are. Intellectual property is one issue. GitHub is already being sued because the CoPilot product can reproduce the code it was trained on without regard to the code’s original license. Art generation programs will inevitably face similar challenges. What happens when you tell an AI system to create a picture “in the style of some artist?” What happens when you ask an AI to create an avatar for a woman and it creates something that’s highly sexualized? ChatGPT’s ability to produce credible text output is impressive, but its ability to distinguish fact from non-fact is limited. Will we see a web flooded with “fake news” and spam? We probably already have it, but tools like ChatGPT can create content on a scale we can’t yet imagine.
At its heart, ChatGPT is really a user interface hack. the chat front end is built on an updated version of the GPT-3 language model. “User interface hacking” sounds offensive, but I don’t mean it that way. Now we need to start building new applications around these models. UI design is important, and UI design for AI applications is a topic that has not been adequately explored. What can we build with big language and generative art models? How do these models interact with their users? Exploring those questions will bring great creativity.
After ChatGPT, perhaps the biggest surprise of 2022 was the rise of Mastodon. Mastodon, of course, is not new. I’ve been on the outside looking in for a while. I never thought it reached critical mass or could ever reach critical mass. I was proven wrong when Elon Musk’s antics drove thousands of Twitter users to Mastodon (including me). Mastodon is a federated network of communities populated by (mostly) nice, friendly, and smart people. The sudden influx of Twitter users proved that Mastodon can scale. There were growing pains, but not as much as I would have expected. I have not seen any “failed points”.
Mastodon’s growth proved that the federal model worked. It is important to think about this. Mastodon is a decentralized service based on the ActivityPub protocol. No one owns it; no one controls it, although individuals control specific servers. And there is no blockchain or token in sight. Over the past year, we’ve been treated to a steady diet of hype around Web3, much of which claims that the next step in online interaction should be built on the blockchain, that everything should be owned, everything should be paid for, and that rent collectors ( aka “miners”) will cut their hands off each transaction. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that Mastodon is Web3; but I think the next generation of the web, however it evolves, will look a lot more like Mastodon than OpenSea, and that it will be based on protocols like ActivityPub.
Which brings us to blockchains and crypto. I’m not going to engage in Schadenfreude here, but I’ve long wondered what could be built with blockchains. At one time, I thought supply chain management would be the poster child for Enterprise Blockchain. Unfortunately, IBM and Maersk have abandoned their TradeLens project. NFTs. I’ve always been skeptical of the connection between NFTs and the art world. NFTs were a lot like buying a picture and framing a receipt. They existed purely to show that you can spend cryptocurrency at scale, and the people who spent their coins that way got what they deserved. But I don’t want to say there is no value here. NFTs can help us solve the online identity problem, a problem we haven’t yet solved on the web (although I’m not sure NFT advocates really understand how complex identity is). Are there other apps? A number of companies, including Starbucks and Universal Studios, use NFTs to create customer loyalty programs and theme park experiences. At this point, NFTs still look like a technology looking for a problem to solve, but I suspect there isn’t an appropriate problem.
In 2022, of course, it was more. Will we see the Metaverse, or was it just Facebook’s attempt to change the narrative about its operations? Will Europe continue to lead the way in tech regulation, and will other countries follow suit? Will our daily lives be enhanced by the influx of interoperable smart devices? In 2023 we will see.