Hi! In case you are new around here, I am Om. If you are new around here, here is something About Me and why you should read my newsletter. In this letter, I share what’s on my mind, my latest writings, articles worth reading from around the web, my recommendations & sometimes my photography. It’s mostly about technology and how it impacts our present future. 

In this issue, I address the following: 

  • What I have been up to: Ai, Ai, Ai
  • What I am thinking about: The Death of a bank
  • Worth Reading: 5 good reads

Well said:

“It’s easy for someone who’s lived in Silicon Valley for 15 years to forget that the seamless experience they have when they pull out their phone to message a friend is not universal. Not everyone has their own personal phone that they upgrade every two years or an unlimited data plan; nor does everyone have access to reliable wifi or a speedy network connection.”

Signal Blog!

What I have been up to: 

For the past few weeks, I have immersed myself in various generative AI tools. It has been a while since I have woken up and been excited about what every new day will bring. There are so many tools and apps to try. And new things to learn. We may have a long way to go — ChatGPT is spectacularly wrong about my bio — but still, this feeling of something new is afoot is like a jolt of energy after taking a sip of an ultra-strong coffee. Again, don’t get me wrong — this phase of “AI” comes with all sorts of risks. However, there is no need to avoid it or not understand it. 

Wayne Shorter & Herbie Hancock, in an open letter to the next generation of artists, extoll them to think differently and think anew

The world needs new pathways. Don’t allow yourself to be hijacked by common rhetoric, or false beliefs and illusions about how life should be lived. It’s up to you to be the pioneers. Whether through the exploration of new sounds, rhythms, and harmonies or unexpected collaborations, processes and experiences, we encourage you to dispel repetition in all of its negative forms and consequences. Strive to create new actions both musically and with the pathway of your life. Never conform.

As we accumulate years, parts of our imagination tend to dull. Whether from sadness, prolonged struggle, or social conditioning, somewhere along the way people forget how to tap into the inherent magic that exists within our minds. Don’t let that part of your imagination fade away. All that exists is a product of someone’s imagination; treasure and nurture yours and you’ll always find yourself on the precipice of discovery.

The reactions to these tools are either of amazement, and wonder. Or those of fear and doom. It is hard not to appreciate both points of view — after all, we must confront the idea of something so new that we might be forced to adapt and reinvent ourselves or be left behind. As someone who lives at the end of technology and creative arts, I can’t help but feel excited at the prospect of trying to reinvent myself for this new future. As an older person, I find these new tools are challenging my brain and sending synapses in a different part of my brain, making me wonder — what I can do with this.

As a photographer, I can’t help but see something like Stable Diffusion, Dalle 2, Microsoft Designer, or MidJourney as spiritual descendants to Thomas and John Knoll’s 1987 experiment that eventually became the media manipulation and creative tool behemoth that it is today, Photoshop. 

My early experience with these new tools (for the lack of a better description) has me convinced that they will help foster new art forms, more digital, for a future where we consume media and information through a mixed reality layer. And even today’s tools will benefit from this group of technologies we have labeled “ai.”

What I am thinking about:

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there was only one topic that dominated my thinking over the past week or so — Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and its eventual collapse. There has been a lot of Monday Morning quarterbacking about the collapse, its long-term impact, and how it changes Silicon Valley. For me, the reaction has been emotional. I had worked with folks from SVB, first when I was a founder, later as an investor, and now as an individual. My first interaction with SVB was back in 1992. This long multidimensional relationship made it clear that it was more than just a bank. Of course, that status as a local bank has now exposed them to ridicule. 

To recap: SVB Financial, the company that owned SVB, the 16th largest bank in the US with almost $200 billion in assets, failed last week. SVB had been a beneficiary of the recent boom in the tech industry. SVB’s deposit balances tripled to $198 billion. The bank invested most of the deposits in low-yielding instruments, befitting the low-interest reality of the post-pandemic economy. When the interest rates went up, the value of SVB’s securities declined. The cooling tech economy and declining venture investments didn’t help. New deposits started to dry up. A series of events led to an eventual bank run, further exaggerated by social media. FDIC ultimately seized SVB, causing confusion and panic among the bank’s deposit customers. 

The lack of clarity allowed fear and rumors to create even more dread among investors, startup founders, and others in the Silicon Valley ecosystem. As I noted on the blog, it added to a very tough weekend — perhaps the toughest I have experienced in my three decades in the technology industry. The bank’s failure also exposed Silicon Valley to the harsh reality: the larger world hates the tech industry and what it represents. The outsized nature of the success, matched by the outsized bravado and machismo of its fake prophets, has eroded all goodwill for one of the most critical sectors of the US economy. 

Here is what I wrote on my blog:

“Whether politicians and media like it or not, the technology sector is one of the few engines of growth that we have in the US,The long-term war with our new geopolitical rivals will continue to be fought on the technology front. A disruption in the innovation ecosystem means a setback whose impact will be felt over the long term. I can understand that the general population, populist politicians, and media have faint regard for Uber-rich tech giants, blowhard billionaires, and the lack of empathy and morality in emergent technologies — but that’s missing the forest for the trees.”

Eventually, the help arrived. In days to come, when I am less emotional, I will write my postmortem and what we need to do. First, we must stop the loud few hijacking and become the face of technology. I have been critical of loud and shrill voices on social media, which have caused long-term damage with their selfish rantings. As I told NBC News’ Dave Ingram, “There are certain voices on social media that are loud and shrill, and they don’t speak for tech. All of the actual problems that we experienced over the weekend as a community were taken care of by people who were not on Twitter.”

Things are returning to normalcy. But things will never be the same again. “Before SVB sprang to life, it was difficult, if not impossible, for a startup to secure a relationship with a large, established bank,” Michael Moritz, a partner at Sequoia VC who counts Google as one of its investments, wrote in The Financial Times.

The startup ecosystem is already feeling the loss of SVB. The bank had built institutional knowledge to understand startups, the risks involved in being a venture-backed company, and the needs of a startup. The bulge bracket banks will likely step in to provide banking services, but they won’t have the same service, intimacy, or understanding of their clients. As Moritz noted, we are again putting the fates of thousands of small technology companies and the vitality of the startup economy back in the hands of strangers.

Here is my article for The Spectator, reinforcing the importance of the bank, and why we needed the Fed to help the depositors.

On Big Technology Podcast:

The fallout of Silicon Valley Bank’s failure — a conversation with Alex Kantrowitz, Chris Tolles, and me

Worth reading:


  1. Check out The Misalignment Museum in San Francisco, a museum dedicated to future dystopia. (Wired had nice things to say about it.)
  2. I recommend this small outpost called Alaska Sausage and Seafood if you want some fantastic Alaskan salmon. I brought some smoked salmon home. 

Random Fact:

Kottke, one of the more interesting blogs, is now 25 years old.  

My photography: I would love for you to check out my latest photographs. 

PS: Some of these photos are available for sale as prints. Drop me a line if you are interested in adding them to your living space.

March 16, 2023. San Francisco

Hi! In case you are new around here, I am Om. If you are new around here, here is something About Me and why you should read my newsletter. In this letter, I share what’s on my mind, my latest writings, articles worth reading from around the web, my recommendations & sometimes my photography. It’s mostly about technology and how it impacts our present future. 

In this issue, I address the following: 

  • Housekeeping update
  • Personal update + what’s on my mind 
  • ChatGPT: A Netscape moment. 
  • 2 Good Reads + Watch This
  • A Mirror Conspiracy! 

Housekeeping: The new format has met with the approval of the community. As an experiment (and by popular demand), I will increase the frequency of the newsletter to twice a month – the first and the fifteenth of every month, starting today. 

Our life is half natural and half technological. Half-and-half is good. You cannot deny that high-tech is progress. We need it for jobs. Yet if you make only high-tech, you make war. So we must have a strong human element to keep modesty and natural life.

Nam June Paik

What I have been up to

I went for a short trip to Alaska to take in the brutally cold winter weather, and take some photos. But mostly, I wanted to escape what passes for our life. 

Alaska’s vast emptiness, extreme nature, and, most importantly, landscapes speak to me deeply and emotionally. It allows my inner introvert to exist without interference from the outside world. It is where I have to learn to talk to myself and listen to a power higher than any contained in an office, bank account, or computer. Nature and its infinite magnificence and power are where it all starts and ends. 

In the tundra, unlike a New York Times reporter or some Washington Post scribe, I didn’t need to type into a plain white box to be amazed, amused, and outraged. I didn’t need to be triggered by anger but instead be awakened by a walk at the edge of a glacier’s crevice, not knowing that one step could be the last. I felt a special delight when surrounded by many shades of blues inside an ice cave. Or the dread I felt from the sound of ice cracking. 

I am replenished, my mind and soul in sync. As always, such grand places help me get proper context — when juxtaposed against the vastness and timeliness of the planet that we call home, the human construct is merely just that – an edifice, a reflection of our selfish need to scream: I am! 

And nothing prays louder to this narcissism is the current obsession with AI, a technology generating as much fear as it inspires fabulous. In our world where hype trumps deliberations, we forget that technology is there to augment us — and if we want to obliterate us. A wheel takes us afar, and it runs us over. Telephone connects, and it makes us vulnerable to the proverbial Jordan Belfort. Atomic bomb kills at an inhuman scale, yet the same technology can be harnessed to produce energy to power our world. 

Intelligence can be artificial. Or it can be a tool to help humans survive a more complex, more connected world that is moving ever so faster. I have said this and will say it again; we have to stop fearing AI. After decades of being a tech watcher, we need optimism to move forward. But we don’t have to be blind to its problems. A bit of skepticism is good because we humans have our fallacies, like technology. 

My two columns on AI for:

The New Yorker: The hype and hope – of Artificial Intelligence. (2016)

The Spectator: We should stop worrying and learn to love AI. (2022)

What I am thinking about: ChatGPT, of course!

In case you were wondering, I view ChatGPT as one of those profound aha moments in the history of technology: I wasn’t around to see the birth of the first Apple machine, but I have read about it. I saw the world change when I started using the Netscape browser, even though I had used the Internet before. I was among the first few to experience pre-launch Google and then later at the launch of the iPhone. I picked these historical moments because they fundamentally changed our relationship with information.  

Netscape browser opened us up to the wonder of infinite information. Google made it easy for us to search and pull up whatever we needed, whenever we needed. The iPhone (and later smartphones) made information available anywhere, anytime. These three events changed our behavior and how we viewed and interacted with information. ChatGPT is one of those moments — after this, we will interact with information in an entirely different way: as an almost human conversation. 

We have been on this path for a long time. We have been typing complete questions into Google’s Search Bar and asking Siri and Alexa to do things for us. Our kids are growing up having a conversation with machines. For today’s kids, devices with no keyboard or ones that work with gestures and voice commands are as typical as a day starting with sunrise. ChatGPT and its progeny will be part of our future, where we experience reality through a thin veneer of mixed reality glasses or holographic displays. It is not if but when. 

That said, I want to sprinkle a caution in our thinking around AI and ChatGPT, primarily because, in the recent past, I have seen Silicon Valley get high on its fumes. And we, indeed, are getting ahead of ourselves. How do I know — Salesforce and its chief, Marc Benioff, who hasn’t met a trend he didn’t incorporate into his corporate buzzword bingo, will announce EinsteinGPT. When Salesforce embraced the “cloud,” it crossed a marketing transom. Rinse, repeat. Anyway, let’s get back to the main thing — ChatGPT. 

A few years ago, the hype machine decided that “self driving” was the new wonder bread just around the corner. And then it was web3. And now it is GPT. Technology is more complex and not as straightforward as a hot take. The fact is that the science and technology of technology are very hard — and keep getting more challenging. We live in a growing complexity of how “tech” interacts with the real world. This complexity means that there are no overnight miracles. No overnight stars, no overnight collapses. 

Even though much has been written about AI, its impact, and its challenges, this video by comedian John Oliver gives us an overview of the state of AI today. And it is funny! I highly recommend you watch it. As Oliver points out, AI and ChatGPT are complex issues. Here are some articles that I found enjoyable and informative. 

  • From Samantha to Dolores: M.G. Siegler, an investor, and cinema buff writes about virtual chatbots and how they have been portrayed in popular culture, their hope, and their hype. (A long time ago, I interviewed KK Barrett, a production designer on the movie Her, which has become quite a rage amongst twitter-pundits. KK told me something that has always stayed with me: “It was the story of the attempt to be connected with another human.” For me, all technology is about humans. If we remember that, we be okay. If we don’t, we end up with the likes of Meta. 
  • What is ChatGPT, and why does it work?: Stephen Wolfram needs no introduction. In this in-depth article, he brings a scientist’s view on ChatGPT. Bookmark this for future reference. 
  • Building guide rails around ChatGPT: AI will be a topic of immense debate in Washington DC., and as a result, think tanks will help influence the legislation around AI and its widespread impact. Brookings Institution has shared its thinking on ChatGPT.  

My writings

  1. The Gigabit Generation: Build it, and they will come! And no, I don’t mean the fabulous baseball movie but high-speed broadband networks. And not only will they come, but they will also know how to use the speeds. This is just the start for a generation of consumers growing up on gigabit connections and relying on the “network” for everything.
  2. Writing shouldn’t be hard: I embrace and welcome our AI overlords and all the tools they bestow on us for writing better memos, easy-to-understand emails, and just boring stuff we need to do because all we do is text. 
  3. The podcasting bubble is coming to an end. You can thank Spotify for it. Ironic, considering that the company created a bubble by over-investing in podcasting, buying companies, overpaying for celebrity deals, and controversial shock jocks. 
  4. Information Streams as design patterns are still alive, say web gurus. And yet, the end customers think they are.  
  5. Why manual rangefinder cameras are great for landscape photography, I know it is not tech, but the long essay does have many pretty photos! 

Worth reading 

  • The Junkification of Amazon: According to John Herrman, Amazon might be the biggest store on the web, but it is also the shittiest place to shop on the web. I couldn’t agree more — my overall experience with Amazon has deprecated, and I am always worried about what crap I will get in the box. I have shifted about a third of my dollars to Walmart — Amex underwrites the Walmart equivalent of Prime — and another third to Target or independent stores. Shopify has made it easier to shop with independents. Amazon’s great advantage is “returns.” You will see Amazon as just another web place when someone cracks that. (Ironically, New York magazine has no problem linking to Amazon for affiliate revenues.)
  • Streaming is a steaming pile of mess. No matter what you do to fix this, there are losers on all sides – creators, platforms, and rights holders. And what is clear that’s any tweaks will come at the expense of people like you and me. This is one of the best pieces I have read about streaming music and its economic troubles.

Watch This 

I have been late to discover Mr.InBetween, a dark crime comedy from Australia. It started airing on FX in 2108, but I just started watching it on Hulu, and I am addicted. The protagonist Ray Shoesmith is a hitman for hire who lives in Sydney suburbs and tries to balance his job with his everyday life. Remind you of a certain Tony? 

A Mirror Conspiracy

America (and, by proxy, the west) is locked in a bitter economic and political battle with China. The salvos have been fired over “chips” and “chip technologies.” Chips are the key to the future, so the US is doing its best to ensure China doesn’t get that technology. This kind of “technology” gamesmanship isn’t anything new.

In 1507, Venetians developed a “technique of coating glass with an alloy of tin and mercury,” leading to somewhat modern mirrors. For about 150 years, Venice (Italy) enjoyed the lead and made large mirrors. In 1664, France stole technology from them and created “mirror halls.” Eventually, the technology became so commonplace that the mirrors went from royal halls to homes. Since I started talking about China, the Chinese had halls of mirrors as far back as 565–77.

FWIW, I am interested in reading more about mirrors and their history. If you have any book recommendations, drop me a note. (The title for this section is a tip of the hat to Thievery Corporation’s amazing album of the same name — an all-time favorite)

My photography: I would love for you to check out my latest

PS: Some of these photos are available for sale as prints. Drop me a line if you want to add them to your living space.