The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

San Francisco raged last evening — high winds, steady rain, uprooted trees, and traffic snarls everywhere. It was a perfect evening to stay home and finish work. So I stayed up late, finishing some work, and then got sucked into playing with a handful of new AI tools. When done playing with the latest version of Midjourney — holy smokes, it is terrific — I turned my attention to The Oasis app

 On the website, it says you can create a video with your voice, but with the TestFlight version I am using, you can ask the app what you want, and it could write you a song, a blog post, a memo, an email, and a “Linkedin post.” I had no idea LinkedIn post was a “media” type. All this auto-generated text will become routine stuff, and in the end, what would stand out are the “workflows around AI.” The Oasis team is showing how you can make a complex app very simple using a handful of prompts. The app is simple, elegant, and well-designed.

As a joke, I asked the Oasis app to write me a rap song about the fake messiahs on social media to be sung by the late Biggie Smalls. The results were worth a chuckle! And a perfect way to call it a night! 

Music Industry Made How Much in 2022?

Global music revenues rose 9% year-over-year(YoY) to $26.2 billion in 2022, driven by an 11.5% increase in streaming revenues to $17.5 billion. It now accounts for 67% (up 2% from 2021) of the market. Streaming subscriptions were up 10.3% YoY to $12.7 billion, up 10.3% — highlighting that we live in an on-demand world. Spotify, the streaming giant, took home $12.4 billion in 2022 but lost $465 million. It tells you who is the real daddy in the music industry! IFPI

Recommended Reads

  • All the hype around AI and ChatGPT needs some context — and Paul Kedrosky and Eric Norlin of SK Ventures provide it — an essay that weaves the link between software, economics, and how humans value software-enabled things. All this will change soon in short order, they write in their essay, Society’s Technical Debt and Software’s Gutenberg Moment. Highly Recommended. 
  • Can AI make the perfect IPA?: As far as I am concerned, it is the only question that needs an answer. After all, there could be no higher calling for “AI” than the idea of a perfect brew. 
  • Brexit is killing London’s design preeminence. UK’s decision to leave the European Union could be one of the worst self-inflicted wounds by a nation in the post-industrial era. It has lost its luster as a financial hub. And it is now at risk of becoming a design backwater, as Wallpaper explains. Top British designers such as Tom Dixon weigh in on various challenges. 

Noted: The boys who started the whole filter craze with Hipstamtic are reinventing it — check out the new Hipstamtic

March 22, 2023. San Francisco

Amazon shuts down DPReview

After nearly 25 years of operation, DPReview will be closing in the near future. This difficult decision is part of the annual operating plan review that our parent company shared earlier this year. The site will remain active until April 10.

DPRreview, a camera review and photography enthusiast community website owned and operated by Amazon, is shutting down, no thanks in part to a large-scale corporate readjustment — the company is laying off another 9000 employees. What an ironic twist of fate — getting shuttered in their twenty-fifth year. 

Continue reading “Amazon shuts down DPReview”

A general rule of thumb that has helped me maintain perspective is that, given enough time, you are either proven to be an idiot or a genius. A corollary to that law is that you will eventually reveal your true self on social media. 

This brutal reality applies to aging bloggers, Twitter gurus, and influencers. It doesn’t matter who you are, how many degrees you have accumulated, or how many books you have written. And this is even true for the seemingly invincible of them all — the billionaire. Even the richest man in the world isn’t immune from echoing his limitations. You will almost always reveal your limitations and eventually lose that special sheen. 

For eternity, we have seen success, and financial security as a shorthand for visionary and expert. Nothing echoes smarts louder than the number of zeros in a person’s net worth. Just as people wanted opinions of the kings and the royals in the past, industrialists and newly minted billionaires are viewed as folks with all the answers. 

Of course, in the past, this idealized perception could be maintained through the carefully choreographed manipulation of the media. The British Royal family has done this by carefully engaging with “royal correspondents” in newspapers and television networks. Today’s royals — let’s face it, it is mostly tech billionaires — however, are different: they need to expound on everything, everywhere, all the time, or else they are forgotten. 

Attention — rather need for attention is an addiction. 

In the technology industry, if you don’t have attention, you are not relevant. And there is nothing scarier than irrelevance in Silicon Valley. It is like a Hollywood star losing their good looks. Ignoring someone in tech is essentially triggering their worst fears. Hence, the need to be in the spotlight and get attention. And control the narrative. 

And nothing helps with this more than social media. This is the ultimate version of sources going direct. Over a decade ago, I pointed out, “there is a blurring of the line between what is news and what is a tweet, photo or a blog post. In other words, it is a kind of mosh pit of data and information.” Now we are living in a metastasized version of that observation. 

Thanks to Twitter punditry, it doesn’t take very long to find out who is or who isn’t a genius. Abraham Lincoln, a long time ago, said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” 

Quote Investigator says “there is no substantive evidence that this popular adage was coined or employed by Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain. The earliest ascriptions to these famous figures appeared many years post death. QI thinks that Maurice Switzer.

I don’t know if the human body can change as fast as the changes being brought on by meta-sizing of everything. As someone who loves the possibilities of technology, it is inevitable we will need computers to augment our internal capabilities to deal with these changes. For now, even the best efforts are not good enough and we have a ways to go.

From my own blog in 2019, Why we need to slowdown time

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.”

Originally published as part of issue#3 of my twice-a-month newsletter, A Letter from Om.

It is hard to imagine that it has already been a week since the start of the tumultuous events that led to the FDIC taking over Silicon Valley Bank, and coming to the rescue of the depositors. The rancor that has followed the takeover has been sobering and should be a wake-up call for Silicon Valley — but it won’t be because SV has become a loose collection of competing self-interested factions.

SVB’s failure also exposed Silicon Valley to the harsh reality: the larger world hates the tech industry and what it has come to represent. 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. As I pointed out earlier,

“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. 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.”

A big reason for this growing apathy is that the industry is starting to be represented by voices that lack the empathy to understand the real world and the emotional impact of the intersection of technology and society. We have to 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.”

This is excerpted from issue#3 of my twice-a-month newsletter.

Kottke, the blog that curates the best of the whimsical and creative web and reflects the eclectic personality of its founder, Jason Kottke, is turning 25. I have been reading and enjoying his blog for an eternity. He has kept the site the same, though he has paid some attention to the realities of the distribution of information on the Internet. “I’m not gonna go through the whole history of the site, but it eventually took off in a way that I didn’t anticipate,” he writes about his blogging milestone. Jason was one of the earliest believers in blogging, a few years following folks like me, who were a few years behind Dave Winer and Doc Searls. 

I turned my blog into a business, later lost control of my blogging destiny, and had to find a new home here. But Kottke has always been steadfast in his presence, design, and focus. His tenacity to keep going and doing it alone is admirable. In a (long) podcast conversation with John Gruber (who has been blogging on Daring Fireball for two decades himself), Kottke nerds out about the web, blogging, protocols like RSS, and, of course, name-checks some of the other veterans of blogging. 

Congratulations, Jason, on the journey and weaving a wonderful hypertext web!

March 14, 2023. San Francisco

PS: Jason and John, in their podcast, talk about how blogging has inspired many social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. I wrote about this about a decade ago, which is worth reading. Blogging is the genesis and has inspired many ideas and behaviors on the Internet, and it is time for blogging to evolve. 

Yellen offers (some) clarity on SVB

There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, even though it isn’t clear as to when founders and wider Silicon Valley community can exhale, even for a minute. The US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen spoke to the Face the Nation this morning. Her comments reveal that the government doesn’t want it to become a contagion that spreads to other banks. As many have said, this could undermine the faith in US banking system from the point of view of depositors. 

TL:DR from a Silicon Valley point of view — there won’t be a bailout of the bank. Instead, the focus is going to be entirely on the depositors. She and other federal reserve regulators understand the gravity of the situation and need of the hour. 

Here are the bits from her comments that I found relevant. 

Continue reading “Yellen offers (some) clarity on SVB”

A Tough Weekend

After three decades of being part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem — as a reporter, writer, entrepreneur, and investor — I thought I had seen it all. The boom-bust cycles, stock market manias, startup insanity, attack on America itself, and the most significant financial calamity in nearly a century — living through history prepares you for every eventuality. Your own struggle with mortality prepares you for the unpredictability of everything. You embrace the impermanence and become one with it. And despite all that, you experience what Silicon Valley has experienced this weekend — a sense of helplessness, a feeling of dread, and, more importantly, a sadness about the fragility of our community.

Continue reading “A Tough Weekend”
a computer screen with a text description on it
Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

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 harder. 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.  

Originally published on February 28, 2023, as part of my twice-a-month newsletter, A Letter From Om. Read the latest issue, and if you like it, please sign-up.

black and white robot toy on red wooden table
Photo by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash

Grand places help me get proper context — when juxtaposed against the vastness and timeliness of the planet 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 proverbial Jordan Belforts. 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, I believe 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)

Originally published on February 28, 2023, as part of my twice-a-month newsletter, A Letter From Om. Read the latest issue, and if you like it, please sign-up.