Confessions of a Trump Voter
Plus: Why is Google afraid of open-source AI?
Every week I highlight three newsletters.
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1. I Voted for Trump
As confessionals go this essay by Kevin Young is a doozy:
My journey from fundamentalism wasn’t a long drawn out process. It was like flipping a switch. One moment I was a conservative Republican, and then 8 minutes and 46 seconds later, I was something else . . .
I was raised Republican, indoctrinated into the Grand Ol’ Party from a young age, and baptized into the waters of latent McCarthyism. I sipped at the fountain of Pro-Life Rallies and Reaganomics. . . .
Every influential voice in my life reinforced the narrative that conservative Republicans were the party of God, doing his work in this world. With one voice, pastors, parents, grandparents, and fellow parishioners regularly reminded me that a Christian could only vote for one party and be a follower of Christ. No exceptions.
Thus the wall was built—one row at a time—as each person I respected and trusted laid their brick upon the mortar of my impressionable mind.
“Democrats are evil.” … another brick laid.
“Christians are Republican.” … another brick laid.
“Jesus was Conservative.” … another brick.
Every Bible study.
Every conversation inside the Christian bubble.
Bible College. Seminary. The Pastorate. Row after row of bricks.
Year after year.
Decade after decade.
Yikes. I can’t really imagine being raised in such a culture because, among other things, it’s just so earnest. Who could observe the American political scene over the last few decades and not have developed a sense of ironic detachment? Even if you’re a team player? Anyway:
Young grew up and became a pastor and voted for Donald Trump and loved Donald Trump. But COVID shook him:
As COVID took hold in 2020, I didn’t recognize my Christian and Conservative brother and sisters. Their callous response to the health of others shocked me. All told, I lost 19 people to COVID. All of them would be alive had Conservatives and Christians practiced “Love Thy Neighbor.”
And what finally caused the scales to fall from his eyes was the murder of George Floyd:
George Floyd’s story wrecked me, and it wrecked my belief system.
I have never watched something so egregious, so inhumane, so sinful in real time. I recognize now that this is because my blinders were on. I had built my wall so high as to be unable to see the world on the other side of it. My wall wasn’t protecting me, it was hiding me… insulating me… preventing me from seeing the reality of the oppressed and the marginalized.
And I am convinced that Jesus—as he always was in the Bible—was on the other side of the wall, with the hurting, not with me.
Young saw the evil that was visited on George Floyd and then saw the conservative response to it.
2. Google: We’re screwed.
First the caveats: What follows is text of a document that was posted by Semi-Analysis, a tech newsletter. The writers at SemiAnalysis claim that the document originated from an internal memo written by a researcher at Google. SemiAnalysis claims to have authenticated it as such.
People on the internet claim stuff all the time.
But that said, the text of the memo is pretty remarkable. In it, the (purported) Google researcher is trying to convince his colleagues that AI is moving so quickly that Google is screwed. Or, in industry parlance: “We have no moat.”
Here’s some of the (alleged) memo:
We Have No Moat
And neither does OpenAI
We’ve done a lot of looking over our shoulders at OpenAI. Who will cross the next milestone? What will the next move be?
But the uncomfortable truth is, we aren’t positioned to win this arms race and neither is OpenAI. While we’ve been squabbling, a third faction has been quietly eating our lunch.
I’m talking, of course, about open source. Plainly put, they are lapping us. . . .
While our models still hold a slight edge in terms of quality, the gap is closing astonishingly quickly. Open-source models are faster, more customizable, more private, and pound-for-pound more capable. They are doing things with $100 and 13B params that we struggle with at $10M and 540B. And they are doing so in weeks, not months. This has profound implications for us:
We have no secret sauce. Our best hope is to learn from and collaborate with what others are doing outside Google. We should prioritize enabling 3P integrations.
People will not pay for a restricted model when free, unrestricted alternatives are comparable in quality. We should consider where our value add really is.
Giant models are slowing us down. In the long run, the best models are the ones
which can be iterated upon quickly. We should make small variants more than an afterthought, now that we know what is possible in the <20B parameter regime. . . .
At the beginning of March the open source community got their hands on their first really capable foundation model, as Meta’s LLaMA was leaked to the public. It had no instruction or conversation tuning, and no RLHF. Nonetheless, the community immediately understood the significance of what they had been given.
A tremendous outpouring of innovation followed, with just days between major developments (see The Timeline for the full breakdown). Here we are, barely a month later, and there are variants with instruction tuning, quantization, quality improvements, human evals, multimodality, RLHF, etc. etc. many of which build on each other.
Most importantly, they have solved the scaling problem to the extent that anyone can tinker. Many of the new ideas are from ordinary people. The barrier to entry for training and experimentation has dropped from the total output of a major research organization to one person, an evening, and a beefy laptop.
I know you guys are getting tired of me going on and on about AI, but this is a revolution and it’s happening so fast that even the people working on the tech can’t keep up with the pace of developments.
3. Sherman Alexie
I am new to novelist / poet Sherman Alexie but he has a Substack now:
I’m currently sitting in a Target Starbucks so there won’t be audio for this essay. I suppose one could call this Starbucks a coffee shop but it’s probably more accurate to call it a coffee shop auxiliary. I like this auxiliary because it’s highly unlikely that any other writers will be here. There’s nothing literary about this place and I think that makes it a more conducive environment for creating literature.
So, just now, as I sipped my coffee and read a book, I watched two Target employees—brown-skinned men in the famous red polo shirts—greet one another.
“Hey,” said the big man. “I didn’t know you were working today.”
“Yeah,” said the smaller guy. “Tim called in sick. And I need the extra cash.”
“You got summer plans?”
“Yeah, I’m going to Egypt.”
“Egypt,” the big man said. “Dude, that’s so cool. Why Egypt?”
“I’m Egyptian,” said the smaller guy.
“What?” the shocked big man said. “I thought you were Mexican like me.”
“No,” the smaller guy said. “I was born in Egypt. Came here for college. I’m an American citizen now.”
“Dude, how long we been working together?”
“About six months.”
“Dude, this whole time I thought you were Mexican. I mean, you have an accent.”
“Yeah, Egyptian accent.”
The conversation only gets funnier. Read the whole thing.
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