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The Week That AI Went to Scale
Microsoft has begun the AI arms race. We'll be lucky to survive it.
Before we start: I do a podcast with Sarah Longwell that’s only for members of Bulwark+. On this week’s show we had a discussion about the promise / peril of alternative institutions that became a conversation about Ron DeSantis, Brian Kemp, and the difference between being Never Trump and Never Republican. Oh: And wolves. It was also about wolves.
I’ve gone and made that section of the show open to everyone. You can listen to it here. I think you’ll find it valuable.
And if you want to get our show every week, I hope you’ll join Bulwark+.
Part of me feels guilty about how often we talk about AI, but I’m convinced it’s a really big deal.
How big? On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is the invention of the gif and a 10 is the mobile revolution, I’d put the widespread dissemination of generative artificial intelligence at about a 17.
AI is going to change the economics of the internet in ways that are as vast as they are unknowable. And after that, it’s going to radiate out and change the real world around us. Everything from pharmaceutical research, to military affairs, to book-keeping will be touched.
And this past week was an important milestone as Microsoft fired the first shots in the corporate battle for AI dominance by rolling out an AI-version of its search engine, Bing.
Here’s Casey Newton’s Platformer with a report:
[A]s I interviewed executives and watched presentations about the next generation of Bing on Tuesday, I was struck by the once-in-a-generation opportunity Microsoft may now have to shift consumer behavior. . . .
Using the reimagined Bing on stage, a top marketing executive at the company planned a five-day trip to Mexico City, identified the best 65” television, and then refined his query to find the best 65” TV for gaming. He generated a list of history’s top Japanese poets, augmented with sample haikus, and then put together a quiz about music in the 1990s.
All of this he did more or less instantly, with the fluidity that is now familiar to users of ChatGPT, but bolstered by the knowledge that soon this tool would be available to the masses, and for free. . . .
The Chat tab allows you to submit queries of up to 2,000 characters, with Bing remembering the context of your previous questions as you go.
One tab over, Compose generates text for you based on your inputs. It currently offers five “tones” — “professional,” “casual,” “enthusiastic,” “informational,” or “funny — and lets you choose whether to generate output as a paragraph, an email, a blog post, or a list of ideas. (You can also choose whether the output is short, medium, or long.) Tap “generate a draft” and you can then copy the text elsewhere for editing.
I expect both of these features will eventually find hundreds of millions or even billions of users, just as soon as Microsoft will allow them to try it. (ChatGPT hit an estimated 100 million users in January after just two months of existence.)
Read the whole thing and subscribe. Because this is the future.
Oh come on. Go listen to the podcast clip I made for you. I went to a lot of trouble on this!
2. Catholic Inside Baseball
Unless you’re deep into Catholic stuff, you probably don’t know who Frank Pavone is. He was a MAGA priest who was so MAGA that the pope defrocked him for blasphemy and disobedience.
If you have had any contact with the MAGA section of the Catholic Church over the last seven years, then you have some sense of how absolutely forking insane Pavone had to be to get laicized. Because the Church has basically been a Trump Party free-for-all not all that different from the Southern Baptist Convention.
Anyway, Pavone got special privileges in Catholic world not because he was MAGA, but because he was a key part of Pro-Life Inc. as the leader of the group “Priests for Life.”
And when you’re a Pro-Life Warrior, the pro-life movement will let you get away with anything.1
Case in point: My favorite Catholic news organization—the Pillar—broke the story that Pavone had also been accused of sexual misconduct before the Vatican came down on him.
It’s always the ones you most expect.
This week The Pillar’s Ed Condon wrote about why the Pillar pursued this story:
I mentioned the other week that we got quite a bit of negative feedback, and lost some subscribers, when we first published allegations of sexual misconduct against Pavone by a young woman who worked at his pro-life organization. And we’ve already had more of the same.
We get feedback from a small crowd who seem to think we, The Pillar, are part of some grand liberal conspiracy, hell-bent on taking down someone for their witness against abortion. Unserious things like that don’t especially keep me up at night.
But others are asking why we continue to report these allegations against Pavone as they emerge — he’s no longer a cleric, they say, so why should anyone care?
Here’s why they should care:
First, Frank Pavone ran, as a cleric, and continues to run, as a layman, a prominent organization in the pro-life movement. That movement’s witness is for the dignity and welfare of women and their children, and where the credibility of that witness is undermined it needs to be challenged.
Second, Worthington told us she complained about what she experienced to Pavone’s diocese about his alleged behavior, and here’s what she said happened — she was contacted by the diocese and “asked if [Pavone] ever put his hands under my clothing, and if I was a minor when it happened. And [the diocesan official] just said that I was of age, and that was pretty much it.” . . .
I think everyone can agree we need to do better than this.
And remember that policing your own side is the only way you keep your guys from becoming the bad guys.
I opted out of the entire LeBron James era. Nothing against him, but as he was rising, my favorite player (Allen Iverson) was on his way out. As the Sixers fell got really bad, I couldn’t bear to follow the NBA. And so I fell away from basketball.
But I freely acknowledge Bron-Bron’s greatness and also that he seems—unlike Michael Jordan—to be a reasonably well-adjusted guy who’s mostly a force for good in the world.
This week James broke the NBA’s all-time scoring record, which prompted the previous record holder to write down some thoughts.
The previous record-holder is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who also happens to be:
One of my all-time favorites players;
Tied with Mary Carillo as the most intellectually interesting professional athletes of the last half-century;
A gifted and graceful writer.
Here’s Kareem writing about his feelings in watching LeBron break his record:
In the months leading up to LeBron breaking my record, so much was written about how I would feel on the day he sank that record-breaking shot that I had to laugh. I’d already written several times stating exactly how I felt so there really wasn’t much to speculate about. It’s as if I won a billion dollars in a lottery and 39 years later someone won two billion dollars. How would I feel? Grateful that I won and happy that the next person also won. His winning in no way affects my winning. . . .
[I]f someone had broken my record within ten years of me setting it . . . I might have hobbled out of retirement just to add a few more points on my record.
But that ain’t me today. I’m 75. The only time I ever think of the record is when someone brings it up. I retired from the NBA 34 years ago. For the past 20 years, I’ve occupied myself with social activism, my writing career, and my family—especially my three grandchildren. If I had a choice of having my scoring record remain intact for another hundred years or spend one afternoon with my grandchildren, I’d be on the floor in seconds stacking Legos and eating Uncrustables. . . .
Whenever a sports record is broken—including mine—it’s a time for celebration. It means someone has pushed the boundaries of what we thought was possible to a whole new level. And when one person climbs higher than the last person, we all feel like we are capable of being more. . . .
Here’s the main reason I don’t care that much about my record being broken: I’m no longer focused on my basketball legacy as much as I am on my social legacy. I’m not trying to build a billion-dollar empire, I write articles in defense of democracy and advocating on behalf of the marginalized. (Maybe the billions will roll in eventually if I write a really, really great article.) I also am deeply involved in my charity, the Skyhook Foundation, which treats disadvantaged kids to week-long STEM education in the Angeles National Forest. That and my family are all I have the energy for. (Did I mention, I’m 75!)
Read the whole thing and make sure you get to the part where he talks about why he doesn’t have a relationship with LeBron. Kareem’s honesty and introspection is simply beautiful.
Kareem was always, and remains today, an exceptional human being who happened to be good at basketball. I suspect that if he’d never played ball, he’d still be part of public life. His mind is that interesting.
We’re lucky to have him.
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Up to and including asking your girlfriends to get abortions and then paying for them. Hi Herschel!