A $999 laptop that maxes out at 256 GB of storage and has a 1536 × 1024 display — yeah, I’m wondering why this exists in 2023, too. And I’m no longer wondering why Panos Panay left Microsoft for Amazon.
The $999 MacBook Air has 256Gb of storage, 8Gb of RAM, and a three year old processor. I’m kind of wondering why that exists in 2023, too.
Not to say that the Surface Laptop 3 is any good – it isn’t – but Microsoft isn’t the only company that has some bizarre pricing at the “low” end of its laptop range.
The President’s Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence is a premature and pessimistic political solution to unknown technical problems and a clear case of regulatory capture at a time when the world would be best served by optimism and innovation
Sinofsky’s response is fairly typical of the AI boosters, and as always, it fails to understand the point of regulation. And in particular it fails to understand why an executive order is entirely the correct approach at this point.
Regulation exists so that we gain the benefits of something while ameliorating the risks. To use an area that probably makes sense to Americans, we regulate guns, so we get the benefits of them (personal protection, national security) while avoiding the dangers (everyone having a gun tends to lead to lots and plenty of gun deaths).
AI is the same: we should regulate AI to ameliorate the dangers of it. Now, those dangers aren’t Terminators stomping around the world with machine guns. They are, instead, things like racial discrimination because of an intrinsic bias of algorithms. It’s looking at the implications for privacy of generative AI being able to perfectly impersonate a person. It’s the legal questions of accountability – if an AI makes a major error which leads to death, for example, who exactly is responsible?
So why an EO? In part, I think the AI boosters only have themselves to blame. You can’t go around saying that AI is the most transformative technology since the invention of the PC and stoking the stock markets by claiming the impact will all be in the next couple of years and not be surprised if a government uses the tools it has to act expeditiously. Silicon Valley types constantly laugh at the slowness of the Federal government. Complaining when it does something quickly seems a bit rich. “Move fast and break stuff” sure – but not when it’s their gigantic wealth that might be the thing that gets broken.
Sinofsky also highlights the nay-sayers of the past, including posting some pictures of books which drew attention to the dangers of computers. The problem is some of those books are turning out to be correct: David Burnham’s The Rise of the Computer State looks pretty prescient in a world of ubiquitous surveillance where governments are encouraging police forces to make more use of facial recognition software, even though it discriminates against minorities because it finds it hard to recognise black faces. Arthur R. Miller may have been on to something, too, when he titled his book The Assault on Privacy.
Sinofsky gets to the heart of what ails him in a single paragraph:
Section I of the EO says it all right up front. This is not a document about innovation. It is about stifling innovation. It is not about fostering competition or free markets but about controlling them a priori. It is not about regulating known problems but preventing problems that don’t yet exist from existing.
To which I would respond: “great! It’s about time!”
There is a myth in Silicon Valley that innovation is somehow an unalloyed good which must always be protected and should never be regulated, lest we stop some world-shaking discovery. It doesn’t take 20 seconds of thinking – or even any understanding of history – to see that’s not true. Yes, experimentation is how we learn, how we discover new things which benefit us all. But there are no spheres of knowledge outside possibly the humanities where that is completely unregulated. If you want to do nuclear research, good look with getting a permit to run your experimental reactor in the middle of a city. If you would like to do experimental chemistry, you’re going to be on the wrong side of the law if you do it in your garage.
All of those things “stifle innovation”. All of them are entirely justified. Given the world-changing hype – created by technology business people – around AI, they really should get used to a little stifling too.
As for the idea that this is “preventing product(s) that don’t exist from existing”… that is precisely what we pay our taxes to do. We spend billions on defence to prevent the problem of someone dropping big bombs on our cities. We pay for education, so we won’t have the problem of a stupid population which votes in a charlatan in the future (why do you think the far right hates education?)
Good business leaders talk all the time about how proactive action prevents costly issues in the future. They scan horizons, and act decisively and early to make sure their businesses survive. The idea that the government should only react, especially when that’s usually too late, is just bizarre.
At one point, Sinofsky’s sings the praises of science fiction:
The best, enduring, and most thoughtful writers who most eloquently expressed the fragility and risks of technology also saw technology as the answer to forward progress. They did not seek to pre-regulate the problems but to innovate our way out of problems. In all cases, we would not have gotten to the problems on display without the optimism of innovation. There would be no problem with an onboard computer if the ship had already not traveled the far reaches of the universe.
It’s a mark of the Silicon Valley mind-set that he appears to forget the understandable point that this was all made up stuff. 2001 wasn’t real. Star Trek was not real.
Sinofsky then spends some time arguing that the government isn’t “compelled” to act, as AI is actually not moving that quickly:
No matter how fast you believe AI is advancing, it is not advancing at the exponential rates we saw in microprocessors as we all know today as Moore’s Law or the growth of data storage that made database technology possible, or the number of connected nodes on the internet starting in 1994 due to the WWW and browser.
All well and good, but not true: a Stanford study from 2019 found that AI computational power was advancing faster than processor development, and that was before the massive boost from the current AI frenzy. Intel has noted the speed at which AI programs can “train” themselves doubles every four months, compared to the 24 months that Moore’s Law predicted for processor speed.
Towards the end, of course, Sinofsky lapses into Andreessen-style gibberish:
The Order is about restricting the “We” to the government and constraining the “We” that is the people. Let that sink in.
Making “the people” synonymous with “extremely rich billionaires and their companies” is, of course, one of the tricks that the rich play again and again and again. AI is being created to enrich the already rich. It requires resources in computing power, which means my only option of accessing it is to rent time on someone else’s computer. It reinforces technofeudalism. Of course, Silicon Valley, which wants to make sure all of us pays a tithe to them, loves it.
It’s time that we have some assertion of democratic control over the forces that shape our lives. The Silicon Valley fat cats don’t like it. That, on its own, tells me that regulating AI is probably a good thing.
Apple Notes doesn’t have an export option. Instead, as Obsidian’s blog post on the Importer plugin update explains, it stores your notes in a local SQLite database. The format isn’t documented, but the developers of the plugin were able to reverse-engineer it to allow users to move notes and their attachments out of Notes and into two folders: one with Markdown versions of your notes and the other with the files attached to your notes. The folder with your notes includes subfolders that match any folders you set up in Notes, too.
This is just outstanding work from the Obsidian team. There are a couple of limitations, mostly that it can’t import password protected notes (obviously), but I’ve tested it and it worked well.
Related: undocumented SQLite databases should not be the way that a multi-gazillion dollar corporation is storing valuable data.
The FTC also alleges that Amazon tried to impede its investigation into the company’s business practices. “Amazon executives systematically and intentionally deleted internal communications using the ‘disappearing message’ feature of the Signal messaging app. Amazon prejudicially destroyed more than two years’ worth of such communications—from June 2019 to at least early 2022—despite Plaintiffs’ instructing Amazon not to do so.”
And the answer to the headline is, of course, “anyone that’s been paying attention.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating the range of Tesla’s electric vehicles after reports surfaced that the company was relying on exaggerated numbers.
In documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Tesla said that it had “received requests for information, including subpoenas from the DOJ, regarding certain matters associated with personal benefits, related parties, vehicle range and personnel decisions.”
This follows on from a Reuters’ report earlier this year, which found Tesla was getting so many complaints about range it was cancelling appointments with its service centres for customers with the problem:
According to Reuters, there was nothing actually wrong with the vehicle’s battery. Rather, Tesla had allegedly created software to rig its driving range estimates to show a rosier picture. This led to thousands of customers seeking service appointments to figure out what was wrong with their vehicles. But because the vehicle was working as intended, Tesla’s diversion team simply canceled all the appointments.
So Tesla created software which gave a false reading of battery range, then when people spotted it, they just canceled any service to them.
China has launched an investigation into Apple iPhone maker Foxconn over tax and land use, Chinese state media reported on Sunday. The Global Times, citing anonymous sources, said tax authorities inspected Foxconn’s sites in the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangsu and natural resources officials had inspected sites in Henan and Hubei… The Global Times article quoted an expert saying “Taiwan-funded enterprises, including Foxconn . . . should also assume corresponding social responsibilities and play a positive role in promoting the peaceful development of cross-strait relations”.
This is a very big deal and should be keeping Tim Cook awake at night. Effectively, it’s a small shot across the bows for Foxconn, a reminder that without the good graces of the Chinese government, it can’t exist.
Apple has released a new Pencil for iPad and it’s weird. It looks like the Second Generation Pencil (the one which charges by sticking to the side of the iPad Pro or current Air). And it will attach there. But it won’t charge if you do – it charges through a hidden USB-C port via a cable.
Oh and it’s not pressure sensitive, which makes it worse for drawing than the old Pencil which charged via Lightning.
It is, though, £79 rather than the ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY NINE POUNDS the second generation Pencil will cost. So that’s one thing.
It would take a far, far longer post than I’m prepared to spend my time writing to go through Marc Andreessen’s “Techno-Optimist Manifesto” paragraph by awful paragraph, but a few points probably won’t go amiss. - If you’re going to approvingly paraphrase “a manifesto of a different time and place”, you might want to check that said manifesto’s author wasn’t an early member of Mussolini’s fascist party.
- Writing “we believe technology is universalist. Technology doesn’t care about your ethnicity, race, religion, national origin, gender, sexuality, political views,” and then, two paragraphs later “We believe America and her allies should be strong and not weak” either shows you have no idea how to write, are being entirely disingenuous, or simply too stupid to think except in blocks of 240 characters. Either way, get an editor to help.
- If you are going to talk about the Greek notion of arete then having an understanding of its relationship to class in Greek society might be a good idea, too. Aristocrats were assumed, by definition, to be exemplars of arete. It wasn’t something that thetes like me would have.
- Believing that techno-optimism “is a material philosophy, not a political philosophy” while giving many repeated examples of what even a first year philosophy undergraduate which know was a political philosophy does not make you look smart.
I could go on – the whole thing is riddled with howlers – but really is there much point?
Thirty years ago, in a different life, I was a philosophy postgraduate student and taught first year undergraduates their introduction to metaphysics and ethics. In the first time, every time, someone would turn in an essay which read like this, and you would have to patiently explain to them they were going to have to rewrite it or fail, because philosophy does not mean writing down all the random thoughts you had when smoking that bundle of weed the night before the deadline.
This is the manifesto of an emotionally insecure man having a mid-life crisis as he realises that his life’s work is meaningless and all the gold and treasure he has accumulated will never make him happy. Mid-life crises in men are often surprisingly redolent of the emotional outpouring of pseudo-intellectual silliness that accompany late teenage, that first period of life when boys start to realise they are not the centre of the world and lash out at the injustice of it all.
Perhaps, then it’s no surprise this reads like it was written by a 14 year old and put on Pastebin. That it was written by a 52 year old with billions of dollars at his disposal says more about the failure of capitalism to imbue life with meaning than Andreessen could possibly imagine.
EDIT: The first draft of this contained something about A16Z’s investment in Uber. In fact, they passed on Uber. But as if to make the point about the kind of technology which Andreessen believes will save the world as long as we never question it, let’s ask an AI...
Google explained that SGE is part of the Google Search experience; it is a search feature and thus it should work as how normal search directives work. “The context is that AI is built into Search, not bolted on, and integral to how Search functions, which is why robots.txt is the control to give web publishers the option to manage access to how their sites are crawled,” Google told us.
I’ve been using both Bard and Bing CoPilot a lot lately and the direction is clear: while AI-driven search will link to original sources as references, they are not going to send much traffic your way. The aim is to provide the answer to any query on the results page, not one more click away.
This has massive implications for publisher traffic, particular for reviews and answers pages which I think are most vulnerable to AI-driven answers. I’ve been using CoPilot for purchasing research and it’s great. I can start by asking it for, say, laptops under £1000 with good battery life. I can then have a conversation to interrogate more about each product. It’s a superior experience to any web page I have ever used for that kind of product research.
Is it 100% accurate? No – but neither are a lot of reviews, particularly the kind of “best laptop for…” top tens that are written to hit the top of product searches on Google.
Publishers can no longer rely on Facebook and Google for the bulk of their traffic. The time has past when content strategies should focus on them. Instead, they need to focus on getting a loyal audience which they have direct relationships with. The SEO era is coming to an end, at least for large chunks of traffic.
Individuals pay $10 a month for the AI assistant. In the first few months of this year, the company was losing on average more than $20 a month per user, according to a person familiar with the figures, who said some users were costing the company as much as $80 a month.
The first stage of the enshittification cycle is often to charge customers less than it costs to run the service, in order to acquire and lock in as many as possible. After that, at some point, you dump on them from a great height.
I’m not a huge fan of using ChatGPT for writing, because even leaving aside issues of accuracy, its style is stilted and just the wrong side of formulaic. But there’s one area where it really works as a writing assistant: giving you an outline on a topic as a starting point.
Tell it what you want and what to include, and it will come back with an outline of everything you should cover. It won’t be your final structure, but as a place to start and especially if you’re a bit stuck and need something to bounce around to fine-tune your idea, it’s a really good assistant.
I’ve been thinking a lot about large language models as assistants for human creativity lately, in the context of Steve Jobs’ old view of computers as “a bicycle for the mind” and also the Knowledge Navigator video which came later on – John Sculley’s vision of the future of computing. More to come on that…
Ask Microsoft 365 Copilot in Windows if it shows you ads, and it gives you a pretty confused answer:
But ask it a question about the specs of the iPhone 15, and at the bottom of a useful answer you get… what looks suspiciously like an ad:
So which is it? does Copilot show you ads or not?
Perhaps part the answer comes from the fact that, while it’s available in the UK, it’s notshipping in the European Economic Area (EEA). No reasons are given for this, but it’s likely that it’s the same “waiting and seeing” about the impact of the provisions of the Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts in the EU as “stopped” Meta from shipping Threads there.
Which begs the question: what exactly is Microsoft doing with the data that it’s harvesting from your copy of Windows that makes it nervous about the DSA and DMA? Windows has access to every file, every message, every conversation you have on your computer. So what is Copilot doing with it?
I have been an on-again/off-again user of Obsidian for a couple of years and have lately been shifting a lot of my writing work to it, both blogging and fiction. It’s an incredibly flexible tool which can be customised to meet your needs.
Version 1.4 introduces Properties, a new interface for metadata. You have always been able to add metadata to notes in two ways: tags, which are just a hashtag in the next followed immediately by the tag; and as YAML, front-matter which is delineated in the note by existing between two sets of three hyphens.
But that YAML has always been visible at the top of your note, which felt kind of clunky. Properties builds on this by taking that YAML and hiding it behind a much nicer interface:
The nice part is that the data behind this interface is still just YAML delineated by those three dashes at the start of the file, which means it’s editable in any text editor. There’s no weird database which stores the metadata disconnected from the original file.1
Why is this potentially so useful? Because for writing, it will allow me to stop using Tags for things like statuses. At the moment, I add a tag to define the status of a document. For example, I have tags for “Blog/Ideas”, “Blog/InProgress” and so on. In the future, instead of having to use tags I will be able to create a Property called “Status” and have ones for “Ideas”, “In Progress” etc predefined. This means that tags can become what they should be – a form of topic-based loose categorisation – rather than a mixed bag of topics and statuses and names and so on.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what extension developers do with Properties, in particular what can be built using the Auto Note Mover plugin which basically runs my writing workflow.
This is one of the things I most love about Obsidian’s design philosophy: everything possible lives in the note, and the note is just a plain text file in a folder on your local drive. If Obsidian ever died, all my notes and articles would still be right there, usable in any other text editor. I would lose the functionality which Obsidian adds over the top, but not the underlying data. ↩︎
Many places reported that the British government had seen sense and backed down from its plans to require companies like Apple, Meta and Signal to give them back door access to end to end encrypted messages. Unfortunately, these reports were completely wrong.
All that the government did was acknowledge that Ofcom, the body which would issue notices to companies requiring them to scan their networks, could only do so if it was technically possible – in other words, that it would be pointless to attempt to demand companies do something they physically couldn’t. This is clear in the quote from Lord Stephen Parkinson, the minister responsible, in the original FT story:
“A notice can only be issued where technically feasible and where technology has been accredited as meeting minimum standards of accuracy in detecting only child sexual abuse and exploitation content,” he said.
That is a long way from a government retreat. And as it stands, the clauses requiring companies to endanger their users privacy and security remain in the bill.
“We haven’t changed the bill at all… If there was a situation where the mitigations that the social media providers are taking are not enough, and if after further work with the regulator they still can’t demonstrate that they can meet the requirements within the bill, then the conversation about technology around encryption takes place,” she said.
But the government is claiming it’s all technologically feasible:
She said further work to develop the technology was needed, but added that government-funded research had shown it was possible. (My emphasis)
The government is not backing down. It believes it’s possible technically, and will attempt to make companies comply. It will do this in secrecy, and it doesn’t give a damn about the privacy or security of the British people. The fight is not over.
Elon Musk secretly ordered his engineers to turn off his company’s Starlink satellite communications network near the Crimean coast last year to disrupt a Ukrainian sneak attack on the Russian naval fleet, according to an excerpt adapted from Walter Isaacson’s new biography of the eccentric billionaire titled “Elon Musk.”
As Ukrainian submarine drones strapped with explosives approached the Russian fleet, they “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly,” Isaacson writes.
How, exactly is this man not in prison? This is also quite telling:
Gwynne Shotwell, Musk’s president at SpaceX, was livid at Musk’s reversal, according to Isaacson.
“The Pentagon had a $145 million check ready to hand to me, literally,” Isaacson quotes Shotwell as saying. “Then Elon succumbed to the bullshit on Twitter and to the haters at the Pentagon who leaked the story.”
Musk, like many stupid men, has been radicalised by Twitter into supporting the far right. That includes supporting Putin, the “white knight” who the far right thinks of as the saviour of western civilisation.
Microsoft will finally stop forcing Windows 11 users in Europe into Edge if they click a link from the Windows Widgets panel or from search results. The software giant has started testing the changes to Windows 11 in recent test builds of the operating system, but the changes are restricted to countries within the European Economic Area (EEA).
“In the European Economic Area (EEA), Windows system components use the default browser to open links,” reads a change note from a Windows 11 test build released to Dev Channel testers last month. I asked Microsoft to comment on the changes and, in particular, why they’re only being applied to EU countries. Microsoft refused to comment.
Of course this isn’t happening in the UK: thanks to Brexit, we’re not an EEA country, and so you’re stuck with Edge opening links from things like widget no matter what browser you choose. Now that’s what I call taking back control.
Over the past 24 hours, the hashtag “BanTheADL” has been trending on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. The trending hashtag refers to the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish anti-extremism civil rights organization.
Even more concerning is that X owner Elon Musk has signaled support for the attacks against the ADL on the platform.
Within the same time frame, numerous X users have also reported being served an X-approved advertisement on the platform that promotes white supremacy.
But it won’t, which is finally putting the lie to the idea that the company’s leadership team care one iota about about the impact its actions make on the culture of the country which nurtured it. “You support rampant anti-semitism on your service? No problem! Here’s some money. You explicitly allow transphobic hate speech on the service? That’s fine with us! Here, have some more money.”
Apple is very good at taking a stand when it’s easy. It refused to carry various small right-wing social platforms on its App Store, because the content moderation policies weren’t up to scratch. Meanwhile, Twitter gets a pass despite having no practical control over hate speech and an owner who actively encourages it.
Should we be considering boycotting Apple and other companies that advertise on Twitter? Let’s frame that another way: if you found out that a company was actively funding hate speech, would you want to buy products from them?
I know I wouldn’t.
Why am I picking on Apple here? First because it’s the world’s biggest company. Second, because unlike, say, Amazon, it makes a great deal of noise about its commitments to societal good, such as privacy and recycling. No one should be surprised if, say, a car company advertised on Twitter. We hold Apple to a higher standard, because at least publicly it holds itself to one. ↩︎
Om Malik on how the experience in Pocket has declined and his thoughts on Readwise Reader:
To me, Pocket has always been a repository where I save, store, and archive articles I want to read or use for my ongoing research. That’s its value for me. I don’t care much for their “Home Screen” and its recommendations. While it may seem minor, these changes detract from the app’s core purpose, revealing a user-hostile behavior. The changes implemented by Mozilla and Pocket prioritize their interests and haven’t notably improved my user experience.
Readwise initially offered a service for saving highlights from various sources — Apple Books, Pocket, Amazon Kindle, Twitter, and even Discord. I appreciated their approach. Then they launched Reader, their own “read-it-later” app. It lets me save articles, highlight text, add notes, enable public links, save YouTube videos (with text captions), and offers other features. Both Readwise and its competitor, Matter, prioritize enhancing the online reading experience. Meanwhile, Pocket seems to be deciding for me what I need.
I switched from Pocket to Readwise Reader when it was in early beta and I couldn’t agree more with Om’s assessment. Reader feels like it is built from the ground up to just give me a better experience for getting articles into my inbox, working with them, and getting useful information out of them into other tools. Pocket feels more like it wants to keep me within Pocket.
“Scanning every user’s privately stored iCloud data would create new threat vectors for data thieves to find and exploit,” Neuenschwander continued. “It would also inject the potential for a slippery slope of unintended consequences. Scanning for one type of content, for instance, opens the door for bulk surveillance and could create a desire to search other encrypted messaging systems across content types.”
“We decided to not proceed with the proposal for a hybrid client-server approach to CSAM detection for iCloud Photos from a few years ago,” he finished. “We concluded it was not practically possible to implement without ultimately imperiling the security and privacy of our users.”
One of the things which is interesting about this is that these are the exact arguments which campaigners against Apple’s scanning proposal used at the time – and the company seems to have listened.
And that Apple has made its reasoning public gives a strong imperative to it not to try the same thing again, which is a good sign for the future.