Weeknotes #223 — Many workshops

Caught this rainbow as I went out into the garden early one morning this week.

Caught this rainbow as I went out into the garden early one morning this week.

For the second week in a row I unexpectedly found myself at home every day. Very early morning meetings coupled with a train strike put paid to any ideas of heading into London. It’s been good to be at home but I’m looking forward to going into the office again.

The boys have been off school for the half-term holiday. Our eldest son is midway through his exams, with two weeks to go before he gets to have eleven weeks of summer holidays. The lucky thing.

This was a week in which I:

  • Completed a final review of a draft lean business case for an important piece of work we are looking to do with an external vendor. We met with the vendor at the end of the week for an update on where we are.
  • Watched a playback of an important internal product that our team have been working on.
  • Attended a town hall meeting for our global IT division. It reminded me again of how difficult hybrid events are, but that this is now what we’ve come to expect. Encountered keynote speaker Bruce Whitfield for the first time; he’s very well-known in South Africa but was completely new to me.
  • Joined a meeting to start to plan for the equivalent town hall meeting to be held at the end of the year. Our department will be ‘hosting’ the event, so it’s up to us to plan the format and content.
  • Went to a briefing on an all-day online culture workshop due to take place next week. I have a very small part to play in presenting on the day.
  • Attended a workshop on The Art of Storytelling. I’m not a seasoned presenter, so deliberately following a story arc seems like a level up from where I am now.
  • Joined a workshop to start to discuss our organisational design across our technology division.
  • Attended the monthly Architecture Community of Practice meeting.
  • Had our monthly departmental risk review meeting.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss an upcoming move for one of our offices.
  • Ran our monthly Lean Coffee session. Found myself getting the hang of InVision Freehand.
  • Had a lovely catch-up with a colleague that runs our API practice.
  • Spent time trying to understand my personal information workflow. Just the act of writing it down has helped me to tweak things a little. I’ve now started to annotate where the pain points are so that I can look to improve and simplify it. There are little tweaks around the edges; I managed to manually remove all of my spurious tags in Remember The Milk that had been hanging around in the tool unused for about a decade.
  • Hosted the first round of a new Album Club group that I’ve found myself in. Being the first ever comes with a little bit of pressure in that I didn’t want to put everyone off. I treated them all to Siren by Roxy Music. It blew all of our minds that the album is 48 years old.

  • Decided to deal with the problem of my home office TV being unreadable unless I’m sitting with the blinds down, cave-like. Bought a new heavy-duty cantilever bracket and fitted it at the weekend. Like all my DIY projects, there was a little bit of drama, and the bracket doesn’t seem to be level to the naked eye despite the spirit level telling me that everything is fine. But the problem I started with is solved. I’ll make some minor adjustments when I’m at home this week.
Distressing image.

Distressing image.

  • Bowed out of the Saturday cycling club ride in order to cycle to Oxford and back. My eldest son was competing in a race there, so this was a good way of combining a longer distance with seeing him compete. It’s the longest — and hottest — ride I’ve done for a while, so I was feeling a little jaded for the rest of the weekend.
An incredible time of year to be out cycling.

An incredible time of year to be out cycling.

  • Enjoyed — I think? — the finale of Succession. What horrible people. But what compelling viewing.

Next week: Back to a regular schedule again.

Trying to understand how ChatGPT works

I finally got around to reading the Stephen Wolfram essay on What Is ChatGPT Doing … and Why Does It Work? Despite being written in relatively simple terms, the article still pushed the boundaries of my comprehension. Parts of it landed on my brain like an impressionist painting.

Things that stuck out for me:

  • In order to improve the output, a deliberate injection of randomness (called ‘temperature’) is required, which means that ‘lower-probability’ words get added as text is generated. Without this, the output seems to be “flatter”, “less interesting” and doesn’t “show any creativity”.
  • Neural networks are better at more complex problems than on simple ones. Doing arithmetic via a neural network-based AI is very difficult as there is no sequence of operations as you would find in a traditional procedural computer program. Humans can do lots of complicated tasks, but we use computers for calculations because they are better at doing this type of work than we are. Now that plugins are available for ChatGPT, it can itself ‘use a computer’ in a similar way that we do, offloading this type of traditional computational work.
  • Many times, Wolfram says something along the lines of “we don’t know why this works, it just does”. The whole field of AI using neural networks seems to be trial and error, as the models are too complex for us to fathom and reason about.

Particularly over the past decade, there’ve been many advances in the art of training neural nets. And, yes, it is basically an art. Sometimes—especially in retrospect—one can see at least a glimmer of a “scientific explanation” for something that’s being done. But mostly things have been discovered by trial and error, adding ideas and tricks that have progressively built a significant lore about how to work with neural nets.

  • People do seem to be looking at the output from ChatGPT and then quickly drawing conclusions of where things are headed from a ‘general intelligence’ point of view. As Matt Ballantine puts it, this may be a kind of ‘Halo effect’, where we are projecting our hopes and fears onto the technology. However, just because it is good at one type of task — generating text — doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good at other types of tasks. From Wolfram’s essay:

But there’s something potentially confusing about all of this. In the past there were plenty of tasks—including writing essays—that we’ve assumed were somehow “fundamentally too hard” for computers. And now that we see them done by the likes of ChatGPT we tend to suddenly think that computers must have become vastly more powerful—in particular surpassing things they were already basically able to do […]

But this isn’t the right conclusion to draw. Computationally irreducible processes are still computationally irreducible, and are still fundamentally hard for computers—even if computers can readily compute their individual steps. And instead what we should conclude is that tasks—like writing essays—that we humans could do, but we didn’t think computers could do, are actually in some sense computationally easier than we thought.

  • So my last big takeaway is that — maybe — human language is much less complex than we thought it was.

My friction-filled information workflow

Every 18 months or so I find myself feeling that my personal information workflow is working against me. Sometimes I end up diving into an inevitably fruitless quest to find an application that could be ‘the answer to everything’.

Last year I thought that some of the friction might have been coming from where I am able to access each application that I use. In my personal life I have an iPhone, an iPad and a MacBook, but at work I use a Windows laptop. I always prefer web applications as they can, in theory, be accessed from anywhere. However, it’s difficult to find web apps that have all of the features that I want.

My whiteboard from December 2021 trying to work all of this out.

My whiteboard from December 2021 trying to work all of this out.

Mapping out each of the applications was useful; it made me realise that I could move my old documents and notes archive in Evernote over to OneNote, saving money on a subscription. After wrestling with the migration over a few days, that was that. Things got busy and I didn’t look at my personal workflow again. Until now.

After getting ‘the itch’ again, this time I’ve tried to map out exactly what my current personal workflow looks like, regardless of where the applications are accessible. Here is the resulting mess:

My workflow, such as it is, today.

My workflow, such as it is, today. (Click to enlarge.)

I haven’t decided where to go from here. What I do know is that I need to ponder this for a bit before making any changes. Experience tells me that the problems I have (or feel that I have) are less about the applications and more about the purposeful habits that I need to form.

Some disorganised thoughts:

  • There is still definitely an issue with where I can access each of the components from. Every time I need to switch devices, there is friction.
  • Finding apps that are super secure — i.e. those that encrypt data locally before being sent to the application’s cloud storage — do exist, but at the moment they feel like using a cheese grater to shave your legs. Yes, I could use Standard Notes everywhere, but the friction of working with it is much higher than being forced onto my Apple devices to use Ulysses.
  • Some of the apps are replacements for each other in theory, but not in practice.
    • Readwise Reader can keep YouTube videos I want to watch later, but they then become slightly less accessible if I am sitting down to watch them in front of a TV.
    • Readwise Reader can also accept RSS feeds, but at the moment the implementation is nowhere near as good as Feedbin. I tried it through exporting my OPML file of feed subscriptions and importing it into Reader, but when it wasn’t working for me I found I had to painstakingly back out my RSS subscriptions one by one.
  • I’m still searching for a good way to curate my reading backlog. I estimate that I have over 1,000 ebooks1, hundreds of physical books, hundreds of PDFs and nearly 9,000 articles saved to my ‘read later’ app. I’ve already done the maths to work out that even if I live to a ripe old age, there is not enough time left to get through all of the books that I’ve bought. As Ben Thompson has been saying: in an age of abundance, the most precious and valuable thing becomes attention. I have lists of all my books in Dynalist, but still rely on serendipity when it’s time to pick up another one to read.
  • I need to work out the best way to distinguish between the things I have to do versus the things I want to do. Not that these are absolutes; the amount of things that I absolutely, positively have to do is probably minimal. I might save a YouTube video that would be super helpful for my job right now, and want to prioritise this above others that I have saved for broader learning or entertainment. What’s the easiest way to distinguish them and be purposeful about what I pick up next?
  • Similarly, where should a list of ‘check out concept x’ tasks go? These aren’t really ‘tasks’. When is the right time to pick one of these up?
  • I’m finding that using Kanban for projects is much easier than long lists of tasks in a to-do app. At work we use Planview AgilePlace (formerly known as LeanKit) which from what I can tell is the most incredible Kaban tool out there; if you can imagine the swimlanes, you can probably draw them in AgilePlace. But it’s difficult to justify the cost of $20/month for a personal licence. I’m using Trello for now.
  • Needing to look at different apps to decide what to do next is a problem. But how much worse is it than using one app and changing focus between project views and task views?
  • Are date-based reminders (put the bins out, clean the dishwasher, replace the cycle helmet, stain the garden fence) a different class of tasks altogether? Are they the only things that should be put in a classic ‘to do’ tool?
  • One of the main sticking points of my current workflow is items hanging around for too long in my capture tools (Drafts and Dynalist) when they should be moved off somewhere else. Taking the time to regularly review any of these lists is also a key practice. Sometimes I haven’t decided what I want to do with a thing so it doesn’t move on anywhere, which is also a problem. I need to get more decisive the first time I capture a thing.
  • Document storage is a lost art. After I drew the diagram above, I’ve consolidated all of my cloud documents onto one platform — OneDrive — but now need to go through and file what’s there.

I know that there are no right answers. However, now that I can see it all, hopefully I can start to work out some purposeful, meaningful changes to how I manage all of this stuff. I’m going to make sure that I measure twice, cut once.

  1. The consequence of slowly building up a library as Kindle books were discounted. Aside from checking the Kindle Daily Deal page, I’ve largely stopped now. Looking back, I don’t think this was a great strategy. It seems much better to be mindful about making a few well-intentioned purchases, deliberately paying full price for books from authors I like. 

Another view on The A.I. Dilemma

Interesting to read Nick Drage’s riposte to The A.I. Dilemma which I watched a few weeks ago. I agree with his points on the presentation in terms of lack of citations and extreme interpretations, which when scrutinised does the subject a disservice.

The presentation is worth watching just to see what they get away with. And because the benefits and threats of AI are worth considering and adapting to, and especially because the presenters are so right in encouraging us to think about the systemic changes taking place and who is making those changes, but I’m really not sure this presentation helps anyone in that endeavor.

This isn’t to say that the topics raised are not important ones. I’m currently a third of the way through listening to a very long podcast interview between Lex Fridman and Eliezer Yudkowsky on “Dangers of AI and the End of Human Civilization”. Both of them know infinitely more about the topic than I do. It’s very philosophical, questioning whether we’d know if something had become ‘sentient’ in a world where the progress of AIs is gradual in a ‘boiling frogs’ sense. The way they talk about GPT-4 and the emergent properties of transformers in particular makes it sound like even the researchers aren’t fully sure of how these systems work. Which is interesting to me, a complete layperson in this space.

Weeknotes #222 — Workflow

Our beech tree has been shedding a tremendous amount of male catkins over the past two weeks which have blanketed the garden. This may happen every year, but I have never noticed it before.

Our beech tree has been shedding a tremendous amount of male catkins over the past two weeks which have blanketed the garden. This may happen every year, but I have never noticed it before.

My plans to go into the office this week were hampered when I caught a cold. I sounded worse than I felt — I was in full Barry White mode — but a quick straw poll of friends informed me that heading into work is a no-no in this post-pandemic world.

It’s taken me a while, but recently I’ve been enjoying a mix of working from the office and working from home. Two or three days seems to be the sweet spot for me.

This was a week in which I:

  • Finished the first version of a presentation on large language models and generative AI. By the end of the week my boss and I had delivered it three times to various groups of people, refining the message as we went. It seems to be landing well.
  • Continued work on getting more of our colleagues signed up to our password manager. Colleagues in the deskside support team covered the one-on-one sessions that I had scheduled for the week as I couldn’t be in the office. Getting people set up remotely is just too difficult, with the mixture of devices that they have to use.
  • Completed the setup of single sign-on for our digital signage platform.
  • Had a couple of conversations about the architecture of interfaces that we have built with upstream systems and what we need to do to improve them.
  • Represented our team at the steering committee for a Group-level cybersecurity programme as well as the lower-level working group later in the week.
  • Met with a consultancy that we work with to discuss how we can upskill our department in the art of storytelling.
  • Attended an online internal People and Culture-hosted summit.
  • Had a brief pre-meeting with colleagues that are running an organisational design workshop next week.
  • Met with a researcher who is organising a follow-up to the London CTOs chat on Leveraging GenerativeAI (including ChatGPT) in Business and Organisations.
  • Enjoyed a Random Coffee with a colleague I hadn’t spoken to in some time.
  • Joined an online Microsoft event entitled Optimising the Employee Experience in the Age of AI. The speakers, Bruce Daisley and Alexia Cambon, were both engaging and interesting. I keyed in a question about the role Microsoft should be playing with regard to the negative aspects of these new AI tools, but it didn’t get picked up.
  • Briefly joined a meetup for people who are taking the Center for Humane Technology’s course on the Foundations of Humane Technology. I signed up to this a few weeks ago but haven’t managed to start it yet. The meetup was very welcoming but not quite what I thought it would be; it felt a bit like a therapy group.
  • Spent some time thinking about my personal workflow and the apps I use. I started to draw it out and can already see why it feels like there is so much friction. I’m not quite done with the ‘as is’ diagram yet; once I have it down I’ll start to look at how I can simplify things.
An incomplete draft of my workflow.

An incomplete draft of my workflow.

  • Attended our school Full Governing Board meeting, the first with our new interim headteacher. We sadly said goodbye to another governor, a colleague from the local community that we recruited through a letter drop, who has been with us for many years.
  • Had a checkup at the dentist. No need to go back until early 2024!
  • Failed to finish my first difficult workout of the week. It’s such a strange thing when this happens; I’m determined not to give up, but then suddenly find that I’ve stopped. I used up the rest of the time with an easier workout.
What failure looks like.

What failure looks like.

  • Found myself with a broken spoke 10km into the Saturday cycling club ride. Nobody likes to be the guy that holds everyone else up and I figured the problem might be terminal, so I told the group to carry on without me. I managed to secure the spoke around a couple of the other ones so that it wasn’t rattling around and then figured that I’d carry on. It turned out that someone had another mechanical; I managed to catch up with the group at the top of Bison Hill. It is a beautiful time of year to be out cycling. I popped my bike into Lovelo in town who fixed the problem in no time.
  • Hoovered up all of the beech catkins and remaining piles of leaves in the garden. There’s still a bit to do to prep it so that we can enjoy sitting outside this summer.

Next week: Yet another four-day work week, and the start of another Album Club.

So glad to see Jennie Gow continuing her recovery from her stroke. We are the same age; I can’t imagine what she and her family have been through. I’ve listened to her on the BBC Chequered Flag podcast for years and miss her enthusiastic anchoring of the show.

Homecoming is a nice little Safari extension for iOS, iPadOS and macOS. If you’re on a Mastodon page, invoking the extension will open the page from your instance, making it easy to follow the account. Works the other way too.

📚 Book summaries — with and without AI

This is an excellent blog post on working with ChatGPT to generate insightful book summaries. It’s long, but it covers a lot of ground in terms of what the technology does well and what it struggles with right now. Jumping to the conclusion, it seems that you get much better results if you feed the tool with your own notes first; it isn’t immediately obvious that the model doesn’t have access to (or hasn’t been trained on) the contents of a particular book.

When I finish a book that I’ve enjoyed, I like to write a blog post about it. It’s this process of writing which properly embeds the book into my memory. It also gives me something that I can refer back to, which I often do. As I read, I make copious highlights — and occasionally, notes — which all go into Readwise. If the book has captured my imagination, I start writing by browsing through these highlights. Any that seem particularly important, or make or support a point that I want to make somewhere in the write-up, get copied into a draft blog post. From there I try to work out what I’m really thinking. I love this process. It takes a lot of effort, but the end result can be super satisfying.

The summary that I’ve shared most often is A Seat at The Table by Mark Schwartz, which seems to pop up in conversations at work all the time. Going back to my own blog post is a great way to refresh my memory on the key points and to continue whatever conversation I happen to be in.

My favourite write-up is Hitman by Bret Hart. I picked the book up this time last year as a holiday read. I had no idea it would have such a big impact on me, bringing back lots of childhood memories and getting me thinking about the strange ways in which the rise of the Internet has changed our world. Getting my thoughts in order after I put the book down was incredibly satisfying.

Using ChatGPT or another Large Language Model to generate a book summary for me defeats the point. The process of crafting a narrative, in my head and then on a digital page, is arguably more valuable than the output. Getting a tool to do this for me could be a shortcut to a write-up, but at the expense of me learning and growing from what I’ve read.

📷 The ancient rose bush we inherited when we moved into our house nearly 20 years ago is still a wonderful thing.

Weeknotes #221 — Interesting

This week I spent four days in the office in a row, as if I was single-handedly trying to bring 2019 back into fashion. Going out after work in London is fun, but getting home just in time to go to bed and then doing it all again six hours later, not so much. It was lovely to get back to my home office on Friday.

Being in the office was useful as the week was peppered with people who needed a helping hand in getting set up with our password manager. It’s such a lovely feeling to walk away from someone’s desk after they’ve realised how much easier it will be to use the software instead of whatever they have been doing up to that point.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent most of the week in between meetings working on a presentation about large language models and generative artificial intelligence for a general audience, which I hope will help our staff to get up to speed. It still needs a bit of work, but the first run through with a group of people close to the topic has been booked in for Monday.
  • Continued conversations about the team that I run and where our focus lies. It feels like we need to increase the amount of time we are spending on the ‘portfolio management’ part of what we do, but it’s difficult to see how we can reduce the effort in other things.
  • Drafted some rough criteria for when a piece of work should have some involvement from my team.
  • Set up a tracking spreadsheet for all of our staff and where they are in the process of getting set up with our chosen corporate password manager. Recruited our Helpdesk team to join me in tackling the remaining staff one by one.
  • Sat with three members of staff to get them up and running with the password manager, and lined up some more appointments for next week.
  • Attended the formal Governance Committee for one of our regional entities to give a brief IT update.
  • Reviewed the recommendation to procure some IT services.
  • Caught up with one of my colleagues to review the ‘brands, products and objectives’ for the function that they run.
  • Briefly tried out Google Bard. The interface is interesting when compared with GPT-4 in that all of the response text appears at once. I’m not sure if I prefer the text to slowly appear as if it is being typed, or I am just used to it. The quality of the responses didn’t seem to be as good, so haven’t yet gone back.
  • Attended our Diversity and Inclusion forum.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour talk from a colleague in our Finance team on Why Banks Fail. We have quite a few guests speakers lined up in the coming weeks which is quite exciting.
  • Had a few conversations which got me wondering whether someone’s viewpoints and values of cultural issues depend on the time horizon that they think about and whether their concerns go beyond the span of their own lifetime.
  • Joined the first part of TechSmith’s Level Up, but left soon after when I figured I would be able to watch the key presentations at a later date. Their products are great and I think we could be doing a lot more to get better use out of them as part of our Digital Literacy initiative.
  • Wandered along to Interesting, a couple of hours with nine splendid presentations on various topics. It was lovely to bump into Paul again; we carried on with our chat all the way back to Berkhamsted. I also said “hi” to Alice as an admirer of her blog, and thanked her for recommending it in her weeknotes. It’s lovely to go to something so random. Stef Posavec’s name was familiar; a quick search of my own blog revealed that I’d taken one of her evening classes at The Guardian back in 2018. (Thank you, external brain!) Hilary Nightingale’s talk on the shopping lists that she has found and collected over the years made me chuckle. Sarah Drummond’s talk about the Don’t Say Gay film she is making, all about Section 28 (a series of laws across Britain that prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities), got me thinking about how things can fade into obscurity if people don’t keep them alive in our collective consciousness. And Jeffre Jackson’s talk about misophonia was superb. I always feel like a bit of an outsider at these events as everyone seems to know everyone else, but I’m not sure how true that is.

  • Caught up with our school’s IT provider and our Office Manager to talk through where we are with our various IT infrastructure projects.
  • Reviewed material for next week’s Full Governing Board meeting. Created a version of the budget that allows us to compare the figures to our year-end actual spend figures for the same categories.
  • Met up for a drink with a raft of colleagues that I first met when I started work in 1999. One of the group now lives in Australia and is the catalyst for getting everyone together when he’s back here. They are lovely people and it was great to see them again. I was so lucky to start my career in that team.
  • Bought and set up another pi-hole as a secondary DNS server. I previously had my router pointing to a single pi-hole for its primary DNS and to OpenDNS for secondary, in order to avoid my whole family shouting at me if the pi-hole went down. But some of the clients on the network seemed to always query OpenDNS, so the advert blocking wasn’t as comprehensive as it should be. Adding a second pi-hole solves the problem. For now, they are configured completely independently and are both running the default block list. But the pi-hole remote app allows me to see a consolidated set of data.

  • Finally took delivery of a mini hard drive interface that I ordered from Amazon US over a month ago which enabled me to wipe two more old hard disks.
  • After almost a week off of my bike, the Saturday club ride was brilliant. It was a chilly start but soon warmed up; I’m going to have to take the plunge and ditch my full finger gloves for next week. We covered some very different territory from our usual roads. I had my first puncture in a while and realised that the time to try to learn how to use my CO2 pump isn’t when I have 11 other cyclists waiting for me to get going again.

  • Finished watching series two of Slow Horses. AppleTV+ does have some excellent shows at the moment.

Next week: Presenting about AI, a school governor meeting, and meeting an old friend.

Okay, this is quite incredible. Particularly knowing that whatever I ask, there will be a coherent response, unlike the text adventures from the 8-bit computer days.

Weeknotes #220 — Tog downgrade

Another four-day week that felt like five. For some reason — or multiple, I’m not sure — I’ve been sleeping badly again. It feels as though there’s a lot going on.

Things have started to warm up so we decided to make the switch to the summer duvet. I think we’ve called the switchover point just about right. I can’t believe that for so many years we just had one duvet that we used all year round, waking up late on a summer weekend feeling like two strips of beef jerky in a desert cowboy’s saddlebag.

Our eldest son finished his last day of school this week, with his exams starting in earnest from Monday. We have our fingers crossed for him. In five weeks’ time he’ll be all done, with a long summer stretching out ahead.

This was a week in which I:

  • Realised that the feeling I have had over the past week or so since watching The A.I. Dilemma has been similar to how I felt in the second quarter of 2020 while the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. In both cases I have had to try to concentrate on my work, which felt trivial in the context of the ever-growing threat outside the door. I don’t like to think of myself as an anxious person (does anyone?) but I’ve started to question this a little bit.
  • Watched the recording of a discussion on the issues raised by The A.I. Dilemma that was hosted by the Center for Humane Technology. The concept of a multi-polar trap is useful; it feels like a good encapsulation of the arms race currently in progress. The video and the slides from the session are available.

  • Discussed how getting our staff up the A.I. knowledge curve in a short space of time is an imperative for my Digital Literacy initiative and started to discuss ways that we can approach this.
  • Finished the draft of the breakdown of brands, products and objectives for our team. In our fortnightly department team meeting I presented an update on the structure and function of our team, touching on these brands and products. We had an excellent discussion, with some challenging questions from colleagues that have given me things to think about.
  • Attended the monthly Information Risk Steering Group meeting. There are a lot of initiatives that I am involved with or running right now that feed back into this forum.
  • Ran a training session for ten colleagues on our new password manager. It was an interesting hour. Everyone came out of the session further along the journey of signing up, importing passwords, setting it up on their devices and using it in their day-to-day life, but it felt a bit chaotic with everyone getting stuck at different steps. I don’t think this format is well-suited to the topic and won’t be doing it again. There are other tacks for us to try on the journey to getting as many people on-board as possible.
  • Joined the fortnightly working group meeting for a cybersecurity project.
  • Attended our monthly departmental risk review meeting.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss how we can move forward with training courses on clear writing for our department, personal development planning, and Microsoft Copilot.
  • Made some quick updates to the list of applications and IT systems used by our part of the organisation.
  • Talked about why you would want to bring the work to the people and not the people to the work.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour session on a recent trip taken by some colleagues to the offices of one of our technology vendors in the Republic of Ireland.
  • Joined Matt Ballantine for a chat as part of his 100 Coffees project. We had an hour together and covered a lot of ground.
  • Attended an interesting Thoughtworks webinar hosted by Martin ter Horst and Rebecca Parsons on The State of Responsible Technology. They recently sponsored a report published by the MIT Technology Review which I’ve now added to my reading queue.
  • Made the first half of this month’s Teams Fireside Chat, which always gives me some interesting insights.
  • Joined an internal webinar on the South African banking sector.
  • Attended a Better Value Sooner Safer Happier meetup with Mike Burrows on the topic of Between spaces, scopes and scales: What the scaling frameworks don’t tell you. The session left me feeling a bit baffled, as if my brain wasn’t competent enough to really grasp the topic properly.

  • Hosted a relatively informal school governor get-together at my house to discuss roles and responsibilities for next year.
  • Joined/set up a third Album Club, this time with some friends from the WB-40 podcast community. Our first online meetup is towards the end of this month and everyone is busy pondering what they will play when it’s their turn.
  • Loved this week’s cycling club ride. The shorts came out, although I hedged my bets by sticking to full-finger gloves. The route was pretty flat and it felt like we smashed it.
  • Signed up to go to Interesting next Wednesday evening. Looks…interesting. Alice Bartlett’s weaknotes told me about it.
  • Thought that our cats were making friends with a beautiful big black cat that has been appearing at our back door. Then they had a fight and we haven’t seen it since.

Cat stand-off in the Berkhamsted Serengeti

Cat stand-off in the Berkhamsted Serengeti

Next week: Four days in the office, meeting up with old friends and attending something Interesting.

It’s all AI, all the time

All my feeeds seem to be full of reflections on the inevitability of the changes that will soon be brought about by artificial intelligence. After spending time thinking about this at length last week it may be my cognitive biases kicking in, but I’m pretty sure it’s not just me noticing these posts more.

Ton Zijlstra has an interesting view on today’s corporations as ‘slow AI’, and how they are geared to take advantage of digital AI:

…‘Slow AI’ as corporations are context blind, single purpose algorithms. That single purpose being shareholder value. Jeremy Lent (in 2017) made the same point when he dubbed corporations ‘socio-paths with global reach’ and said that the fear of runaway AI was focusing on the wrong thing because “humans have already created a force that is well on its way to devouring both humanity and the earth in just the way they fear. It’s called the Corporation”. Basically our AI overlords are already here: they likely employ you. Of course existing Slow AI is best positioned to adopt its faster young, digital algorithms. It as such can be seen as the first step of the feared iterative path of run-away AI.

Daniel Miessler conceptualises Universal Business Components, a way of looking at and breaking down the knowledge work performed by white-collar staff today:

Companies like Bain, KPMG, and McKinsey will thrive in this world. They’ll send armies of smiling 22-year-olds to come in and talk about “optimizing the work that humans do”, and “making sure they’re working on the fulfilling part of their jobs”.

So, assuming you’re realizing how devastating this is going to be to jobs, which if you’re reading this you probably are—what can we do?

The answer is mostly nothing.

This is coming. Like, immediately. This, combined with SPQA architectures, is going to be the most powerful tool business leaders have ever had.

When I first heard about the open letter published in late March calling on AI labs to pause their research for six months, I immediately assumed it was a ploy by those who wanted to catch up. In some cases, it might have been — but I now feel much more inclined to take the letter and its signatories at face value.

Doran’s first rule of webinars: Someone will always — without fail — ask in the chat whether the session will be recorded. Even if the host has already said that it will. Even if there is a message saying ‘recording on’.