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That Which We Call Autonomous / By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

Just to be clear, here’s where we stand right now with regard to LLM technology:

  • LLM-based tools and applications will be extremely useful; they will assist us in practically everything we do (whether it makes sense or not); and they will change how we work in every imaginable field.
  • LLM-based tools and applications, if left unchecked and unregulated, will be used to create a global privacy nightmare; they will pull the rug out from under artists and writers and scientists not because they’re better, but because they loot, anonymize, and disseminate people’s work wholesale; and they will cause information contamination on an unprecedented scale.
  • What LLM tools and applications are decidedly not is “intelligent”; they’re not about to become “sentient”; and they’re not fixing to annihilate humanity (but they can certainly assist humans in that endeavor).

So why all that ever crescendoing lament about LLM taking over and annihilating humanity? The reason is that “Skynet” is merely an extreme case of what’s actually attractive to investors.

Cory Doctorow:

The entire case for “AI” as a disruptive tool worth trillions of dollars is grounded in the idea that chatbots and image-generators will let bosses fire hundreds of thousands or even millions of workers. […]

We’ve seen this movie before. It was just five years ago that we were promised that self-driving technology was about to make truck-driving obsolete. […] But the twin lies of self-driving trucks—that these were on the horizon, and that they would replace 3,000,000 workers—were lucrative lies. They were the story that drove billions in investment and sky-high valuations for any company with “self-driving” in its name.

Will Kaufman, in response:

the most annoying part is that AI fearmongering *is* AI marketing. “It will replace people” is absolutely the value-add for AI. It’s why every C-suite in the country is suddenly obsessed.

“AI will gain sentience and replace people!!!”
“You mean we can cut payroll without cutting productivity???”

Dave Rahardja, also in response:

This is the fundamental reason that #AI is getting so many billions poured into it. It’s the lure of replacing *expensive* labor with automation. Corporations have endlessly squeezed blood from lower-cost labor and they are salivating at the prospect of getting rid of high-cost labor.

This is unfortunate, because AI has *actual* uses. As models get more specialized and smaller, I can see AI automating a lot of rote work away at reasonable cost. Unfortunately, the corporate hype is so strong right now it’s muddying all the conversations

The take-away is, just as with fully autonomous vehicles, that these people lie. They lie! It’s as simple as that. Investors certainly don’t believe the crackpots screaming from the rooftops that LLM will kill us all (yet they wouldn’t be horrified at the prospect if they did). However, as a more high-pitched variation of the ostensibly saner “We’re Close to AGI” bullshit narrative, delivered with a straight face by con artists like Sam Altman, this doomsday hype feeds into and gives emphasis to the promise that LLM will make as many people redundant and replaceable and obsolete as possible—that’s what attracts money.

For the mindset of investment opportunists, scale doesn’t matter—“autonomous” is the Open Sesame for their deepest purses, no matter if it’s about self-driving trucks or coding assistance or Skynet dropping the bomb.