Rich and Paul struggle with video technology but limp across the line with a whole podcast. Briefly digressing and explaining themselves, they proceed to discuss AI, namely sexy robots (they’re against), and what’s good about ChatGPT. Rich closes it by predicting an almost inevitable nightmare scenario where giant AI platform companies will use their advantages to destroy society without even trying. Good times! Brought to you by Aboard.

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ChatGPT and We

October 23, 2023

Rich Ziade: My name is Rich Ziade.

Paul Ford: And I’m Paul Ford.

Rich Ziade: And you are watching…

Paul Ford: The Ziade and, oh, damn it, damn it, damn it, damn it. It’s the Aboard podcast. So, Rich, what’s your job?

Rich Ziade: I’m the co-founder, uh, and CEO of Aboard. You report to me Paul [laughter].

Paul Ford: It’s just fantastic. I am the president and co-founder of Aboard. And we are… we’ve been working together for 10 years. We’ve started businesses of our own, multiple businesses now-

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: And we also have helped a lot of other people start their businesses. So in case you’re coming to this the first time, Rich and I had a podcast after we sold our last business called the Ziade and Ford Podcast.

Rich Ziade: It’s a good looking photo there.

Paul Ford: Yeah we got—for those of you who are listening, we got a little YouTube action going on and we’re talking, we’re looking at the camera.

Rich Ziade: Okay. So let’s clarify for a minute.

Paul Ford: Mmm okay.

Rich Ziade: First of all, we are not going to just shill a product every podcast.

Paul Ford: No.

Rich Ziade: We’ll still talk about—

Paul Ford:  Every other podcast…

Rich Ziade: [chuckles] Tech, life, business…product management

Paul Ford: We just had this whole thing going on. We were doing our podcast and then we’re like, “oh, and it has a sponsor, and the sponsor is our company,” and it got a little ridiculous. So we flipped that. We’re now going to talk about technology and culture in the context of our tool that is designed to help people keep track of technology and culture and links and do work, and we’re going to show it to you in part, anyway—anyway, everybody relax.

Rich Ziade: Yes, that’s right. The other thing worth, the other thing worth sharing is that we are now also on YouTube.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: So you can see pretty pictures and our faces along with our voices. If you want to keep listening, just audio, totally fine. Roll with it.

Paul Ford: Might even recommend it. Yeah, might be better.

Rich Ziade: So we are going to look into the future with this podcast, Paul.

Paul Ford: Great. What are we going to talk about, Richard?

Rich Ziade: We’re gonna talk about WordPerfect.

Paul Ford: Ah, now that was a good word processor.

Rich Ziade: You’ve got one minute. What is WordPerfect?

Paul Ford: Okay, one minute. If I talk really fast, that’s about 600 words. So, or two pages if you use WordPerfect and use the word counting tool. I mean let me take that back—WordPerfect was a boring looking but very powerful early word processor that let you make documents with your very, very goofy DOS machine. Like it had as much power as one one thousandth of your watch, but boy, could it make a pretty page.

Rich Ziade: It asked—you had to learn it. It had a lot of complicated commands.

Paul Ford: Alt-F4 baby.

Rich Ziade: Alt-F4. I mean, and so you needed to kind of gain some expertise to get the value out of a word processor like WordPerfect.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: Picking up and playing, phones have made it so easy to do anything anymore. WordPerfect required some expertise.

Paul Ford: Nothing is gonna convey to people that we’re cool hip startup founders more than us talking about WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS.

Rich Ziade: There was a day where you had an overlay on your keyboard that had all the like different key sequences and key combinations to do anything in WordPerfect.

Paul Ford: Mmm hmmm.

Rich Ziade: Um, and look—

Paul Ford: Why did it take us so long to get dates in college? I don’t know, anyway, keep going.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, so then things got a little bit better.

Paul Ford: They did Windows shows up and boy is it pretty.

Rich Ziade: And, and you know the big…

Paul Ford: It’s not actually, it actually looks ridiculous.

Rich Ziade: It looks ridiculous, but there are little pictures of things that represent stuff, and there’s a mouse. A mouse is this effectively a new interface paradigm where you didn’t have to memorize key commands. You could point the little arrow at a thing and click on it.

Paul Ford: Can I talk for two seconds about what’s really happening here?

Rich Ziade: Yeah, absolutely.

Paul Ford: Alright, so, WordPerfect shows up and it’s kind of like—yes, it shows you the characters onscreen and there’s kind of a loop running and it’s waiting for you to type things in, but it’s still very command driven, like you’re going to give it a command and then it will do something to the document.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Windows is this like two-dimensional, brightly colored space that you navigate with a pointer and you sort of interact with these objects and every character on the screen is its own kind of object and they have different fonts and all this kind of stuff. So it was a, it’s not like this is like a little change. This is a vast change.

Rich Ziade: Well I think to me it’s like, it’s going from computers being accessible to a million, a million, million people to a hundred million people. Like you could, a child could pick up a mouse and move it around and immediately gets what’s going on.

Paul Ford: That’s totally real.

Rich Ziade: Right? And so you see over time this evolution of how people interact with machines to get things done or to play.

Paul Ford: Mmm hmmm.

Rich Ziade: And now we are in the era of AI. Paul, do you know what I love?

Paul Ford: What do you love?

Rich Ziade: I love weird, creepy, robot like human or human like robot people holding other robots.

Paul Ford: Why can’t it be like fancy gin or golf?

Rich Ziade: That probably exists.

Paul Ford: [Sneeze] Excuse me.

Rich Ziade: Bless you. You could use AI, we’re about to talk about AI, to generate just about any kind of robot you like.

Paul Ford: That’s pretty cool. So, you know, when you look at what I do, like these marketing images where people go out and they always have to make the robot sexy. Like it can never just be like a nice robot. That’s like, you know—

Rich Ziade: It’s creepy. It’s a pretty creepy robot.

Paul Ford: No, it always like pretty sexy robots, big pecs and they’re always really thoughtful.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. The history of tech is the history of just amazing, amazing innovation after amazing innovation.

Paul Ford: And images of extremely horny robots.

Rich Ziade: And that, too. The last few years, you’ve had some false starts here. I’m going to throw out some words and I want you to react to them.

Paul Ford: I’m excited to react.

Rich Ziade: Crypto.

Paul Ford: Uh, yeah, crypto was about the idea that when people go and do things like look at pictures or buy shoes, what they want is a fully fledged decentralized marketplace between them and the object of their desire.

Rich Ziade: [laughing] That is the creepiest definition of crypto. It didn’t take over the world. Banks are not under threat. You still have to buy your house the old-fashioned way.

Paul Ford: I mean, the, you know, three people are listening to this going, well, Bitcoin’s up today, and good for you, chum. But yes, no, it’s, that’s real. It just didn’t, it’s going to, it’s going to be around forever, like COVID and herpes.

Rich Ziade: It didn’t turn the world upside down.

Paul Ford: No.

Rich Ziade: The metaverse.

Paul Ford: Oh, this isn’t, this was—crypto, I think, actually genuinely was innovative and weird. Even if it didn’t kind of make cultural sense in the way that people expected it would. Um, the metaverse is just like we got 3D and we do not have enough stuff on our roadmap. And we can’t make, we can’t actually breed people fast enough to get them into the social networks at the rate that we need to justify our valuation.

Rich Ziade: Did you try it? Have you gone into the metaverse?

Paul Ford: I’ve done all that stuff, man. Well, I don’t have the goggles, but I like I’ve looked at all of it I used to I use Second Life a couple times back in the—

Rich Ziade: Is it fair to say that, like, the hype and just all the frenzy has kind of really died down with it?

Paul Ford: I mean the metaverse is, if you’re talking about Call of Duty, or, it’s doing great. You know, Halo, used to do great. But like people don’t want to do like this idea that you’re going to be able to create an abstract space and without any kind of motivation aside from your own.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: This is a struggle.

Rich Ziade: You don’t want to buy the digital scarf at the digital mall?

Paul Ford: Here’s what happens, dude. And, yeah, no, you know, you know what they call that? Remember when they were always like, you’ll be able to buy the sweater, on the screen like a watch TV. I think they actually call it like Rachel’s sweater from Friends. That’s how old the idea is, it’s like from the 90s.

Rich Ziade: Interesting. So that didn’t take.

Paul Ford: No.

Rich Ziade: Then they bundled them together and said, well, crypto and metaverse is all the same thing, and that’s web three.

Paul Ford: Let me tell you.

Rich Ziade: What happened there?

Paul Ford: Look, I’ll take it out of step. You and I, I’m the president, you’re the CEO, you know the number one problem we face as a company?

Rich Ziade: What’s that?

Paul Ford: I mean, lack of revenue because we’re a startup, but like, it’s that we continue to put our own needs before the needs of the user. We do this all the time. We talk about like, we need more of this, we need more of that, as opposed to, we need to deliver value to people so that they remember and connect to us, okay?

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: That is what the metaverse was, the metaverse was giant tech platforms assuming that their needs were more important than the needs of everybody else.

Rich Ziade: All right, a few false starts here. It did not live up to the promise. I’ve seen things, by the way, get announced, they lurch forward, it kind of is putzy and clumsy and doesn’t take, and then it takes like ten years later, so who knows?

Paul Ford: I know. I hope those Chief Metaverse Officers who were all named about three years ago are doing great. I bet those LinkedIn’s—

Rich Ziade: Edit that LinkedIn.

Paul Ford: I bet there’s a strikethrough.

Rich Ziade: Now here we are with AI, there’s chat GPT. You’ve got Midjourney, essentially airbrushing the side of my van every day.

Paul Ford: Every day. Put those dragons in there.

Rich Ziade: Another false start? Another false promise?

Paul Ford: No, not at all. Culturally it’s going banana cakes, as things tend to do these days, so like, you know, dude’s with beards saying that we are going to have, you know, artificial general intelligence and we’re all going to be enslaved by the robots and they’re kind of into it.

And then you have other people saying that like, this is the absolute worst thing that could ever happen to culture on top of all the other worst things that have happened to culture.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: So like we’re, take the whole conversation of it aside, like it’s really interesting technology. I’m going to not be the person to advocate for it. Bring up, actually bring up our product. We, we keep track of the links for this thing in Aboard for the—oh, there it is. Sexy Robot. So Rich…

Rich Ziade: Yeah. So you’re impressed.

Paul Ford: I am impressed. I think that this is an—there, I don’t want to be the advocate here because actually someone did a much better job than I did. There’s an open source and just kind of a general good actor in the world of technology, a person named Simon Willison.

Rich Ziade: Mmm I’ve met Simon.

Paul Ford: Their website is and they gave a talk recently, he gave a talk recently, making Large Language Models Work for You.

Rich Ziade: And it’s online.

Paul Ford: Yeah, it was at the WordCamp, at the big WordPress conference, and it’s online.

Rich Ziade: Is it a good primer?

Paul Ford: It’s about an hour long, it’s excellent. Simon is someone who just goes in deep on things, and he’s been really obsessed with this space, because he describes it, and I think very well, as almost like an alien technology. This thing has landed in our world, and it doesn’t work like any other kind of more algorithmically driven tools that we’ve used before, and the behavior is different. It’s a different kind of technology. It’s sort of like a wild, drunken intern. It will just give you something, no matter what you ask. But very often what you ask for—

Rich Ziade: It also behaves like someone’s typing back to you in some far-off land.

Paul Ford: Yeah, it’s just a very strange new way of structuring data and embeddings and vectors, and all these other words that sort of get thrown out. So Simon has gone in deep and explained sort of the utility of it, how to make use of it, how to explore it. And sort of, also a little bit, not the ethics of, like, AI in general, but the ethics of how to use it, like if you’re gonna create an image with AI, share your prompt.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And show, show you know, what is a way to be an ethical consumer who applies this and uses it. You know, a lot of it comes down to citation. Make sure you explain to people where the AI is involved and where it isn’t.

Rich Ziade: All right, I want to go slightly abstract here, but I want to make a point.

Paul Ford: I love a good abstraction.

Rich Ziade: I, you know, I look at computers as almost like this relationship between humans and machines.

Paul Ford: I mean, I don’t, wow, that’s extremely, wow, you come up with that? That’s amazing.

Rich Ziade: Let’s keep going. We talked about WordPerfect before.

Paul Ford: Yeah, we did.

Rich Ziade: In the early days computers were really impressive, right? But it required work.

Paul Ford: They seemed impressive at the time, of course, now they look like ridiculous jokes.

Rich Ziade: Also, it was on their tongues. You have to learn the tool. You have to educate yourself, otherwise you weren’t going to get the value.

Paul Ford: But this thing could add up a bunch of numbers and then it could go beep, beep, boop, and man, that seemed amazing.

Rich Ziade: But then the mouse pointer comes out, and then the windows come out, and what ends up happening is that a lot less is asked of us.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: You don’t have to be an expert anymore.

Paul Ford: Yes. You don’t—

Rich Ziade: In fact you can shoot a movie on your phone.

Paul Ford: It’s similar, I would analogize it, like you go—you used to have to follow a recipe and now you can go to the supermarket and get a Lean…

Rich Ziade: Toss right into the microwave.

Paul Ford: Get a Lean Cuisine.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, exactly. And that’s amazing. That’s what progress is. When you reduce the barrier to entry, more people can use the thing.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: More people can enjoy it. You have to be careful with kids, computer, you know, phones are a little scary, but yes, a kid can pick up a phone. You watch a three year old on an iPad, it is something to see, they’re hypnotized pretty much.

Paul Ford: Mmm hmmm. And we have unlimited access to most of the world’s information wherever we go, which has long been a dream of humankind.

Rich Ziade: Here we are, right. And so we are in a place where computers have outpaced what’s asked of us.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: I know that sounds weird.

Paul Ford: No, that’s right. They can lean in further than we can.

Rich Ziade: They can. And then in the 2000s we could start to talk to them.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: So it’s like, “Hey Siri, when was Napoleon born?” And it’ll tell me.It’ll tell me—

Paul Ford: No, it’ll give you, it’ll tell you that a Napoleon is a pastry, but yes, I get it.

Rich Ziade: It messes up sometimes, but we’re very forgiving as a people.

Paul Ford: Yes. Oh, yeah.

Rich Ziade: Now we’re at this fascinating point where the AI wave has kind of sprinted way ahead of us as humans. Look, let’s see, here’s the thing, technological innovation evolves more quickly than humans do.

Paul Ford: Well, no, actually—

Rich Ziade: I can say that with accuracy.

Paul Ford: Well, that is true. Humans don’t evolve very quickly. They evolve over like…

Rich Ziade: Millions of years.

Paul Ford: A lot of them have to die. So the, no. But listen, I wouldn’t put  it that way. I would say that humans…anthropomorphize and find new things very sort of mystical when they’re actually practical. So new technologies show up and people tend to—and there’s the famous Arthur C. Clarke quote, which is, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” right? I would actually say that, we could amend that for 2023 any, any new technology is essentially indistinguishable from people. We tend to, we project and project and project. And I do think over the next…

Rich Ziade: I mean, look, the products are getting named. There is Siri and Alexa.

Paul Ford: This is actually…

Rich Ziade: What’s the guy’s name on Microsoft?

Paul Ford: Cortana.

Rich Ziade: Clyde?

Paul Ford: Clyde, Clyde will make you a sandwich. Clyde’s, like, he wants some, you want some salami?

Rich Ziade: American and mayo on white bread.

Paul Ford: Simon makes a really good point, which is like one of the kind of ethical failures is not, there’s all kinds of issues, right? But constantly anthropomorphizing is really bad for us as consumers because the robot keeps telling you it’s your friend.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. “Hold on give me a second and I’ll get you the answer.”

Paul Ford:Hi, it’s me Skye.”

Rich Ziade: Yeah, remember when they tried to do it as a butler? [laughter]

Paul Ford: Yeah, Jeeves and stuff. No, no, that’s the thing, right? Or Clippy, and they keep making it into a person as opposed to like a…set of data things that are interacting. So we learn less and less about what’s going on under the hood and fantasize more and more that it’s like our thing, our person.

Rich Ziade: I wanna glimpse into the future though. I would argue that today it’s actually quite archaic and the AI brain is quite slow and it can only do one thing at a time.

Paul Ford: It’s still batch mode. Like it’s still, I put the punch cards in and then it comes back when after processing.

Rich Ziade: Imagine a world, Paul, you bought a bicycle.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: And you called ChatGPT, you called Skye.

Paul Ford: “Hi Skye.”

Rich Ziade: “Hey Skye, I just bought a bike.” “Good for you, Paul.”

Paul Ford: “Thank God, because your lower body is a disaster, and I’d like to see your legs have some shape—”

Rich Ziade: “I’ll talk to you later”.

Paul Ford: ” It’s like two fish bellies.”

Rich Ziade: “Whoa, whoa. Stay with me, Skye.”

Paul Ford: “Okay.”

Rich Ziade: “It’s in pieces, I need your help putting it together.”

Paul Ford: “Oh, that’s great, because I know exactly how to put a bicycle together.”

Rich Ziade: She tells you to flip your camera. “Lay out all your parts, Paul.”

Paul Ford: This, the way you said that actually makes it sound weird, but okay.

Rich Ziade: Bicycle parts [laughter].

Paul Ford: That actually sounds way more realistic as to how people want to use this thing. Okay, so I’m going to put, she’s, she’s going to say, “Hey, that blue screw, that blue, that blue screw, you know, where’s your screwdriver?” Where’s your—okay.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. “Paul, you don’t have all the tools to put this together, let’s go to the hardware store. I’ll call you back.” You go to the hardware store and you call her back.

Paul Ford: Oh, you got this wrong. She’s gonna say, “I’m gonna order you a really amazing screwdriver.”

Rich Ziade: Oh, Amazon’s in the mix now.

Paul Ford: And then a drone is gonna drop it on your head.

Rich Ziade: Zzzz, comes buzzing in. What I’m trying to get out here is that the innovation ahead now is the interface for humans to talk to these machines and the machines being able to process—

Paul Ford: No I mean-

Rich Ziade: If you talk about a video call coming out of an AI engine—

Paul Ford: Oh, okay, dude.

Rich Ziade: That’s a lot of data.

Paul Ford: No, it’s true. Okay. So what’s going on is like, it’s good, it takes the static image, it breaks it apart, and it figures out what’s going on inside. You can’t, you can’t pan the camera around.

Rich Ziade: That’s a lot.

Paul Ford: Humans can do that. We’re having a conversation right now, but like the, it can’t actually have a conversation. It’s still kind of batch mode. Right?

Rich Ziade: In a way, I guess what I’m trying to say is, you think, “Oh my God, the machines are coming for us,” but my God, the human brain and its ability to work in real time is something else, for most of the people I’ve met in my life.

Paul Ford: You know what I can’t stop thinking about though is it’s going to, like Ikea instructions, like those terrible manuals that are just like no language.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: Like I think, I’m imagining that translating to this world and it’s just like, “Hmmm. Mmm mmm. Mmm hmmm”.

Rich Ziade: Let me close it with a question.

Paul Ford: Should, no, she’s just, Skye is going to have you, you’re going to try to put together an expedi—and it’s mmm, mmmm.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: No, no, no.

Rich Ziade: A lot of disapproval.

Paul Ford: And those little froggy people and it’s like you need a friend to help you lift it up.

Rich Ziade: Is Skye going to call you for data? “Hey Paul, I saw you wrote an article about Napoleon on Medium. I have a question for you.” “Well, Skye, this isn’t the best time right now.”

Paul Ford: This is terrifying.

Rich Ziade: Why? Oh, you only want, want, want. She needs knowledge. Yes, she can go get it off the internet, but she knows you’re an expert on Napoleon. Why can’t she call you?

Paul Ford: Because she’s going to call and she’s going to say, “Can you just put your phone up to your neighbor’s window for a minute? Somebody’s really curious.”

Rich Ziade: “Gather some data.”

Paul Ford: Yeah, I don’t. That, that, humans—

Rich Ziade: You don’t want to be a conduit for knowledge.

Paul Ford: It’s not just that humans are very dangerous—like we have a lot of systems like universities and journalism. Like I’m talking about like meta-systems.

Rich Ziade: That we can, that have trust built into them.

Paul Ford: Yes. Where there are ethical guidelines. So the ethical guideline inherent in something like Google, right? Is it like if it’s published publicly on the web, Google will spider it. And the law reflects that. If you have this ad-hoc data collection platform that pretends to be human.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: That is a nightmare for our society.

Rich Ziade: It can be a problem.

Paul Ford: You got there, you got to the actual, like, this is, I don’t think—

Rich Ziade: That’s the fear, the real fear.

Paul Ford: I don’t think the robots are going to get super smart and suddenly take over.

Rich Ziade: And shoot missiles at us.

Paul Ford: I do think the robots are going to call us and say, “Did you know that Donald Trump wants to give you 25 dollars, Rich?”

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: “Hey, how’s your son?” You know, and you’ll be like, what are you talking about?

Rich Ziade: We saw glimpses of this with how smart the Google, you know, the Facebook ads were during elections and how they were manipulated. This is a lot of power.

Paul Ford: Many, many people are vulnerable, deeply vulnerable to this manipulation.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: And we do not have a, an ethical system in place in our society where everyone becomes an information gatherer.

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: So…

Rich Ziade: That’s right, great discussion, Paul. I want to talk about Aboard.

Paul Ford: That’s right. So earlier we were talking about it. We use it to track the links for the podcast. That’s one of the tools. So Rich and I are able to collaborate. We make a board, and it turns the links into pretty cards, and we can kind of get our podcast together that way.

Aboard is a general-purpose data tool for all kinds of things. You can use it to go find an apartment with your spouse, or you can use it to save the TV shows you want to watch. It’s our attempt to make data and software unbelievably simple for everybody. Everybody, everybody, everybody. So we’d love for you to try it out. Let us know what you think. Go to, click the join button, it’s free. What else do we need to know?

Rich Ziade: Like us. We just want you to like us.

Paul Ford: Oh God, just like us.

Rich Ziade: Thumbs up on YouTube, five stars somewhere else, five bars. I don’t know.

Paul Ford: No, seriously. I’ve turned my desperate need for approval into a whole career. So all I need is for you to click that little bell, please.

Rich Ziade: Please do that.

Paul Ford: Please God.

Rich Ziade: I think, I think this went pretty well, Paul. We’ve recorded this particular podcast seven times.

Paul Ford: Yeah let’s see if it actually recorded.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: I have to glue together all the various broken pieces. But let’s see how it fits together.

Rich Ziade: Have a lovely week.

Paul Ford: Love ya!

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