Will generative AI give us the answer or lead us to the answer—or is that the wrong question entirely? Paul and Rich assess the promise of AI through a lens of lightly skeptical optimism, trying to sort out hype from reality and figure out how exactly these tools might be embedded in everyones’ lives someday.

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E18

Hard AI Choices

Paul Ford: Hey, Richard, how are you doing?

Rich Ziade: I’m doing well.

Paul: We should introduce ourselves. I’m Paul Ford, the co-founder of Aboard.

Rich: And I’m Rich Ziade, the other co-founder of Aboard. You’re listening to the Aboard Podcast, where we don’t really talk much about Aboard. In fact, we talk about, let’s rename it to “AI Ethics and You.”

Paul: Let’s not do that. Let’s call it the Aboard Podcast. We’ve gone back and forth enough on our branding platforms.

Rich: …enough times. Enough times.

[Intro music]

Rich: So last we spoke, Paul, it was mostly negative, and then we sort of took, turned a corner and took a more optimistic view. Not negative, but it was a pretty sobering sort of analysis of the town square and all the promises of the town square and how it was going to make us all better, and it turned out it didn’t work out that way and that social media is one big shit pile. And then we started to talk about AI and the anxiety around AI, and that AI was going to hopefully—and this is our optimistic view—be a tool that proves to be a catalyst for our own creativity and the things we create, not just like we’re just going to sit back and let it publish books.

Paul: Is it fair to say that AI is a new paradigm in computing? That’s the sort of thing that people love to say.

Rich: Ummmmmmmm…sure.

Paul: I think so. I think it is pretty novel—when we say AI, let me be clear, because AI has been something different for 70 years now, every couple of years? We’re talking about the new range of technologies that produce things, when you give them prompts, they use large language models or large whatever models.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And they go and they make you a new thing—

Rich: Yes.

Paul: A chat response, an image, a document based on your input.

Rich: With a confident tone.

Paul: They’re sort of like super Mad Libs, right? Like, it’s just—

Rich: Yes.

Paul: They just fill in blank after blank, and they’re like, “Whoa, I’m going to keep making new blanks and filling them in.”

Rich: And it speaks with authority.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: Sounds trustworthy, like a good salesperson.

Paul: Mmm hmm.

Rich: About how this car is the safest one you can buy for your family.

Paul: Yeah. And they’ll also say things like, “And it has that meat-grinder built in and you just put your hand in it to test it.”

Rich: [laughing] Yeah.

Paul: It’s not the most trustworthy technology just yet.

Rich: Okay.

Paul: I’m going to make a very simple point, which is, I think that—first of all, I think it’s really, and we know this from the history of technology over and over, the history we’ve lived the history before we lived, which is, it always takes a little longer. Every time they tell you the new paradigm is here?

Rich: Yeah. It fumbles—it kind of comes stumbling out of the box.

Paul: That’s right. I mean—

Rich: It always does.

Paul: Otherwise, I would be loaning you some bitcoin right now.

Rich: Yeah. Shout out to RealVideo.

Paul: Yeah. I mean, there’s just, there’s always a wave, and there’s always—

Rich: Some waves don’t come back.

Paul: I think this is a piece of advice, just flat-out, which is, it’s very easy in your career, we’re all vulnerable to hype. All of us.

Rich: Sure.

Paul: And there’s always a lot of people with a vested interest in a new thing getting big very quickly.

Rich: Sure.

Paul: And there’s a phrase, I don’t know if people know it, but when they talk about venture capital, they talk about “talking your book,” you ever heard this?

Rich: I think I have, but explain it.

Paul: Okay. They’ll say this about, like, venture capital, people who blog. It’ll be like, “Well, he’s talking his book,” meaning that he has a book of investments, a portfolio of investments.

Rich: Okay.

Paul: And whatever narrative that person is putting forth about the larger economy tends to often, it really tends to line up with the things that would be best for their investments.

Rich: Makes sense.

Paul: It does, right? And I think there’s two ways to look at this. I think, first of all, one, if a venture capital or finance type of person is telling—including us—is telling you about the future, it’s very likely they’ve put some bets on that future.

Rich: That’s a great observation. And they love to tell you about the future.

Paul: And they do. They tend not to disclose the bets.

Rich: Well, you could just look them up, but they do tend—no, not in that same essay.

Paul: No.

Rich: To your point, yeah.

Paul: It’s not like, “I think that crypto is the absolute future, and I stand to make $12 billion if I’m right,” they always leave the last part of the paragraph.

Rich: Yeah. And also, money is never in that futurist essay, right?

Paul: No, they always leave it out.

Rich: It has, like, the tone of a manifesto. They’re very lofty. They’re very big.

Paul: Look, I mean, it’s always—and I always actually find that annoying. Like, here we are talking on the Aboard Podcast. You and I have invested money in a product.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: It has some AI components and some classic web components.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And we hope everybody uses it and we can build a great business on it.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: It drives me a little bananas that everybody kind of backs off from simple statements like that. Like, I’m in a business with you to grow a business.

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: Right?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So here we are. And caveat listener, okay? Like, okay.

Rich: Look, I think there’s, when you get to a certain level of money exchanging hands, whether that be investor-to-fund or whether that be a partner to another partner, talking about the money aspect of it?

Paul: Right.

Rich: Cheapens the conversation.

Paul: Well, it gets away from the larger infrastructural point you’re trying to make.

Rich: Yeah. And money is a formality.

Paul: Right.

Rich: If everything is lining up, values-wise, and that could be, I agree with your investment thesis, or I could be, I agree with your political campaign. The money part, you don’t run to that number. That’s not something you talk—in fact, maybe your team will talk. They’ll talk to each other. You know what? I think we have it. I’ll share a little story.

Paul: No, but this is you and I, people should understand, you and I learned this the hard way. Like, you enter these environments where money is an abstraction, and you’ve grown up broke?

Rich: Absolutely.

Paul: And it feels like you’re on the moon.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: My first agency, when it was acquired, I was invited to the very, very fancy, actually one of the most insane summer houses I’d ever seen in my life. I happened to be in Long Island. And they’re like, he wants to meet you.

Paul: The acquirer.

Rich: The acquirer. The founder of the company was going to acquire my agency.

Paul: Okay.

Rich: I had, like, a bulleted cheat sheet with bullet points of things I wanted to make sure my ass was covered.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: We walk in. We talk. He tells me a story—

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: —about the seasons on Long Island, and pause, we sort of meander in conversation, and then he turns to me and goes, “Are we doing this?”

Paul: Right.

Rich: And then, at that point, I was like, “Well, you can’t just—you’re not buying a bag of potatoes here.”

Paul: But he is buying a bag of potatoes.

Rich: But he’s buying a bag of potatoes. And so I said, “I would like to do this. I’d like to see what this is. I think this is really, really interesting.” And then he says, “Good. Come. I want you to meet my wife.” He walks me out of a round conference room with, like, curved glass. I’d never seen anything like it.

Paul: Okay.

Rich: I meet his wife, and they sent me home.

Paul: “Nice meeting you, Rich.”

Rich: “Nice meeting you, Rich.” And then I turned to my contact, who was really the person that drove the deal—

Paul: Mmm hmm.

Rich: And he said, “We’ll work out the details. I’ll see you in the next couple of weeks.” That was it.

Paul: Yeah, I remember, because I knew you at this point. This was a very heady and confusing moment for you.

Rich: Well, it was bizarre. It’s like, wait, what do you mean, am I in? How about you tell me what the terms are? And he’s like, “I’m not dealing with that.”

Paul: Yeah, this isn’t business.

Rich: This isn’t business. That’s right.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: He was at that level, and—

Paul: Look at the trees waving in the wind.

Rich: That’s right.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: That’s right. And so back to your point about VCs. When they raise for their funds, they’re talking to extremely wealthy people. And the last thing wealthy people want to hear about are the numbers. They want to hear about your values, what you represent, how ambitious you are. It’s like a movie. It’s like, is this worth watching?

Paul: Yes.

Rich: It’s literally a type of consumption for them. And so if they’re bought in?

Paul: Yeah, because they don’t need any more money.

Rich: They don’t need any money.

Paul: Ideally they’re going to make more because they feel they have to.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: They don’t need it.

Rich: That’s right. That’s right.

Paul: As you’re talking about this, it reminds me of a moment. I’m going to make sure to put this in a nice, very abstract way. Someone came to visit us at our old job, and they brought with them a person who’s one of the better fundraisers in New York City, works with charities.

Rich: Yeah, like a heavy hitter.

Paul: Heavy hitter, like, raises tens, hundreds of millions of dollars for very good causes.

Rich: [overlapping] Yeah. Yes.

Paul: What would you imagine a person like that to be like, typically? No, just like, here’s…I’m leading the witness.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Here’s what you’d expect, someone very sort of informed about the issues.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: A lot of stats.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And ready to advocate for the cohorts that they’re trying to raise money for. And what instead you get is a guy in the nicest shirt I have ever seen in my life.

Rich: And extremely light touch.

Paul: I want to talk about this shirt for a minute, because you couldn’t see, like, it wasn’t made of a material. It just seemed to have been manifested, like—

Rich: A hologram.

Paul: Yeah, it was like—

Rich: Floating on his body.

Paul: It was like a 3D-rendered object. [laughter] And just, everything, you know, the person he was with had to take a phone call. And I remember just the tone of his voice. [slow and sincere-sounding] “Take the phone call.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Absolutely. His focus in life was to get you to prioritize—

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: —yourself over him.

Rich: Yeah. Yeah.

Paul: And then, I would guess, four, five months later, he might call you up and be like, “Do you remember we talked about that children’s home?”

Rich: Yeah…he, that is—I met this person.

Paul: Yeah. You were in the room with me.

Rich: And it is like the S-tier of sales instinct. It was… There’s different salespeople, right? And some people push too hard and they go too fast, they’re too pushy, or they don’t read the room well. And then there are the ones, it doesn’t look like sales at all. It just looks like an interesting person is in the room with you, and they’ll come in and out and they may lose touch with you for five weeks, and they’re utterly okay with it. That style of trust-building over time is as good as it gets. But let’s bring this together. That guy never talks about money.

Paul: No.

Rich: Ever.

Paul: One of the best pieces of advice I ever got is if you want to get something done, you look for the most busy person in the room, the person who’s just focused on the other thing.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And they don’t even have time for you.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And if you get them, they know how to do your thing. And so the best salespeople kind of are, they’re otherwise occupied. They might be occupied with your other interests and so on and so forth, but that transaction is the last thing on their mind. They don’t need to worry about it.

Rich: That’s right. That’s right.

Paul: So, yeah, bring it back. And then I have some points about AI, which is the actual focus of this podcast.

Rich: Well, I think what we’re asking here, and we did a classic trademark meandering, but I think worthwhile.

Paul: We like to investigate power and money on this broadcast.

Rich: The VCs appropriate a trend and they tell life-changing stories about it. They were telling life-changing stories about banking and how banking was going to go away, and you will have this strange, thin, platinum brick in your wallet that will represent all of your net worth.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: That was the promise. And that shit the bed.

Paul: Yes. Well, it may or may not have. It might be 30 years from now, but it’s certainly, the immediate revolution that was promised did not materialize.

Rich: That’s right. And now we are in that state with AI where money is not talked about. Instead, it’s more about how it will change our lives.

Paul: And let’s go back to—

Rich: Which often requires fees. [laughing]

Paul: This guy in the beautiful shirt, imagine him going to sovereign wealth funds. You know, name a Middle Eastern country, they have a couple trillion dollars to invest.

Rich: Qatar.

Paul: Yeah. Okay, so they need to put—

Rich: Or “cutter,” as they say in Houston.

Paul: They need to put probably $40 billion this year—

Rich: Billions of dollars.

Paul: —towards AI.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And the big companies, like the OpenAIs, tend to be oversubscribed until Sam Altman says, “I need $7 trillion for new chips.” That’s a whole nother world. So they’re literally out there shopping. And there are those guys in the very nice shirts saying, “Mmm. It really is exciting, isn’t it?”

Rich: We see this once every 40 years.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: And there’s a fear of missing out aspect to it.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: There is an anxiety aspect to it. It’s interesting that you mentioned the Gulf. The Gulf is right now seeing a wave of diversification of investment because they feel threatened by alternative energy.

Paul: I mean, they should. Solar is getting really cheap.

Rich: It’s real. And so they’re building cities, literally building cities out there.

Paul: Sure.

Rich: So they want to invest. And, yeah, the people that come in and pitch to them, the shoulders are sloped, they’re very relaxed in the room. And that’s just how it works. And AI, I think, is that moment, too. Like we are here now.

Paul: Yeah. The actual applications, they’re out there. There are applications. But the idea of it being like this integrative substrate of everything that you do, which was also the promise of blockchain—that did happen with the web. It happened with the internet. The internet is in your pocket and it’s always there.

Rich: It’s always there. And you’re also buying shoes.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: And you are also paying your electric bill on the internet.

Paul: That’s right, it’s driving—the internet has become the platform for just about every normal transaction.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: So that happened. That was a true sea change in everything.

Rich: Let me ask you two questions.

Paul: Mmm hmm.

Rich: First, is this actually a sea change? Because I’m going to bring up one of the lamest promises of technological change over the last ten years. I remember, and I don’t know why we didn’t think it was lame at the time. It was like bots, like chat.

Paul: Chatbots.

Rich: Were going to change everything.

Paul: Sure.

Rich: And that lasted about nine months.

Paul: Yeah, there was a funny moment. It was, like, 2011.

Rich: Like, Gartner came out with a glossy that said, chatbots are just about to do it all.

Paul: It’s back.

Rich: It’s back or something. And it died right away. Is this legit?

Paul: Well, okay, so—

Rich: We’ve talked about this, but, yeah.

Paul: So let’s go through three big things. You have the web, which actually now is the enabling technology for many of the transactions that occur. Transactions meaning in specific monetary, like, even if you don’t think you’re using the web, half the time, you are. If you go to the—

Rich: It’s the piping.

Paul: Well, Square. Right? When somebody swipes that card into the, into the—

Rich: You need an Internet connection.

Paul: Okay, so all of that was built. Then you had blockchain, which was supposed to be pure transactions, completely decentralized. And it was supposed to be just as big, if not bigger, and take over sort of all the remaining transaction—and no more centralization. That has so far, it has a role in society, even if you don’t want it to. But it seems to have whiffed in terms of hitting that scale, the web scale.

Rich: Yeah. And there are plenty of really awkward interviews with VCs who had bet their names on the stuff.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: And they’re pretty…the arguments go circular. It’s pretty bad. To your point, there may be a breakthrough down the road that could reawaken it.

Paul: I mean, sure. And then customers will actually want it and then we’ll go, right? Okay, so now you have this new thing, and I actually think “new paradigm” is right, because what we do not have with AI—it is exciting. It does things no computer could do before. And I think there are some things to really watch for and we’ll talk about that in a second. But what I do not have yet is a complete transformation of the transactional medium, which is where all, like, the money isn’t going to flow through. You might have a trillion dollars of AI companies, you might have increased productivity, but the way that you break the bank with these things is you get credit cards out over a million times a minute and I don’t see that. I see OpenAI making billions from its service. I see it…maybe Google Gemini is going to be able to put ads on top of it, and it’ll be able to kind of reproduce the Google Ad ecosystem. But that whole big swollen transactional medium?

Rich: Yeah?

Paul: I don’t see it yet. Here’s what I do see—

Rich: We’re fumbling out of the box, like we said before.

Paul: Exactly.

Rich: We’re in that sort of messy first phase.

Paul: Can AI find me efficiencies when I’m buying things? Can it make it so that I don’t want to shop on Amazon—or that I want to shop more? Maybe.

Rich: Maybe.

Paul: Maybe. But I don’t, I haven’t seen the answer to that yet. Here’s what I am seeing. I’m seeing, so first of all, there is a cultural backlash against AI, because we live in an era and now where when a new thing is introduced, people just are like, “Ugh oh, no more new things. You really, you whiffed the last few.”

Rich: Well, it’s creating actual artifacts that raise eyebrows, and it’s kind of brash, like it has an attitude, AI.

Paul: It’s also showing up at the moment that social is imploding.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Per the last podcast we did, people are seeing a kind of bleak endgame for this stuff. They’re feeling it.

Rich: They’re not trusting tech.

Paul: No, and AI is showing up and saying, we’ll do the writing and the art and we’ll do it all for you.

Rich: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: I think two things are going on. One is the writing and the art that it’s producing? They’re not that good, and they’re not going to get great. Like, we used AI art a couple of times for stock art and so on and so forth?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And we stopped using it. And part of it was just like, I do feel a little bit gross about using it, but not really. What I feel… It just looks the same. It’s very hard to get it to differentiate. Even when you tell it to be a certain way, it still kind of feels AI-y?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Because there’s no connection to it. You just kind of know the robot made it, so it becomes a funny joke. Like, I’ve used AI images because they’re goofy.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But eh….it’s just not… And sure, some people are going to consume it, and so on. And then there are people saying, like, “You’re taking away my livelihood,” and so on. All this is valid. Here’s what I think is really going on. We’re in a phase with this technology where it is server-based and it is very slow.

Rich: It’s sort of what killed bitcoin as a common everyday tool.

Paul: It doesn’t—

Rich: Too slow, too cumbersome, too hard to use.

Paul: So you talk to it and then it seems like it’s thinking, and then it spits a bunch of stuff back out.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And you’re like, all right, and—

Rich: So speed, you’re saying that one of the requirements that hasn’t been fulfilled yet is speed?

Paul: I absolutely believe that.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I believe that about everything in computing. It’s what killed blockchain.

Rich: Interesting.

Paul: If I could have done little fun micro-transactions to buy articles with my magic Internet beans, I would have done it.

Rich: Yeah. Yeah, sure.

Paul: I would have put $100 in there and said, go to town, let’s have a good time. But it’s exhausting, complicated, and it doesn’t work.

Rich: It’s exhausting.

Paul: It’s exhausting.

Rich: That wallet thing, that wallet startup where you had to do a million things to just…get a dollar…

Paul: That’s the thing. It’s just exhausting. And so like, okay, so now, if you go to a website, it’s a proof of concept for an AI company, and it’s fastsdxl.ai, one of the hardest URLs…

Rich: F-A-S-T…

Paul: S, D as in dog, xl.ai. As you type, I got this off of waxy.org, Andy Baio’s website. As you type words, the images update almost in real time. You can get, like, it’ll tell you how long it takes. About a quarter second per image.

Rich: Wow.

Paul: Not—

Rich: It’s not spinning for minutes.

Paul: Not a minute. You’re not sitting here waiting for pictures.

Rich: Crazy.

Paul: And it’s sort of like lower resolution. It’s kind of like where AI images were six months ago, eight months ago.

Rich: Okay.

Paul: So it’s not like—

Rich:  But still.

Paul: Oh, it’s ridiculous.

Rich: You’re not waiting.

Paul: And what you realize looking at this, this is an actual computing experience.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Meaning that it’s interactive. I’m able to explore something. You go there and it’s got a raccoon in a robe, and you’re like, what if it was a kitten? And you get to explore the space of animals or people wearing robes with this.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It’s reactive. It’s interactive.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It does not feel like a document anymore, nor do I wanted to make me one. I don’t really care that much.

Rich: It’s not output-focused.

Paul: I’m exploring.

Rich: Okay.

Paul: I’m exploring. I’m exploring an inter—

Rich: But is this the breakthrough?

Paul: I don’t think it’s a breakthrough, but it’s clearly the direction.

Rich: Okay.

Paul: It runs either less on a server and more on your local device.

Rich: Okay.

Paul: Smaller language models.

Rich: Oh, okay. So it’s not necessarily on a server.

Paul: This one, I think is. And it’s just really fast. But clearly at this speed, it could run on a local machine.

Rich: That’s crazy.

Paul: We’re get—

Rich: That’s where it’s interesting. And I think that—is that a prediction? The phone—

Paul: I did it. No, I did it. I downloaded a 15-gig model onto my laptop and it ran great. And instead of, like, ChatGPT tapping out after—

Rich: Is Apple hunkering down right now so that the next iPhone can do stuff?

Paul: Everybody is, and they have those neural chips and so on, like that execute these models faster.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It’ll show up—Apple’s funny because it’ll bake it into the vision component of the camera. Apple is not going to be like, I’ll make you 50 raccoon pictures. Right? [laughter] That’s not how they go.

Rich: It’s more Samsung.

Paul: No, exactly. [laughter] It’s like an app on your TV.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But no. So I think really fast response time does two things. It makes it immediately more useful as, like, a cognitive tool. It makes it much less human. It doesn’t seem to be a robot anymore. It just seems to be software.

Rich: Okay.

Paul: And it makes it more useful. Here’s what I’m thinking. I’m looking at a picture of a raccoon in a robe right now, but it’s really good at making bullet lists and finding links and doing searches for you.

Rich: Yeah?

Paul: And what I’m thinking is when I can tell this thing to make 50 bullet lists, what I love about the computer is it will throw a bunch of stuff up on the screen and then you can decide what’s good or not.

Rich: Okay, so this is, I think, the point I want us to land on. Even though we went on an LSD-fueled journey from money to speed as a key differentiator.

Paul: Mmm hmm.

Rich: Do you, and I want you to answer this question thoughtfully, and you’re not allowed to use AI to answer it.

Paul: All right.

Rich: Is AI going to give us the answer, or is AI going to help us point the way towards the answer, down the road?

Paul: Well, as a large language module… [laughing] Sorry, as a large language model, I was trying to make a joke and I just whiffed it. Uh, no. [laughter] So, boy, it’s rough. I broke my foot.

Rich: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: I’m in a boot. You know—

Rich: Writers are nervous, artists are nervous.

Paul: Well, look, they should be—

Rich: Movie directors are nervous—writers are always nervous, as an aside.

Paul: [big sigh] Everybody…I mean, one thing that I’ve learned about technology is everybody should be nervous. [laughter] Especially…

Rich: Education is freaking out.

Paul: Not a great time for the arts, or education. Well, it’s come for them. It used to just be robots on the factory floor.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: But no, I mean, you can’t tell if that essay was written by a machine or written by that student.

Paul: That is happening everywhere. Okay, so will AI give us the answer or will it lead the way?

Rich: Do you want that student to have access to these tools so they can lead the way?

Paul: Well…

Rich: This is the calculator…my kids need help with, like, fractional math right now.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: I don’t know how to do it. I just don’t know how to do it.

Paul: Fractions are not fun. I went back and relearned fractions. They are just…

Rich: I just don’t know how to do it.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: And then I’m thinking to myself, okay, I guess they should understand these things, but, God, they’re two years away from the calculator being in their hands. They have a calculator in their hands. It’s called their computer.

Paul: I have 100% used ChatGPT in this context. It’s great for it, because—

Rich: No, but answer my, come back to my question.

Paul: But you take a picture of the page and you say, can you do this for me? And then it teaches you how the fractions work, and then you can do the next puzzle without it.

Rich: That’s pretty amazing.

Paul: Right? It’s good that way. This is a fundamental aspect of humans, right? So it’s like, I want us to be very careful to not be too utopian, because the fantasy with technology is always that you will empower people to become creative actors, and that they will then pursue new ways of learning and that they will become better, more informed citizenry using these wonderful tools. That was the promise of social media. Some of it came true, but a lot of it got real twisted up.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And I don’t think that right now we know what the frameworks are. God knows, I went through LinkedIn the other day. I can’t tell you how many people I know who have “ethics” in their job title. [laughter] I don’t know where we’re going to land with this. Let me frame the real problem, and then I will go ahead and give you an answer. So the real problem is that our vision of humans, after all of this technology, still remains, especially in Silicon Valley, relatively utopian. We believe that if we give them good tools, they will do great things.

Rich: And not harm each other with them.

Paul: And not harm each other.

Rich: How’s that going?

Paul: Very, very badly. [laughter] And this is also, when TV showed up, everyone was excited that they’d be able to finally put all of Shakespeare in everybody’s home. And then you end up with, Welcome Back, Kotter, like, 20 years later. It doesn’t take long.

Rich: Okay. Are you saying more bad is coming?

Paul: More of the same, because it’s humans.

Rich: Okay.

Paul: Humans will not be changing. You can ask them to, but they’re going to continue to do things like vote in tens of millions for Donald Trump, like we are, no matter what happens.

Rich: They’re going to do that.

Paul: They’re going to do that stuff, right? So what’s going to happen with AI? Students are going to turn in assignments that are completely written by AI, and you’re going to say, don’t do that. And they’re going to do it. People are going to make a video with a raccoon in a robe and say, aren’t I smart?

Rich: Okay. Is there a positive path here?

Paul: Absolutely.

Rich: Give me that. Draw that one out for me.

Paul: You now have the tools to learn and acquire any skill or any knowledge or any framework of knowledge that exists on earth. You can have a private tutor that tells you each little bit of nuclear physics, and you can have it pretend to be a cat, because that’s how you learn best. You can empower yourself. This is the single most empowering tool because it doesn’t care how stupid you are. You can—

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I’ve gone in, and you can ask it about your broken foot. You can ask it about a diagnosis and so on. You can’t trust it, but you can ask it. And what that gives you is a framework for learning more. Those moments are so hard, and the Wikipedia pages are written by graduate students, you don’t know where to start.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So you can become the human you want to be. Using this thing as a coach.

Rich: Okay.

Paul: I do believe that is more possible than it used to be.

Rich: Back to the question I asked, it sounds like what you’re saying, the optimistic view of these tools is that we’re not going to sit there, drool out of the corner of our mouths waiting for answers from the machines.

Paul: No.

Rich: We’re going to use these tools to help us point the way and make us maybe more knowledgeable, maybe better people, maybe more capable, maybe more creative. You’re essentially saying this is assistive, not the answer.

Paul: Yes, but I mean, I think you can also have, you’re going to have AI. And if you’re like, can you give me a theological basis for why I should kill my wife? It’ll do it.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Right. We are going to—

Rich: It sounds like you’ve got, that backstory is probably bad to begin with if you’re asking it that question.

Paul: Well, that is definitely going to come up in evidence, right? It’s just like, “Okay, so then you ask Chat GPT…” You know? We’re still back on the internet. Look, to summarize, I want to give you a straight answer, and I am giving you a straight answer. The answer is both. We’re going to use it in the most horrible ways possible, to make three-headed Joe Biden animations or whatever nonsense, and we’re gonna use it to empower ourselves. Unless we choose to live in a civic society that really engages with these questions, like at a governmental level, it’s just gonna be chaos.

Rich: Until it’s reined in.

Paul: Until it’s reined in.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: We now have a framework—frankly, when I look at congressional hearings, which I will watch, it ain’t great. People aren’t really philosophically engaged. They’re scoring.

Rich: Okay. I thought this would be a more optimistic podcast that it turned out to be.

Paul: It’s very optimistic. It’s like anything. There are absolutely wonderful things that you can do before, and I really do think it’s deeply empowering. I think that you and I, as technologists who are engaged with this world, I think we are finding paths in our own product that we’re going to roll out soon that I think are very empowering.

Rich: I think they are empowering and they’re trying to just sort of open the way for you rather than give you this sort of out-of-the-box answer, which we don’t think that’s right.

Paul: I think what I would say is, I am very proud of what we’re doing with AI.

Rich: Agreed.

Paul: Right? And so I think that we don’t have that—if I’m going to end on one thing, that’s where I want to end. I think that if you’re a technologist and you’re using AI, you should say, “Am I proud of this?”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And if you are, then that’s great.

Rich: Yeah. And to sort of put a footnote on that, by proud, if you think there is going to be a straight line from AI to money, it is very crowded out there right now, and there’s like a lot of logos, if you, there’s like these maps of all the companies that are AI-powered.

Paul: Ah, it’s just going to get more—

Rich: We’ve seen this movie many times. Most will fall off, some will consolidate, and some will be the big players. And the big players, by the way, are in the shadows watching all of it, right?

Paul: Mmm hmm.

Rich: So I think when you say proud, you don’t mean we hit our revenue numbers. You’re saying something that is potentially useful, productive, positive. I want to take it back to last week’s podcast, is that the internet, through its history, shunned us all into consumption rather than creation, right? And with AI, if you sit there and you just want the answers, then you’re back to consumption. But if you use it as a catalyst for creation and productivity and being productive, and I don’t mean productive as in like apps. I mean just like, oh, I know a little more than I did three hours ago about a thing. And now I feel like I can approach this other problem I have. That’s a good thing, right?

Paul: I think that’s right. You’re not going to change human nature necessarily, but keeping the option open that people could do something empowering or interesting?

Rich: Yes, yes.

Paul: Is really good. And, yeah, I mean, money is money, and everybody is sort of—no one doing this stuff is not aware of the fact that this is a growing space.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Let me put it really simply. We just watched the movie. We’ve watched it three or four times.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Okay? The movie is going to be the same movie this time.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Even though they tell you this is a radically different reinvention.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It’s another sequel to Star Wars.

Rich: There’s a messy first chapter, a lot of fumbling around, a lot of abuse, a lot of unethical use…

Paul: And everybody says, no, this one’s different. This one’s actually going to become a human brain and change everything. [laughter] But I swear to God, they said that about all the other ones, too. You just forget.

Rich: Yeah, that’s true.

Paul: So just like, you’ve seen the movie, you know how the movie ends. What can you do in between to make it a better movie?

Rich: Yes. Before we close out, I want to say thank you. We’ve got some exciting updates coming to Aboard, but we have a cohort of very loyal users that just keep banging away at this thing, and that is cool to see.

Paul: We get bug reports every day.

Rich: We get bug reports every day. But we also see the engagement every day. And that’s very neat. But really exciting things coming that we hope opens Aboard up to a lot more people in terms of approaching this thing and finding utility with it, but also enhances it for the people that use it today.

Paul: That’s right.

[outro music]

Rich: Check it out. Aboard.com. Reach out. Hello@aboard.com? When you email that email.

Paul: Hello.

Rich: If you have a topic you want us to cover, this is become the AI podcast. I say next time we talk about corporate lunches, Paul.

Paul: Actually, it’s a great subject.

Rich: Okay, have a lovely week.

Paul: I’m going to go order Potbelly right now.

Rich: Oh, rolled-up sandwiches.

Paul: It’ll come in on that cart. I can smell it right now. All right, friends, we’ll talk to you soon.

Rich: Have a great week.

Paul: Bye.

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