Newsletter 13 September 2023: A.I. changes everything; SOS for S&S; optimize/pessimize

Week 9: George Colony nails it: reading stuff for us is AI’s job. Also: leveraged burnout at Simon & Schuster, KDP spies on your toolbox, plus 3 people to follow, 3 books to read, and pluggerating.

Why A.I. upends everything, according to George Colony

There are two common perspectives on the rise of generative A.I., ChatGPT, and the like.

Either you think it’s a big deal that will change everything . . . or you think it’s just pattern matching that makes a lot of mistakes.

George Colony, CEO and founder of Forrester, is one who thinks it’s a big deal. And he’s convinced me.

As George points out, every massive technology-driven shift in our relationship with the world emerged from a change in interface. PCs made computing accessible to normal humans. The Web made all the world’s information accessible to normal humans. Mobile and apps made that knowledge instantly accessible everywhere. From George’s post:

Generative AI enables human beings to converse in their own language with big piles of data and to create new content from that data. . . .

The world is full of big piles of data that humans don’t understand or don’t want to read or don’t have time to read. With genAI, they can converse with that data and get what they need, when they need it, in a form that’s customized for them. This is a very, very big deal that will radically change how knowledge is built, distributed, and consumed.

George goes on to predict that Generative AI will replace much of the Web, displace search, and make the job of us regular workers to sort the AI brilliance from the AI bullshit. (No, he didn’t write it that way, but that’s the gist of it.)

George has been wrong a lot, but that’s because he takes big swings and doesn’t hedge his predictions. When I worked for him, I was wrong a lot, too, for the same reasons.

But George has been right a lot more than he has been wrong, about things that matter.

The impact of Gen AI isn’t huge just because George said it. It’s because we are reaching the limits of what search and mobile and apps can do with our current interfaces. It’s because nearly every person on the planet is better at talking than typing. It’s because sorting through huge piles of data is something immensely useful that computers do well and humans don’t.

I’m no fanboy, of either George or ChatGPT. Yeah, there are accuracy problems. Yeah, it uses a crapload of energy. Gen AI won’t replace us, it’s not going to take over the world like SkyNet, and it’s not going to get everything right.

But it’s a force multiplier for humans because it works with humans like another human.

So yeah, it will actually change everything. Hang onto your seats, kids, it’s going to be a wild ride.

News for authors and others who think

Wondering how private equity will fuck over Simon & Schuster? Carter Dougherty and Andrew Park lay it out in The Atlantic. It sounds pretty bad, but I think they’re optimists. If you’re a current author at S&S, expect the service to go to crap . . . and if you’re a prospective author, the advances are going to drop off the table.

The new book by Taylor Lorenz, Washington Post journalist, is Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet. In an interview in Mother Jones, she explains how Elon Musk destroyed Twitter with the techbro’s refrain: “I don’t care how users want to use this product. I’m going to tell them how to use it, and I’m going to decide who’s popular on this app.” It’s hard enough to keep a platform popular — but with the precise right amount of arrogance, it sure is easy to kill one.

Amazon’s self-publishing service KDP now requires authors to explain if they used AI help in creating their books. That’s fascinating, but unworkable. As a precedent, it’s also pretty odd. Authors have never before been asked to reveal what tools they use to create what they create. If this catches on with other publishers, authors should resist. Check if it’s in your publishing contract, and if so, insist that they take it out. announced its list of new words for Fall 2023. Favorites: Poe’s law, which states that you can’t really tell if an extreme view online is bombastic or sarcastic, and pessimize, to make something maximally sucky with the help of a computer.

Three people to follow

Ted Schadler, Forrester principal analyst and VP, who’s creating the detailed predictions that fuel George Colony’s imagination.

Michael Krigsman, proprietor of CXO Talk, featuring incisive interviews with bigwigs in companies that matter.

Joseph Menn, reporter at the Washington Post. If something about tech’s misbehavior just got exposed, he’s probably the guy that figured it out.

Three books to read

Hegarty on Creativity: There Are No Rules by Sir John Hegarty (Thames and Hudson, 2014)Quite simply the most amazing nonfiction book I ever read, with wisdom on every page. And it’s tiny!

No Rules Rules: NETFLIX and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer (Penguin, 2020). Netflix doesn’t run like any other company; for example, there are no limits on the amount any employee can spend on the business.

Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, 2023). The century’s most celebrated biographer takes on the century’s most infamous wacko billionaire. My big question for Isaacson: whose tantrums were more epic, Jobs or Musk?


If you already read my book, rate it on Amazon. (Be the first person to rate it less than 5 stars!) If you haven’t, and you think you might want to be an author someday, you really should buy a copy?

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