Years before becoming Prime Minister of the UK, Rishi Sunak wrote this report, Undersea Cables: Indispensable, insecure.
Today’s AI promoters are trying to have it both ways: They insist that AI is crossing a profound boundary into untrodden territory with unfathomable risks. But they also define AI so broadly as to include almost any large-scale, statistically-driven computer program.
Under this definition, everything from the Google search engine to the iPhone’s face-recognition unlocking tool to the Facebook newsfeed algorithm is already “AI-driven” — and has been for years.
LLMs have never experienced anything. They are just programs that have ingested unimaginable amounts of text. LLMs might do a great job at describing the sensation of being drunk, but this is only because they have read a lot of descriptions of being drunk. They have not, and cannot, experience it themselves. They have no purpose other than to produce the best response to the prompt you give them.
This doesn’t mean they aren’t impressive (they are) or that they can’t be useful (they are). And I truly believe we are at a watershed moment in technology. But let’s not confuse these genuine achievements with “true AI.”
After nearly two decades of fighting for this vision of the internet, the people who believed in federation feel like they’re finally going to win. The change they imagine still requires a lot of user education — and a lot of work to make this stuff work for users. But the fundamental shift, from platforms to protocols, appears to have momentum in a way it never has before.
Our smarter, richer betters (in Babel times, the king’s name was Nimrod) often preach the idea of a town square, a marketplace of ideas, a centralized hub of discourse and entertainment—and we listen. But when I go back and read Genesis, I hear God saying: “My children, I designed your brains to scale to 150 stable relationships. Anything beyond that is overclocking. You should all try Mastodon.”
So many gems in this piece by Paul Ford:
The Fediverse apps are all built on a set of rules called the ActivityPub standard, which is a little like HTML had sex with a calendar invite. It’s a content polycule. The questions it evokes are the same as with any polycule: What are the rules? How big can this get? Who will create the chore chart?
Mastodon is not a platform. Mastodon is just a tiny part of a concept many have been dreaming about and working on for years. Social media started on the wrong foot. The idea for the read/write web has always been different. Our digital identities weren’t supposed to end up in something like Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.
Decentralisation, Federation, The Indie Web: There were many groups silently working on solving the broken architecture of our digital social networks and communication channels – long, long before the “web 3” dudes tried to reframe it as their genius new idea.
I’ve been a part of this for many years until I gave up hope. How would you compete against the VC money, the technical and economical benefits of centralised platforms? It was a fight between David and Gloiath. But now Mastodon could be the stone.
Pluralistic: Better failure for social media (19 Dec 2022) – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow
Mastodon has gotten two things right that no other social media giant has even seriously attempted:
- If you follow someone on Mastodon, you’ll see everything they post; and
- If you leave a Mastodon server, you can take both your followers and the people you follow with you.
The most common criticism of Mastodon is that you must rely on individual moderators who may be underresourced, incompetent on malicious. This is indeed a serious problem, but it isn’t the same serious problem that Twitter has. When Twitter is incompetent, malicious, or underresourced, your departure comes at a dear price.
On Mastodon, your choice is: tolerate bad moderation, or click two links and move somewhere else.
On Twitter, your choice is: tolerate moderation, or lose contact with all the people you care about and all the people who care about you.
The first thirty years of the web may have been an orgy of unregulated expansion, but that era is over. The EU has been a leader with the GDPR, but there’s more coming. And I’m glad. The big players have had plenty of time to get their shit together and they haven’t. It’s time to regulate them as much as we regulate a shot of bourbon.
All along, from the frothy 1990s to the percolating 2000s to the frozen 2010s to today, the web has been the sure thing. All along, it’s been growing and maturing, sprouting new capabilities. From my vantage point, that growth has seemed to accelerate in the past five years; CSS, in particular, has become incredibly flexible and expressive. Maybe even a bit overstuffed — but I’ll take it.
For people who care about creating worlds together, rather than getting rich, the web is the past and the web is the future. What luck, that this decentralized, permissionless system claimed a position at the heart of the internet, and stuck there. It’s limited, of course; frustrating; sometimes maddening. But that’s every creative medium. That’s life.
I’ve been feeling exactly what Colly articulates here:
I’m aware that smart friends still tweet passing thoughts without a care, and I can’t understand why. Some seem happy to repost damning articles about the situation and then carry on tweeting without a care.
I don’t like making unpaid contributions to a for-profit publisher whose proprietor is an alt-right troll.
I can see no good arguments for redirecting my voice into anyone else’s for-profit venture-funded algorithm-driven engagement-maximizing wet dream.
The speed with which Twitter recedes in your mind will shock you. Like a demon from a folktale, the kind that only gains power when you invite it into your home, the platform melts like mist when that invitation is rescinded.
I love not feeling bound to any particular social network. This website, my website, is the one true home for all the stuff I’ve felt compelled to write down or point a camera at over the years. When a social network disappears, goes out of fashion or becomes inhospitable, I can happily move on with little anguish.
Do you still miss Google Reader, almost a decade after it was shut down? It’s back!
A Mastodon server is a feed reader, shared by everyone who uses that server.
I really like Simon’s description of the fediverse:
A Mastodon server (often called an instance) is just a shared blog host. Kind of like putting your personal blog in a folder on a domain on shared hosting with some of your friends.
Want to go it alone? You can do that: run your own dedicated Mastodon instance on your own domain.
This is spot-on:
Mastodon is just blogs and Google Reader, skinned to look like Twitter.
Despite growing pains and potential problems, I think this could be one of the most interesting movements on the web in recent years. Let’s see where it goes.
I’m getting the same vibe as Bastian about Mastodon:
Suddenly there was this old Twitter vibe. Real conversations. Real people. Interesting content. A feeling of a warm welcoming group. No algorithm to mess around with our timelines. No troll army to destory every tiny bit of peace. Yes, Mastodon is rough around the edges. Many parts are not intuitive. But this roughness somehow added to the positive experience for me.
This could really work!
This story of the Network Time Protocol hammers home the importance of infrastructure and its maintenance:
Technology companies worth billions rely on open-source code, including N.T.P., and the maintenance of that code is often handled by a small group of individuals toiling away without pay.
A collection of design patterns and principles for mitigating the presence and spread of online hate and harassment in social platforms.
Following on from that excellent blog post about removing jQuery from gov.uk, here are the performance improvements in charts and numbers.