All posts by MattK

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Are the Robots Really Coming for My Job?

My work asked me to write about Large Language Models and some of the hype around them. I take a pretty nuanced view on Large Language Models being able to actually replace human effort in most cases.

After hearing from both my Mom and a friend at AWS that they found this article really helpful in thinking about the topic, I thought I’d share it more.

It’s intentionally a short article and there’s a TON left out. For example, even if a robot can’t do your job well, that doesn’t mean your job won’t try to replace you with one – and you can’t wait to eat while they figure out they need a person in the loop.

A Hungry Journey to Light a Fire

I just finished reading The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin.

The planet Urras is orbited by it’s moon Anarres. 200 years ago anarchists inspired by the philosopher Odo left Urras and moved to the harsh frontiers of Anarres to be free and live a life without masters, property or law. They formed a new language without the bloody history of property baked into it. They struggled together and overcame together. But the door is shut. No one emigrates from Urras and no one emigrates from Anarres. Each is afraid of being infected by the other’s ideas.

“And nobody hungry?”

“Nobody goes hungry while another eats.”

“Ah.”

“But we have been hungry. We have starved.”

Shevek is a brilliant physicist on Anarres, who wants to study, to learn, to create and to share the new ideas he’s created. He finds the support on Anarres wanes the further he goes from accepted norms and ideas. He finds that even on Anarres, there are centralized pockets of power. The revolution is never complete. In times of struggle, ideals are tested, power centralizes… And the center often holds.

“I got full rations: I earned them. I earned them by making lists of who should starve.”

He finds that his physics have a more receptive audience on propertarian Urras. We meet him as he climbs, empty handed, aboard a trade ship to spread his physics and his Odonian ideals on Urras.

More plot than most of her books, it still turns back into a person on a journey. Shevek is on a journey from his anarchic home to a capitalist world. What propels him from a simple world of shared struggles? Why leave? When he arrives can he accomplish his goals? Is there something he can do that the people there couldn’t do for themselves? Will he be trapped and neutralized by the soft prison of luxury?

And how can he return home? What awaits an anarchist who is seen to turn his back on the revolution?

I love the deep thinking about language and the practice of mutual aid in a land with few resources. I love the true struggle to stay good when the droughts hit. And the challenge that centralization and coordination always brings. Everything is dealt with in indirect ways that paint larger pictures just out of sight, beyond the edge of the book.

Highly recommend.

Fables Compendium One: Things Happen One After Another

I was always recommended Fables when I talked about how much I liked The Sandman.

This isn’t a grand story about the power of story or a new perspective on old tales. It’s a lot of stories with the names of characters you’ve heard of before.

The characters are only loosely connected to their sources and they change abilities and temperament to suit the plot of the week.

We learn nothing, we don’t grow while reading it and one thing just sort of happens after another. There are real risks and losses though! The author doesn’t wiggle out of death or consequences, which gives some stakes to the conflicts.

I would not recommend this to someone who says they loved The Sandman.

I originally reviewed Fables Compendium One over on BookWyrm, where we could connect and natter about books

Mar 2024 Media Diet

Books

The Status Civilization Robert Sheckley is a weird old SF writer that I very much love. I didn’t love this one.

Continuing to read The Power Broker, but now in conversation with my dad, which is pretty awesome.

Movies

TV

Dicktown

An adult animation about two sad sacks who form a detective agency. Loved it. John Hodgman (known for being a PC) has somehow made a career out being boring. Here he is a private detective who peaked in high school, assisted by David Rees, who used to be his bully. David Rees is so fascinating. I first found him through his web comics about fighting and filing and war. I didn’t follow him as he did deep dives of the mundane, like starting an artisanal pencil sharpening service – but it’s great to see this exploration of maturity and growth in such a silly format.

Closing a Glassdoor

Listen, I understand that people believe I exist in an endless state of incandescent rage, but they are going to have to invent new words for how angry I am about Glassdoor adding real names without users’ consent.

Eva halperin, EFF Director of Cybersecurity – https://hachyderm.io/@evacide/112125381301913499

Eva is writing about an Ars Technica story about Glassdoor adding identity info about users without their consent.

I support salary transparency and forums for publishing information good or bad about workplaces, but these places need strong guarantees of privacy. Consent is critical.

I went to delete my account, but was surprised to see a full page pop-up about some new feature called a Community. I couldn’t click anywhere to close my account without completing the process to onboard to a new feature!

If you’re tying to do the same, just know that https://www.glassdoor.com/member/profile/accountSettings is the page you go to directly that allows you to delete your account.

The absolute helplessness of Tier 1 support

I just got a new phone. I held off as long as possible because it just seemed wasteful when the old phone worked fine. It seems like the network support for sub-5G phones is decreasing though – and that impacts my experience.

My old phone was old enough that it didn’t support eSIM, which I discovered was a problem when I was in London buying a short term plan.

So when I got an error while trying to activate newPhone, I had an inkling this was probably the issue.

I opened a support chat with this info “I have oldPhone, which doesn’t support eSIM, and I suspect that’s preventing activation of newPhone” – but with more details.

Friends, it took 40 minutes of troubleshooting to come to a conclusion, and yes, that was it.

I was frustrated. My experience has been that trying to steer just slows down the process through the support tree. And so it feels helpless. I can’t get them to do the thing faster and so I have to sit.

I am empathetic though – following the support tree is required for the job, and they won’t get fired for following it. I sense that they, too, feel helpless- they cannot take a short cut.

Of course this lends itself to being a position that is automated away, since there is little benefit to having a human typing the words they don’t come up with.

And at the end of the, of course, they tried to sell me insurance.