All posts tagged: Naughton

AI’s craving for data is matched only by a runaway thirst for water and energy | John Naughton

AI’s craving for data is matched only by a runaway thirst for water and energy | John Naughton

One of the most pernicious myths about digital technology is that it is somehow weightless or immaterial. Remember all that early talk about the “paperless” office and “frictionless” transactions? And of course, while our personal electronic devices do use some electricity, compared with the washing machine or the dishwasher, it’s trivial. Belief in this comforting story, however, might not survive an encounter with Kate Crawford’s seminal book, Atlas of AI, or the striking Anatomy of an AI System graphic she composed with Vladan Joler. And it certainly wouldn’t survive a visit to a datacentre – one of those enormous metallic sheds housing tens or even hundreds of thousands of servers humming away, consuming massive amounts of electricity and needing lots of water for their cooling systems. On the energy front, consider Ireland, a small country with an awful lot of datacentres. Its Central Statistics Office reports that in 2022 those sheds consumed more electricity (18%) than all the rural dwellings in the country, and as much as all Ireland’s urban dwellings. And as far as …

OpenAI’s new video generation tool could learn a lot from babies | John Naughton

OpenAI’s new video generation tool could learn a lot from babies | John Naughton

“First text, then images, now OpenAI has a model for generating videos,” screamed Mashable the other day. The makers of ChatGPT and Dall-E had just announced Sora, a text-to-video diffusion model. Cue excited commentary all over the web about what will doubtless become known as T2V, covering the usual spectrum – from “Does this mark the end of [insert threatened activity here]?” to “meh” and everything in between. Sora (the name is Japanese for “sky”) is not the first T2V tool, but it looks more sophisticated than earlier efforts like Meta’s Make-a-Video AI. It can turn a brief text description into a detailed, high-definition film clip up to a minute long. For example, the prompt “A cat waking up its sleeping owner, demanding breakfast. The owner tries to ignore the cat, but the cat tries new tactics, and finally, the owner pulls out his secret stash of treats from underneath the pillow to hold off the cat a little longer,” produces a slick video clip that would go viral on any social network. Cute, eh? …

Farewell FaceTime? That’s in store if the UK’s new snooper’s charter becomes law | John Naughton

Farewell FaceTime? That’s in store if the UK’s new snooper’s charter becomes law | John Naughton

Way back in 2000 the Blair government introduced the regulation of investigatory powers bill, a legislative dog’s breakfast that put formidable surveillance powers on the statute book. This was a long time before Edward Snowden broke cover, but to anyone who was paying attention it indicated that the British deep state was tooling up for the digital age. Because the powers implicit in the bill were so sweeping, some of us naively assumed that it would have a tempestuous passage through the Commons. How wrong can you be? It turned out that the vast majority of MPs whom we canvassed seemed blissfully uninterested in it. It was, one remarked, “just a measure designed to bring telephone tapping into the digital age”. Of our 659 elected representatives, only a handful – and certainly no more than 10 – seemed at all concerned about what was being proposed. The most intriguing thing about the process, though, was that most of the work to improve the bill on its way through parliament was done, not by elected representatives, …

Publish Nazi newsletters on your platform, Substack, and you will rightly be damned | John Naughton

It’s funny how naive smart people can be sometimes. Take the founders of Substack, a US-based online platform that enables writers to send digital newsletters directly to subscribers. It also enables them to earn money from their writing if they wish to, though as far as I can see, most don’t. I can personally testify to its merits. I’ve been a blogger for ever, but when Covid-19 arrived, I decided to also publish my blog as a free daily newsletter and started to look around for a way of doing that. Substack fitted the bill and it’s delivered the goods; I’ve found it reliable, stable and easy to use. The experience has also been illuminating because the engagement one gets with newsletter readers is significantly more rewarding than is the case with a conventional online blog. Substack was founded in 2017 by two geeks, Chris Best and Jairaj Sethi, and a journalist, Hamish McKenzie. It grew rapidly, partly because it looked like a lifeboat to many journalists and writers who could see the writing on …

For all the hype in 2023, we still don’t know what AI’s long-term impact will be | John Naughton

For all the hype in 2023, we still don’t know what AI’s long-term impact will be | John Naughton

“Innovation,” wrote the economist William Janeway in his seminal book Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy, “begins with discovery and culminates in speculation.” That just about sums up 2023. The discovery was AI (as represented by ChatGPT), and the speculative bubble is what we have now, in which huge public corporations launch products that are known to “hallucinate” (yes, that’s now a technical term relating to large language models), and spend money like it’s going out of fashion on the kit needed to make even bigger ones. As I write, I see a report that next year Microsoft plans to buy 150,000 Nvidia chips – at $30,000 (£24,000) a pop. It’s a kind of madness. But when looked at it through the Janeway lens, ’twas ever thus. “The innovations that have repeatedly transformed the architecture of the market economy,” he writes, “from canals to the internet, have required massive investments to construct networks whose value in use could not be imagined at the outset of deployment.” Or, to put it more crudely, what we retrospectively …

A world suffused with AI probably wouldn’t be good for us – or the planet | John Naughton

A world suffused with AI probably wouldn’t be good for us – or the planet | John Naughton

Amid all the hysteria about ChatGPT and co, one thing is being missed: how energy-intensive the technology is What to do when surrounded by people who are losing their minds about the Newest New Thing? Answer: reach for the Gartner Hype Cycle, an ingenious diagram that maps the progress of an emerging technology through five phases: the “technology trigger”, which is followed by a rapid rise to the “peak of inflated expectations”; this is succeeded by a rapid decline into the “trough of disillusionment”, after which begins a gentle climb up the “slope of enlightenment” – before eventually (often years or decades later) reaching the “plateau of productivity”. Given the current hysteria about AI, I thought I’d check to see where it is on the chart. It shows that generative AI (the polite term for ChatGPT and co) has just reached the peak of inflated expectations. That squares with the fevered predictions of the tech industry (not to mention governments) that AI will be transformative and will soon be ubiquitous. This hype has given rise …

Artists may make AI firms pay a high price for their software’s ‘creativity’ | John Naughton

Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first give access to Midjourney, a text-to-graphics “generative AI” that is all the rage. It’s engagingly simple to use: type in a text prompt describing a kind of image you’d like it to generate, and up comes a set of images that you couldn’t ever have produced yourself. For example: “An image of cat looking at it and ‘on top of the world’, in the style of cyberpunk futurism, bright red background, light cyan, edgy street art, bold, colourful portraits, use of screen tones, dark proportions, modular” and it will happily oblige with endless facility. Welcome to a good way to waste most of a working day. Many people think it’s magical, which in a sense it is, at least as the magician Robert Neale portrayed it: a unique art form in which the magician creates elaborate mysteries during a performance, leaving the spectator baffled about how it was done. But if the spectator somehow manages to discover how the trick was done, then the magic disappears. …