Long-term Language Misery

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

AI is irritatingly everywhere in news and discussions as I write this, like sand after a beach trip. Working in IT, I could hold forth on such issues as reliability, power consumption or how they’re really “Large Language Models” (Clippy on steroids). But I’d like to explore something that does not involve complaining about AI – hold your surprise.

Instead, I’d like to complain about people. What can I say, sometimes you stick with traditions.

As is often noted in critique of AI is they really are sort of advanced autocomplete, which is why I prefer the term Large Language Model (LLM). They don’t think or feel or have morals, anything we attribute to humans and intelligence. They just ape the behavior, delivering information and misinformation in a way that sounds human.

(Yeah, yeah it’s a talk about AI but I’m going to call them LLM. Live with it.)

However when I look at LLM bullshit, misinformation, and mistakes, something seems familiar. The pretend understanding, the blatant falsehood, the confident-sounding statements of utter bullshit. LLM’s remind me of every conspiracy theorist, conspirtualist, political grifter, and buy-my-supplement extremist. You could replace Alex Jones, TikTok PastelAnon scammers, and so on with LLMs – hell, we should probably worry how many people have already done this.

LLM’s are a reminder that so many of our fellow human beings spew lies no differently than a bunch of code churning out words assembled into what we interpret as real. People falling for conspiracy craziness and health scams are falling for strings of words that happen to be put n the right order. Hell, some people fall for their own lies, convinced by by “LLM’s” they created in their own heads.

LLM’s require us to confront many depressing things, but how we’ve been listening to the biological equivalent of them for so long has got to be up there.

I suppose I can hope that critique of LLMs will help us see how some people manipulate us. Certainly some critiques to call out conspiracy theories, political machinations, and the like. These critiques usually show how vulnerable we can be – indeed, all of us can be – to such things.

I mean we have plenty of other concerns about LLMs an their proper and improper place. But cleaning up our own act a certainly can’t hurt.

Steven Savage

The Dream Of A Farm

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

We’ve all met that person that talks about how they want to run away from our industrial world and live on the farm.  They might even be us.  Us or not, such dreams usually are a little, well, bullshit.

Living on a farm is hard.  You gotta work with the weather, you have to time things, you have to get really dirty and bloody.  Even if you avoid all the legal and other crap with Big Farm companies like Monsanto and John Deere, it’s work.  Also your local small town is boring.

I think there’s this idea in people’s heads about farming as a simpler, uncomplicated life.  It’s not of course, but thanks to a lot of bad television, films, and propaganda, there’s this idea it’s some simple, noble life.

OK, the propaganda isn’t bad as it obviously convinced people, but still.

As much as I recognize this weird delusional retro-faux-Americana for what it is, I actually think there is something there in this desire to be on the farm.  It’s just not stuff that a lot of farming and ideas of farming really brings.  Within the delusion is a desire for something deeper, and possibly less butcheirng-a-pig intensive.

Farming promises clarity.  Put something in the ground and it’s food.  Raise an animal and it’s food (and other materials).  It’s bounded and obvious.  You know – sort of – what you get.

Farming promises cycles.  Seasons come and go.  Rain comes and goes.  Things grow and are harvested.  There’s a regularity to it, even if our changing climate is currently messing with that.

Farming promises connection.  You eat what you raise in many cases.  You live in the seasons.  You know the land and the sky.

Farming promises reliability – even if we know it doesn’t always deliver.  All that clarity and cycles and connection is predictable and gives you a sense of power.  You do this, you get food, you eat, you go on.

I think, down deep, sincerely a lot of people who fantasize about farming and similar ways to run away just want that clear, predictable, connected, reliable life away from what feels like a lot of bullshit.  They’re just tired of things that mean nothing to them, are shallow, and are annoyingly unpredictable.

When you watch the stock market crash because a cryptobro is found inebriated dressed as Naruto  in front of Grand Central Station so people sell stock in his company?  You can kind of get behind “maybe too much of life is stupid.”

I’ve been thinking about this because of tales and legends of heroes, sages, and so on that had phases of living on a farm or retiring to one.  There’s that desire for simplicity and reliable cycles, and maybe I’m not up for a farm but know what?  Maybe I can bring those things into my life.

I can reduce the bullshit in my life.  I can avoid overcomplication.  I do work (medical IT) that keeps me in touch with reality.  I can focus on and cultivate predictable, reliable things.  I can make my own “farm” by cultivating things that grow and sustain in life.  Friendships, connections, a career that is connected, hobbies that bring me closer to others, and so on.

Plus, seriously, just avoid things like skeevy crypto stocks and the like.  We all know that leads to Grand Central Station Incidents.

Steven Savage

Efficient Misery

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

Note: You’re going to see a switch in how I do my blog posts.  I’m trying a more personal voice, and writing on broader subjects, ala my past hero Dave Barry.  It can’t all be about writing!

I really like organizing things.  I get paid for it.  I’m honestly pretty good about it, which can be a really bad thing sometimes.

So, ‘tis the season for medical stuff.  I’ve got vaccines (at least two). I’ve got the regular tests and checkups a man of fifty five has to ensure my body and I work in tandem.  Some of those tests involve fasting and/or various forms of personal violation.  Gotta pace that stuff to keep the rate of indignity to a tolerable level.

I also have some in-office things coming up at work.  My workplace is pretty remote in the work-at-home not emotional-distance way, but once or twice a year we get together so we can remark how we all look different on Zoom.  Gotta work around that too!

So my brilliant idea was to pace myself.  A vaccination one week, then one the week after, since the last time I did flu and covid shots together I felt like I’d slammed a bottle of rum but without the convenience of being too blacked out to know how bad I felt.  Do my exams after the last exam because hey a little fasting won’t hurt after that.  Then right into the all-hands! Nice and convenient and nothing piles up!

Know what, my highly organized plan had one flaw – it meant four weeks where life was intermittently punctuated with low-grade misery.

Sure, the effects of one vaccine wore off in two days, just in time for me to get going to have another vaccination.  Then fasting, which is somehow less fun after two weeks of dealing with vaccine side effects!  Then regular exams that I scheduled in What-Was-I-Thinking-O’Clock in the morning.  Then getting up at the same time days later to drive through Bay Area traffic for days.

I achieved that experience many a Project Manager knows all too well, succeeding in a way that also makes you entirely unhappy.

Well, at least it’s almost over.  So now time to gear up for the last stage of waking up early and whatever.  But next time, maybe I’ll take my discomfort and misery in a  more condensed form.

Steven Savage