all posts tagged 'molly white'

Effective obfuscation

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

Some have fallen into the trap of framing the so-called "AI debate" as a face-off between the effective altruists and the effective accelerationists. Despite the incredibly powerful and wealthy people who are either self-professed members of either camp, or whose ideologies align quite closely, it's important to remember that there are far more than two sides to this story.

Rather than embrace either of these regressive philosophies — both of which are better suited to indulging the wealthy in retroactively justifying their choices than to influencing any important decisionmaking — it would be better to look to the present and the realistic future, and the expertise of those who have been working to improve technology for the better of all rather than just for themselves and the few just like them.

That’s it, I’ll admit it: I’m a Molly White stan.

Effective altruism always felt wrong to me, but leave it to Molly to explain those abstract feelings in such clear and well considered terms.

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We can have a different web

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

Okay, I guess this blog is just turning into a bunch of links about why the internet sucks these days.

But I should stop framing these links as a “here’s why what we have right now sucks” because truthfully… it doesn’t.

Or rather, it doesn’t have to.

I really enjoyed Molly White’s metaphor about gardens1. I’ve been tending to my own garden on this site for more than a decade, and I’ve kept up patches of turf on the web since the mid 90s.

I just like being here. I like having a place where friends and other folks can see what I’m all about and choose to interact with me or not.

A part of this article that stuck out to me was Molly’s observation that the internet started becoming less fun when we all came here to work. I couldn’t agree more.2

Somewhat related here: this past weekend, I decided to finally do something about my IRL piece of land. You see, most of my backyard is now just dirt. My front yard is patches of grass but primarily dominated by weeds.

My back patio is in literal shambles, chunks of broken patio paver strewn around the yard.

The screens on my windows are either broken, bent, or missing altogether.

The cool Govee lights no longer stick to my overhang, so they dangle like a complete eyesore.

It’s frustrating.

This past weekend, I went to the hardware store and spent way too much money on grass seed. It felt incredibly rewarding to do the hard work of ripping up the old junk and trying to build something new.

It felt like a sign for me to log off a bit more often and tend to reality.

But that’s not to say this garden is going away anytime soon. I’ll keep sharing articles like these here because I think it fits nicely with the thesis under which I am about to launch a newsletter: technology is so cool, and we could all use a reminder of that sometimes.

We also could use a friend to help us figure out how to use it right.

Much like I could use a friend to help me figure out how to replace my busted up patio.

  1. As an avid anecdotalist, I’m bummed I haven’t been using this metaphor the whole time. I mean, we even use the term “walled garden” to refer to massive platforms like Facebook or TikTok. Get your head in the game, Tim! 

  2. And as someone who nearly swore off programming altogether during my senior year of high school because building Simpsons websites wasn’t as much fun anymore, I find myself once again disappointed that I didn’t see this one coming. 0-for-2, Tim, you’re slipping! 

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AI isn't useless. But is it worth it?

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

There are an unbelievable amount of points Molly White makes with which I found myself agreeing.

In fact, I feel like this is an exceptionally accurate perspective of the current state of AI and LLMs in particular. If you’re curious about AI, give this article a read.

A lot of my personal fears about the potential power of these tools comes from speculation that the LLM CEOs make about their forthcoming updates.

And I don’t think that fear is completely unfounded. I mean, look at what tools we had available in 2021 compared to April 2024. We’ve come a long way in three years.

But right now, these tools are quite hard to use without spending a ton of time to learn their intricacies.

The best way to fight fear is with knowledge. Knowing how to wield these tools helps me deal with my fears, and I enjoy showing others how to do the same.

One point Molly makes about the generated text got me to laugh out loud:

I particularly like how, when I ask them to try to sound like me, or to at least sound less like a chatbot, they adopt a sort of "cool teacher" persona, as if they're sitting backwards on a chair to have a heart-to-heart. Back when I used to wait tables, the other waitresses and I would joke to each other about our "waitress voice", which were the personas we all subconsciously seemed to slip into when talking to customers. They varied somewhat, but they were all uniformly saccharine, with slightly higher-pitched voices, and with the general demeanor as though you were talking to someone you didn't think was very bright. Every LLM's writing "voice" reminds me of that.

“Waitress voice” is how I will classify this phenomenon from now on.

You know how I can tell when my friends have used AI to make LinkedIn posts?

When all of a sudden, they use emoji and phrases like “Exciting news!”

It’s not even that waitress voice is a negative thing. After all, it’s expected to communicate with our waitress voices in social situations when we don’t intimately know somebody.

Calling a customer support hotline? Shopping in person for something? Meeting your kid’s teacher for the first time? New coworker in their first meeting?

All of these are situations in which I find myself using my own waitress voice.

It’s a safe play for the LLMs to use it as well when they don’t know us.

But I find one common thread among the things AI tools are particularly suited to doing: do we even want to be doing these things? If all you want out of a meeting is the AI-generated summary, maybe that meeting could've been an email. If you're using AI to write your emails, and your recipient is using AI to read them, could you maybe cut out the whole thing entirely? If mediocre, auto-generated reports are passing muster, is anyone actually reading them? Or is it just middle-management busywork?

This is what I often brag about to people when I speak highly of LLMs.

These systems are incredible at the BS work. But they’re currently terrible with the stuff humans are good at.

I would love to live in a world where the technology industry widely valued making incrementally useful tools to improve peoples' lives, and were honest about what those tools could do, while also carefully weighing the technology's costs. But that's not the world we live in. Instead, we need to push back against endless tech manias and overhyped narratives, and oppose the "innovation at any cost" mindset that has infected the tech sector.

Again, thank you Molly White for printing such a poignant manifesto, seeing as I was having trouble articulating one of my own.

Innovation and growth at any cost are concepts which have yet to lead to a markedly better outcome for us all.

Let’s learn how to use these tools to make all our lives better, then let’s go live our lives.

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Become a Wikipedian in 30 minutes

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

Have you ever thought about getting started editing Wikipedia, but then decided not to because you were just overwhelmed by the number of policies it felt like you needed to understand? Or you didn’t know where to get started, what to start writing about, what to even edit? Or you were just worried you might break something and mess everything up?

I encourage people to edit Wikipedia all the time, for so many different reasons, and I hear that a lot: that they wanted to start editing, and they maybe even made an account to get started, but then once they went to actually edit something they got scared or overwhelmed by the policies. Or they read a couple of pages and felt like they just couldn’t possibly do it.

The spirit of Wikipedia is extremely in line with the values I’ve been working on verbalizing.

A group of strangers making an open source compendium of human knowledge for the sake of altruism? Count me in.

I was scared away from really considering becoming a Wikipedia editor because of a classic episode of Hypercritical where John lists out all of his reasons to be critical of Wikipedia, but this video is making me reconsider.

Related: When I was building the Random Celebrity Generator app in the early days of my career, I relied exclusively on images of celebrities from Wikipedia.

After going through thousands of images and providing proper attribution, you start to see the same names pop up.

It seems like there were maybe ten or so photographers who went to an event like Comic Con with super nice cameras, attended panel discussions, and snapped as many good headshots as they could.

A dream job of mine would be to do the same.

Although I guess it wouldn’t be a job per se to take images, get paid zero dollars, and release the rights to those images into the public domain.

What’s that called again? … oh, yeah, a hobby.

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The venture capitalist’s dilemma

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

A fantastic takedown of the venture capitalists behind the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, written by the fantastic Molly White (of Web3 is Going Just Great fame).

When it became apparent to this small group of very powerful, very wealthy individuals that Silicon Valley Bank — the bank used by much of the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem — was on shaky footing, they had a choice to make. They could remain calm, urge the founders of companies they’d invested in to do the same, and hope the bank could weather the storm. Or, they could all pull their money out, urge their founders to do so also, and hope that they or their companies were not the ones left standing in the teller line when the liquidity dried up.

Faced with the choice between the more communal, cooperative choice and the self-serving, every-man-for-himself choice destined to end in a bank run, it should be no surprise which option they picked. As the Titanic sank, they were the ones pushing people out of the lifeboats.

As someone heavily involved with startups of all shapes and sizes for the past decade, I’ve been exposed to all sorts of investors.

The ones who make me cringe and run the other direction as fast as possible are those who are in it for a 10x return and nothing more.

This relentless pursuit of profit is the epitome of everything I hate about the startup scene.

It makes people act in such a selfish manner, thinking only of themselves and their own pocketbooks rather than their fellow human being.

In all the ventures I am apart of, I insist that the following criteria are met:

  1. The solution that is being worked on solves a problem that will materially and objectively leave the world in a better place.
  2. There is a clear market of people willing to pay for this solution, and ideally the people who are paying for it are actually the end user of the product or service.
  3. All shareholders are interested in more than just an ROI from the venture.
  4. The end user is aware of what data they are giving up (or what data is being derived) from their use of the solution.

If the problem being solved by a team is simply “how can I turn my cash into 10x my cash”, then that team and their investors should feel ashamed.

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Blockchain-based systems are not what they say they are

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

One extremely common phenomenon when discussing issues surrounding blockchain-based technologies is that proponents will often switch between discussing the theoretical implementations of these ecosystems and discussing the ecosystems we have today as it suits their argument.

For example, if you bring up the question of whether the major centralized exchanges could each decide based on instructions from an oppressive government to freeze exchange of tokens belonging to a dissident, you’ll be told that that’s no problem in their theoretical world where a Bitcoin is a Bitcoin and if an exchange won’t accept yours, you can easily find an exchange that will.

But then if you bring up the question of how these ecosystems will handle someone who decides they want to make an NFT out of child sexual abuse material, they will usually point to solutions predicated on the enormously centralized nature of NFT marketplaces that we’ve ended up with in practice: delist the NFT from OpenSea or a handful of other exchanges so that the vast majority of people trading NFTs never see it, and maybe send a takedown request if there is a centralized service like AWS that is hosting the actual file.

I wanted to link to this article because I find it applicable on two levels.

First, if you take it at face value, there are a ton of great points (like the one I quoted above) which illustrate the often hypocritical problems associated with a blockchain-powered world.

But what’s more interesting to me is how many of these arguments can apply to any of our broader systems at large. Politics, capitalism, globalism, religion… the list could go on and on, and all entries on that list could be tried against the spirit of all the arguments in this post.

What I like about blockchain? It’s the next evolution of building a just and equitable system for all. It’s just funny to me how we can analyze that system in real time to point out the ancient flaws that were unintentionally baked into it.

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