Start Up No.2003: Google shows how AI will suck up the web, AI as McKinsey, Dooce no more, 50 awful album covers, and more

Digital speedometers in cars don’t update in real time – but there’s a good user interface reason for that. CC-licensed photo by Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. How fast, exactly? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

AI is coming to Google search through Search Generative Experience • The Verge

David Pierce:


The future of Google Search is AI. But not in the way you think. The company synonymous with web search isn’t all in on chatbots (even though it’s building one, called Bard), and it’s not redesigning its homepage to look more like a ChatGPT-style messaging system. Instead, Google is putting AI front and center in the most valuable real estate on the internet: its existing search results. 

To demonstrate, Liz Reid, Google’s VP of Search, flips open her laptop and starts typing into the Google search box. “Why is sourdough bread still so popular?” she writes and hits enter. Google’s normal search results load almost immediately. Above them, a rectangular orange section pulses and glows and shows the phrase “Generative AI is experimental.” A few seconds later, the glowing is replaced by an AI-generated summary: a few paragraphs detailing how good sourdough tastes, the upsides of its prebiotic abilities, and more. To the right, there are three links to sites with information that Reid says “corroborates” what’s in the summary.

Google calls this the “AI snapshot.” All of it is by Google’s large language models, all of it sourced from the open web. Reid then mouses up to the top right of the box and clicks an icon Google’s designers call “the bear claw,” which looks like a hamburger menu with a vertical line to the left. The bear claw opens a new view: the AI snapshot is now split sentence by sentence, with links underneath to the sources of the information for that specific sentence. This, Reid points out again, is corroboration. And she says it’s key to the way Google’s AI implementation is different. “We want [the LLM], when it says something, to tell us as part of its goal: what are some sources to read more about that?”


Those links to those “some sources” are not going to be clicked on at all, are they. Google relies on other sources to provide the information it boils down. If nobody clicks on the links, there’s no business model for those sources, so they’ll have to rely on cheaper ways to source it.. such as AI-generated content. Which Google’s AI will index. Or else it’ll be Wikipedia.
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Will AI become the new McKinsey? • The New Yorker

Ted Chiang (the noted SF writer):


I would like to propose another metaphor for the risks of artificial intelligence. I suggest that we think about AI as a management-consulting firm, along the lines of McKinsey & Company. Firms like McKinsey are hired for a wide variety of reasons, and AI systems are used for many reasons, too. But the similarities between McKinsey—a consulting firm that works with 90% of the Fortune 100—and AI are also clear. Social media companies use machine learning to keep users glued to their feeds. In a similar way, Purdue Pharma used McKinsey to figure out how to “turbocharge” sales of OxyContin during the opioid epidemic. Just as AI promises to offer managers a cheap replacement for human workers, so McKinsey and similar firms helped normalise the practice of mass layoffs as a way of increasing stock prices and executive compensation, contributing to the destruction of the middle class in America.

A former McKinsey employee has described the company as “capital’s willing executioners”: if you want something done but don’t want to get your hands dirty, McKinsey will do it for you. That escape from accountability is one of the most valuable services that management consultancies provide. Bosses have certain goals, but don’t want to be blamed for doing what’s necessary to achieve those goals; by hiring consultants, management can say that they were just following independent, expert advice. Even in its current rudimentary form, AI has become a way for a company to evade responsibility by saying that it’s just doing what “the algorithm” says, even though it was the company that commissioned the algorithm in the first place.

The question we should be asking is: as AI becomes more powerful and flexible, is there any way to keep it from being another version of McKinsey?


Put like this, absolutely not. ChatGPT is going to be the cousin Greg of the corporate world (for those who are keeping up with Succession.)
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Wendy’s, Google train next-generation order taker: an AI chatbot • WSJ

Angus Loten:


Wendy’s is automating its drive-through service using an artificial-intelligence chatbot powered by natural-language software developed by Google and trained to understand the myriad ways customers order off the menu.

With the move, Wendy’s is joining an expanding group of companies that are leaning on generative AI for growth. 

The Dublin, Ohio-based fast-food chain’s chatbot will be officially rolled out in June at a company-owned restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, Wendy’s said. The goal is to streamline the ordering process and prevent long lines in the drive-through lanes from turning customers away, said Wendy’s Chief Executive Todd Penegor. 

Wendy’s didn’t disclose the cost of the initiative beyond saying the company has been working with Google in areas like data analytics, machine learning and cloud tools since 2021. 

“It will be very conversational,” Mr. Penegor said about the new artificial intelligence-powered chatbots. “You won’t know you’re talking to anybody but an employee,” he said.

To do that, Wendy’s software engineers have been working with Google to build and fine-tune a generative AI application on top of Google’s own large language model, or LLM—a vast algorithmic software tool loaded with words, phrases and popular expressions in different dialects and accents and designed to recognize and mimic the syntax and semantics of human speech.

…Wendy’s customized language model includes unique terms, phrases and acronyms customers have come to use when ordering its burgers, fries and other items—such as “JBC” for junior bacon cheeseburger, or “biggie bags” for various combinations of burgers, chicken nuggets and soft drinks. Adding to the complexity, Wendy’s milkshakes are called Frosties, though customers may not always use the branded term.

“You may think driving by and speaking into a drive-through is an easy problem for AI, but it’s actually one of the hardest,” said Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, the company’s cloud-computing division.


So it is coming for the low-paid jobs first. Huh.
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Heather Armstrong, mommy blogger, dies at 47 • The Washington Post

Taylor Lorenz:


Heather Armstrong, a pioneering blogger who transformed women’s media and altered the public perception of motherhood, has died at the age of 47.

Armstrong, who also went by her maiden name, Heather Hamilton, died by suicide, according to her boyfriend, Pete Ashdown, who told the Associated Press that he found her Tuesday night at their Salt Lake City home. Ashdown said that Armstrong had recently relapsed into alcoholism after remaining sober for more than 18 months.

…She founded the blog Dooce in 2001. It quickly amassed a dedicated following of young mothers who found Armstrong’s candid and deeply personal posts about the realities of motherhood captivating.

“She was a transformative figure not just in the parenting and family space, but in what we now take for granted in terms of the digital ecosystem,” said Catherine Connors, the senior vice president of creator experiences at the marketing firm Raptive and a former blogger. “She was one of the first well known bloggers in any category and had an absolutely radical impact when she began writing honestly about motherhood and her mental health issues.”

Armstrong detailed her struggles with postpartum depression, her conflicted emotions about parenting, her battles with alcoholism, her marriage, and eventual divorce. She broke taboos about religion, detailing her choice to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her death was announced on her Instagram page Wednesday.

Armstrong is credited by many with upending a women’s media world that until the early 2000s largely portrayed an idealized version of motherhood, a time when home life was considered private, and issues related to family and children were deemed too personal to discuss publicly.


I wonder to what extent living her life online amplified or intensified her struggles. British media had women with imperfect lives turning it into well-paid fare long before Dooce. (Hello, Liz Jones, still going strong.)
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The 50 worst album covers by rock and metal bands • Louder

Simon Young:


Before the days of streaming, rock and metal fans would flip through the racks at their local vinyl dealers and often buy an album based on its cover art. How many musicians have enthusiastically revealed that they got into Iron Maiden primarily based on Derek Riggs’ paintings of Eddie? 

But sometimes, bands get it wrong. This examination of the worst rock and metal album covers is not a comment on the music contained within, but more of a dry heave, a wince or a toe-curling cringe at some creative misfires which were designed, printed and placed in shops before anyone stopped for a moment to realise how awful the art was. 

Brace yourselves for what could be considered a crime in the art world.


The amazing thing about so many of these album covers is how cheap the artwork is. A lot of it literally looks as though someone in the band drew the short straw. The Black Sabbath one is actually close to tolerable. (It’s the second on the list.) But then things really get bad. You have been warned.
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Why digital speedometers appear to update slowly • TomTom Blog

Matthew Beedham:


A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a tweet criticizing the fact that digital speedometers don’t update faster than every half a second. In this era of high-power processors and high-refresh rate, high-resolution screens, the fact that modern car speedos take a perceptible amount of time to update is, on the surface, puzzling. It’s enough to drive some people “nuts”. Clearly, carmakers could make digital speedometers that update ultra-fast, so why don’t they?

…To put it bluntly, speedometers that update very fast, are constantly changing speed and update with a very high refresh rate are distracting and hard to use. Sure, they look cool in drag strip videos, but using them in the real world is quite different.

“I expect this has to do with reducing distraction and cognitive load in a glanceable display”, [TomTom UX designer Drew] Meehan tells me. “If you’re staring at this speed [in the BMW], it looks like it’s refreshing slowly, but in real-world driving conditions, a glance will simply catch a single number, which is easier for our eyes and brains to process.”
In a world of congestion and traffic, drivers must keep their eyes on the road as much as possible. Because they’re hard to read, fast-updating displays could become an unnecessary distraction and lure drivers into taking their eyes off the road for too long.

What’s more, a speedo that refreshes constantly, like a video game, makes it more difficult to settle on a given speed in the blink of an eye. There’s a chance your brain would see multiple numbers simultaneously rather than catching a single number.


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Pure Storage says no more spinning hard drives will be sold after 2028 • Blocks and Files

Chris Mellor:


In the latest blast of the HDD vs SSD culture wars, a Pure Storage exec is predicting that no more hard disk drives will be sold after 2028 because of electricity costs and availability, as well as NAND $/TB declines.

Shawn Rosemarin, VP R&D within the Customer Engineering unit at Pure, told B&F: “The ultimate trigger here is power. It’s just fundamentally coming down to the cost of electricity.” Not the declining cost of SSDs and Pure’s DFMs dropping below the cost of disks, although that plays a part.

[Rosemarin says: “…if I can eliminate the spinning disk, and I can move to flash, and I can in essence reduce the power consumption by 80 or 90% while moving density by orders of magnitude in an environment where NAND pricing continues to fall, it’s all becoming evident that hard drives go away.”

Are high electricity prices set to continue?

“I think the UK’s power has gone up almost 5x recently. And here’s the thing … when they go up, they very seldom if ever come down … I’ve been asked many times do I think the cost of electricity will drop over time. And, frankly, while I wish it would and I do think there are technologies like nuclear that could help us over time. I think it’ll take us several years to get there.”

“We’re already seeing countries putting quotas on electricity, and this is a really important one… we’ve already seen major hyperscalers such as one last summer who tried to enter Ireland [and] was told you can’t come here, we don’t have enough power for you.” 

“The next logical step from that is OK, so now if you’re a company and I start to say, well, we only have so much power, so I’m gonna give you X amount of kilowatts per X amount of employees, or I’m gonna give you X amount of kilowatts for X amount of revenue that you contribute to the GDP of the country or whatever metric is acceptable.”


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Apple’s first app subscription is here and now we’ll be paying for our devices forever • Macworld

Michael Simon:


For the first time, Apple is introducing a subscription model for Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, which will run $4.99 a month or $49 a year apiece after a one-month free trial. You can’t buy it outright even if you wanted to and it’s doubtful Apple will ever offer a “lite” version for a flat fee. As the Mandalorian would say, “This is the way.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Apple has offered a subscription to one of its products. It sells a variety of services (TV , Music, iCloud , etc.) as well as the Apple One bundles. But it has long been rumored to be exploring hardware and software subscriptions to boost recurring sales. A Final Cut Pro subscription was referenced in a trademark filing years ago, and a hardware subscription service for the iPhone and other devices has been reportedly in the works for more than a year. So this was inevitable if not obvious.

While the Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro subscriptions make perfect sense on the iPad Pro, where people are less willing to spend hundreds of dollars upfront on a single app, it’s hard not to see the move as a sign of things to come. 

For the time being, the Mac version will stay as a one-time payment. As it stands, the Mac version of Final Cut Pro is still available for $299.99 while Logic Pro costs $199.99, but those prices seem unlikely to last. The last major update to Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro came in October 2021, so they’re due for updates, very possibly to version 11 later this year or early next. And I don’t think anyone would be surprised if Apple switches to a subscription model.

…Let’s face it: Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro are trial balloons. If people balk at the costs, it’s a relatively low-risk endeavor, especially since users have been making do without these apps on their tablets for years. But if they subscribe in droves—and I’m pretty certain they will—it won’t be long before everything Apple sells, from the iPhone to the apps that run on it, will be a service.


“If you want to imagine the future, Winston, think of a standing order paying for ever and ever.”
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October 2003: End of an era for Concorde • BBC On This Day

October 2003:


The legendary supersonic aircraft, Concorde, has landed at the end of its last commercial passenger flight, amid emotional scenes at Heathrow airport.

The final transatlantic flight, ending 27 years of supersonic history, carried 100 celebrities from New York and touched down at 1605 BST.

As it did so, a huge cheer went up from the thousands of people gathered by the runway on a specially-built grandstand.

Two other Concorde flights had already landed a few minutes earlier, one carrying competition winners on a flight from Edinburgh, and the other completing a trip for invited guests around the Bay of Biscay.

All three aircraft taxied to the BA engineering base, the crews hanging out of the cockpit windows and waving Union Jacks to the crowds.

Actress Joan Collins, who has flown Concorde about 10 times and was on board the flight from New York, said the end of the era was “tragic”.

“The first time I ever flew Concorde was a bit of a white knuckle ride. I am more used to it now, it’s so wonderful to make the journey in three and a half hours,” she said.


Concorde was taken out of service because it became even less profitable following a crash in July 2000 just after takeoff when one of its fuel tanks was ruptured by debris on the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport. Strengthening the fuel tanks and guarding against the problem happening again made it (even )heavier. In retrospect, the principle of supersonic passenger jets seems even more crazy given the environmental damage we know they cause.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.2003: Google shows how AI will suck up the web, AI as McKinsey, Dooce no more, 50 awful album covers, and more

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