Category: Technology and its malcontents

The coming wave

This book describes itself as the work of ‘the ultimate insider’. This seems rather apt as it provides us with a glimpse of what the technocratic chattering class are saying about the current AI moment. Unfortunately it doesn’t provide us with insight into how this current moment will play out as the view from inside appears to be is quite poor, lacking the perspective need to really grapple with this question.

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Forever ten years away

Why do some the technologies always seem to be ten years away? We’re not talking about the science fiction dreaming of faster than light travel or general AI and the singularity. Those ten years apply to technologies that forever seem to be just out of reach, just beyond our current technical capabilities, like nuclear fusion (as opposed to fission) or quantum computing. Researchers make incremental progress and we’re told that (once the technology works) its going to change everything, but despite this incremental progress estimates of when the technology will be commercialised and so available to the public always seem to be in the ballpark of ‘ten years’.

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Gen AI’s other use

The hype for generative AI doesn’t seem to be dying off. This is unsurprising as—unlike the metaverse, blockchain, and crypto—the technology is providing demonstrable benefits. We’re clearly in the installation phase where mad experimentation is the rule rather than the exception.

A lot of the mad experimentation we’re seeing is focused on either integrating new things into a LLM, or on jamming a LLM into some existing solution to ‘revolutionise’ it. There’s some great stuff in there—a wealth of new LLM-powered creative tools is enabling us to unleash our artistic urgers. On the other hand, integrating a LLM with an online learning platform is useful, but unlikely to be revolutionary.

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On our new robot overlords

One might be convinced that our robot overlords have finally arrived, with all the noise in the news and social media about the new generation of generative AI tools. Tools such as GPT-3 & GPT-4, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion, have resulted in a wave of creativity as we experiment with them, discovering what they can do, the new opportunities they represent, how to trick them, and where they fail. It’s now possible to turn a rough drawing into a functioning web sitecreate a recipe from a picture of potential ingredients, or develop a Seinfield-spoof streaming show. Conversations with these tools have even led some users to believe that the technology is conscious.

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A new narrative for digital data

We have a new essay published on Deloitte InsightsA new narrative for digital data, a collaboration between the Centre for the Edge, Deloitte Integrity, and the Australian Data Standards Body that picks apart some of the continuing challenges with data privacy. It seems that every week the is a new announcement where the personal information for millions of individuals leaked to some fraudster. Indeed, if data privacy were a country then we would consider it a fail state. This essay compares Western and an Indigenous Australian framings of this problem to argue that our Western obsession with property rights might be the problem, rather than the solution.

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Why hasn’t AI delivered on it’s promise?

We have a new essay published on Deloitte Insights, Why hasn’t AI delivered on its promise?, a collaboration between the Centre for the Edge and and the AI Institute. This time we’re smashing together the ideas from The real landscape of technology-enabled opportunity and Reconstructing jobs to see if they can help us understand why, despite recent advances in AI, adoption seems to be lacking.

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Negotiating the Digital-Ready Organization

We have a new essay published by Deloitte InsightsNegotiating the digital-ready-organisation, a collaboration with Alex Bennett at NTT. This builds on our previous work on the transition to working digitally, Reconstructing the workplace, by trying to imagine what this future workplace might look like.

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The digital-ready workplace

We have a new essay published in Deloitte Insights, The digital-ready workplace: Supercharging digital teams in the future of work, a collaboration with Rosemary Stockdale from Griffith Business School and Tim Patston from UniSA STEM at the University of South Australia.

Most (if not all) research groups have done a survey on the affect working from home has had—this is ours, though it’s ended up in a different place. We start by trying to understand the relative merits of a push or pull approach to support workers during the transition, where push is the usual “give them the tools and training we think they’ll need” while pull is empower and support workers in finding their own tools. Generally, a push approach works well when the challenge is understood beforehand, while a pull approach is better when the challenge is not well understood as it enables workers to adapt. We’d heard anecdotal stories that firms had taken different approaches, and we were wondering how the relative benefits and problems stacked up. What we discovered, once the data started coming in, was that we were asking the wrong question.

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The digital economy

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being on the panel for Blockchain and the Digital Economy at ADC’s Leadership Forum. The session outline led with three questions:

  • How has 2020 accelerated the acceptance of the digital economy?
  • Is blockchain fulfilling its promise as the new universal disruptor?
  • How real is the role of cryptocurrencies as the new universal store of value? 

It’s a large topic and an important one, as if we’re to address challenges such as growing inequality then we need to find a way to make the economy work for all of us, rather than just some of us.

Unfortunately, as too often happens, adding blockchain to a topic results in blockchain dominating the discussion with other interesting ideas ignored. Blockchain is quickly positioned as the solution and all other ways of framing (and understanding) the problems we face are ignored. This panel was no different in this regard.

Some of the ideas that would have been relevant in a broader discussion are things that I’ve been exploring for a while. Before the panel I’d pulled together an outline of the argument as to why our future is not “the digital economy”, but something much more interesting, and which creates more opportunity and freedom to act in addressing the challenges we’re facing. Rather than let a good outline go to waste I thought I’d build it out a little and publish it here.

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