The shock of ChatGPT

Gen AI is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever encountered. I’ve read explanations of how it works, but when I play with it, the responses feels like magic; as if I am talking to a creature that knows a huge amount of information, and can summarise it very quickly.

The improvements over the past few months are astounding. When I played with GPT-2 a couple of years ago, it seemed like a toy. In the past few days, I’ve been asking Chat GPT 3.5 for help with programming tasks in Angular. I’m not familiar with the framework, but ChatGPT can give me specific tutorials for the tasks I’m dealing with. I’m finding it easier to learn Angular than ever before.

A lot of the discussion I see on social media points out problems with genAI – yes, there are issues around how the data is collected. Yes, these things are not perfect. But a lot of the complaints feel like bargaining, people trying to persuade themselves that the results of this technology are mundane.

I do think there is a lot of hype around LLMs, but I am also convinced that they are going to have a huge effect in my work and career. I’m not convinced they will eliminate programmers, but they are going to make them much more productive – think stack overflow but more so. One article compared working with ChatGPT like being assisted in the task you’re working on by a very enthusiastic colleague whose code wasn’t perfect, but it would speed you up.

Stack Overflow has not reduced the number of software developers in the world – rather it has improved productivity and enabled people to build more complicated systems than ever before. In the early days, people were suspicious of IDEs, but now they are making it easier to manage large codebases. I look back at the web applications being built around 2000 and I’m amazed at the scale of what a team of developers can produce now.

ChatGPT fills me with existential dread – there are huge philosophical implications to the idea that a language model can do sophisticated tasks so easily. But as much as I’d like to pretend it is not significant, the best thing to do is learn how to use it, and work out what the role of a software developer is in this new world.

Monthnotes: October 2023

October was a hard month. It started with a lot of travel, four days of office visits sandwiched between trips to Stroud and Blackpool. I’ve been feeling run down and the cold spells and rising darkness haven’t helped.

I had a great time in Stroud, catching up with Mr. Spratt and the girls, as well as meeting Gus the Puppy. The Blackpool trip was to attend a horror convention with Muffy. The event was mostly merch stands and wrestling, but it was a fun day out. I also had Rosy visiting for a week before finally moving into her new house, which was lovely.

My step total for the month was 289,759, which is an average of 9,347. My highest was 13,569 when I was out in Manchester. I’m actually going to cut my step count target drastically for November, down to 5,000. With all the office days, I struggled to get everything else in my life done and, while I’ve always hit my exercise goal, my diet was sometimes shambolic. I think it would be better to prioritise eating properly over marching out steps.

It’s been another disordered month for reading, but I finished four books. Katherine Hale’s Slenderman focussed more on the people involved than memes or tulpas, and was a heartbreaking story about America’s lack of support for mental illness. Rachel O’Dwyer’s Tokens was an entertaining look at economics on the Internet. My favourite book was Taylor Lorenz’s book on influencers, Extremely Online, which proved a historical review of social media. The story of Vine was my highlight of the book. One takeaway was my shock that the viral classic Lazy Sunday is almost twenty years old.

Same, TBH

I’ve watched a lot of movies again this month, although some of them were disappointing choices from the £1 DVD store in Blackpool. I’ll leave talking about bad movies to my letterboxed account. I enjoyed Fall of the House of Usher, although it wasn’t as great as Mike Flanagan’s other Netflix shows, and very much felt like it killed the interesting characters too early. The Coleen Rooney documentary was a great retelling of the Wagatha Christie saga, and the Rooneys came across as lovely people. I’ve also been enjoying Marianne on Netflix which I found through a listicle about horror directors recommending scary films. It’s dark and well put together – even the cliched overhead drone shots of driving are good.

I sent out lots of email in October about the Mycelium Parish news zine, and it’s been delightful to see the responses coming in from that. I’ve also continued the weekly substack posts (sign up here). Getting a weekly story out is helping me hone and develop the huge backlog I’ve accrued. Memetic Infection Hazards finally went out to a printer and got stuck there, as I need to reformat the cover.

I’m trying to post a little more on Bluesky to reclaim that early twitter feeling, when it was more about microblogging than ‘engagement’. I do think that the future of social media is going to be more like self-hosted blogs and feed-readers. Letterboxed currently provides the best model of what I want from social sites, even if it’s hyperfocussed about films (I wonder if there is anyone using their film reviews as a regular blog?). If you need a Bluesky code, drop me an email, as I have a few invites going.

  • Free your Mind, the dance version of The Matrix was amazing, but having to stand for the second half rather took some of the delight away.
  • Tricky has released some ‘reincarnated’ tracks from Maxinquaye. The album is 30 years old and still sounds fresh. The new versions are even sparser and more menacing.
  • I gave a seminar at Leeds Trinity about ARGs and digital folklore. I now need to find a way to put some of this material onto video.
  • I’ve decided that I was probably wrong with my cool reception of AI/Machine Learning and that this might be a revolution on the scale of mobile or the web itself. I’ve started reading up on the topic with the aim of catching up as quickly as I can.