Good Friday Morning! Especially to Dev Shah, who won the Scripps Spelling Bee, correctly spelling the word “psammophile” [psam·mo·phile – ‘saməˌfīl]. Every year when I see the words that win this thing, I have to look them up because it always looks like made-up words. Psammophile is a noun meaning “an organism that prefers or thrives in sandy soils or areas.” If they asked me to use it in a sentence, I’d have said, “Anakin Skywalker is not a psammophile.”
Two weeks ago, I wrote about artificial intelligence and how it impacted social media and human interaction. I’m returning to that theme this week to cover a few other stories I didn’t have room to write about. Also, I’ll cover some additional thoughts I had after talking with some readers – links to follow.
- The House passed the debt ceiling deal 314-117. And the Senate signed an agreement to have a quick vote on their side of this deal. The Senate passed the bill 63-36, with several Senators running up to vote against it last minute because they could (list of the no votes for the curious). Biden will sign sometime Friday or the weekend, averting any fear of default. There’s a lot of chatter on the right that the legislation is bad and they need to defeat it. It’s all posturing. Kevin McCarthy has deftly managed this debt ceiling fight in a way that: 1) Passes a debt ceiling increase and avoids a default, 2) Allows everyone in his caucus to vote how they want, and 3) Lets people get a debt ceiling increase while complaining about it. No Republican had to “walk the plank” on this deal. There’s a lot of public posturing from people “against this deal” who are glad it passed. Everyone got what they wanted. See my CI column below for more thoughts on Kevin McCarthy.
- Donald Trump’s attacks against Ron DeSantis are indistinguishable from your average Democrat. In Iowa, he attacked DeSantis for using the term “woke” and thinks it’s meaningless and overused (GOP voters disagree, overwhelmingly). Trump claims that NY’s Andrew Cuomo responded to COVID better than DeSantis (untrue). And Trump sided with Disney against DeSantis in the large lawsuit filed. I tend to agree with Grant Bosse on Twitter: “We’re two good DeSantis polls away from Trump running as the Democrat he was for decades.” I think Ben Domenech gets it right too, when he observes, “Riley Gaines endorsing Ron DeSantis on a day Trump utterly botched a question about trans sports feels significant. Trump was uniquely attuned to the 2016 moment. But 2024? A whole new set of priorities…” We’re watching a very low-energy, disconnected Trump. He leads the national polls, but he’s rudderless, flailing, and doesn’t understand the issues animating this campaign so far.
- The Fed Whisperer Nick Timiraos at the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Federal Reserve is preparing to “skip a June rate hike,” but leave the table open to rate hikes later on. The only thing that could shift the Fed’s thinking is if the Friday jobs report is a “blowout” report. I was 50/50 on a rate hike before this, leaning towards a pause on rate hikes. Now I’d be shocked if they did anything other than a pause on rate hikes. Timiraos says, “The strategy would give officials more time to study the economic effects of the Fed’s 10 consecutive prior rate rises, as well as recent banking stress, by spacing out further increases.” The Fed believes everything is under control – we’ll see.
Where you can find me this week
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[05/29/2023] Memorial Day is the perfect time to support the Honor Flight Network – Conservative Institute
[06/02/2023] Kevin McCarthy Commands the House – Conservative Institute
AI Bots trying to fill a void by mimicking human interaction.
I had a story forwarded to me by several people, and I get why. It involves lawyers and artificial intelligence. If you didn’t see it, the story was: “A lawyer used ChatGPT to prepare a court filing. It went horribly awry.” The guy submitted a court filing using ChatGPT but didn’t bother proofing it to see whether or not the cases included in the ChatGPT-created filing were real.
The problem: ChatGPT confidentially cited cases that did not exist. “The fabrications were revealed when Avianca’s lawyers approached the case’s judge, Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York, saying they couldn’t locate the cases cited in Mata’s lawyers’ brief in legal databases. The made-up decisions included cases titled Martinez v. Delta Air Lines, Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines and Varghese v. China Southern Airlines.”
As you might suspect, the judge was not pleased. “Judge Castel has set a hearing regarding the legal snafu for June 8 and has ordered Schwartz and the law firm Levidow, Levidow & Oberman to argue why they should not be sanctioned.” I’m not going out on much of a limb to say that he will get sanctioned and disciplined by the bar. I don’t think he’ll get disbarred, but there will be a penalty.
The problem is simple: if he’d had a paralegal or a new first-year lawyer write this up, and they did this, the supervising attorney would have to answer for why they didn’t check the work. It’s a decent reminder that for all the advantages of ChatGPT, there are still distinct limitations to both it and AI in general.
On a related note, one friend and reader sent me another story about a chatbot used by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). They have a chatbot called Tessa that answers questions from people seeking help. The chatbot went viral in the last week or so after it allegedly started telling people suffering from anorexia how to lose weight.
According to the WSJ, it’s not an AI Chatbot at all. It’s an older prewritten responses bot, which is as old as the internet itself (I remember testing prototypes of these in the early 00s):
Built by researchers at several universities, including Washington University School of Medicine and Stanford University School of Medicine, Tessa didn’t have artificial intelligence like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. It served up prewritten answers to questions—simple conversations about body-image issues to help people reframe their thinking to prevent eating disorders. In one sample exchange, cited in a paper about the project, Tessa said people often make incorrect assumptions about others based on appearance, believing a “perfect body” means a perfect life.
One of the critical facts of this story is that NEDA is getting rid of a live-person call center and relying more on tools like the Tessa chatbot. The members of NEDA’s call center were trying to unionize, and NEDA was getting rid of everything. This is important because these “dumb bots” have to be told what to say.
If a non-AI bot starts spouting off something new, someone likely had to tell it what to say. WSJ adds this:
Cass, the chatbot’s operator, determined that about 25 of the 25,000 messages from the holiday weekend contained unhealthy messages, such as instructions to reduce calories, Thompson said. Before that weekend, 5,200 people had interacted with Tessa without complaints to the organization.
Given that the people who found out about the “bad answers” are connected to those critical of NEDA and the decision to fire everyone in the call center, it wouldn’t shock me if we get information that something nefarious is happening behind the scenes.
But that’s where we are right now. People see AI behind everything new. It’s even roiling markets. This week, Nvidia, the video card and chip marker, briefly became a trillion-dollar company. Nvidia and computer chip makers like it are riding a stock market boom driven by their ability to drive artificial intelligence innovation (Nvidia’s chips are industry leaders in driving the horsepower behind AI).
More broadly, the Nasdaq has outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average in May by the most since the dot-com bubble. In reality, just a few major tech stocks, like Nvidia, are driving the market rally right now. Everything else is flat or losing steam as the economy remains focused on the possibility of a recession. About seven tech stocks drive those good headline stock market numbers while everything else languishes.
In January of this year, Nvidia was trading at around $143 a stock. The ChatGPT AI boom started in December, which caused a flurry in AI-focused tech stocks. Six months later, Nvidia is trading at nearly $400 a stock and is almost maintaining its status as a trillion-dollar company.
Everyone asks whether this late-cycle tech boom is real or fake, like the dot-com bubble. CNBC is debating this topic daily. I think the tech is real, but this is also very clearly another dot-com, crypto, NFT, block-chain bubble. A recession is still very likely, and a bubble growing like this during a bear market is a bad sign.
We’re in the middle of an AI frenzy. A few weeks ago, I wrote about why I left Instagram over the increasing number of fake accounts run by AI-created influencers. I got several shocked responses to that. And I only included some things out there lately.
Take the example of Caryn Marjorie, a 23-year-old Snapchat influencer. She and her team created an AI chatbot, designed on top of ChatGPT4, and trained it on all her Youtube videos. The AI bot sounds and responds just like her, and she’s charging fans $1 a minute to interact with it. She was “shocked” to find out that the bot started responding with sexually explicit responses. She claims her team is trying to stop that; somehow, I doubt it, and she’s getting the free advertising she wants.
Whatever your thoughts, a more concerning one is a new program created by a developer that allows you to make anyone into an AI chatbot. Here’s the story from Vice:
Developer Enias Cailliau talks to his girlfriend Sacha on Telegram. She sends him voice memos, texts, and even the occasional selfie. But Sacha isn’t actually real, she’s an AI clone of Cailliau’s real-life girlfriend. Cailliau calls the bot GirlfriendGPT and has now shared his code online for anyone to create their own AI girlfriends too.
“I’ve been obsessing with OpenAI’s Large Language Model (LLM) and what it can do. I kept on thinking about the ability to create human-like agents that behave and act like humans do but found it hard to evaluate them,” Cailliau said. “Then I saw how a ton of AI girlfriend projects popped up with some interesting features. Most of them are closed-source. That made me want to build an open-source version of this so everyone could build their own.”
Creating or speaking with an AI girlfriend has become increasingly popular as AI tools like GPT-4 become more advanced and conversational. Earlier this month, a Snapchat influencer named Caryn Marjorie turned herself into an AI girlfriend and created a service on Telegram where people could pay to talk to her. This chatbot quickly went viral and generated over $70,000 the first week it was launched. Since then, the same company behind Caryn AI has launched an AI girlfriend version of the popular Twitch creator Amouranth. Another developer used ChatGPT and other AI models to create a virtual “wife” that roleplayed as an anime VTuber character. Replika, an AI companion app, allowed users to unlock a premium subscription in which users can have romantic relationships with its chatbot.
If that sounds somewhat dystopian to you, you’re not alone.
It is also worth noting a few other stories transpiring behind this explosion of fake interaction. Countless health organizations and the US Surgeon General have all warned the United States is in the middle of a loneliness epidemic. Everyone is scratching their heads about how to fix this.
Additionally, teen pregnancies have hit an all-time low. Except for 2006-2007, the teen pregnancy rate has dropped yearly since 1991. It’s not abstinence education doing the job, either. Scientific American and other outlets have reported a serious drop in all forms of sexual conduct in the United States of all ages. Marriage is plummeting, as are relationships in general. People are staying single – it’s not a hookup culture. From sex to basic friendship, people have increasingly little interaction with other humans.
Interestingly, politics is showing up in the divide. Men are growing increasingly conservative, while women are growing increasingly liberal. That political divide, especially in the dating app era, will create even more divides. You’ll limit the field fast when you can quickly swipe and eliminate anyone antithetical to your politics. That’s especially true when the sexes are dividing on those lines.
The Dating Apps generation and era has failed. We’re less adept at forming relationships than ever. And none of this factors in the meteoric rise of pornography on the internet, which is further driving the technological innovation in these AI bots.
In other words, the AI frenzy has arrived during an inflection point in the culture. It’s finding success in interacting with people because people want interaction. But everyone needs help finding it in adequate amounts. The internet culture, which was supposed to connect everyone, has resulted in the opposite.
It’s the irony of all ironies.
I was chatting with a friend this past week, and she brought up how her church (which is large) made the controversial decision to create a singles ministry. It was controversial because not all the younger, married couples liked getting cut out of the activities. But that’s a blinkered view of reality.
For churches, starting a singles ministry may be the most critical thing they can do to counter this rotting culture. Creating a space where like-minded people can meet, date, get married, and form families is the most counter-cultural thing at the moment. Because right now, the only thing society can offer is increasing forms of escapism through AI-created chatbots.
We’re nearly 25 years removed from the political scientist Robert Putnam publishing his seminal classic, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.” In that book, written in 2000, Putnam frets over the loss of things like bowling leagues, clubs, and other community-oriented events. He saw the loss of community as the root of a potential collapse of what made America great.
When I was in college, we debated the merits of Putnam’s thesis in political philosophy courses. At the time, the most popular retort was that the types of clubs people joined differed from Putnam’s bowling leagues and that the internet would allow people to find community in other ways. Social media was still in its infancy, and for the first time, you could stay in touch with people from all walks of your life.
That was wrong, and Putnam looks more prophetic with each passing year. And now, we’re designing software that can emulate human interaction because we have so little of it now. It shouldn’t be surprising why so much radicalism exists right now – people have no community. They’re left alone to listen to their inner demons all day long. That’ll drive anyone insane.
Putnam put it this way, “People divorced from community, occupation, and association are first and foremost among the supporters of extremism.” The occupation point he raises is one last point worth meditating on: the rise of work-from-home jobs is fantastic for convenience but further isolates everyone.
Ending isolation and creating community in an increasingly individualized world is the key to shifting society. And whatever the answer is to this problem, I know for a fact that AI chatbots aren’t the solution.
Links of the week
The ugly proxy war over Feinstein’s Senate seat: The California senator’s health and a promise Gov. Gavin Newsom made two years ago is complicating the state’s first real Democratic primary in decades. – NBC News
Joe Manchin calls ‘bulls—‘ on GOP taking credit for gas pipeline in debt ceiling deal: Manchin tells Fox News Digital he has had the ‘living crap’ beat out of him for supporting the project and noted Republicans voted against it in December – Fox News
What’s the GOP Ballot Harvesting/Collection Plan? – Kurt Schlichter, Townhall
NYT Art Critic Blisters Hannah Gadsby: With Hannah Gadsby’s ‘It’s Pablo-matic,’ the Joke’s on the Brooklyn Museum: The Australian comedian turns curator in a show about Picasso’s complicated legacy. But it’s women artists the exhibition really shortchanges. – Jason Farago, New York Times
America’s growing rent burden – Axios
The Housing Treadmill: Amid a shortage of new housing, California liberalizes its zoning rules—even as it adds other restrictions on building. – Christopher S. Elmendorf, City Journal
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!