Friday, February 17, 2023

Cory Doctorow on Google's anxiety about its corporate identity [chasing the Chatster]

Cory Doctorow, Google’s chatbot panic, Medium, Feb 16, 2023. The lede: "On the infinite insecurities of a self-styled creative genius who really just buys other people’s ideas."

Doctorow thinks that the chatbot augmented search engine is a bad idea – I agree. So why is Google in a panic about Bing and, well, Sydney is it? It's a matter of corporate identity:

I just published a theory in The Atlantic, under the title “How Google Ran Out of Ideas,” where I turn to competition theory to explain Google’s sweaty insecurity, an anxiety complex that the company has been plagued by nearly since its inception:

The core theory: a quarter of a century, the Google founders had one amazing idea — a better way to do search. The capital markets showered the company in money, and it hired the very best, brightest, most creative people it could find, but then it created a corporate culture that was incapable of capitalizing on their ideas.

Every single product Google made internally — except for its Hotmail clone — died. Some of those products were good, some were terrible, but it didn’t matter. Google — a company that cultivated the ballpit-in-the-lobby whimsy of a Willy Wonka factory — couldn’t “innovate” at all.

Every successful Google product except search and gmail is an acquisition: mobile, ad-tech, videos, server management, docs, calendaring, maps, you name it. The company desperately wants to be a “making things” company, but it’s actually a “buying things” company. Sure, it’s good at operationalizing and scaling products, but that’s table-stakes for any monopolist:

The cognitive dissonance of a self-styled “creative genius” whose true genius is spending other people’s money to buy other people’s products and take credit for them drives people to do truly bonkers thing (as any Twitter user can attest).

After telling how Google chased Yahoo and other rivals, including Facebook, Google made a desperate run on "social" and failed dramatically with G+ (not even sure I remember it, maybe).

For anyone who lived through the G+ tragicomedy, Google’s pivot to Bard — a chatbot front-end for search results — is grimly familiar. It’s a real “die a hero or live long enough to become a villain moment.” Microsoft — the monopolist that was only stayed from strangling Google in its cradle by the trauma of its antitrust dragging — has transformed from a product-creation company to an acquisitions and operations company, and Google is right behind it.

And so forth: "ChatGPT and its imitators have all the hallmarks of a tech fad, and are truly the successor to last season’s web3 and cryptocurrency pump-and-dumps."

There's more at the link. But I have to include this gem:

Sadowski notes that OpenAI’s engineers are going to enormous lengths to ensure that the next version won’t be trained on any of the output from ChatGPT3. This is a tell: if a large language model can produce materials that are as good as human-produced text, then why can’t the output of ChatGPT3 be used to create ChatGPT4?

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