Another reason I won’t get Neuralink

I was wondering what Neuralink is good for — it must be for treating some serious medical condition, since it involves serious surgery. But no! It’s just techdude fantasies.

Neuralink’s BCI will require patients to undergo invasive brain surgery. Its system centers around the Link, a small circular implant that processes and translates neural signals. The Link is connected to a series of thin, flexible threads inserted directly into the brain tissue where they detect neural signals.

Patients with Neuralink devices will learn to control it using the Neuralink app. Patients will then be able to control external mice and keyboards through a Bluetooth connection, according to the company’s website.

An app. Bluetooth. Controlling computer mice.

It absolutely did not help that I am currently using a computer mouse, a cheap wired optical mouse, that has an intermittent fault. Every once in a while, but not often enough to motivate me to get a replacement, the LED cuts out and the buttons stop responding. The fix is to shake the cable or unplug and re-insert the USB cable. It’s a bit annoying, I really should just get a new mouse, they’re only about $7.

But now imagine that your Neuralink device has a less than perfect connection: scar tissue builds up, an electrode gets jostled out of position. Every once in a while, the app drops the Bluetooth connection. The artificial limb you’re controlling becomes unresponsive, or even worse, you miss a kill shot in Call of Duty (worse, because I’ve seen how gamers can explode in fury at the most trivial stuff). There’s no easy cable-jiggling you can do, you’re going in for major brain surgery.

Or more likely, you’ll make do as I am with my mouse…you let it slide, 99% function is good enough. The only thing is, your brain doesn’t like wires stuck in it — there will be a gradual accumulation of scar tissue and localized damage, the performance of the device will inevitably incrementally deteriorate, and Neuralink doesn’t have a good replacement strategy.

“Right to repair” acquires a new urgency when it’s a gadget imbedded in your brain. Musk doesn’t seem the type to allow outsourcing of his profitable toy, and is probably anticipating making lots of money from obsolescence.

There’d have to be something wrong with your brain to sign up for a Neuralink trial

Has anybody read The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton? It’s about a man who gets a brain implant to correct his epilepsy, but then it starts triggering increasingly violent crimes. I strongly dislike everything Crichton ever wrote — he was a Luddite who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, while the press and the public fawn over his bad science — but for the first time, I feel like he might have been onto something.

Reportedly, Elon Musk has gotten FDA approval to stick chronic electrodes into people’s brains. Why you’d want anything associated with that incompetent boob permanently wired into your brain is a mystery.

The FDA acknowledged in a statement that the agency cleared Neuralink to use its brain implant and surgical robot for trials on patients but declined to provide more details.

Neuralink and Musk did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

The story has triggered my internal Michael Crichton and now I’m wondering what horror will result from this decision.

  • Patients will start murdering people ala The Terminal Man (or Musk’s self-driving software) as Neuralink misfires.
  • Neuralink will catch fire and burn down to the patient’s basicranium.
  • Neuralink will explode when it’s switched on, cratering the patient’s head.
  • Neuralink will attract Nazis who will fill the patient’s brain with bad ideas.
  • Neuralink will do nothing at all, but it will distract the patient from investing in better treatments.

My imagination fails. You’ll have to think of all the likely horrible consequences of getting a Neuralink implant.

I agree with Blake Stacey

This is also what I think of chatGPT.

I confess myself a bit baffled by people who act like “how to interact with ChatGPT” is a useful classroom skill. It’s not a word processor or a spreadsheet; it doesn’t have documented, well-defined, reproducible behaviors. No, it’s not remotely analogous to a calculator. Calculators are built to be *right*, not to sound convincing. It’s a bullshit fountain. Stop acting like you’re a waterbender making emotive shapes by expressing your will in the medium of liquid bullshit. The lesson one needs about a bullshit fountain is *not to swim in it*.

“Oh, but it’s a source of inspiration!”

So, you’ve never been to a writers’ workshop, spent 30 minutes with the staff on the school literary magazine, seen the original “You’re the man now, dog!” scene, or had any other exposure to the thousand and one gimmicks invented over the centuries to get people to put one word after another.

“It provides examples for teaching the art of critique!”

Why not teach with examples, just hear me out here, by actual humans?

“Students can learn to write by rewriting the output!”

Am I the only one who finds passing off an edit of an unattributable mishmash as one’s own work to be, well, flagrantly unethical?

“You’re just yelling at a cloud! What’s next, calling for us to reject modernity and embrace tradition?”

I’d rather we built our future using the best parts of our present rather than the worst.

I’m going to call it a bullshit fountain from now on.

Highways are already scary, self-driving cars won’t help

An amusing anecdote: an engineer is out with the family of a man she was dating, and the father tried to turn on the full self-driving option of his Tesla, so she’s practically clawing her way out of the car.

But on the way back his dad started asking me “you work on self driving cars, yeah?” (I do, I’m a systems engineer and have job hopped between a handful of autonomy companies.)

He started asking me how I liked his Tesla and I joked “just fine as long as you’re the one driving it!” And he asked me what I thought about FSD which he’d just bought. He asked if he should turn it on. I said “not with me in the car” and he then laughed and asked how I was still so scared when I work with this stuff everyday.

I was like “Uhh it’s because I…” But stopped when he pulled over and literally started turning it on. I was like “I’m not kidding, let me out of the car if you’re gonna do this” and my boyfriend’s dad and brother started laughing at me, and my boyfriend still wasn’t saying anything.

His dad was like “It’ll be fine” and I reached over my boyfriend’s little brother and tried the door handle which was locked. I was getting mad, and probably moreso because I was tipsy, and I yelled at him “Let me the fuck out”

She’s a systems engineer who works on these self-driving cars, and she wants nothing to do with it? Does she know something the rest of us don’t?

Apparently, she does. Tesla has been faking demos of its self-driving cars, which I guess shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone following Elon Musk’s hype parade.

A 2016 video that Tesla (TSLA.O) used to promote its self-driving technology was staged to show capabilities like stopping at a red light and accelerating at a green light that the system did not have, according to testimony by a senior engineer.

The video, which remains archived on Tesla’s website, was released in October 2016 and promoted on Twitter by Chief Executive Elon Musk as evidence that “Tesla drives itself.”

But the Model X was not driving itself with technology Tesla had deployed, Ashok Elluswamy, director of Autopilot software at Tesla, said in the transcript of a July deposition taken as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla for a 2018 fatal crash involving a former Apple (AAPL.O) engineer.

It’s OK, though, because they were trying to show what was possible, rather than what the car could actually do, even if Musk was claiming the car was driving itself.

“The intent of the video was not to accurately portray what was available for customers in 2016. It was to portray what was possible to build into the system,” Elluswamy said, according to a transcript of his testimony seen by Reuters.

Like, the idea of cars driving themselves and bypassing the fallibility of human drivers sounds nice, but it’s clear that the car’s software can be even more stupid and flawed than people. I wouldn’t want to share the road with these things, let alone be in a car controlled by some engineering gadget.

You know what I think would be far more useful? Software that detected when the driver was significantly impaired. You’re weaving all over the road, or you’re exceeding the speed limit, or it senses that you’re nodding off, and it fires off alarms to let you know you’re not safe, and if you exceed a certain frequency of warnings, it transmits alerts to the police. That would be a smart car, making sure that the driving software in the human’s head was operating adequately.

Knowing humans, though, there’d be a huge aftermarket in mechanics ripping out the safety measures.

It’s not a difficult choice at all

How’s it going, Mastodon?

Twitter rival Mastodon has rejected more than five investment offers from Silicon Valley venture capital firms in recent months, as its founder pledged to protect the fast-growing social media platform’s non-profit status.

Mastodon, an open-source microblogging site founded in 2016 by German software developer Eugen Rochko, has seen a surge in users since Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in October amid concerns over the billionaire’s running of the social media platform.

Rochko told the Financial Times he had received offers from more than five US-based investors to invest “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in backing the product, following its fast growth.

But he said the platform’s non-profit status was “untouchable,” adding that Mastodon’s independence and the choice of moderation styles across its servers were part of its attraction.

“Mastodon will not turn into everything you hate about Twitter,” said Rochko. “The fact that it can be sold to a controversial billionaire, the fact that it can be shut down, go bankrupt and so on. It’s the difference in paradigms [between the platforms].”

Meanwhile, on Twitter:

Was there ever a good internet?

I doubt it, and having been on this evolving beast we call “the internet” since the early 1990s, I can pretty convincingly assert that it has been a mixed bag from the very beginning. But I will also claim that it used to be better. I think this article hits the nail on the head.

Wil Wheaton just published a great opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal with the title “The Internet Used to be Smaller and Nicer. Let’s Get It Back.” I’ll get to the content of the article in moment, but first I want to discuss the choice of publication. By publishing in the WSJ, the piece is behind a paywall, though it does seem to randomly allow people to get in (often seems to work if you click through via Twitter). In some ways, the fact that Wil chose to publish in the WSJ is a microcosm of the issue that he’s discussing in the piece: you publish in the WSJ because it’s likely to attract a larger audience than publishing on your own site (and Wil does maintain and regularly publish his own independent blog which is full of great content).

I haven’t read Wheaton’s article, and it’s unlikely that I will. It’s behind a paywall, and do I look like the kind of guy who would subscribe to the WSJ? That’s the problem — that we constantly cede access to information to wealthy corporations. Elon Musk, with his arbitrary, capricious, small-minded limiting of the privilege of posting on Twitter is not a new phenomenon. That’s been a problem for the last decade, when Google killed the independent web.

But, there are always tradeoffs. Relying on someone else’s platform is often just much easier. It doesn’t involve having to maintain your own site, and it’s also often where the audience is. The issue with blogs is that you had to attract — and then keep — an audience. Tools like RSS acted as a method for keeping people coming back, but… then Google became the de facto provider of RSS reading tools, and then killed it. To this day, that move is still considered one of the defining moments in the shift from a more distributed, independent web to one that is controlled by a few large companies.

If you don’t remember the heyday of RSS, it was…different. You had to customize your access a little bit — when you stumbled across an interesting article, you’d click a button and tell your reader to check this site out in the future and let you know when something new appeared there. It wasn’t hard to do at all, but it did require that you personally flag sites of interest. Then, you’d have a page in your web browser that would automatically list all the recently updated sites.

You had to do your own curation, rather than the current situation, where Google and Facebook and Twitter do all the work and tell you what you want to read. You know all this algorithm nonsense? That’s all that it is, big companies thinking for you and telling you what you want to look at…and buy. And it all happened in 2013, when Google decided it wasn’t going to let you make your own decisions anymore.

We were all at fault, though. It’s so much easier to let capitalism control what you see. I’m guilty, too — there’s a list of blog links to the left on this page that are a vestige of when I tried to replace Google Reader’s functionality with my own list of cool things on the web. I haven’t updated it in years! It’s just there, mostly ignored, because it’s easier to be distracted by “trending” pages and the stuff that pours in as soon as I open Google.

I have a New Year’s resolution, for a change, and that is to clean that stuff up and make it more of a habit to use my RSS reader (it’s Feedly, by the way, easy to use and free, although I’m open to other recommendations). You should try it too — you’ll get a more varied diet of information and escape out from under the corporate thumb, a little bit.

Well, that turned me away from Post pretty quick

Most boring logo ever.

As the general exodus from Twitter continues, new alternatives have been springing up. I’m using Mastodon, but I’ve also been seeing some attention paid to another option, an app called Post. I know nothing about it, but I was willing to give it a try, until I read more about where Post comes from. The article was more about a tech journalist, Kara Swisher, who has been a cheerleader for Elon Musk until recently, when she’s been trying to bury her past sycophancy in a memory hole.

Swisher also recently pushed people toward a new social network called “Post,” a site backed by Andreessen Horowitz. You may remember A16Z from last year, when they attempted to pump and dump worthless social network Clubhouse, while also aiding in the direct harassment of Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz (who was at the New York Times at the time). Worse still, on an episode of her Pivot podcast she admitted that she’s an advisor in Post, and that her co-host Scott Galloway is an investor. From what I can see, Swisher was pushing people toward a product – on November 17, and again November 21 – that she would only reveal her involvement with four days later.

Post has recently gained attention for claiming to “allow users to read premium news from multiple publishers,” only to offer you the chance to pay for news that is otherwise free elsewhere. And up until recently, Post had intimated that it was against their Terms of Service to make fun of people for their net worth.

Post cries for a return to civility, where the public squares are not quite as public and the powerful are not quite as criticized. Swisher benefits by being one of the biggest new names on a platform, hedging her bets against Twitter (note: Andreessen Horowitz financed part of the Twitter deal and general partner Sriram Krishnan temporarily helped out Musk in his first days at the company) at the time when it’s most convenient to do so.

It’s also a naked attempt by venture capital to recreate the world in their image, and it proves – as has been proven, as will be proven again – that these people have no idea how normal people act or what they want.

I guess I won’t bother with Post, then. Venture capitalists can get fucked.

Less novel, the article also has a nice rant against Elon Musk.

As I’ve related above, Musk has been an irascible shithead for many years, but his overwhelming clout with the media meant that he could, effectively push through any idea his little mind desired. A flamethrower? Sure. $420 Tequila? Of course. Landing humans on Mars? He said 2022, but everybody was fine with saying “within five years” or “2029.”

Musk has gotten away with a mixture of half-truths and outright lies enough times that he believed that he had the popularity to do anything, another condition afflicted upon those with billions of dollars. When he bought Twitter, I truly think that he believed everybody would be behind him, because up until that point most of the media had been. Kara Swisher gave an interview in May about how smart Elon was. Jessica Lessin of The Information described the acquisition as “like watching a business school case study on how to make money on the internet.” Hell, he was able to con banks and investors into raising $13 billion for him. Musk still had the ability to manipulate the media – and still does, in the sense that he can still get a bunch of stories about literally anything he does – but couldn’t change the reality that he did not have a plan for the website that he tied his entire financial future to.

That’s why he seems so utterly pathetic. Musk may have had no plan, but he also appears to have never considered the eventuality that most people would dislike his choices. For someone supposedly tuned into “the future,” he continually fails to adapt to his changing circumstances, picking and losing fights and taking that as proof that his cause is just rather than his ideas being bad. And now his closest allies are wobbling sycophants like David Sacks, who accidentally ended up on the right side of the antitrust debate in an attempt to kiss up to his boss.

What we are likely seeing is society turning its backs on the ultra-rich, and are beginning to see that being able to spend a lot of money does not make someone smart, right or just. The common narrative of the abusively powerful is that they are victims, and that victimization is key to their narrative – except the last three years have chewed through much of the sympathy that a regular person would have for anyone with a billion dollars. It used to be convenient to kiss up to these people – comfortable, even – but “having a billion dollars” no longer guarantees that someone is worthy of adulation.

Many, but not all, journalists have given Musk a free pass for years — I guess they were seduced by the prospect of access to a person with more money than sanity. The rest of us, including me, saw right through him, but then there wasn’t a chance we’d get any money from him, or even a dinner invitation. I am glad to see his reputation shrivel now, though.

Please, Elon, I want to see the spectacle

In this corner, in the blue trunks, it’s ELON MUSK. In the other corner, in the rainbow colored trunks, it’s APPLE. Who will win?

Elon Musk claims that Apple has threatened to “withhold” Twitter from the iOS App Store for unknown reasons. The news follows a tweet where Musk said Apple had “mostly stopped advertising” on the platform and a poll asking whether Apple should “publish all censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers.” Apple did not immediately comment on Musk’s claim.

The news follows much more subtle signs of mounting tension between Apple and Musk-owned Twitter. Musk has criticized Apple’s App Store fee for in-app purchases, dubbing it a “hidden 30% tax” on the internet. And Apple App Store boss Phil Schiller deleted his Twitter account following Musk’s takeover, shortly after Donald Trump’s account was reinstated.

In a November 15th interview with CBS News, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that “they say that they are going to continue to moderate. I’m counting on them to continue to do that.” Musk, however, has pledged to loosen Twitter’s moderation guidelines and floated the idea of a mass unbanning of suspended accounts.

Twitter has long tested the boundaries of Apple’s App Store moderation — which has successfully pushed Discord, Tumblr, and other services to either hide potentially offensive content (typically adult content) or ban it altogether. Twitter remains one of the only large platforms to still allow adult content on its app, and a recent editorial by former Twitter executive Yoel Roth revealed that it’s sparred periodically with Apple over content like racial slurs and the hashtag #boobs.

Apple has every right to refuse to advertise on Twitter. This is a pathetic whine from a guy who doesn’t understand free speech.

I’m not keen on a big tech company using its clout to tell smaller companies what they’re allowed to do — but while I deplore choking off adult content, I approve of pressuring social media to block racial slurs. There’s a great big gray area right there.

But…Apple is a trillion dollar company, flush with cash, and at the height of their power. Twitter is a company that’s losing money hand over fist, and was recently bought out by an idiot who is busy gutting the place. I don’t have to prefer one over the other, because if Musk decides to go up against one of the biggest tech giants in the world with his flailing, fading company, I know what the outcome will be.

He’s also such an ass that I’ll enjoy watching the steam roller crush him.

It’s AI Day

Are you excited? I know I am, but not for the same reasons as Elon Musk. Today he is scheduled to announce the latest greatest news about his Optimus robot, and I expect another colossal pratfall. It’s coming, Musk assures us.

He tweeted in June that Tesla’s second AI Day would be pushed back from August until September 30 “as we may have an Optimus prototype working by then”.

He had earlier tweeted that “many cool updates” could be expected from the AI Day, while the actual purpose of the event is actually “to convince great AI/software/chip talent to join Tesla”, he said on May 18.

Optimus, which was originally known as the Tesla Bot, was first introduced in August 2021 during Tesla’s inaugural AI Day.

You may recall that the grand unveiling last year was of a person in a body stocking dancing. This year, he has announced it with an ominous image of robot claws forming a heart.

He may also announce something about his cybertruck.

I can’t wait to see the demo of that…watching it sink will be so entertaining. I suspect the operative word in that claim is “briefly.” At least it’ll be easy to smash the windows to escape.

He may also drop more hints about his “robotaxi”, which is supposed to come out in 2024. It’s a Tesla car without a steering wheel or pedals that is entirely autonomous. That won’t be entertaining, it’ll be terrifying.

Stay tuned. All this will be announced live on the internet at 8:15pm Central time. I probably won’t pay any attention to it until tomorrow.

For a more grounded take, read Gary Marcus, and keep in mind that Musk has claimed that his Tesla cars are already “semi-sentient”.

Does anyone find that image reassuring or optimistic? It could be the poster for a horror movie.

Further commentary on a Tesla as a boat:

Not recommended.

How much walkin’ around data do you carry?

I was getting ready for meeting with students today, getting out of the ragged summer clothes into slightly more formal apparel, when I noticed something I take for granted: my pocket data. You’ve all got that, right? That little collection of tiny flash drives that you have handy for on the fly data transfers? I tallied mine up.

In my pocket I have a 256GB USB device.

I also have a card wallet with:

  • 3 64Gb SD cards
  • 2 64GB micro SD cards
  • 1 128GB SD card
  • 1 16GB SD card (it came with my camera)

That’s a total of 720GB just jingling like pocket change as a I walk around. I don’t keep anything particularly valuable on any of them, they’re mostly there in case I need to shuffle around some video or images or a class presentation — all the valuable stuff is on the home computer storage (500GB internal ss drive, a 4TB and 2TB external drive) and backed up in a few places.

But it got me thinking how insanely rich I am with data storage…and some of you might have more. When I got my first home computer back in 1979, we measured everything in K, and floppies didn’t fit in your pocket. Then in the late 80s, it went up to M — my first hard drive (don’t ask how much it cost) had a 5 megabyte capacity, and I was stunned with the amount of space I had. Now everything is in Gs, with a few Ts in there, and eventually we’ll all be hauling multiple terabytes of casual storage around.

What are we going to do with it all?