I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my college age self. This version of me held dreams of working in an industry that would change the world for the better. I’d found a startup or join an organization “disrupting” an industry. Lately, as I watch the tech news, I feel like a passenger stuck on a runaway train, shouting to the engineer to stop so I can get out.
This post has existed in multiple drafts for over 3 years now. Previous titles include “Singularity of Bullshit”, “Tech is a Dumpster Fire”, “Eternal September of AI”, “Manslaughter for Profit”, “Software Engineering Dumpster Fires”, … the list goes on. The real problem is that my desire to write a cogent persuasive thesis on the tech industry is not matched by my ability to write, the format of this blog, or the general appetite for long form content of the public. Should by some miracle I manage to pen said thesis, my reach is limited to a few chance readers. And I can’t help but feel many share the same underlying existential crisis.
Hell, there’s even been presentations on the subject before.
Tech forums are awash in discussion of Chat-GPT / AI taking jobs away. As someone in tech, I’m not exactly scared of losing my job to an AI. What really keeps me up at night is the reality that in the coming years these tools will lead to yet more half-baked “solutions” further reducing the quality of everything around me while also increasing the cost.
There will be a day – and I suspect it will come very soon – when I’m directly asked by coworker, “Hey, have we tried using AI to do this for us?” I’ll struggle between trying to get something generated that’s usable and justifying the expense for continued development by humans. This battle will be fought by every knowledge worker in every field soon.
There’s a building not far from here that used to house several local employees running a locally owned company publishing a local newspaper. That newspaper would take pictures of local school events, publish reviews of places and events, and directly interview local residents. Now that building sits largely empty. Our “local” paper is owned by a media conglomerate which sources “local” events from Twitter and Facebook while republishing AP feeds. Our community does not benefit from better editorial direction, improved technology, or lowered cost. And now AI threatens removing any local “voice” in favor of bulk editorial staff “checking” articles automatically written by a chatbot.
I’m really trying to see advantages here but all I see is a further decline of yet another institution as we continue to lower expectations. When an AI article generator publishes misinformation, we’ll ignore the harm and fawn over the machine doing “work that used to take a human” while inventing some absurdly complex method for requesting corrections (also handled by an AI).
All of this isn’t new to the current AI hype cycle. Just a few previous hype cycles I can name: world-wide-web, web 2.0, 3d printing, connected devices, web 3.0 / crypto-currency, cloud computing, social networks, gig economy, IoT, self-driving cars. We’ve made so many advances, but it seems like we just keep accumulating the underlying negatives without any plan to address them.
I’d dearly love to exit the high-tech field in general. Sadly, there’s not really a lot of good options for even mediocre paying jobs anymore. At least for now, I’m in a “slightly less shitty” variant of the industry, but I also get a front-seat to the decisions and upcoming horizon of our ever-increasing bullshit circus.
Someone stop the train, I want off.