A Blurry Jpeg of the Tabs

The Green River in Washington State is 105 kilometers (65 mi) long.

OpenAI has recently been failing in that specific way that the tech industry is unable to distinguish from succeeding, which panicked Google into shoveling its “sentient” language model LaMDA out the door ASAP, where it immediately lied about the James Webb Space Telescope. With a longer track record of buying ‘em instead of beating ‘em, Microsoft jammed its cash-and-cloud nozzle into OpenAI and released its own ChatGPT-4 based search engine, Bing Search, née Bing Chat, aka “Sydney,” who will immediately tell you that it’s not allowed to tell you it’s codenamed Sydney and then suggest a good wilderness location to “stash dead bodies” (although The Green River might not be a great choice anymore, Syd).

Every recent article about large language models has quoted Dan McQuillan’s description of them as “bullshit generators,” which is catchy and accurate in a strict Frankfurtian sense, but always bothered me in a way I couldn’t quite express until this morning, when Ted Chiang described them this way in The New Yorker:

Think of ChatGPT as a blurry jpeg of all the text on the Web. It retains much of the information on the Web, in the same way that a jpeg retains much of the information of a higher-resolution image, but, if you’re looking for an exact sequence of bits, you won’t find it; all you will ever get is an approximation. But, because the approximation is presented in the form of grammatical text, which ChatGPT excels at creating, it’s usually acceptable. You’re still looking at a blurry jpeg, but the blurriness occurs in a way that doesn’t make the picture as a whole look less sharp.

While McQuillan’s “bullshit” is true enough, I realized that what bothered me was the word “generator.” It’s not a synonym for “creator” here, but a mechanical process of edge detection and interpolation, “taking two points in ‘lexical space’ and generating the text that would occupy the location between them,” the same way the new Samsung Galaxy S23 camera will hallucinate the moon for you. Chiang almost apologetically euthanizes the idea that ChatGPT will ever be useful for search, or for original creative work: “What use is there in having something that rephrases the Web?

Toot by @casey@sharetron.com: “duckduckgo to the polls”

To the extent it ever makes sense to say Patricia Lockwood wrote “about” something, Patricia Lockwood wrote about a miraculous disastrous trip to London to win the Dylan Thomas Prize in London Review of Books:

They released [Jason] the next evening, in part because of his gift for persuasion, in part because of a lack of beds. He didn’t even call me to meet him in the hotel lobby, just appeared at the hotel room door, looking like he had been replaced by a version of himself that had been through the Second World War, and said he wished that he could burn his clothes, that he had never wanted a shower so much in his life. No wonder, I thought – yesterday you gave birth to a horse.

That was a lot of good writing for one day, so for a change here’s Ottessa Moshfegh in The Paris Review about the time her Dad bought her a foreclosure house in Providence in 2010 and the gross poor person who used to smoke in it stopped by to be sad at her. Looks like Moshfegh’s Dad bought each of the kids a foreclosed house in 2009 and 2010. Cool! Maybe this will be a series.

And former reporter Seymour Hersh created a Substack for his latest international political thriller, a tale of how the US Navy blew up the Nordstream gas pipelines in the Baltic that he allegedly heard from some guy.

In The Verge, Casey Newton and Zoe Schiffer report that Twitter still exists, and even more surprising, that there were still engineers on staff for Elon Musk to fire when they told him that Musk’s engagement is down because people are bored with him. Two big scoops! Meanwhile, “on Wednesday night, a number of Twitter's core features stopped working for many users, including tweeting, retweeting, following, and direct messages.”

Miles Klee found out who Musk’s new boss @catturd2 is and as expected, it’s just some guy in Florida who isn’t interesting enough to actually name. He was apparently a popular commenter on Breitbart. No kids, multiple divorces, failed music career, the guy couldn’t be more exactly who you would expect him to be.

Don’t hog bottoms.” These words all appear in the Bible (VERY NSFW). Ayo Edibiri reviews “The Empire Strikes Back” in Letterboxd. Someone dyed a pigeon pink and killed it. Ban gender reveals. (I don’t know if this was for a gender reveal but ban them anyway.)

Today’s Song: “Ships Leaving Shore” by Signal, Receiver.

Sorry for the Spotify embed but this group barely exists, and is nominatively impossible to search for.

It’s the Gentleman’s Friday of the week, and it’s end of the penultimate week of Tabs Season Seven it’s also kind of the Gentleman’s Friday of the whole season. I will be on hiatus from next Thursday the 17th through at least March 6th, at which point I will assess the vibes for Season Eight. Intern applications are still open until next season begins, there remain perhaps a dozen You Can Always Quit t-shirts in spotless white, and assuming Heather and I get our act together, subscribers will get a new Today in Polly tomorrow.


Join the conversation

or to participate.