Episode 0033 · April 11, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

AI Mailbag

[Unedited Transcript]


Paul Ford: So we are a busy executives these days. Are we not?

Rich Ziade: Oh

Paul Ford: Oh my goodness. So, uh, we’ve got, um, two mailbag questions, but we’re gonna do them in two consecutive episodes. Let’s do mailbag question number one, which is about, uh, somebody came, wrote in and said, Paul, why aren’t you excited about ai?

Rich Ziade: Oh, I thought you’re just gonna say, Paul, why aren’t you excited?

Paul Ford: Paul? Why is, why Paul, why, so I’m gonna play the theme song and then let’s answer that question.

Rich Ziade: do it.

Paul Ford: So the first one is from Dietrich and, uh, Hey, Paul and Rich. I’d like to express my disappointment after listening to the recent AI predictions episode. Mostly it’s about Paul.

Rich Ziade: Boom.

Paul Ford: love it. I love it. Um,

Rich Ziade: [00:01:00] so

Paul Ford: I’m specifically disappointed about Paul’s dismissive approach to the AI programming tools.

Rich Ziade: Um, and c you seem part of the

Paul Ford: pause m e

Rich Ziade: e hto,

Paul Ford: like a tornado, but meh.

Rich Ziade: Interesting

Paul Ford: there goes get in the shelter cuz the Manado is coming, um, that is storming across developers worldwide about AI assistance. So the problem Dietrich says, uh, or Dietrich, is that unless you have played with these tools yourself, you won’t get a decent understanding of it.

And I suspect Paul hasn’t played with it himself yet. I suspect that once he does, he’ll see. That’s an early baby version of a potentially powerful assistant that can change the way most programmers do their jobs probably forever. Same as IDAs and Lins and cloud providers did a few years ago. No one liked or understood the early IDs either.

Rich’s comment that developers wanna write code and not understand others code is true and probably a contributing factor to the manado. But I have to ask, if writing code is more important to you than solving problems, then you’ll never pick the most productive [00:02:00] solution as sometimes that means that you write no code at.

Let’s just start using this WordPress plugin. Anyway, so my question is, how do I get Paul to try some AI tools for some toy or real problems so he can better understand how this could be a big game changer and then write about it. His voice is missing from the debate. Um,

Rich Ziade: whoa. Well, first off, shout out to WordPress, our sponsor for today’s podcast.

Paul Ford: Press. So, I, you know, I thought about this and I actually, uh, I do continually go in and play with the.

Rich Ziade: the rules.

Paul Ford: Um,

Rich Ziade: you are a tinkerer. I can confirm that

Paul Ford: it’s not, so, first of all, none of this stuff really plugs into things that are currently I’m currently super engaged with. But I did give it a go the other day and I sat down and I was like, all right, help me write a chord progression for a song.

Right. I a asked it to help me write a song.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm.

Paul Ford: And you know, I’ve also been watching, there’s someone named Simon Willison, who’s a very like, well known Python programmer,

Rich Ziade: very well known. Yep.

Paul Ford: Simon’s all in on understanding this ecosystem. So I’ve sort of been like [00:03:00] watching him figure it out as time goes on.

Rich Ziade: And

Paul Ford: uh, the other thing is there’s an organization I advise called Vets Who Code, and Jerome Hardaway, who’s the principal there, uh, and the founder is works for, uh, Microsoft and is all in on this as a tool to enable developers.

Rich Ziade: Microsoft is all in on it.

Paul Ford: this exactly. And so I do not deny that this is an integrated part of how people are gonna be working in the future.

And I do like the, like the chat G P T Q and A, where it’s like, Hey, you know, some people do chord progressions this way, and then it gives me the chord progressions. And some people do ’em now. It’s useful. It’s interesting. Here’s where I’m struggling.

Rich Ziade: Mm.

Paul Ford: I’m really good at finding information using typical search terms across a variety of internet places, including some places I pay for.

Okay. And, um, I’m also good at like buying books and I feel that the actual skill acquisition, okay, so if the job is to get a task done without doing too much, like [00:04:00] research mm-hmm. You can get to an okay first approximation, but it might be wrong, okay, with these tools. But if the job is skill acquisition so that you can reproduce it yourself and get stuff done more quickly.

I don’t get it yet. I just don’t get it because I could just go read a book or a Wikipedia page and know much more.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Um, I, I, I think, I think we’re at a point right now where the, the medium has knocked us out of our. Not the

Paul Ford: content teddy bears on the moon.

Rich Ziade: moon. It’s just, it feels like my concierge for life just showed up and is interacting with me. And so I think we’re in a, in a bit of a, a daze right now because of the way it seems to talk to us, not what it’s saying to us.

I really believe that right now. [00:05:00] And, and it’s, it’s blowing people’s minds because. We were Quora impressed us a dozen years

Paul Ford: ago. Yes, correct.

Rich Ziade: correct. And I was like, wow. This is just knowledge and people sharing information. Now this is a, like we are in the, in the, in the sort of parlor, like slight of hand phase a little bit with this thing where it’s feeling like.

Like the world’s computers converged on my weird question about GraphQL and it’s, and not only that, it seems to be talking to me like personally and it’s taken time out of its day to do it. And I think what’s happening right now is that we’ve conflated the medium, well, I’m gonna call it a medium cause I can’t think of a better word.

Paul Ford: it’s, that’s, that’s fine

Rich Ziade: with the like actual content that’s being shipped over to me. Um, if this was just a search result interface that was new, it wouldn’t be making this big of an [00:06:00] impression, I

Paul Ford: it would be very, very counter to what you want because some of the data’s inaccurate.

Rich Ziade: Exactly, exactly. And so I think, I think the idea of building skill around that and, and what you’re seeing a lot of right now, Here, here’s a thread on how to talk to a thing.

Paul Ford: Well, you know, so they’re what I did watch, they’re, um, have you seen the videos floating around?

It’s Balenciaga and they, they like take,

Rich Ziade: They’re really good.

Paul Ford: Yeah. They take people from movies and they have mid journey redraw them as Balenciaga models wearing Balenciaga outfits. So it’s like Star Wars. But Mark Hamill’s wearing like a really big puffy thing,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And then he says in Mark Hamill’s voice, yeah, I have, I’m able to use the force much better through the power of fashion.

Yeah. Okay. So

Rich Ziade: it’s pretty hilarious and good and funny and clever, and Balenciaga knows exactly what it’s

Paul Ford: I don’t think it’s Balenciaga at all. Oh, no, [00:07:00] no, no. This is just people making fun of Bolen. Fine. So there’s a tutorial

Rich Ziade: good for the brand,

Paul Ford: is like a six minute tutorial on how to make these, and it’s just, you go from site to site, platform to platform.

It gives you the prompts and so on. I, I think that what is miraculous to people, and I get this, is that content, and this is a thing that computers have always done, and I think that as AI enables this, this is very, very powerful.

Rich Ziade: very,

Paul Ford: Computers always provide, they get exciting to people when they provide a shortcut.

To making something that looks, I’m gonna, I’m gonna put it in quotes. Real. Okay. So, um, desktop publishing.

Rich Ziade: Sure.

Paul Ford: the, in the late eighties and, and especially the early nineties, suddenly you could make something that looked like it came from a real publisher,

Rich Ziade: like a magazine. A

Paul Ford: magazine looked, and in fact, what happened then, all the magazines started to use the desktop publishing tools, and now we don’t think of it as desktop publishing.

We think of it as InDesign. You know, like we, we just, you [00:08:00] just use it. Um, photo manipulation. Yeah. Right. Used to be darkroom stuff, and it had to be really skilled. Then you didn’t have to be skilled, you just had to pirate a copy of Photoshop. And everybody would freak out and be like, how have you taken away my job of, you know, Linotype operator,

Rich Ziade: kind of the history of tech

Paul Ford: over and over?

And I think that, and then what would happen is by getting into it, and this is the thing I love about computing, is that by getting into one of these subjects, like getting in the desktop publishing, you would end up learning a lot about the history of typography, how fonts work, all that stuff, if you were gonna be good at it.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm.

Paul Ford: So you end up learning a whole process. That actually points back to history and is really important. Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm.

Paul Ford: And I feel that like the balen make your own Balenciaga funny video and like actually forces people to think through the process of like, where should the edits be? What’s funny, what should they say?

Script, script writing. And

Rich Ziade: new skills in a way.

Paul Ford: These are new skills and the computer, the shortcuts that cause everybody panic. They get metabolized in like a year [00:09:00] now. So it’ll be like, yeah, of course, of course we can do that. You can always make up Balenciaga video.

Rich Ziade: So go back to your earlier statement. Why are you skeptical?

Paul Ford: I’m not skeptical. I’m just not, and I think what this person is reacting to, and this is, I’m gonna push back on this person. I feel that insufficient excitement is the great crime of our modern era and technology. If you’re not excited about, I wasn’t excited about crypto and people yelled at me for 10

Rich Ziade: This isn’t you being defensive. No,

Paul Ford: I think that what I, here’s where I’m at. I’m not excited. I think that it’s more computer. It’s just more computer and it’s, I’m gonna use these tools. I think more people will use them. I do not see it as the total revolutionary change in the way that, like, I, I think it’s equivalent to, and, and this is not underplaying it by any means.

It’s equivalent to desktop publish. It’s equivalent to Photoshop,

Rich Ziade: It’s gonna, it’s gonna automate away certain rote tasks.

Paul Ford: That part’s great. What I can’t stand is what’s [00:10:00] driving me crazy, is everybody going, and then the computer will become intelligent, take over the world, and it will be like a nuclear wars

Rich Ziade: there’s an article today in The Times about like, it’s coming for the lawyers.

Paul Ford: I’m on year 5 million of this irresistible subject in our world.

Rich Ziade: It’s an irresistible subject. And let me, let me speak to the lawyer argument, which by the way, for really basic stuff, like a lease for an apartment

Paul Ford: parking ticket, parking ticket.

These are algorithms essentially

Rich Ziade: there’s really basic things that we get done. Um, you know, uh, purchase agreement, uh, statement of work, like really basic stuff.

But here’s why. By the way that these have existed in the form of templates on, you know, certain websites that you can buy for like 50 bucks

Paul Ford: for over a decade. Yeah.

Rich Ziade: But the real value of a lawyer, a good lawyer, right, is actually not the, the artifact they produce. It’s the conversations beforehand and them [00:11:00] being thoughtful about creating a good defense against bad news later and, Is like, there is not, not that conversation is a conversation.


Paul Ford: this from working with you. The, the, the function of the lawyer is that you are, it’s not that they get rid of all risk, it’s that they educate you about the risk so that you can make your own decisions

Rich Ziade: and they try to convince you, Hey look, I know this may seem like a bit of a forward thing to ask the other party, but I think this clause should be in there cuz it’ll protect you from X or Y or Z.

That dialogue is, is not going to go away. If anything, I mean, The legal profession is, is fascinating as like financial in instruments have gotten more complex and as m and a has become like just part of life in the world, mergers and acquisitions, the need for lawyers has gone. It’s actually become more, has increased over time.

Um, and the reason for that is cuz the world is more complex,

Paul Ford: Lawyers will tell you that.

Rich Ziade: Lawyers will tell you that. [00:12:00] Here’s the

Paul Ford: You need more lawyers

Rich Ziade: if you think this is gonna bring down complexity, this wave, you’re in for something. It’s not going

Paul Ford: to, no, it won’t.

Rich Ziade: tech always seems like it’s making things easier and it always creates more complexity.

I don’t mean that in a bad, negative way,

Paul Ford: just, it just is what it is. We’ll then do, you’ll need tools to manage the other tools and I, I do think like,

Rich Ziade: great,

Paul Ford: It’s, it’s better at teaching you a process than Stack Overflow is, right? A around like, here’s how you make a JavaScript thing to do X, Y, and Z.

It’ll walk you through all

Rich Ziade: tailored responses are, I mean, that’s a nice shortcut.

That’s a huge time saver.

Paul Ford: like a cognitive comfort, right? Like you’re just like, oh, okay, well let me try that. And it doesn’t feel like you’re not trying to figure everything out from first principles, which you often are when you’re looking.

Stack overflow. So I think like it, the fact that you can say, Hey, I’m in position A and I need to get to position B. What are the steps I have to take along the way, as opposed to you having to intuit those steps. I think that’s a fantastic gift.

Rich Ziade: It is. But what it does [00:13:00] is, here’s what people I think always forget software when it innovates and eats away, it exists at the status quo. Once things settle down, it always gets bigger.

The software gets bigger and more. Like right now, there. F s you know, 150 AI startups that are piling on top of this shift that’s happened, which is like, okay, wait, I thought it’s gonna make things simpler and easier. And uh, Adobe is an amazing example. Adobe software just gets bigger and bigger

Paul Ford: Oh my God.

Rich Ziade: and, and you would think, okay, you know, we solved a bunch of things, let’s streamline, and it never does.

Instead it gets bigger. Right.

Paul Ford: You cannot streamline.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. And so I don’t know what the name of the DevOps ai profession job is gonna be in five years. It’s gonna be some name, it’s gonna be AIOps or

Paul Ford: be ai op AIOps.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. It’ll be something bizarre. But what, what we’re, what humans create [00:14:00] when they find, when they clear a room.

Paul Ford: mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: They always fill it with new shit that is just

Paul Ford: life. It, it’s just who we are. So I think what I would say is also like, I don’t know, a technology that would truly get me excited at this point.

I, I mean, I think if, if self-driving cars were real, that would actually blow my mind.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think because you’ve been through so many of these cycles.

Yeah. I think that’s what

Paul Ford: it’s like. That would be the

Rich Ziade: year old, I can totally sympathize with how they’re feeling right now and thinking, oh my God, all I ha, because the 28 year old’s context is TikTok,

Paul Ford: is this old man saying that he’s not excited about this is the most interesting. It is the most interesting thing happening.

Rich Ziade: right now.

It is the most interesting and, and, but the idea of, oh my goodness, we won’t be typing anymore. We’ll just stare into a camera and it’ll intuit what we need. That’s, that’s just never how it goes.

Paul Ford: person is asking me, you know, why, essentially what they’re saying is, why are you a middle aged person in the technology industry? And all I can say is because I am [00:15:00] a 48 year old person in the technology industry, I enjoy

Rich Ziade: watching it. It’s exciting to see something new. Take hold. It’s a weird time. I, I’ll, I’ll

Paul Ford: freaking,

Rich Ziade: I’ll lay it out right here. This is way more interesting and frankly credible than crypto.

Paul Ford: Well, it, it actually makes sense. It lets you do things you couldn’t do before. Whereas crypto you, it was like, yes, you’re now a market.

Like, it was like, oh, I didn’t

Rich Ziade: And it’s coming. The future is coming. It’s not here yet, but the

Paul Ford: Whereas this, it’s like, wow, that I never saw a dog and a hat on the moon

Rich Ziade: I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying watching it all kind of swirl. It’s fun.


Paul Ford: Well, I don’t know if we gave that person what they were looking for, but I did appreciate the email. I love getting called on the carpet a little bit.

It’s good for me.

Rich Ziade: It reminds me of like the seventh Transformer movie trailer versus the third

Paul Ford: Oh, the AI excitement you mean? Yeah, yeah,

Rich Ziade: glad there’s [00:16:00] excitement and you still kind of go, whoa, I didn’t expect the building to kind of flip over on its side like that.

Paul Ford: I have a friend who once ironically, wanted to go see a Transformer movie.

He was kind of curious and so we went.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And he’s like a sensitive, thoughtful guy. And about 10 minutes in and he like realized like, we gotta go see this. This is like America. We gotta figure this out. And I’m like, all right man, I’ll go. So we went, it was big movie theater volume was up loud and about 10 minutes in he turned to me.

He is like, we should just go, this is real. No, no. Cuz it’s just like cl, cl, cl. And I’m like, I turned to him and I. Oh, we’re here now.

Rich Ziade: We’re seeing this

Paul Ford: we’re, we’re gonna see like the bearded stealth bomber transformer. So anyway, yes. Um, it is, uh, it, look, it’s gonna be great. I lo I actually really love this new weird technology.

It drives me bananas that once again, everyone’s decided that because a computer can do a parlor trick, it’s actually an intelligent super baby. Um, but I’ve now been, I’m on like [00:17:00] year, this is like the 10th time that’s happened. Yeah. So, We go, good luck. If you can get to artificial general intelligence and take over all human society and change the future.

Um, what am I gonna say? Sounds great. Yourself? Okay. Hello. It’s the audi ford.com. Uh, we’ve got some real advice to give, uh, about, uh, about, um, somebody who’s looking for a job for the next episode. So let’s get ready. We’ll put on our HR hats. Come bag, tune back in. We love the mail bag. We’re ready to give you any advice you ask for.

Um, and check us out on Twitter. It’s the audi ford.com. We love you. Have

Rich Ziade: Have a lovely day. Bye. Good job.

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