Year round learning for product, design and engineering professionals

Some weekend reading, the chatbots are the worst edition

A gathering of cartoon robots.

I’ve mentioned before that I spend a lot of my time trying to keep up with developments in technology, particularly around web development technologies and practices.

I capture links to articles as I read (there’s many dozens of specialist sites in my RSS feed), and then every few days go back to this ever growing list and covert the ones I feel are most valuable and useful to posts for Twitter, and Linkedin, and then the choicest end up in my newsletter.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, hosting our first AI Happy Hour this week in Sydney (if you missed out there’s one next month as well), and finalising the program for our AI conference (July 21st in Sydney), and the program for our now monster Summit (7 tracks, nearly 100 speakers, across all things front end and product).

When I returned to my list I was both surprised and not surprised to find pretty much all the recent links were AI related.

So today some of the ones I think are the most interesting from these. I know there are a lot of overnight AI experts and tech-influencers who have moved from other areas of tech hype to AI in recent weeks and months, but hopefully these are things you’ll find really valuable from deeply thoughtful experienced people.

AI is killing the old web, and the new web struggles to be born

One of the concerns that has been expressed about the emergence of generative AI is that the efficiency with which it can help generate content threatens to overwhelm the web with mediocre machine generated content. But chum content, until recently largely generated by humans, has been a recognised challenge for the web for years.

James Vincent at the Verge observes

The web is always dying, of course; it’s been dying for years, killed by apps that divert traffic from websites or algorithms that reward supposedly shortening attention spans. But in 2023, it’s dying again — and, as the litany above suggests, there’s a new catalyst at play: AI. 

It’s a thoughtful piece that I highly recommend.

The Expanding Dark Forest and Generative AI

Maggie Appleton (remember that name) writes in a similar vein on “Proving you’re a human on a web flooded with generative AI content”.

Even before the release of ChatGPT and GPT-4, Appleton wrote

We’re about to drown in a sea of pedestrian takes. An explosion of noise that will drown out any signal. Goodbye to finding original human insights or authentic connections under that pile of cruft.

The Expanding Dark Forest and Generative AI

But she asks how we might

prove [we’re] not a language model generating predictive text? What special human tricks can [we] do that a language model can’t?

Another must read. And you might even get the chance to hear her speak later in the year–watch this space.

Jamming Midjourney inside of Discord is one of the best product decisions I’ve ever seen

Jon Kolko is a legend in the design world, and we were fortunate enough to have him speak at Web Directions in 2012 (it’s one of our earliest videos on Confab).

One areas of focus that’s really only beginning (and I promise you we’ll be addressing extensively at Web Directions Summit) is what the UX of AI looks like. Right now, it’s mostly sticking chatboxes in existing (and new) products. Kolko here considers Midjourney’s design decision to make the core user experience a discord bot and a discord community and why.

The Midjourney experience is a team sport. It’s a chain of creativity. During one session, and over ten minutes, I watched someone grinding out an image of Luigi from Mario brothers, sitting on a park bench in the rain. They wrote the prompt; we waited 20 seconds or so; they made creative direction decisions on what to change; and then they re-wrote the prompt. 

Jamming Midjourney inside of Discord is one of the best product decision I’ve ever seen

Partnering with machine intelligence

At AI Happy Hour, Kaz Grace considered the idea of interacting with generative AI agents (this was particularly in the context of image generation) as collaborators. This is an idea I’ve seen Simon Willison express, and it has been my experience of working with ChatGPT as a programmer. Jon Udell expressed this too in a recent piece

I came away with a profound sense that the real value of these assistants isn’t any particular piece of code that they get “right” or “wrong” but rather the process of collaborating with them. 

When the rubber duck talks back

In my experience it takes time to develop this sense of collaboration, a sense that comes through the use of the technologies.

Why Chatbots Are Not the Future

A great piece by Amelia Wattenberger who observes

Text inputs have no affordances

When I go up the mountain to ask the ChatGPT oracle a question, I am met with a blank face. What does this oracle know? How should I ask my question? And when it responds, it is endlessly confident. I can’t tell whether or not it actually understand my question or where this information came from.

Why Chatbots Are Not the Future

OK I’ll leave it there for now

I have many more links-but I’ll save them for future editions.

There are big foundational issues to consider with any new technology, but the time in which to consider them is relatively short, before patterns and power structures become entrenched. If you want to help shape what the future of these technologies look and feel like then the time to engage those issues is now.

Autonomous Agents Unconference

The day before Web Directions AI, our good friend Mark Pesce is organising an autonomous agents unconference. It’s free, hosted at UTS Startups, but places are limited, so RSVP asap! Anything that gets the man who invented VRML and Sega VR excited should get us all excited!

Web Directions AI and Summit

Well be addressing a lot of these issues at our AI conference, in Sydney July 21st, and from the perspective of different areas of practice (produce design, engineering, product management, content strategy) at Web Directions Summit in October in Sydney.

You can even get a free ticket to AI if you register a silver or gold ticket to Summit!

delivering year round learning for front end and full stack professionals

Learn more about us

Out of any conference, Web Directions is far and away our favourite

Dave Greiner Founder, Campaign Monitor