Permission to Be Excited About AI
Skepticism, curiosity, and the Current Thing
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I’ve been giving myself permission to be excited about AI. It’s great. I feel like there’s an 11-year-old nerd in me that is giggling with glee every time I open my laptop these days.
When I’m in meetings I want to stand up and shout, “Computers can do incredible things right now!”
When I’m mindlessly scrolling on the subway, I want to log in to Twitter and post in all caps, “WHAT WAS IMPOSSIBLE 6 MONTHS AGO IS NOW POSSIBLE.”
When I’m walking home at night I want to go door to door in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, ring the doorbell, and ask the tired Park Slope parents, “Have you heard the good news?” When they say, “What good news?,” I want to shout, “Technology can inspire wonder again!”
They’ll think I’m a loony. But there is a joy to being a loony in this new world.
The only problem is: AI is the Current Thing. It’s not normal for me to like the Current Thing. I generally attempt to be “thoughtful,” and balanced,™ and Appropriately Skeptical of new things that other people like. I want to drink a martini or a neat bourbon when I’m evaluating ideas, not Kool-Aid.
Honestly, I’m usually annoyed when something gets trendy.
When social networks were trendy I was annoyed about it, and got into B2B SaaS. When crypto was trendy, I was annoyed about it and kept building my media business.
So what is this about? Why am I usually annoyed by the Current Thing, where this time I’m shouting about it from the rooftops? I want to unpack why I’m usually annoyed, and why, this time I’m giving myself permission to be excited about AI. If I do that, then maybe you will too.
Why I am usually annoyed at the current thing
Here is the intellectual way to frame it: I am afraid of group think.
I prefer value investing over momentum investing. Value investing seems like it’s about knowing how to be smart, and momentum investing seems like it’s about knowing how to be popular. I’m better at the first skill than the second.
Here is the emotional way to the same thing: I am afraid of anything that feels like high school. When something gets hot it reminds me of the years I spent trying to say things that the cool kids would laugh at in the late 2000s so that they’d invite me to parties.
(These were bad times.)
I’m not good at playing games that require popular kid social dynamics. I feel I’m much better at playing games where I can be off on my own splashing around in a pond that no one else is paying attention to.
At the same time, like any nerd in high school, I am afraid of missing out. My FOMO is balanced by my fear of trying to get in with the popular kids, and so I turn that into being annoyed instead. Once I’m annoyed, it’s easy to come up with reasonable-sounding justifications for my aversion, which allows me to safely stick around in my little pond of interests without being bothered too much about what’s going on outside.
I’m not arguing that all skepticism is illegitimate. I think there are a lot of legitimate reasons not to be excited about AI right now. There are open questions about alignment, safety, how it affects jobs, copyright, how it should handle biases, and more. These are important questions to answer, and it’s normal to be skeptical. (Also, not everyone needs to be into AI. There are infinitely many other pursuits that are worthy of time and energy.)
But, for my friends who are normally excited about developments in technology, but who are watching AI from the sidelines, I can’t help but wonder, what’s going on?
I think there is some part of them that wants to be excited about AI, but is stuck. Maybe for some of the reasons I listed above. Maybe for other reasons that I haven't touched on here.
I want to speak to the part that wants to be excited.
Why I have given myself permission to be excited
This stuff is incredibly cool. Full stop.
Here’s an example: I can type “please build a React chat app that has a dark mode option” into ChatGPT and it just… builds it for me.
That is truly amazing. If you’d told me that was going to happen a year ago I wouldn’t have believed you.
If you’re a tinkerer like me and you enjoy building side projects, this is a superpower. If I want to start a project with a tech stack that I don’t quite remember how to use, I don’t have to Google around to get a basic setup running. I just write one message, and instantly I have the boilerplate code I need to get started. It saves hours—and makes projects that would’ve been too much effort to start easily within reach.
Here are a few other examples: AI is an incredible creative tool. If I’m stuck on a headline I’m writing for an article I can paste it into Lex and ask for 10 suggestions. Most of them I can’t use, but if one of them sparks something for me, I’m off to the races. If I’m stuck on the body of an article, I can paste a bunch of malformed notes into GPT-3 and it will organize them for me.
Another example: If I’m feeling stuck on an issue in my life, I can journal about it with AI. It’s very good at helping me unpack the issue and see it from a new perspective. It can even pull out patterns from my personal history and tell me more about who I am, like I have a personal historian ready to answer questions at all times.
Do any of these examples create any amount of curiosity or interest? Follow that!
You have permission to be excited about it. You don’t have to shout about it from the rooftops. You can comfortably, quietly, curiously experiment with it and find ways for it to blow your mind. It will happen if you want it to. You don’t have to give up the things you’re working on and become an AI bro. You don’t have to worry about whether or not you’re secretly doing it to be popular.
If you’ve ever been interested in tinkering or building things before, now is one of the coolest times in history to do it. No, you will not build a billion-dollar business at the touch of a button. Yes, you can build a small weekend project that helps you discover new things about yourself. Or turn your favorite book or podcast into a bot that can answer questions.
Remember what it was like to think technology was awesome? It’s here again! No, it won’t last forever. It’s not up and to the right until AGI. This hype cycle will die down. Yes, the models say stupid, dumb things sometimes.
But they say things! They have personalities. They can code! They can help you come up with new ideas. They can be kind and warm. They can help you come up with just the right word for something. They can help you find structure in your ideas. They can help motivate you. They can take mundane tasks off your plate.
They are also like children. They repeat themselves, and they lie, and they enthusiastically make horrible mistakes.
And, just like children, the things they can do and the way they behave—now and into the future—are a reflection of us. We get out of them what we put in. Advancements in AI are clearing new land for builders, thinkers, writers, and artists.
If we want a future filled with technology that helps humans flourish, now is the time to jump into the water and make it.
You have all of the permission you need.
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So much yes for this piece! I also am one of those people who tend to find out about all these exciting things BEFORE they become big and then when they do become big, I'm really annoyed that everyone is all about it and I'm in a corner like, "yeah, duh, I knew about this ages ago." So it's that tug of war between begrudgingly getting excited about it again or staying annoyed in the corner. That's how Ai feels to me right now.
Excellent, I agree with your excitement about AI.