Meta Status

AI economy history internet technology

What does Meta do? It turns people into money. Those that are on the Internet, that is—not in a Soylent Green kind of way.

At least, that was the mantra up until 2018. Then Cambridge Analytica broke. And the Q2 2018 earnings gave an inkling of the possibility that not a fixed—and also rather large—ratio of people entering the Internet would become, just like magic, Facebook users.

Later, people seemed to forget about the fact that they get algorithmically nudged in Zuck’s wonderland every step of the way. Wall Street itself realized that revenues at 1 Hacker Way actually kept on rising—until they jumped in 2021. COVID, remember?

The Metaverse, however, wasn’t really that great of a hit, and after the virus bonus revenue fell back in line the following year, FB lost a staggering two-thirds of its value. A trillion-dollar meme stock.

An attribute that it then turned into current heights via hitching itself to the AI bandwagon.

Releasing the LLaMA weights is undoubtedly a commendable move. It sounds utterly impressive when you can claim, “While we’re working on today’s products and models, we’re also working on the research we need to advance for LLaMA 5, 6, and 7 in the coming years and beyond to develop full general intelligence,” in an earnings call. Pretty much like that strange man proclaimed five years ago: “I want 5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible.” Numbers: They go up, up, and up.

Hype aside, I am not really aware of any practical applications for LLaMA 3. Zuck bought lots of GPUs. Both Jensen and I are happy about that. Maybe they thought they had all this data that people have entered in their apps. Maybe they could train a LLM on it. With GPT-3, there was this notion that the size of the training corpus was all that mattered. After all, OpenAI’s chatbot was such a wonder, and it jumped into existence just via the increase of its training data. I speculate that a trillion training tokens derived from FB discussions yield surprisingly little meaningful reasoning power. Especially compared to actual content like, for instance, Wikipedia.

The pressure to come up with something must have weighed heavily on 1 Hacker Way. As those two transformer-based applications (LLMs and Image Diffusers) broke into public view and kicked the world into a frenzy that seemingly became the new normal, Meta itself had just spent around $50 billion on developing, well, the Metaverse. Which received rather little positive reaction, to put it mildly.

The total and utter failure of Zuck’s idea to come up with a whole new thing left Meta with no choice but to jump on the AI hype PR scheme. And up to this day, it has worked rather well. While revenue is ticking along as expected, the stock is kissing new heights. For now.

So, what’s next?
Nobody knows.

What will happen is that Internet population growth will end. There are simply no more people left that could join. Pretty much everybody who could go online already has done so. While 25% of the world’s population are younger than 15, many of them live in underdeveloped parts of Africa. Furthermore, young people hardly flock eagerly into the Meta family of products once they get their first Internet device.

Meta’s revenue growth would therefore stall together with the plateau in its user count. While they continue to make a lot of money, a PE ratio of currently around 30 is expecting something else: More money. You need to grow profits to justify such a valuation.
A quick way to bump revenues would be to reduce costs. Twitter is still up and running, despite Mr. Musk letting go of most of its workforce. A tempting move that could save the numbers for a quarter or two at Menlo Park as well. The problem is that this approach works only briefly: Costs go down to zero. But not more.

Which means that Meta needs to increase revenues while user numbers can no longer grow.

Can Zuck’s companies accomplish that? They might, but it would not be pretty: Billions of people have delegated a great part of their social existence into the “Meta Family of Products”. (What’s in a name?) A sticky situation in itself. Add to that the addictive aspects that rival nicotine, and you realize that half the planet as a user base won’t go anywhere fast.

Wealth as well as the inflexibility to change app use or social topology both tend to grow with increasing age. Meta owns people’s time and attention in staggering amounts.


Here comes the part that isn’t pretty: it is rather easy to manipulate people online. Tech is able to do it. And will increasingly be. There is a threshold after which you no longer realize that you got nudged.

When the magician manages to direct your attention successfully, all sorts of things are possible. With a serious difference: Magic lives from the effect, that the outcome shows you, that you must have missed something. You are supposed to notice that it is impossible what just happened.

Manipulation to gain, aka advertisement, has a different aim: You should be made to act in certain ways, all the while thinking that you want to do that.

The total spending of Meta family users is responsible for a mind-boggling share of GDP. And, as discussed, most of the users will not go anywhere. If Meta does not f*ck up royally, pretty much half of the global adults will continue to point their noses, eyes, minds, and wallets its way.

Turning on the manipulation engine will not be one deliberate conscious act or one magnificent large piece of software. Lots of little changes will yield lots of little benefits. With billions of people, you can do a whole lot of A/B testing. Nobody will notice. Everybody’s feed is different and the fact that you see wording that is ever so slightly different will not trigger any of the societal mechanisms that will raise a reaction.

Jacob Riis used flash photography at the end of the 19th century to show the world how poor people lived in NYC, and he changed the world for the better. I cannot imagine how we can illuminate the modern plight of getting nudged into an ultimately unhappy existence that looms on the horizon.

Navigating LLMs: Benefits and Drawbacks in June 2024

AI google history internet

LLMs have their limits, and where they excel makes a difference. As of June 2024, they continue to evolve. Anthrop\c Claude 3.5 works well for coding simple things with Python. It feels like the LLM has been heavily trained on existing code. Actually, it might be just as good in other applications as well. I wouldn’t know since I only use it for coding right now. Even on the paid plan, it has a message limit, which feels very 2023. So, I use the limited interaction where I get the highest benefit, which is coding. The artifact window is a great idea, and the speed of generation is appreciated. With gpt4o, I had to interleave work: make a request, switch to a different task while gpt4o sputtered out characters at Morse code speed. It probably runs on a colony of squids at the bottom of the Mariana Trench that OpenAI taught how to use Morse code with each arm.

And yes, an image like this I create with gpt4o. I don’t even know if Claude can do that. I don’t mind having multiple LLMs. I am gladly paying for both of them, as I do for search. Right now, I am very happy that there is more than one solution. I tried to use Google AI, but it was too complicated to figure out. To find the offering that fit mit my needs. And I am not aware of a key feature that I could only do with them. They already have all my email, read the entire Internet. If I can avoid it, I would not like to help them any further. Sure, if they were as good at coding as Claude, I would use them in a second. I have morals, but I cannot save the world single-handedly either.

One of the bigger fears I have is that LLMs might take the same turn that Google Search did. It was a great idea. It worked great, allowing for a phase of the Internet in the early 2000s that was very promising. Then it became what we suffer from today—a swamp. Barely functional. Generating around $150 profit for Google per user annually. Which means companies make more. Which means that I loose even more than that. The costs of using Google Search by being manipulated are much higher now than its benefits. The SEO world that Google Search presents is not a nice one. I happily give Kagi money to have some distance from that swamp.

Goethe: Kunstwerk des Lebens

books history

Rüdiger Safranski schreibt über das Leben und damit ja auch Werk Goethes. Frank Arnold las “Schuld und Sühne” ganz hervorragend. Das gab den Ausschlag für dieses 28 Stunden Audiobuch. Mir gefiel es gut. Goethe lebte von 1749 bis 1832. Zeiten, in denen viel passierte. Auf Buchseiten und im echten Leben. In dem von Goethe und um ihn herum.

Der Autor bringt dieses sehr komplexe Geschehen sehr wohltuend in eine Form, die es aufnehmbar macht. Ich bin mir sicher, dass am Ende alles in Wirklichkeit noch viel verwobener war. Aber die Lesbarmachung dieser Zeit und dieses Lebens ist – in meiner Sicht – komplett gelungen.

Schnitt, van de Laar

books history

Arnold van de Laar schreibt in “Schnitt!” über 28 Operationen der letzten Jahrhunderte und in einigen Fällen auch Jahrtausende. Das Buch ist nicht unbedingt etwas für schwache Nerven. Als Chirurg vergisst Van de Laar mitunter, dass nicht alle Menschen seine nüchterne und distanzierte Sichtweise in Bezug auf Körperversehrungen aller Art teilen können. Dem Inhalt tut das aber keinen Abbruch, wahrscheinlich sogar im Gegenteil.

Die Unterteilung in verschiedene Operationen, Operateure, Patienten, Zeiten und Regionen, die hier zusammen beleuchtet werden, tun dem Werk sehr gut. Van de Laar beleuchtet die Geschichte durch seine eigene, dabei zugleich immens einsichtsreiche Perspektive.

Seitdem es Zeitungen gibt, füllen sie sich zu 90 % mit schlechten Nachrichten. Ein Buch wie Schnitt! macht in klarstem Maße deutlich, dass wir durchaus schon weit gekommen sind. Wenn einem etwas fehlen sollte und man sich die Epoche der Behandlung aussuchen könnte, wäre die Auswahl immer sehr leicht: Heute. Ganz unbedingt heute. Vielleicht morgen. Aber auf keinen Fall in der Vergangenheit.

awk

AI Command Line history unix

Since its inception in 1977 awk enjoyed a user base of thousands of people.

Since LLMs can tell us how to use it now, it suddenly became millions.

Eine Art U Zentrum für Anspruchsvolle

communication history media

Was auch immer das Internet mit der Menschheit macht, es ist auch eine Plattform, auf der viele historische Kulturformen weiter existieren können.

Radio-Hörspiele zum Beispiel. Als der Massenkonsum schon längst zum Kino und dann zum Fernsehen umgezogen war, entwickelte das Radio seine vielleicht spannendsten Inhalte. Wie einige Podcaster gerade wieder neu entdecken, erlaubt eine Audioproduktion mit relativ einfachen Mitteln die Erzeugung von interessanten Szenarien.

1969 ist lange her. Hermann Ebelings Hörspiel Der Konzern hat auch 2024 inhaltlich noch Relevanz.

 

royal gene tests

history politics technology

Royal successions are based on who is related to whom in which way. Presumably in the biological way. Since most rules for successions are not based on maternal, like for instance the much more pragmatic jewish faith, it could be interesting to back up the pedigree with actual genetic evidence. Something that could have been done since decades. Given how easy it has become it is surprising that no tabloid has gone there yet to offer proof about certain differences between the official story and the actual relationships. I wonder if there efforts on the way to protect the genetic information of people in royal families.

There are stories that latest North Korean Kim makes efforts that the output of his body remains under his control. What a strange job: Honeyboy to the dictator.

It is probably possible to go back in time as well. There are probably a couple of relics that have traces of DNA. Once Corona is in the past we have allot of PCR capacity that is sitting around. I wonder how cheap these machines will become.

Titanic suicides

history media

In the wonderful “Ship of dreams” I read that 10 people that survived the Titanic died by their own hand later in life. I instantly explained this to me that the tragic event must have tarnished their life.

Turns out that the overall rate of suicide compared to other reasons of death is 1.4%. Since 705 people survived the disaster the statistics would predict exactly that amount of people.

2046

history media

Anne Haeming schreibt in der Taz über Luc Besson’s “Der Profi”, und – Überraschung – in den letzten 26 Jahren hat sich vieles geändert. Die “Kritik” is brav mit #Me too verhashtagt. Aber wirklich neues fördert Frau Heaming nicht hevor. Man wird das Gefühl nicht los das der Film jetzt irgendwie schlimm sein soll. Die Autorin endet mit:

Leute, diesen Film anschauen, einfach so: Das geht längst nicht mehr.

Aha. Nun wissen wir das also. Also was machen? Umerziehen nach dem (versehentlichen) betrachten? Schwarze Balken? Schauspieler per KI ins der jetzigen Kultur entsprechenden Alter setzen? Das ganze Werk gleich in den Giftschrank. Neben Riefenstahl ist noch Platz.

Das Problem dieser Kritik ist, das sie schreibt als gäbe es irgendwo einen objektiven Maßstab von dem was geht, und was nicht geht. Den gibt es natürlich auch: Wenn etwas Leiden verursacht dann ist es bedenkenswert. Sollte meistens vermieden werden.

Ob nun jeder die Brutalitäten dieses Films sehen muß ist vielleicht fraglich. Aber diesen Film jetzt pauschal via ist-me-too zu verurteilen ist lächerlich. Und eine Indikation der Zeit. In nochmal 26 Jahren wird diese Kritik selbst in der kritischen Betrachtung stehen. Der Film wird dann als Zeitzeugnis bewertet werden. Nicht mehr. Nicht weniger. Bis dahin gucke ich ihn dann einfach an. Einfach so.

Stuxnet 2.0

history politics technology

The Iranian city of Natanz is in the news again. The original stuxnet is still a marvel of technology and creativity. That a Siemens controller was the victim back than does not surprise at all.

Sky News actually wonders if there is a larger pattern of things blowing up in Iran during recent weeks.