I need to share with you an epiphany that occurred to me yesterday.
Have you heard of GPT-3? If not, I can
tell you that it's a language model that has been showing up everywhere. Having
been trained with a lot of data, it can generate text that people find
If you follow the hype, GPT-3 will revolutionize everything - people have
been using it to generate plausible-looking creative
SQL Queries that are sometimes wrong,
tweets, and so on.
But you know what no one has generated yet, as far as I know? Something
useful. Or even better: something that people always wanted but current
technology cannot provide.
People are excited about GPT-3 because it promises to "just work" - you
give it the right prompt and you get the right answer. This would solve all of
those pesky problems associated with NLP such as "this search terms make no
sense", "I hate knowledge bases", "That question has multiple answers", or "I
don't want to manually write all possible answers for my system". But this is
not what GPT-3 can do, because GPT-3
will not bend to your so-called facts and therefore will not do what you want.
As Robert Dale puts it when talking about
"driven as it is by information that is ultimately about language use, rather
than directly about the real world, it roams untethered to the truth".
In other words, people are excited about GPT-3 because they think it solves a
different problem that the one it actually does.
If you want a chatbot to tell a patient that the solution to their depression is
talking to a professional instead of GPT-3's suggestion that they should just
go ahead and kill themselves,
you need a way to constrain the system's output. This means that you still
need to write the code that interprets the patient's problems, the code that
chooses the right solution to that problem, and the code that says exactly what
you want, no more and no less. And while turning structured data into
human-readable sentences is a valid possible use for GPT-3, the amount of work
required to constrain its output to an acceptable error level is comparable to
the effort required to write smart templates that guarantee you'll generate
exactly what you want.
And so, GPT-3 joins blockchain technology in being a solution searching for a
problem. In fact, the parallels are kind of amazing: both technologies are
hyped to the extreme, completely misunderstood by the general public, very
expensive to run, and products based on them rarely make it out of the
I would like to leave you with two optimistic thoughts. First, I do think
that it is only a matter of time before someone actually finds a good use for
GPT-3. I predict it is going to be something marginal, with my best bet being
something related to grammatical correctness. Abstractive summarization is also
a good candidate, but my faith is lower because inserting unrelated facts is
simultaneously what abstractive summarization tries to avoid and what GPT-3 does
And second, I want to let you know that there's a great business opportunity
here. The blockchain craze reached the point where simply putting "blockchain"
in your company name is enough to make your stock price rise by 289
Therefore, if my prediction is correct then all you need to do is either name
your own company "GPT-3" or invest in someone else doing it. Sure, their
stock will probably tank once investors realize they invested for the wrong
reasons, but by then you will have hopefully cashed out and moved on to
Disclaimer: I am not an investment banker, this post does not constitute
financial advice, I don't know why anyone would listen to me, and you shouldn't
follow advice you find on random blog posts anyway.
Uber arrived in Argentina working in a grey legal area, as usual. Word of mouth
is that Uber refused to be classified as a transport company and insisted on being
classified as a digital services company instead. These legal problems led to
them being unable to accept Argentinean credit cards for payment.
But Uber kept offering the service at a loss, allowing local drivers to accept cash
and adding the debt to their driver profile. According to insiders, the
drivers were expected to keep Uber's 25% cut aside and transfer it once in a while
themselves. Although Uber eventually managed to get access to credit cards, they
kept the cash option available.
The collateral damage of this policy is extensive.
Some drivers decided not to settle their debts with Uber, keeping 100% of the
proceeds instead. If and when Uber
closes the driver's account they get a new SIM card, send fake documentation,
and start with a fresh account that lasts between a week and a month.
These drivers accept only cash: they have no bank account data to provide because
their data is fake, and they know that it's only a matter of time before their
account gets banned anyway.
Because these drivers accept that their account is temporary, none of Uber's
typical incentives work. When a passenger pays with credit card the money
goes straight to Uber and the driver doesn't see a dime -- it all goes away
to settle a debt they had no intention of paying. Therefore, drivers will
often contact potential passengers asking how they intend to pay.
If the passenger says "credit card", the driver either cancels the trip or
straight up ignores the passenger forcing them to cancel. You can take the
time and report the driver, but few people do it and all it does is to cause a
mild inconvenience to the driver.
And while this is inconvenient for the passenger, it also opens the door to
the really shady practices: once you have no way of verifying
that the driver is who they claim to be, you are one step away from being
robbed by a fake driver (in
In short, Uber Argentina has become yet another dysfunctional taxi service.
And rival local apps are catching up: not only do they have their paperwork up
to date, but they have also incorporated apps into their daily routine.
It would be no surprise if Uber were still operating in Argentina
just for PR purposes. With a 43% drop
in revenue for Latin America last year, and with Uber pinky swearing that they
will achieve profitability any time now,
the only reason I can see for Uber operating in Argentina is to keep the illusion
of "one app for the entire world".
And sure, that's a fair point. But I have no reason to believe that these problems
are exclusive to Argentina, and probably neither should you. I wrote this story
because I found it interesting and I picked Argentina because that's what I know about,
but if you are one of those tourists who blindly gets into an Uber believing
that their drivers are more honest than taxi drivers
you may be up for a rude awakening. Apps are not well known for solving deep,
systemic social problems after all.
The information for this post came from these threads in Reddit's /r/argentina:
I have tried this week to buy the soundtrack for The Greatest
Showman for a gift
and let me tell you, it's really hard.
I started naively thinking that, since the album is available on Amazon as MP3,
I could just click "Buy" and be done with it.
But Amazon, as it turns out, doesn't want my money. Sure, they say they will
sell me the album. But once I actually try they reject my credit and
debit cards with a mysterious error that, after some digging, may be related
to Amazon not having the
that album in Germany. I say "may" because Amazon doesn't give me any usable
information - all they show is this error:
We were unable to process your purchase with your current payment information.
Please enter a valid payment method and an address which are both local.
Seeing that my credit card is valid, my address is local, and the
buy page doesn't
mention any kind of restrictions, that's my first dead end.
My second stop is Warner Music, who owns the soundtrack. This is also a
waste of time: they will gladly sell me physical
copies in vinyl, but digital? No luck there.
Next: Apple, the first big company to offer DRM-free music downloads and
self-professed champions of user experience. We were off to a rocky start:
you can only buy music using iTunes, which is not available in Linux and forces
me to boot my Windows 10 PC. One hour later, courtesy of Windows 10 deciding
it's a good time for an update, I am faced with this screen:
If you think this well-known and yet unresolved
issue stopped me, you are
mistaken - I have signed way too many contracts in languages I don't fully grasp
to be afraid of what is clearly a credit card details form. Luckily,
after giving my password like 6 times, converting
mp3, and almost two hours later, I am finally the proud temporary
owner of this soundtrack.
So let's talk now about Spotify. I reluctantly started using it again because
it's one of the few services with an offline mode for Android phones that
doesn't require giving my phone number.
Seeing as I still object to their collection of
private data, I
created a fake profile that I regularly renew
with gift cards. But do
you know what happens when your subscription is about to run out? The answer is
"nothing": you get zero notifications, no e-mail, nothing.
What happens when my subscription runs out? First: all of my offline music is
deleted, which is the one feature I'm paying for. Since I'm often in offline
mode for work, that means no music for me for the rest of the day. And second:
just like there is no notification about my balance running out, there is also
no option in the app to give a new gift card code. I can easily give my credit
card and subscribe forever, but gift cards require extra steps.
What these two infuriating stories have in common is that they are examples of
the music industry working both badly and as intended. Amazon, Spotify, and
Apple (up to a point) will gladly give me access to the music I'm trying to pay
for, but only if I agree to set recurring payments to their walled gardens
and access to my private data. Owning my music and keeping my privacy, however,
is really hard.
Which brings me to my final point. There is a service with an extensive,
high-quality music catalog that's easy to use, works on every platform, let's
you keep your privacy, and will take your money but only if you really want to.
It's called piracy. And even though it's been almost 10 years since
Gabe Newell publicly pointed
to effectively get rid of piracy for good, we are somehow still living in a
world where buying a single music CD takes two hours, Windows, fluency in
fictitious languages, and a computer science degree.
At least you can now order your vinyl records via e-mail. Take that, 1980s!