Another month, another deepish dive by the three podnosticators of the SmallDataForum – who Sam describes as “Thomas = the philosopher-academic and historical context-setter; Neville = the champion experimenter and enthusiastic evangelist; and Sam = the dabbler, observer, and sceptic.”
This time, we dive into generative (as well as degenerative) artificial intelligence, large language models (LLMs) and various chat-botty applications, including Neville’s new favourite, Claude, “the most human-like experience”. Turing Test, anyone?
After seven years of vigorous podnostication, the SmallDataForum reaches its diamond anniversary. Or semi-sesquicentennial (‘half one hundred and fifty’) as Sam (of course!) informs us. Seventy-five episodes of wondering and pondering about the strange times we live in, with absolutely no end in sight.
Our almost hour-long Zoomwag starts with the battle of the micro-messaging platforms: X vs Threads, Twitter vs Meta, Elon vs Mark – the digital cage fight over the monetizable part of the networked world. Tech maven and serial early adopter and experimenter-user Neville explains it all with exemplary breadth and depth.
Social anti-social media
“Mega instant network” Threads is actually part of Instagram and should thus be called Instagram Threads. Neville highlights benefits – it’s so easy to attract an audience, just follow all your Insta friends – as well as costs: if you decide to uninstall it, it will also uninstall Instagram.
“In framing an ideal we may assume what we wish, but should avoid impossibilities.” This Aristotle quote opens one of my favourite books, Aldous Huxley’s last novel, Island (1962).
It also summarises neatly Neville’s, and to a lesser degree, Sam’s, position re the appetite and capacity for, and thus the likelihood of radical change to the British political and electoral system.
To be fair, Neville suggested not to focus on politics at all in our latest episode, and instead invest all of our podnosticating attention in the “only big news of the day”, the split of Phil and Holly. In a masterclass of persuasive communication however, Sam and I manage to talk him round to our planned discussion of the recent local elections in England and all the related fall-out.
Both Neville and Sam refer to local political evidence in their respective leafy neighbourhoods in West Berkshire and East Sussex, where Conservative councillors are all but extinct.
And yet, as Sam highlights, on the local election evidence, UK-psephologist-in-chief Sir John Curtice doesn’t quite see an outright Labour majority at the next general election.
Back in the grey drizzle of a late March Friday morning in the UK, the three Podnosticators of the SmallDataForum convene to take another sideways look at ‘events, dear boy, events’ (something Harold Macmillan apparently never said).
In ancient Greece, people consulted oracles to learn about the future. The best known resided at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, where the blind priestess Pythia provided prophetic prediction for all in need of direction. Above its entrance, the temple had an inscription: Know thyself.
In fact, there appear to have been a total of 147 maxims chiselled into the marble – and they are well worth studying in detail if one wants to fine-tune one’s moral compass. The first three are the best-known: in addition to self-knowledge, they appeal to moderation, and the avoidance of overly strong beliefs or ideology (one might be tempted to call that humility).
It is no surprise that the Sam, as the classicist among the three veterans of the SmallDataForum, came up with our new name, blending the ancient Greek word describing foreknowing – prognosis (with gnosis = knowledge at its heart) with our cherished medium of podcasting. Lo and behold, in an act of neology-meets-etymology, the googlewhacking Podnosticators were born.