The Shopping List Edition
AI curiosities, ChatGPT does my shopping and more besides...
This week we have puns, analogies, why four-day weeks are forever, and WFH is here to stay.
Several times in the last few days I’ve worried that this newsletter will just be about artificial intelligence (AI), because it is so much on my mind at the moment. Would that be a bad thing? It doesn’t matter, because it isn’t. Also AI isn’t even about AI – it’s about words and thinking and what we do when we put those two things together in new ways.
ChatGPT and the rockslide of other technologies tumbling down on us in its wake are a surprising set of new tools that no one has quite figured out how to use yet. Including me; including everyone who even for a moment, thinks they have it figured it out yet. If a lifetime of trying to put words together to make sense together has taught me anything, it is that you never completely figure it out – but there are moments when it all seems to come together and work.
Automate all the small things
Here is a six step recipe to save you time and energy organising your shopping list:
Open any notes app on a smartphone.
Go through the kitchen and work out what you need to buy. Use dictation to write each thing you notice you need.
Add anything from recipe book ideas you’re after.
Copy and paste the list into your AI app (I used Notion, but pasting it into ChatGPT or bing will work).
Use a prompt like “Please rewrite the above list into sections that would be found in the UK supermarket with each section as a bold headline and each item as a bullet point”.
Step 6. There you go. Now send the list to your housekeeper or robot and you’re good. No robot? Oh crap, did I send this newsletter back to 2022 again? (Wait until they find out about time tr… [REDACTED]
The point here is not over-engineering a simple task, but just noticing all the time where you might use AI to speed up or eliminate tasks that we might categorise as cognitive drudgery. There are a lot of these tasks in the world because of our current incarnation of capitalism’s penchant for shifting labour to citizens and customers under the guise of automation. But don't get me started on that; the editor of the FT, Rana Foroohar, wrote an excellent column recently on shadow work which covers that
(By the way, I keep being asked if I'm using AI to write this letter. I do not, but I do dictate some of it slowly, and clearly using the accent of Werner Hertzog. What? It's my house my rules… I do what is me in the moment.)
Arctic exploration tip: always bring a spare set of Goethe’s complete works
Having too many books just means you’re well prepared.
The two Danes never forgot that meeting with Amundsen. They had lost their books, and faced a winter without anything to read. Amundsen gave them a spare set of Goethe’s works that he had on board. The pleasure of that unexpected gift in the Polar darkness was a delighted memory for the rest of their lives. — Scott and Amundsen
Fast AI fun #1
Draw a poor MS Paint-syle picture with your mouse then press a button and let AI turn it into a picture with Scribble Diffusion.
It’s just fun. Try it! I bet there are a hundred quiz and parkour games you could make up with this.
Why WFH is forever
Making people work in an office is – for now – seen as a mark of absurdity or actual evil. In The Consultant (Amazon Prime) Christoph Waltz hams it up as apparently demonically malign substitute-CEO. The first demonstration of how truly sinister he is comes at a company meeting when he announces to a screen-wall of remote workers on a Zoom call that they come into the office within an hour if they want to keep their jobs.
How. Dare. He. What a monster!
I imagine for some managers that scene was a wish-fulfilment fantasy. For everyone else the scene sent shivers down their spines.
Tim Harford wrote recently about the huge numbers of people who are never going back to the office:
Barrero *et al* have been running a survey of working-age Americans since May of 2020, targeting those with a history of paid work. They find that before the pandemic, less than 5 per cent of working days were spent working from home — the result of a long slow climb from less than 0.5 per cent in the 1960s through 1 per cent in the early 1990s. In the first wave of the pandemic, that figure jumped to more than 60 per cent before quickly ebbing.
But what is striking is that the number has plateaued at levels that would have seemed unimaginable before the pandemic. In January 2021, more than 35 per cent of paid working days were from home. By January 2022 — after a spectacular vaccine rollout and the infection of a large proportion of the US population — 33 per cent of days were still worked from home. That number stayed around 30 per cent throughout last year before dipping to 27 per cent in the survey for January.
A lovely list Of historical fiction that historians are fans of…
You never know when this might come in useful. Bernie Gunther’s not on the list, but my beloved Wolf Hall trilogy is, of course.
I’m not a business man…
“I’m a business, man…” The words of Jay-Z. But anywaaaay – a couple of things I would like to mention.
My business partner on a podcast: My very eloquent and brilliant business partner on the Waypoint podcast explaining what our company does and why. Listen on Spotify or the pod platform you prefer.
Experiments eat inertia: We published the last of three articles I’ve written about our approach to innovation and change in marketing teams this week on the Brilliant Noise blog.
A little sample
Test–Learn–Lead™ is often applied where transformation programmes are stalling or having difficulty starting, as well as when urgent business challenges are not being acted on quickly enough despite goal-setting and apparent alignment between teams. The organisation is willing, but the culture is inexplicably slow to move.
Here they are the articles in order
Talking of writing…
Reading my own writing is sometimes quite difficult, a bit like listening to a recording of one’s own voice. The difficulty comes from being too close to the work but also that real and urgent sense that you need to re-write and edit immediately.
My writing hero, Robert A Caro, said:
I’m not sure I ever think the writing is going well. Every day I reread what I wrote the day before, and I’ve learned from hard experience that it’s a real mistake to get too confident about what I’ve written. I do so much writing and rewriting. And Knopf knows. I rewrite the galleys completely. I even rewrite in page proofs, which they don’t actually allow you to do, but they’ve been very good to me. I’d rewrite in the finished book if I could…
So at least I’m not alone.
“I too am think a semi-colon is worth fighting a civil war over”
Which leads me to another reason, dear reader, that I love writing this newsletter. After a week of finding interesting things in the world, I get another swing at serendipity when I try to explain it to you.
As I was reading Caro’s words I could hear his voice in my head. I’ve listened to the audiobook of Working and so it is now stuck there forever. It’s a deep-pile rumble of an old New York accent; broad like the the Hudson with the tonal range of light on a Brooklyn evening.
Looking for a YouTube of him reading I found treasure. Sony Pictures are releasing a documentary about him and his relationship with his editor. It’s called Turn Every Page and hasn’t been distributed in the UK yet. Here’s the trailer:
Fast AI fun #2
Beatbox will make a short rap about anything you like. Here’s one promoting this newsletter
Joyland (in cinemas at time of writing)
Stop everything and go to the cinema before this disappears from its short run. It’s a Pakistani film and said to be a harbinger of a coming wave of film-making talent from that country. It was initially banned in Pakistan; and still is in the Punjab, the region where it was set.
Joyland reminded me of Roma (Netflix) with its too-tight intimacy of domestic life in a house walled off from the city, the surprising moments of emotional impact. It’s beautifully filmed, acted, written, edited – the works.
Echo 3 (Apple TV)
Special forces buddies rescuing a kidnapped friend, South American jungles – it felt familiar and turned out to be a English-language remake of When Heroes Fly, an Israeli series available on Netflix (different plot, and highly recommended). The series show runner for Echo3 is Mark Boal, who produced and wrote Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker with Catherine Bigelow.
The series is weirdly surprising and kept my interest throughout. The special forces operations are well filmed, although without spoiling it, the invulnerable supermen trope of most popular culture around elite soldiers is here in tone, but not in outcomes. I’m not sure they have one successful outing.
The political background is sketchily drawn, but there are some nice challenges to the US solipsism and entitlement embodied by the main characters. Some of the Colombian characters – “this is America too, just south” says one played by Maria del Rosario – show real promise early which isn’t delivered on. Still, sky-high production values make it an engaging series, although I think it could have more comfortably ended two episodes earlier.
That’s all for this week…
That’s everything – if you like it stick a like or share on it. Thank you!
PS here’s Beatbox one more time to play us out…