Roundup: Tech criticism and the new Max streaming service
Stay to the end to see someone making a miniature writer's room
If you’re not a regular listener of my podcast, Tech Won’t Save Us, you might like the episode I released this week with Emily M. Bender, a professor in computational linguistics at the University of Washington. She’s a prominent expert on large language models, and a vocal critic of the hype surrounding generative AI tools. We talk about why ChatGPT isn’t intelligent, and the risks that come with acting like it is.
Beyond that, in this week’s issue I’m commenting on something tech commentator Kara Swisher wrote about Elon Musk and what it tells us about a certain type of tech journalist, as well as the renaming of HBO Max to just Max and whether it makes any sense. Plus, a bunch of recommended reading from the past week.
If you want to get the full issue and support the work I put into Disconnect, upgrade to become a paid subscriber. If you’ve already done that, please enjoy!
The problem with Kara Swisher
Elon Musk was included in Time Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People this week, not so much because he’s doing great things, but he is doing things that people can’t ignore, so fair enough. But the magazine got once-tech journalist and now commentator Kara Swisher to write a little blurb to explain why he was chosen, and it once again reveals what’s wrong with treating Swisher as a truth-teller or even critic in the industry.
For those who haven’t kept up, Swisher has long been close with Musk. She interviewed him many times, and in so doing praised him and his companies. It was only last year, as Elon Musk was taking over Twitter and being more open about his right-wing politics that Swisher turned on Musk. But that wasn’t the trigger: it was that Musk called her “an asshole” and finally cut her off. Without the prospect of future access, she started criticizing him — but in a very specific, and I would argue very revealing way, which is reflected in what she wrote for Time.
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