07 Will technology have our back? with Thomas Vander Wal
Setting the stage The whole model for how humans got out of caves is built on sharing of knowledge, to move ourselves forward as a human race relies on us sharing information and being able to point back to truths. Where did this come from? What's the background on this? And being able to lean on things. Generative AI for the most part, doesn't care about that. JANE I'm Jane McConnell and welcome to Imaginize World, where we talk with forward thinkers, pioneering organizations and writers of speculative fiction. We explore emerging trends, technologies, world-changing ideas and above all, share our journeys, challenges and successes. Today I'm talking with Thomas Vander Wal. I've known Thomas for about 10 years or so. We're both part of an online discussion group in Slack that has existed for around 10 years, and we actually met face-to-face in a conference in Washington, D.C.,
at KMWorld. Thomas has had a wide-ranging career with a lot of deep dives into different aspects of technology. What's interesting is he's always focusing on people, what tech means, how it helps us, or as he likes to say, "How it's got our backs." You can discover a lot more from his website and his Wikipedia page. Today we're going to talk about sustainability and the role of technology, which can be positive and can be negative. We're going to cover some different points starting with AI, especially generative AI or performative AI mimicking human behavior rather than pure analysis of data. We talk about trust. It's powerful. It's
ambiguous. Thomas has done some very interesting work with students about what that word means to them and how it can be a very confusing word if you don't think about it clearly. We talk about how we can distinguish between human content and AI content. Is it a legal
question? An ethical question? Simply a question of honesty? Another topic that's very interesting is the famous 15-minute city, and Thomas's vision of how it fits in with the global world that we live in today. Two different complementary parts that fit together. We talk about education and how AI can enhance learning in the near future. And speaking of the future, I asked Thomas what his vision is of the future in the next 10, 15 years. For him, he says that a major key is technology, which we need to create greater sustainability, but it depends so much on how we use it and how it develops. We cover a lot of things, so let's go.
Well, Thomas, it's great to see you here. You and I have been communicating online for, I think, it's been about 10 years. THOMAS Really good to be here. Thanks for the invitation. Our Slack group is very active and I have learned over the years to really appreciate your... You're one of the people who has a very deep understanding of technology,
but the thing is you don't approach it as tech, IT. Whenever you talk about technology, you're always into what it means for people, what it means for the way we work, the way we live. You bridge technology and people. What I'm hoping to do in our conversation today is bridge a different bridge. I'd like to bridge from where we are today and where we could be 10, 15 years from now, because I have a feeling you have quite some views on the future too. Is that true?
A little bit. Part of it comes from looking at today and looking back. I've been in and around tech world, tried to escape tech world by going into grad school in public policy. Came out, had one or two public policy related jobs and then it was fully back into doing essentially tech work, trying to have a deeper understanding of technology and its impact as an enabler for people to do work, communicate, and to essentially have something behind them. Something that has their back as they're doing what they need in their own life. I like what you just said, "Something that has their back as they're doing what they need to do." What do you mean by that? Essentially, technology being able to do a fact check, do a spell check as a very basic support system. Being able to have digital calendars that are quite accurate, unless things fall out
of the calendar. Being able to have something... A calendar that is on your desktop, it's in your pocket, wherever you're going. Essentially it's a tool and an enabler for what we do in our lives and have always looked at technology as being that enabler, as being that assistant for us and whether we have other people with those roles in our lives. Technology is a way to collaborate and work together. Whatever, how simple or small something is or grandiose and incredibly complex things are. Technology is something that can and I view should be able to help us along the way.
JANE Right. I like your phrase, "Have our back." I think that's really accurate and it's very visual and very human. Speaking of humanness, I'd like to talk a little bit about sustainability. It's a word that we use all the time and I'd like to know how you would define it and how technology could have our backs, or not, when it comes to sustainability. Sustainability, from my perspective, is being able to have understanding of the limited resources that we have here on earth. Being able to understand we don't necessarily have a history of using renewable resources. Things that are not of abundance,
things are limited, and switching from things that are not renewable resources to renewable resources or things that are in more abundance and not of limited quantity, but still give us the same quality or close to what we've been doing with limited resources, which are also damaging our global home. Essentially looking at technology where we will be in the future needs to be able to be friendly or kind to that sustainability. Computational processing and excessive computational expense. Things like Bitcoin was just eating power like crazy and energy like crazy and it was not a good thing for the world around us. As we look at generative AI, it is doing something very close to that as far as computational power that is required to churn out things with hallucinations. What is the value of what we are getting out? How can we have technologies that will have our back? The traditional AI ML models, they can be somewhat computationally expensive as well, but being able to see things that humans cannot see and being able to have predictive models and understanding, "Oh, we've got a problem with this." Being able to understand. As the climate is changing,
wind models, other things that we are depending on as renewable resources, seeing those shifts before they are humanly detectable. Thomas, I want to cut you just for a second because you talked about L models. I think maybe you could explain that for some listeners who might not know what that is. THOMAS The large language models.
JANE Yes. Essentially having very large models of discrete data down to very small points, and essentially the generative AI is using the LLM to have small points as predictive models for what would come next as an output. The generative is essentially a performative AI where it is trying to sound human, sound like it is something that is natural that is coming out. Prior AI, ML models,
machine learning models, essentially are going in looking at those relationships essentially as a sensory component and being able to say, "With this data that we are looking at, here are endpoints. Here's a problem that is happening or a shift that is happening. What are the things that are highly probable to cause those?" Being able to look at wind shifts. Being able to look at things like beach erosion. All sorts of other things. What will things look like and being able to do predictive modeling based on much improved systematic historical background and data models, or data that is out there so that we're able to move forward. Are you hearing jackhammer?
JANE I just heard something. Have you got some work going on at your place? THOMAS Oh, it's not my place. It's behind me with very large jackhammers. What you're describing there, Thomas, is the way analysis of data is used to predict things for us. THOMAS That's not generative AI, is it? THOMAS No, it's the... The earlier version of AI? Generative AI is performative AI There's a bunch of different models and perspectives of what AI does.
The generative AI is more of a lighter weight, essentially performative model. JANE Performative? Explain what you mean by performative. I like that. Essentially, if you think of what is in front of the curtain on a stage. It's the act and
the performance that's happening in front of the curtain. It looks like it's human, or relatively human, or relatively of a human creation and mimicking a performance. That's something that would come from a human rather than a lot of the AI ML that we've had before is all behind the scenes doing deep work, being able to discern models, patterns, shifts, changes. JANE We are expecting generative AI to talk like we talk. That's what people do when they go online with ChatGPT and they ask questions. I've done that. It's a fun game. I see what you mean by performative. That's a great concept.
pi.ai is like a confidence game ChatGPT, one of its traits is that it comes off and it tries to be official and correct and very confident in what it's putting forward. A lot of the different generative AI models and applications, they have very different conversational models around them. Some of them are doing... It's pretty much straight out of like a confidence game that a conman would do or like an attorney or a doctor or a nurse, someone in healthcare where you're trying to build confidence between somebody and it's really entertaining to play with them. pi.ai is one of them and it will get you to answer questions. You will ask it a question and it's like,
"Tell me about this." And you know that it's wrong. And it's like, "No, that's not quite correct." Or, "It doesn't seem right." And it will say, "Oh, do you have experience with us?" And you say yes. And it's like, "Oh, tell me about it." It's getting you in a conversation
and after about 15 minutes you're like, "What did it just do?" And I'm like, "The model is really good." It's very much like being in a doctor's office or sitting next to a conman on the train. It's very much that, "Oh, that's a really great idea, can you tell me more about this?" And your guard starts going down. It's like, "Oh, I have the same understanding, the same opinion." It's that model that works really well for getting people to interact and think that it is doing well. Whereas the ChatGPT is very authoritative, very confident,
even when it has no idea what it's talking about, but it doesn't have any idea of what it's talking about because there is no human existence there. There is no understanding of right, wrong, correct, incorrect. It is just being performative. Sounding like it's human. JANE I gather it uses a lot of material that's collected on people's websites. I forget, in the group that we're in Slack, that was someone who talked about ways you could find out if your website had been...
THOMAS Yeah, it's been scraped or... And to my astonishment, my website, which is not huge had been scraped and not as much as another guy in our group. I'm sure you have a lot of different stuff online. You've been scraped probably. On one hand, what difference does it make? And on the other hand, is it hurting the people who create original content? THOMAS Coming from a background where there's academic proof of where ideas come from and being able to point to things and being able to say, "Oh, I got this idea." It's also just a really good human trait to be able to say, "Oh, I read this from Jane. Jane says this.
Go read Jane's piece. Here's my take on what Jane is saying." And not being able to have that human link back and giving credit. The whole model for how humans got out of caves is built on sharing and sharing of knowledge. How we share knowledge, how we share good information
to move ourselves forward as a human race and improving the human condition broadly, relies on us sharing information and being able to point back to truths. Where did this come from? What's the background on this? And being able to lean on things. Generative AI for the most part doesn't care about that. It is just spitting things out. That, I think, is one damaging piece and you don't know if something has any fact behind it. The AI models, the LLMs are going out and scraping things that it has spit out and other LLMs have spit out that may or may not be correct. It's essentially bad information feeding on bad information, which is really problematic. From a creator standpoint, there's financial considerations
for being able to have your IP that you're sharing. You may have been paid for it, you may have been sharing it freely, but quite often there is something financial for that, either building a network for business or for being able to help others and whatever you're doing financially to support yourself, your family and so forth. A lot of that is based on what you share, how you share, and being able to get some feedback and pointers back from it. It's just there are known folks in various communities who will pick up other people's information and share it as their own in conferences and sometimes it is straight copies of slides and other things and passing it off as their own. It is highly frowned upon. Financial
part of it is also reputation and respect and generative AI models have none of that so far. How is that going to develop so over the next 10 years? I think part of it is being able to push back and have a proof of where things came from. The New York Times is suing OpenAI because OpenAI had scraped the New York Times and its collection and what it has. They didn't pay for it. They didn't respect the licenses around it. That helps. Also, essentially having regulation around stating that something is created by an AI or created by a human, or it was edited by an AI. I know an awful lot of people who in their blogs and their work that they share out, they have a clear disclaimer, "This is all human created content. This is mine." Not having that, I think, becomes a
differentiator and it comes down to the security and privacy constraints around it and also being able to sort through what is truth, what is not truth. What are made up facts and other things. Coming out of a background where you do academic work or even professional work and it's like, "Well, where did you get this? Is this a hunch that you have or is this something that is actually proven and you have something to back it up?" It's being able to prove your work, prove where you got something. I have strong feelings toward being able to have that and being able to know where something came from. I wonder if it's going to come down to legal questions? A lot of the legal and regulation that has been talked about within the generative AI community has largely... The companies that are out there now have a lead,
more or less. Essentially, the regulations that they are talking about are protecting their lead rather than protecting the sources and protecting humanity. JANE What do you mean? How can it protect their lead? THOMAS Essentially not allowing other people to copy their large language models. Being able to, if you're using... Quite often there will be LLMs that essentially are a mix of various things. They'll put questions out to a few different places, bring things back, and then they work and massage through them. Part of it is also for fact checking. Being able to do a query
out to five or six different LLM models. Bring it back, being able to do fact check. Can I do a search on this to be able to find this phrase? Being able to find this resource. Does it exist? Being able to do that sort of thing. And that is one of the things, being able to use other models in a mix is one of the things that is frowned upon by those who were early into the field. JANE Right.
THOMAS We need to improve what is out there. What is out there does not come close to meeting the hype that is generated around it. We need to have ways of giving value to content that is created by people where it's indicated that it's created by people or there needs to be maybe a law. I can't imagine it happening in many countries. A law that says it has to be clear if it's a person or if it's AI. I don't
know if that could happen or not, but I think something has to happen, something has to change. Likely it's going to be from the bottom up and people essentially claiming this is all human created content. Some people use generative AI as essentially their rubber duck that they talk to and ask questions to and work through ideas that they have. It's essentially a smart rubber duck where it's you're talking to it, working through ideas, talking to it and realizing as you're talking something isn't correct, but being able to get some feedback from a thing helps them along in their process. I don't know where that fully fits in a all human created disclaimer, but if it's somebody coming up with their own thoughts, their own assemblage of ideas, that becomes really helpful. A lot of our discoveries as humans and things that have moved things forward greatly have all been from a human looking at things in the adjacent possible or a realization as you're looking at a handful of different things rather than repeating things that are out there.
AI tools: detrimental or supportive to learning? 22:11 <a name="2211"> </a> Having an AI or a system that is repeating things that are out there and taking what is out there and bringing it back, I don't know if all of that is helpful. Looking at students who are using it and also talking to an awful lot of people that do personal knowledge management and heavy note-taking, they're like, "Oh, have generative AI go out and read this article for me and give me a summary and have 1,200 words turned into 300 words, and they put that in their notes. They didn't learn anything from it. The ability to go through when you're reading through something and essentially having an argument with it, "Do I agree with this? Do I not agree with what this article is saying." Is a really important part of understanding and building your own knowledge base in your head. Having a tool go
and summarize information and something that might be highly important for you that is not summarized is one of the things that gets lost if you're having something automatically summarized. What do you think, and this is a question I was going to ask you later, but now seems like the right time, education? The educational system today... It's one of the things I studied. I did a survey of 15 things where I asked people around the world what they thought... Education was one of them. The question was, do the models we have today, are they going to remain the same? Are they going to change a little bit or are they going to change radically? And what you just said about students using generative AI to maybe not write a final paper or maybe also do that or even do research for them. It seems to me
we're touching on what should or shouldn't be done in education. What do you think? I will take that narrow slice. On education, I go down a lot of different rabbit holes. But on being able to use generative AI for education, there are paths where it makes sense. Where if you're going through something... Education and learning essentially isn't a creative model where you have some foundation. If you're missing a foundation... If you're trying to do multiplication and you don't have addition, it becomes really difficult to understand multiplication, which is why you learn addition first. If you're in a subject and it's not particularly
your domain, being able to have a generative AI and being able to ask it questions like, "What is addition? How does addition work?" As you're trying to understand multiplication, being able to get that background, lead you to resources for learning and understanding and being able to ask questions like, "Is there a good YouTube video that summarizes this?" And you get a decent foundation of understanding from that video whether it's like the Harvard CS50 set of videos, which are phenomenal. They're just a magical tool for learning computer science. I'm not familiar with that. The Harvard CS, it's a computer science? THOMAS Last name is Mallon. I think it's Jason Mallon. (correction: David Jay Malan) He's a professor at Harvard. He was undergrad there as well. But he's got this very... It's a very performative lecture on understanding computer science and being able to understand binary counting all these different things. It is very visual. It is very, "Oh, this just made it so much easier to understand things." To the point where a freshman in high
school could watch it and actually get a solid understanding of computer science, and have looked at some of the background homework for CS50 class. And it is brutal. The class makes it easily understandable. The homework pieces are for people with a background and the rigor of a Harvard system to go through and essentially teach yourself and to work through things. But the classes and the lectures are just magical at breaking things down. They've come up with really good methods for participatory interactions and essentially being able to stumble on those... Asking Google for good resources for easily understanding binary accounting that it may or may not have you end up at c, which are all free and you can go through the whole thing.
JANE You think they've been scraped by AI? THOMAS I don't know. I don't know that AI would do... I think it would detract from the high value that the videos give because part of it is that it is a truly performative lecture series. I see, right. It's not just information on paper that could be... Right. It's not somebody up there, a talking head walking through things, but he will bring students up. It's just turning on light bulbs with the different slots for binary to do binary
counting. This is one. This light is off, this is two. This is... And it's like, "Ah, this actually makes sense." And it clicks. It's being able to... Generative AI or certain generative AI tools will pick up that, "Hey, there's an awful lot of people talking about this." And being able to do switching search in that manner and being able to find things and point to things.
JANE That's very useful. That saves time, if AI is pointing students to things that they might otherwise not come across. Yeah, being able to use a generative AI tool for learning to understand foundational issues that you may have a gap. And if you're taking your third semester of computer
science or environmental theory and you have a concept that you just have completely skipped or you got a D on that test, you need to understand what that is. And it's like, "Hey, can you give me a good overview of what this is? Can you give me more information? Can you give me pointers to good resources?" JANE Students should learn how to use these tools then. That should be part of education. How early should that start, do you think? You're talking high school, college maybe, I think. Can you do this with grade school kids? Maybe? One of the other things with... There's a tension that I see between technology and humans interacting with humans. Being able to bring together those who are near in thought,
which technology is great for. Like I had met you at KMWorld, I think the first one in DC. JANE That was a long time ago, wasn't it? THOMAS Yeah, and that was my second KMWorld, but we got to know each other essentially through digital environments that were bringing people who were near in thought together. We're geographically very far apart. As well as many of the other people in the group. Technology is really good for that. But also bringing back the... With education,
understanding how to interact with other human beings to get worked on, to share. How to work through difficult problem sets as working together in a group, I think, is highly important. Having something where you're subbing out a human interaction and learning how to be social as a human to human experience and subbing in a human to technology, I really think that needs to come later after we learn how to do the human to human part. That's really interesting. That reminds me of... I talked to Sugata Mitra in one of my conversations for the podcast. The guy who put the computer in a hole in a wall and the little Indian kids came up and they learned how to use a computer with no adult supervision at all. In the end he developed a school in the cloud where the idea is that students don't
need teachers other than to guide them and to help them figure out interesting questions. That's a little bit of what you're talking about. He's talking about young kids, 8, 9, 10 years old, figure it out themselves with a computer at hand connected to the internet. There's a balance watching what is happening in the world right now. Having that understanding of human-to-human interaction, how to get along and how to work together is highly important. Seeing things that are happening, I think, large parts of the populations have lost that. It is seeing
things in a myopic perspective and things can only be in a myopic perspective. My view is essentially the one that is right, everything needs to adapt to my view or it's wrong. As humans, we didn't evolve to where we are now by that model. We evolved by collaborating, communicating and working together. Essentially improve the things around us as well as our lives and being able to move from of a subsistence model to a more three-year model where we're able to actually think thoughts like these and not be chasing down our next meal. We have that
affordance because we understand how to work together and to communicate and collaborate. There's trust. I think trust comes into play. THOMAS Right. I have a difficult time with the word trust, not because of trust itself, but because
the word has many different meanings. And in an awful lot of my consulting work that I did, people would lean on trust because it is a very powerful word. Around 2008, 2009, I started banning the word trust and you had to use other words. Oh, that's interesting. What words did people use?
THOMAS One of them was comfort. I find there's comfort that I have confidence in what they're saying. There's about 10 to 12 different terms that people were using regularly. Essentially in working with online environments and social computing and social technologies, I started using social comfort as one of the questions. Are you comfortable using this tool? What are the things that make you uncomfortable? And I could get really good responses. If I asked somebody, do you trust the system? Do you trust other people in the system? They couldn't really give a good answer, but they could surely tell you that they had comfort or they did not have comfort and where they found comfort and why and where they did not have comfort and why.
I founded a much better term, and whenever I come up into trust now, I still even back off of it. I don't know if they're behind me. I've got three or four books on trust. The Fukuyama book and just tried to understand what trust was because it just really wasn't clear. It's not clear because it means so many different things because it has turned into a very powerful word, but it doesn't have clarity behind it.
That's interesting. It is a powerful word. I've heard about zero trust. THOMAS Yeah. JANE In fact, I think you talked about that in the conversation we had online. That term I'd heard about, but it wasn't completely clear to me what zero trust was.
THOMAS Zero trust from a security standpoint. And I think over time, not only does technology and where we are heading need to understand sustainability and be very friendly to sustainability and think of what paths are we taking? Do we need a faster computer? But if it comes at the cost of sustainability, then that's a problem. But if we're able to have faster computing and far more efficient computing, well, that's a good win. From a security standpoint,
as we become more connected digitally, security becomes more and more of a value that people are realizing that they need to embrace. The zero trust model is essentially trusting nothing that you connect to and being able to every time you log in or you connect it with system, you authenticate to it and it authenticates back to you. And you know what each other... It's not only username password. It could be a passkey as
well. It could be two-factor authentication. It's like you're continually having to prove, yes, I am who I am, there's not anybody in the middle. Part of that is also just being able to protect privacy as well and getting to privacy models that are not in the people who are trading on our privacy and our data that is private data and privacy related data. But essentially flipping that model, going back to the Doc Searl's model, rather than going to a vendor-based model where the people essentially say, "Yes, this vendor has the rights to use my data for their purposes, not share it around." And rather than a CRM model, you've got a VRM model. You've got vendor relationship management
rather than customer relationship management, where the people who are selling you something, they don't have control of your data and the data is one of the things that they can sell, but essentially the individual has more control over who has what pieces of information. It's been interesting watching Apple, which now has in its systems, when you connect to an application for the first time, do you give it access to all of your data that runs through it and that is on your device based on different categories, or do you want to limit it? And sometimes if you limit it, that application will not work. You just have a dummy app. It's just figuring out what you put in. It's a compromise. You have to make your personal compromise, don't you? THOMAS Yeah, or you manufacture information about yourself. JANE Put in false information, but then you have to write it down and remember that that's the information you gave to that in that place.
THOMAS Yeah. The one that has always driven me crazy are security questions. What was your dog's name? What are this? And I'm like, "Most of that information is searchable on the internet, what it's asking." It's not really a security question. The only way around it is to manufacture that information. Then essentially you are managing two to three different variables for each and every system that you're talking to. It's like, "What was your first pet's name?" And it's like,
"Okay, for this system, it is this name. For this other system, it is another name." Your password management methods need to be able to embrace all those different... What did I tell this system? Had done that for years and it just got to be absolutely crazy. I'm like,
"Not only do I not remember passwords, I don't remember what I told what system in which what I told what." Even though I have it in my password management tools. It's just- JANE It's putting a burden on us, isn't it, to deal with a complex situation? And I don't know how it could be otherwise. With zero trust being able to do methods that we currently have, being able to have two-factor authentication or the new Passkeys that are starting to roll out, that becomes something that is helpful and just essentially having two different ways of doing it. JANE With facial recognition, you think that's a good solution? Or fingerprint? THOMAS As one means, it's not necessarily foolproof. There's an awful lot of people who look like others and there's ways to around things, but being able to have information that you know and then being able to authenticate with something that you have, like your phone. If you're using
facial recognition or fingerprint or whichever, I think, that's helpful. It's adding a little bit of friction, but the value is just not losing access to our own data and our own accounts. I'm getting 10 to 15, "Hey, you requested to change your password on this platform or this platform each week from different things." I now have two-factor authentication, other things on
basically everything right now just because it's like, "I didn't put this in." I'm like, "If you didn't put it in, let it go." And I'm like, "Okay, if someone is able to get in the middle and either get to email or whatever, I've lost access to something that I've been on for 15, 20 years." Someone either can impersonate me or, I don't know, whatever value they would find. The 15-minute city in a global digital world Going back to the digital world that we live in, do you think it is destroying communities? I'm talking about physical communities where people live. I'm very interested in the concept of the
15-minute city, which came from a French guy working for the mayor of Paris. Paris is going very much in that direction. It's not perfect at all. What do you think about that? Or maybe you could explain it quickly for people who don't know it and give us your opinion about it.
THOMAS 15-minute city is essentially being able to have what you need within a 15-minute walk of your door. This is fully based on a city. If you live rural or if you're out in less dense suburbs, that 15-minute city is not going to necessarily be a model you can replicate. It wouldn't work for me. I live in such a tiny village, 15 minutes it would take me to walk to a place where there might be one store and that's it. Anyway, that's not what we're talking about. In urban context... There's an awful lot of layering, but essentially it's being able to walk out your door, being able to send a package, being able to pick up groceries, get fresh vegetables. Have what you need as essentials, and of the next level or two above essentials, essentially within a 15-minute walk. One of the things that it does is it starts building community and you start
knowing your neighbors. The application Foursquare looked at data patterns for people living in New York City and essentially they had two different hubs. One is home and one is work. They didn't go outside of more than a three-block radius to four-block radius of either one of those location. Going to restaurants, going to the dry cleaner or laundromat or grocery. 90% of their existence was within a three-block radius. But one of the things that you have,
there's a number for planned communities that's around 7,000, is one of the magic numbers on scaling. There's a lot of magic numbers around all sorts of different layers of social progression and social scaling, and one of them is around 7,000, which is for planned communities, an elementary school, a high school, fire department- Medical care? ... and a small police station and medical care. It is also roughly the 4,000 to 7,000 range, is essentially where you feel comfortable because you are seeing familiar faces. You may not know them, you may have never said a word to them, but you're seeing faces that you recognize and that gives a human comfort. That three block to four-block radius is essentially a 4,000 to 7,000 person density for both locations that they have. There is some level of familiarity and people who live in areas that don't have high crime rates, but they have more than moderate crime, they feel safe in their neighborhoods or can feel safe in their neighborhoods because they have familiarity with the people around them. They not only know their neighbors, but they recognize that people a few blocks away. If they're going to the bus or they're out, they know when there is somebody who is unfamiliar.
If you're going to a neighborhood that may have a far lower crime rate, they do not feel comfortable if you drop them in that because they do not have any familiarity with any of the faces around them. It's like you're going from a moderate crime rate environment where you feel somewhat comfortable, just because there is familiarity of the people around you to one with low crime rate, but you don't feel safe because you don't have familiarity through that recognition. Being able to have things where we're not having food delivered. Our delivery services will tell us,
"Hey, you actually have this within a few blocks." You're trying to buy a fresh loaf of bread, here's an option for you. And just being able to bring things back and saying, "Hey, this is available." Or ordering a book from a large multinational bookseller
and product seller and having it say, "Hey, this book is actually available from Susan's Book Nook three blocks away from you. Do you want us to reserve it for you?" Being able to have that connection. You're actually walking out the door, connecting with your community, building that human bond with other people in your community.
I think it's something that would greatly help. There's two human draws, one is being able to have a local community of people who are geographically close to you and having that comfort level with people who are familiar, getting to know them, holding doors for people, going into stores, having them helm, being able to say hi or good morning as you're walking past them. Then the other one is being able to bring people closer through near in thought. People who have similar
interests. If you're somebody who either has an interest in something that is not available within a 15-minute walk or even within that city. If you're in, let's say Paris, and you have a large interest in Indonesian food and there isn't anything close to you, being able to connect with people who have an interest in cooking Indonesian food, you're likely going to have to go online. Being able to bring those near in thought and near in interest, bringing that closer, but then also being able to have that human interaction and being able to understand the value of both of those and using technology to enable both of those systems to improve from an entertainment interest perspective of food or just a knowledge perspective and being able to have knowledge at your fingertip that's globally shared and globally accessible.
JANE You see a blending of the two worlds? Yeah, and being able to have... If large multinational company that ships books all around, which I may have used more than once, but being able to have them and recommend something to Susan's Book Nook, they may get a cut of it. 5% or 2% for doing that recommendation. They're making money on it. It's bringing connection to your local community. You're essentially looking at the technical side of things and the social side of things, bringing them together. We're coming together as humans as well as also increasing human knowledge and understanding.
Do you think that's possible that these big technical giants could be persuaded to do that? They make more if they sell to you directly, I imagine. They would need some kind of incentive to recommend local solutions even if they get a cut, it wouldn't be as much as if they had made the original sale, or I being too pessimistic? I think there's a model in there. Having watched Amazon do local bookstores and where I live, we had an Amazon bookstore show up. There's some really good independent bookstores that are around. The Amazon bookstore existed for about two or three years and then was
gone. They pay for all the cost of running a physical business locally, but being able to have their name, being able to have a recommendation system, them being in that life cycle of commerce, that may be beneficial to them. If they're picking up 2% on a local sale where they are not paying the cost, they're just doing a recommendation. JANE And they could be doing it all over the world, basically. Nearly. That's interesting. Yeah, I see what you mean. There is a model there.
Figuring out what that is with the local bookseller, figuring out what it is for the large multinational. There is human value in being able to do that. Whether they have interest in human value and societal value. That becomes a question or if it's just pure profit. That's a question that comes up often in many places and sometimes the line is nowhere near clear. Sustainable technology, key criteria for the future This is my final question because I think we're going to close down. Overall, would you say that you are optimistic about where we'll be 10 years from now? Or, say, make it harder, 15 years from now. Are you optimistic that we'll be in a better place from a human viewpoint, or not?
THOMAS The big, it depends, is sustainability. One of the large players in sustainability as a positive or negative is technology, and being able to have better, smarter, more efficient models that are not eating as many resources. Considering resources and sustainability in an awful lot of the decision-making for building large generative AI models or somebody thinks it's smart, again, to go back to Bitcoin and massive energy just being thrown down a hole. That becomes problematic and just what are we getting out of it as a society? What is beneficial from they being able to do it? The AIML being able to understand the changes to our environment and to what's happening around the globe, we really need to understand that. Being able to have a
performative bot that sits on our desktop and is eating a ton of energy on the backend to be able to answer questions. I don't know if that's a great benefit and a use of our resources. Are you on the fence about how it will go? I know it's a simple question, it's not a simplistic answer. It's a complex issue. No, it's a very complex... Yeah, and it's one of those where, because I've got to talk next
month to Complexity Lounge on complexity. And it's like, "Oh, for the answer to this tune in." Yeah, it's a really complex problem. Technology really needs to sort out where it sits on sustainability. Those who are able to work through, one, having more secure systems, having more systems that respect our privacy. Being able to have coding and systems that are far more efficient, and also using renewable resources for that, not necessarily swap credits, "We planted 700 trees, so therefore we can set up this new server farm." But being truly using renewable resources and not doing the trade-offs. I think the faster we can get to that from a technology side,
the more that we can do with technology and essentially have technology have our back rather than having technology essentially becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution. JANE THOMAS, you need to write a book about that. Does technology have our backs? I'm serious. I'm not joking. It's an approach. Maybe there's a book already out there that does that. I don't know. I've never looked it up from that viewpoint. I know there's a lot of
people writing about AI and the goods and the bads and all that, but you're talking about it in a different way. I think you have an idea there that is quite powerful. THOMAS Yeah, I need to get writing, again, outside of back channels. I've been reconnecting with an awful lot of folks over the last few months, mostly being heads down for the last five years working. The common thing I get is you need to get back writing and sharing things out again.
Oh yeah, you've done so much, Thomas, in your short life. Well, I'd like to thank you for your time, and if you do write that book, give credit to this podcast to being the place where the idea was generated, to use a common word. I will do that. I will put that in my notes.