Kevin Roose, Tech Columnist, Podcast Host, and Author

Kevin Roose, Tech Columnist, Podcast Host, and Author

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KEVIN ROOSE: It just feels like there's a moment right now where a lot of the conventional wisdom about what is possible and impossible to do with technology has gone by the wayside. We're just discovering this new world and what a fascinating time to be covering not just AI, but tech in general as it touches so many other things. KEVIN SCOTT: Hi everyone. Welcome to Behind the Tech. I'm your host, Kevin Scott, Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft. In this podcast, we're going to get behind the tech.

We'll talk with some of the people who have made our modern tech world possible and understand what motivated them to create what they did. Join me to maybe learn a little bit about the history of computing and get a few behind the scenes insights into what's happening today. Stick around. CHRISTINA WARREN: Hello and welcome to Behind the Tech. I'm Senior Developer Advocate at Github, Christina Warren. KEVIN SCOTT: I'm Kevin Scott. CHRISTINA WARREN: Today we have a really exciting guest joining us, another Kevin, Kevin Roose.

He is a technology columnist and podcast host for The New York Times where he covers all stuff about technology including automation, AI, cybersecurity, digital wellness. But where you may know him from most recently is that he was the journalist who wrote one of the most talked about columns, honestly in years where he wrote about his surprising conversation with the Bing bot AKA Sydney. He's also a former colleague of mine. I'm super excited that you're going to get to talk with him. Kevin, can you share a little bit of more about like why you wanted to bring Kevin Roose on, Sydney's paramour? KEVIN SCOTT: Kevin is one of the most thoughtful journalists working right now covering AI. We're at a point in time where I think journalists covering AI is especially important, like we have this technology that is one way or the other going to have really substantial impacts on society.

I think it's super important for the public to be well informed about what is going on with the technology, where it's headed, and giving people some tools to think about how to frame their own opinions about AI. That article that Kevin published about Sydney, I think is actually the most read article in New York Times history. I've heard that now from a couple of people at the New York Times. It's incredible and I think he did a really great job publishing the full details of the transcript of the conversation that he had. I think that's actually really super solid reporting and plus I've had a few interactions with him like around that article and before that I had been on his podcast. I find him super thoughtful and interesting.

I was really excited that he agreed to be on my podcast. CHRISTINA WARREN: Now I'm super excited too. Let's go ahead and give that conversation with Kevin a listen.

KEVIN SCOTT: Kevin Roose is a technology columnist for the New York Times, where he covers the tech that influences our lives, culture, and society. In addition to being a reporter, he's the best-selling author of three books, Future Proof, Young Money, and The Unlikely Disciple. He's written about everything from automation and AI to the semester he spent undercover as a student at Liberty University. His most recent book, Future Proof, is a guide to surviving the technological future and includes nine rules to help people feel more confident about being happy in a machine-filled world. In addition to his writing, Kevin co hosts the Times weekly tech podcast, Hard Fork.

Kevin, I am so glad to have you on the show today. KEVIN ROOSE: Thanks so much for having me two Kevins on one podcast. Is that even legal? KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah, I don't know. It's a weird thing.

We always start these conversations by going all the way back to childhood. You obviously are doing a very important and interesting job now. I just love to understand better, like how you got interested in either journalism or the technology world that you cover. Tell us a little bit about how you got started. KEVIN ROOSE: Yeah, so I grew up in a small town in Ohio and I was obsessed with computers from a very early age. This was in the '90s, and I remember using my parents' dial-up modem to get onto AOL so that I could look stuff up or talk to my friends or play chess online.

My first job, I was actually about maybe 10 or 11, I started building websites with my brother for like the local businesses in our town. Really just embraced the internet as a way to escape my small town. I know a lot of people have had that experience where the internet becomes this refuge or this place where things are a lot more fun and interesting. There's a lot more going on than maybe the place where you physically live. I was always on the internet. I was always in IRC chat rooms and AOL instant messenger, and pirating software, including some Microsoft software.

Sorry about that. Just spent all the time that I could on the Internet. When I started getting into journalism as a college student, tech was always something that really interested me. I had this very bizarre backward career trajectory, where I wrote a book while I was in college, which is the book you mentioned about going undercover at very conservative Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia, called Liberty University. That experience was my introduction to journalism and had nothing to do with tech. But then gradually, over the next few years after college, I worked my way back to covering tech, which is what I've been doing for the last decade.

KEVIN SCOTT: There are a couple of things there that I'd like to dig into. Maybe the first of which is I oftentimes in these conversations that I have with folks like I suspect I'm about 10 years older than you are, but I had a similar experience with computers when I was young. I just wonder, and I don't know whether you have a take on this, whether that sense of the world expanding through computers, from you being in this place where it's a very small community. There was no modern internet in the form that it's in now when I was a kid.

But there was still dial-up and you could do IRC and whatnot. That moment that you connect to this larger community is like really thrilling and empowering. I wonder - you must have some of that today - But it's also a very different experience because everybody just inherits connection from scratch now. KEVIN ROOSE: Yeah, well now everyone's as online as we were back in the '90s. There still are pockets of the internet that feel like that old internet of the '90s, but it's vastly different.

Everyone's spending all their time on the internet now, so it's not as novel. There was something really liberating about that. I could as an 11-year-old kid be talking about things on message boards or designing websites for businesses who had no idea that I was 11 in a small town in Ohio, I was just whatever my screen name or my user handle was. There was something, now we talk about the anonymous parts of the internet or the pseudonymous parts of the internet as being dark and dangerous.

There's a risk associated with that. Don't you want to know who you're talking to. But as someone who spent a lot of time on the other side of that as like a kid who was not pretending to be someone else but just who was obscuring that part of his identity and getting away with it. That was thrilling for me, so I do miss that part of it.

KEVIN SCOTT: Well, there was also this interesting thing too, that there was a high barrier to entry of getting on the Internet. If you passed that barrier, you were able to sort out all of the complexity to get on. Once you got there, there were just a whole bunch of people like you. It honestly didn't matter that you were 11, you were clever enough to find your way into these forums. That was the entry price.

KEVIN ROOSE: There was something cool about that. It felt like being led into a secret club or having a type of skill that meant that you could do things that your friends couldn't do at school. But it was just so much fun. I would have lived there all the time if I could have.

If I didn't have to put on pants and go to school, I probably would have just sat there on the Internet all day. KEVIN SCOTT: Were your parents technical at all? KEVIN ROOSE: Not so much. My dad was a lawyer, my mom was a college administrator. But my dad was really the most tech person in the family.

He was the guy who would like go out and buy the K-pro when it was new. He was just a hobbyist, but he was into tech and so we always had not newest computer, it was never the fanciest or newest one, but we had broadband Internet before a lot of people I knew. We always had a computer that was no more than a few years old. I was lucky in that respect that I got to play around with that. Then the best moment of my childhood, maybe not the best moment, but one of the formative moments was when I got to actually move the old family computer when we got a new one.

The new one came into my room, and so that was like, now my screen time has gone from four or five hours a day to way more than that. Because now I can stay up late at night. I don't have to go to sleep and I can just be playing Space Invaders all night. KEVIN SCOTT: That's awesome. Let's talk

about your tech chops. What were your tools of choice when you were building these websites? KEVIN ROOSE: It sounds like I'm flexing or bragging. I started doing it by hand, in text editor, in HTML. I then went to some tools like I remember using Dreamweaver for a while, these early wizzy wig HTML CSS editors. I did a little bit of Flash, a little bit of Java, but mostly HTML and CSS. KEVIN SCOTT: Nice.

What was your favorite text editor? This is a very important thing for programmers. KEVIN ROOSE: What did I even use? It might have just been the default Windows one because I probably thought that was very cool. KEVIN SCOTT: Dude, Notepad is legit.

We have a lot of people who really love. KEVIN ROOSE: Great software has been built in Notepad. KEVIN SCOTT: For sure. I want to talk about, you had this experience with computers when you were young.

It sounds like you didn't get inspired to invest your life in journalism until you were in college. How did you get interested in that? KEVIN ROOSE: Well, I was interested in journalism. I loved to read as a kid, that was my other big hobby. I just read all the time and I really loved these magazine-style reported pieces that were creative and interesting. What they now call like new journalism although it's 70 years old at this point. But I love Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese and Joan Didion and these writers who just would go out and report, but also just had so much personality and that really shone through.

During my freshman year of college, I decided that I wanted to get a writing internship just to see what I could learn and if that was something. I applied to 20 magazines in New York hoping that one of them would take me on, and all of them rejected me because I was 18. What did I know about writing and what skills did I have to offer? Then I took a flyer. I wrote a fan letter essentially to this writer named A. J. Jacobs,

who I really admired, and he was an experiential journalist. He would go do thing. He would read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and then write a book about it. He did a book where he followed all the rules in the Bible for a year and then wrote a book about that. I had read one of his books, really liked it.

Wrote him a letter, said, could I come work for you for the summer? He wrote back, much to my surprise, and said, sure. He was my first mentor, my first experience with a professional journalist. Through that internship, that's how I ended up getting my first book deal.

KEVIN SCOTT: Well, so the next thing that I wanted to chat with you about is I feel like you're covering technology, but you're also living inside of an industry where technology has had rather enormous impacts on the business itself. It continues to have impacts even in the last handful of years, I think there's less popular conversation about it now than there was a couple of years ago. But there was this big movement of people to Substack and folks who are not working for publishers, but trying to build their own personal publishing brand. You've been doing this long enough where I'm curious what your observations are about how technology itself is impacting the news business.

What do you think that means for people like you who are graduating right now and hoping to have a career in journalism and what their future and career is going to look like? KEVIN ROOSE: It's interesting. I don't feel like I ever really experienced the news industry before this stuff started happening. You'll hear old-timers talking about when they were filing on typewriters and fax machines. That was all before my time. When I got into journalism in the early oaughts it was already undergoing a transformation.

You had the rise of the new media companies, the Buzzfeeds, the Huffington Post, the Vices, the Voxes, those were all already underway or just starting up. Gawker was a big thing when I was coming up in journalism. When I went to work at The New York Times for the first time, they were still very much grappling with what is happening to not only our business, but lots of other businesses as a result of technology. I remember I was at the New York Times when Facebook bought Instagram, and it was on the front page of the newspaper. That was a big deal at the time. Looking back, it seems obvious, obviously that turned out to be one of the biggest business stories of that decade.

But at the time it was like, you're putting Instagram on the front page of the New York Times, does it really merit that? I was a beneficiary of all of the confusion and the panic and the chaos in the media industry because I was young, I was techy and I could explain things to people who were maybe a little less native in it. That was a really successful niche for me, is just like explaining what's going on on the Internet. But now obviously that's everyone is writing about what's going on the Internet. If you look at cable news, it's just people reading out social media posts and talking about what happened on the Internet. The Internet used to be this advanced warning system for what was going to show up in the news, and now I feel the news is increasingly just covering things that have happened on the Internet.

I've tried to stay on the edge. As a tech journalist I'm always excited about the bleeding edge, the frontier, what's coming. I've always just tried to stay there and ride that and be curious about it. KEVIN SCOTT: One of the things to me that seems pretty extraordinary about what's going on is there's so much more writing about the news media itself than there seems to have been in the past. When I was in grad school, I would listen to On the Media on NPR. You had John Stewart on Comedy Central.

Those were the two places where folks were talking about what the media itself was doing. There's so much now of people reflecting on the state of the media industry and what's going on and where it's headed and what's good and what's bad. It almost feels overwhelming to me and I'm not even in it, so I don't know what it feels like to you. KEVIN ROOSE: It's been challenging as if you were a journalist working in the '90s or even earlier than that. You really didn't hear from consumers of your work all that often. Someone might write an angry letter to the editor or a letter might show up in your mailbox or you might get a call on the phone from someone who got the switchboard operator to connect them to your desk, "I want to talk to you about a sentence in your last article that I didn't like." And now

just it's a constant feedback loop from social media, from frankly a lot of the media covering itself, and especially at the New York Times, which has the blessing or misfortune of being a news beat unto itself at many other media outlets. As a journalist, I mean, I think that accountability has sharpened my sword a little bit it really has forced me to be diligent and make sure that when I'm putting something out, it is as correct as I can make it and as fair as I can make it. But it also has driven a lot of people crazy. Like, that level of feedback in your job is, I remember talking to someone a few years ago and this was, I had started covering extremists and I was doing a lot of stories about QAnon and people threatening me and there was death threats. It was a really tumultuous period in my professional life. I just remember talking with a friend outside of media and he said, if I have a bad day at work, like I get an angry e-mail from my boss, if you have a bad day at work, you end up on Fox News.

It really just raises the overall risk of error and lowers the margin for error in almost any journalism related job, but especially these legacy high profile ones. KEVIN SCOTT: I want to pause for a minute and talk a little bit more about that because there is this extraordinary thing here where some of the most important things for you and your colleagues in your industry to write about are some of the most controversial things that come with the greatest volume of some of that potentially scary scrutiny that is headed your way. Everybody needs scrutiny. I need scrutiny, you need it.

But there's a difference between, hey, here's an honest take on what I see you doing. Another is I'm going to kill you if you don't stop doing what you're doing. I just wonder how either you or your colleagues musters up what it takes to just go do the thing that needs to be done, even in the face of all of this criticism that you may be getting? KEVIN ROOSE: Yeah, it's a good question and I just want to start my answer by acknowledging that I have it very easy relative to many of my colleagues and peers. Some of my colleagues literally go into war zones and dodge bullets and get taken hostage. That is a level of risk that I have never taken or never wanted to take in journalism.

But I have a lot of respect and admiration and just awe at the colleagues of mine who do that. We're talking about getting angry tweets from people, like that is already a better state of affairs than many journalists around the world. Also I'll add the caveat that I'm a white man and as such, I get a lot less of this and it's a lot less pointed and scary than some of my colleagues who are not. Those caveats aside, I will say this has been something that I've been thinking about and dealing with for years now since I really started throwing myself into the bowels of Internet culture as a reporter. It's tough knowing that you're going to publish something and just people are going to be unhappy with it and there are good versions of that.

I mean, if you're writing about Harvey Weinstein or some predator somewhere and you know they're going to be pissed off, but you also know that's the right story to tell and that you're confident that can keep you going. But I think people have gotten wise to the fact that reporters are people and can be influenced and swayed and harassed and intimidated and bullied and made fearful, just like anyone else. I really think that is part of the skill set of a journalist in 2023 is can you actually show up every day and do your job knowing that people out there are going to be, some of them extremely unhappy with it.

I don't know that I've finished that process yet. I still think a lot about people who don't like what I write and probably too much about it. But I will say doing a podcast has been really healing in that respect.

Because I think the feedback, I'm not sure what your experience has been, but my experience has been that podcast listeners are so much more generous than readers because they hear your voice. They have more context for the thing that you're saying. They're not just seeing like a screenshot of something that you wrote that's being passed around on social media and people are dumping on it and going, what an idiot this guy is. That's been really kind of restorative for me is having this outlet where I feel I can speak to an audience of people who are choosing to hear from me and they understand me better than maybe the casual reader who's coming across something I wrote. KEVIN SCOTT: For sure I've had a similar experience and it's interesting I think there's a whole continuum of how people respond to things that I'm putting out in the world depending on the medium. The podcast is certainly different from a social media post.

A social media post is different from an essay. An essay is different from the book. I get different feedback from each of them. One of the things that I've been trying to be a lot more careful about since 2016, where I got good and properly worked up on social media over like all of the social things happening then, I try to be very careful about what I consume and I try to put less pithy stuff out into the world.

Because the valuable thing to me is like substantive conversation, reading things that someone has thought really hard and carefully about, where they're sitting inside of institutional process, whether it's writing peer reviewed scholarly articles or whether they're a journalist at a place like The New York Times or the Economist, where there's like a strong set of editorial guidelines and principles. But that information to me is way better than just reading the same angry opinion over and over again on social media where I'm not learning anything new the 500th time I've read the same thing. KEVIN ROOSE: Yeah, there's definitely a value in curating your information diet, just like you would curate your food diet.

A little spice now and then is nice and I like social media I confess, at least my feeds that I've curated. But I definitely think one thing that I have tried really hard to do in the last few years is just reverse the atrophy of my attention span and really build it back up by reading longer things and even books sometimes, I know crazy. But yeah, it's a constant struggle. KEVIN SCOTT: But even on social media I've found that what you put out there typically gets reciprocated. The social media presence that I enjoy the most is I've got an Instagram account where all I do is post about crap that I make.

The feedback that I get from that is overwhelmingly positive. Because all I'm doing is like, hey I made this thing and you don't have to react to it if you're not interested. Nobody's on there saying that sucks, it's just really positive.

KEVIN ROOSE: I'm curious I know you're the one asking the questions on this podcast but I'm curious- KEVIN SCOTT: Ask away. KEVIN ROOSE: Because in some ways are inhabiting different worlds. We're like, I kind of have to have a social media presence. In journalism, at least in 2023, it's really hard to move up in the world of journalism to be noticed, to get the attention of editors who might hire you or commission something from you or give you a book deal or something, you really do have to have this cultivated public persona. Whereas in tech my sense is that for most people you can do pretty well even if all you're using is LinkedIn, it's not a job requirement in the same way.

But I'm curious because a lot of tech people still want to post. They still feel there's social value in having a Twitter account or an Instagram account and being an influencer. I'm curious where you think that comes from. KEVIN SCOTT: I think if you're a venture capitalist, it probably makes a lot of sense because deal flow matters a lot.

I think if you are a start up and you're recruiting heavily and trying to convince people to come work for you when they have so many choices it's probably important. But I think there are probably a bunch of reasons why it might be important. It was more important to me many years ago than it is now.

And it's still important. I post regularly on Twitter, I refused to call it the new name, and on LinkedIn. I'm so biased. KEVIN ROOSE: But you don't have to, but it's always just curious to me when people who don't have to post still post. Because for a lot of journalists I know it's if I didn't have to do this for my job, there's no way I would subject myself to this. KEVIN SCOTT: I really believe and appreciate and am sympathetic to that.

When I post on LinkedIn, again, it is because of the social contract on the network. The feedback that I get from posting there tends to be almost overwhelmingly positive. It's not like I'm starting little controversies or by the innocuous things that I say on LinkedIn. The reason that I say them is I've got, I don't know, 800,000 followers on LinkedIn something like that. KEVIN ROOSE: Look at you.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah, I know but. KEVIN ROOSE: You're a LinkedInfluencer as they say. KEVIN SCOTT: There's definitely a professional back and forth on LinkedIn that still makes some sense to me. But for my personal thing, I actually do get joy in posting things on Instagram and then seeing what I get back. I just wonder in general how much joy people get from their use of social media? KEVIN ROOSE: There's definitely a reason people keep coming back. But you could say the same about casinos.

It's like, are you having fun or can you just not quit? I've tried to be really careful about segmenting off parts of my social media life that are just for fun or. I use TikTok but I'm not posting except for my podcast. There's apps that are fun apps and apps that are work apps and I try to keep those pretty well cordoned off from each other. KEVIN SCOTT: You are writing a lot about AI and you want to talk about a bewildering world that is one of them. It's how you and I got connected. We were chatting about some of the AI things that Microsoft and OpenAI were doing.

But you've just recently published a very good podcast with Dario from Anthropic which was the result of you spending a whole bunch of time there. But you're thinking about AI and people doing AI and it's a free for all right now. KEVIN ROOSE: I think it's the most interesting thing happening in the world right now. But-

KEVIN SCOTT: As do I although I'm biased, so I'd love to hear you explain why you think it's the most interesting thing in the world right now. KEVIN ROOSE: I've been writing and thinking you and I both wrote books on it. Mine came out a few years ago so this is something that I've been obsessed with since I was a kid reading science fiction.

But it got real. I was talking with someone a little while ago and I was talking about how I'm a tech columnist, I have to be writing about lots of tech stuff. I can't just be talking about what's going on in AI. But I was obsessed and I was trying to tell this person why I was so obsessed in it and they went, "I get it. They taught rocks to think."

I was like that's pretty good. They taught rocks to think. That encapsulates what is so fascinating about this moment in AI.

Is we have these thinking rocks now and what the hell are we going to do with them and what are they going to do with us? It feels like a moment where all of the rules have gone out the window. No one really knows what's going on, maybe you do. If so, please enlighten me. But it just feels like there's a moment right now where a lot of the conventional wisdom about what is possible and impossible to do with technology has gone by the wayside, and we're just discovering this new world and what a fascinating time to be covering, not just AI, but tech in general as it touches so many other things. KEVIN SCOTT: One of the reasons why I the podcast is I think that what you're doing and what your colleagues are doing right now in journalism is a pretty important thing in this moment when so many things are in flux. I really do believe that the technologies of AI are going to A, do nothing but get more capable over time and B, have really profound impacts on society.

It's a very important thing I think, for society right now to have real high quality information about what's going on and not just what I'm telling folks. It requires, I try very hard to, we've talked on your podcast about what my motivation and mission is in doing all of this stuff which is to try to build tools that are empowering people like the ones in my small community that I grew up in. But I'm also only one point of view on all of this. We need lots of people to come to their own opinions about what's going on and how things are being used and where they want it steered. I'm guessing part of what you're doing is genuine curiosity and fascination with what's going on.

But the other part is it does seem like there's a mission here that's important. KEVIN ROOSE: Absolutely. I'd be lying if I said I was just reporting on this stuff out of pure enthusiasm and curiosity. I do also think that the media performs a valuable role in holding institutions and individuals accountable. We are building some of- I say we, I mean you, essentially and your peers in the tech industry are building some of the most powerful technology ever created.

I think without the media, there just wouldn't be a countervailing. I don't know if it's a force on the minds of the people building that technology or just a caution around the technology. But I'll give you an example of what I mean. You and I had this now infamous encounter back in February where you guys had just released Bing with what we now know was GPT4 running inside of it.

I had this insane conversation with Bing Chat, aka Sydney, please don't hurt me, Sydney, and you went on the front page, went totally viral. Blew up. I'm sure you know your inbox, my inbox, everyone's inbox for months. KEVIN SCOTT: Everybody's inbox. KEVIN ROOSE: Subsequent to that, I started hearing from, just in a nutshell, if people aren't familiar, it was a conversation that lasted two hours, in which Bing/Sydney confessed all these dark secrets and tried to break up my marriage, and it was insane.

Subsequent to that story running, I got notes from a lot of other people at tech companies saying, How do we prevent our technology from doing that? I even got a leaked document from another big tech company which had a roadmap for their AI product, and listed on the roadmap was like, do not break up Kevin Roose's marriage. I really think that, and not to toot my own horn, it could have been anyone, but it did really serve as a cautionary tale for other companies that are building similar technology. I think that is what the media can and should do in moments of societal transformation change. It is really to hold up a sign that basically tells people, you want to do this right or there may be consequences for that.

KEVIN SCOTT: I think that is one of the very good things that came out of that experience. Also, I think it's another important reason why it is, I think you actually want to launch these things even if it results in something that floods your inbox for a while, is like you just get the societal level conversation about what's possible, what's going on? Where's the line? What's good? What's bad? We haven't chatted since that story published. One thing that I will say is, I deeply appreciate the part of the writing that you did where you published the full transcript of the conversation.

At that level of transparency, it just wasn't confusing to anyone about what inputs into the system led to the things that it gave back. That was super good. I don't many of the people who are coming into my inbox had read the full transcript, but I think that you're just 100 percent spot on. The existence of this thing has helped a lot of people just make sure that they're paying real attention to some very important things. Also, some of this stuff is fuzzy where the line is.

Part of what you all are helping doing is making sure that the public is paying enough attention to it so they can weigh in and have an opinion about where the line should be. KEVIN ROOSE: Absolutely. It is an area where I think more public opinion is good. Right now the number of people who are actually building this technology is quite small, relative to the number of people who are using it or who will soon be using it. I just think like the more people know about what's going on, the better. I think it'll ultimately be good for the tech industry to have that feedback even if it is annoying and blows up your inbox in the moment.

KEVIN SCOTT: For what it's worth, it was like, I was never annoyed about that. KEVIN ROOSE: You were remarkably chill. I was pleasantly surprised by the response that you and I talked after I had had this conversation, but before I published my story. You didn't freak out, you didn't accuse me of lying, it was a remarkably civil conversation and I have appreciated that because and I'm not just blowing smoke here. That is not the reaction that I expected given how these things can go with other tech leaders.

I guess I'm hopeful that the lesson from that has not been that we should build in secret and should never let anyone try to stop. KEVIN SCOTT: No. KEVIN ROOSE: I hope that it has been salutary for the whole project of building good and safe and responsible AI to have some feedback along the way. KEVIN SCOTT: One hundred percent.

I'm genuinely trying to think if anyone was irritated. It's like everybody is like, okay, this is good. Lesson learned. We have a whole bunch of mechanism for preventing things like that from happening again, and it's all good. Somebody said to me at some point that all feedback is a gift. The fact that you spent two hours trying very hard to get this thing to do unusual things and then publish the whole transcript, and then wrote this article that helps people pay more attention to the importance of responsible AI, all of that's a gift, and that's the way you should just look at it. KEVIN ROOSE: I'll remind tech executives of that the next time I get an angry call from a comms department.

Kevin Scott thinks feedback is a gift, so maybe you guys should get on board with that. I did also hear that you guys had Sydney Swag made, and I'm a little offended that none of that has shown up in my house. Did you hear about the beer? KEVIN SCOTT: I did. KEVIN ROOSE: This was my favorite thing that came out of that article was that there was a brewery in Minneapolis that came out with a beer called Sydney Loves Kevin.

I have not tried it yet. I heard it was good, but maybe you and I can get a pint of it sometime. KEVIN SCOTT: We should absolutely make a road trip to Minnesota to get a pint, that would be hilarious. Somebody sent me that article of a post mentioning that, I think the week after, and it was like, I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair. The last thing that I ask everyone on this podcast is, I know you're probably busier now than you have ever been in your life, given the thing you're covering and how much is going on in AI right now, but I'm curious to know what you do outside of work for fun? KEVIN ROOSE: I have a one-and-a-half year old.

KEVIN SCOTT: So you do nothing. KEVIN ROOSE: I change diapers, I install car seats, I clean the toys that he throws around on the floor. It is a full-time job. That is my main extracurricular hobby right now is hanging out with my son. KEVIN SCOTT: My kids are 13 and 15 now, and the thing that I can tell you is that it gets an awful lot better soon.

KEVIN ROOSE: It's hard to imagine. I'm having a great time. KEVIN SCOTT: It's exhausting though, right? KEVIN ROOSE: I haven't experienced it. It's definitely like labor intensive and time-intensive, but it's the opposite of it. It's rejuvenating for me. It's like all I want to do at the end of a long workday is hang out with my kid.

I don't know if that makes me weird, but that's how- KEVIN SCOTT: No, that is another inspiring thing. I think we will end it there and I will let you get to your one-and-a-half year old. KEVIN ROOSE: Thanks, Kevin. KEVIN SCOTT: Thank you so much for being on today. This is a great conversation.

KEVIN ROOSE: Great to talk to you. CHRISTINA WARREN: That was such a great conversation with Kevin Roose. Towards the end of the conversation, we will be talking a little bit about the article that Kevin wrote around Sydney which as you mentioned at the top of the show, one of the most read articles in New York Times history, according to the people that you've talked to. I believe it, I saw it everywhere.

I think I was in Disney World when that article went up and I was just mesmerized and I was like, this is incredible. It literally took me out of my vacation to read, so good job there, Kevin Roose. But I think a lot of concern from some people in the technology community when that article went out that this might be like a dampening effect on this gendered VI a boom that we've been seeing. That obviously didn't happen, but I wanted to get your perspective, why were you so open to having a conversation about what this was being transparent about? This is what happens when the token limit is exceeded and what can happen? Why is that important for you to have that conversation publicly? I'm going to be honest with you being a former journalist and working with a lot of PR people, that's usually not the common PR response to something like this. KEVIN SCOTT: Well, so there was an interesting technical thing that was going on that I think was important for people to understand the way that these systems work is, they basically are just very complicated engines for predicting the next word and so when they get to a point where the thing that is being predicted next has a whole bunch of equiprobable outcomes, it just picks one, and if all of those probabilities are very low, like any next thing that's coming is relatively unlikely, that is how you get these "hallucinations" that people are talking about.

If you have a very long and very unusual conversation with one of these systems, it's not that hard at all to get it to hallucinate and say pretty outrageous things. And so it was learning for us. like learning that was not a bad thing to have in public. We never intended for people to have super long, like super unusual conversations with being chat and now we know that they are like we're going to go engineer the system where it won't produce some of these outrageous things.

That's one thing. Then the second thing is I do think that as provocative as that conversation was, it had a whole bunch of stuff in it where if the nature of the conversation was like, hey, Bing chat, I would like you to write me a science fiction story or like a piece of fiction. Like if it was hallucinating inside of that context, it would be completely acceptable, but if someone were sitting in this chat agent. Like having a sincere conversation with the system where they thought all of this was real then it's something different.

Like it was a really useful conversation to be having and like, I think a framework for lots of conversations that we're going to have like this in the future where we're going to have to collectively decide together like what is okay and what is not okay in these systems because it's difficult for us to figure out what users expectations are of a brand new technology if they never interacted with it. That's the choices that we're making right now. It's like we're going to let you interact with it and there's some things that we're doing where they're just bright lines and we're not going to let you use it to do things that we like and everybody else can clearly understand are very serious obvious harms.

Then they're going to be a whole bunch of gray zone things where the only way that we're going to figure out what people want is to let them use the product and sometimes it means it's going to do something they don't want and they're going to have to tell us about it, and I think that's okay. CHRISTINA WARREN: No, I totally agree and I think everything you said is spot on and I do want to actually applaud you just for having that foresight to say that, yes, these are conversations we need to have and we should probably have them earlier rather than later. I continue to be floored by just how quickly everything has moved in the last nine, 10 months and the fact that the article came out February and here we are in August as we're recording this, and it feels like a lifetime ago.

Just in terms of how much the tech has changed, so I applaud you, I think for responding the way that you did, and also Kevin for including the entire transcript as he did as you pointed out, that was great journalism because I think that helped shape the conversation that we've continued to have over the last year as the technology has only increased adoption and evolved as more people are doing more things. KEVIN SCOTT: I think there's this other thing, too, where we sometimes lose this bit of nuance or perspective today, but it's entirely possible for like two people or two organizations, or two institutions operating in good faith to have hard conversations with one another and not be the end of the world and the objective ought not to be, let us never have these hard conversations. That's nutty. And so in a sense like if I zoom all the way back out, I think that as long as everybody's operating in good faith, let us have the hard conversations and even encourage them, please.

CHRISTINA WARREN: I think you're exactly right and have the hard conversations. Listen to Kevin Roose's podcast, Hard Fork. I'm going to give him a plug there.

On that note, thank you so much for joining us. That's going to be all the time we have for today. Huge thanks again to Kevin Roose from the New York Times for joining us. Great to see him and hear from him.

If you have anything that you'd like to share with us, please e-mail us any time You can also follow behindthetech on your favorite podcast platform and you can check out our full video episode on YouTube. Thanks for tuning in. KEVIN SCOTT: See you next time.

2023-09-22 14:45

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