Two Year Anniversary, April 4, 2024

Celebrating the Grand Opening of our Bay City Studios

Good afternoon/evening/morning

Remember me?  I hope so.  I certainly remember you and the 21 years of my life spent sending out weekly newsletters and other articles on travel and travel related technology!

I’ve imperfectly kept in touch with a few of you, and answered too few of the emails you occasionally send me, and so now, on the second anniversary of that fateful event that had me leaving Seattle on the evening of April Fools Day 2022 and arriving into Bay City, Texas, five days later, I thought I’d send you a quick update on life in small-town Texas.  My last note to you, in November 2022, can be seen here, and I’ll generally move forward from that rather than start at the beginning.

I’d hoped to keep in better contact with you, but obviously have not.  This has not been due to a lack of diligence, but to a lack of time.  I’ve never been busier than I have been the last two years, but in general I’d not change any part of it and am loving my new life.

This is a somewhat meandering (and lengthy!) note – how to compress everything I might otherwise have written into a single note today?  May I skip most travel related comments, and offer instead some general observations and then talk about the new developments in my life and activities/ventures, and in particular (feel free to jump down to this), the exciting realization of my popular classical music streaming service, ARIA.

What a lot has changed, for us all, in those two years!  Some things remain disappointingly similar, of course – Boeing continues to create careful new phrases to describe regrettable failures and near-disasters on its planes in terms that sound comforting and absolutely not ascribing any blame to themselves in the process, accompanied by “this time we really mean it” promises to pay more attention to safety and quality control, and occasional changes in senior management that don’t seem to make any difference at all.

Travel numbers have surged and in some cases are now exceeding those prior to Covid, while airlines have managed to increase their load factors on flights even further, making empty adjacent seats as rare as bargain priced airfares.  And the pilot shortage – while definitely still a thing – has been flipped on its ear at United due to problems with Boeing new-plane deliveries to the point where it is asking pilots to take extra time off and freezing hiring.

Artificial Intelligence – No Longer Just a Marketing Nonsense Concept

In April 2022, who among us was thinking about, let alone using, “real” AI?  A few people boastfully described their software as embodying AI, but it never did.  The boasting has grown even more rapidly than the reality, and now even the most simplistic and routine process is described as an AI function, even though most of them absolutely are not.

But, even after stripping away the boasts, the reality shows an extraordinary growth of real AI.  It is lurking in the background and impacting on our lives in ways we don’t even guess at, and the murky nature of how it arrives at its guidance and opinions should be of concern to us all.

The rush to give AI more autonomy and “the keys to” increasingly sophisticated weapons systems that now operate with less and less human input sees us getting every closer to living the reality of a “Skynet” type AI rebellion.  It isn’t just some degree of autonomy that we’ve granted, the decision-making cycle is now necessarily so short (because the other side definitely has AI too) that even if we wished to second-guess our AI actions, we don’t have the time to do so.  The famous examples of near-WW3 events being triggered by faulty sensors and computer programs, but being thwarted by alert human oversight, is no longer possible.  We don’t have 15 or 20 minutes to respond to a possible attack, we probably don’t even have 15 or 20 seconds.  We hear about AI systems suddenly “going rogue” or “having hallucinations and fantasies”.  What happens if an AI system that controls an essential element of our life – not necessary a military element, but perhaps something like the electricity grid – goes rogue and destroys the grid by burning out transformers?  That’s another thing that would happen before we’d have any time to respond.

AI has yet to show itself as trustworthy and dependable.

A more subtle danger is the non-transparent nature of AI.  We ask it a question, and it gives us an answer, but doesn’t allow us to then review its source materials and decision making.  This means the answers it gives may include subtle biases that seldom are detectable, other than when they mistakenly appear front and center – putting racially diverse people in historical pictures where such racial diversity was never a reality, for example, but in many other much more subtle ways too.

Obviously some of these biases are programmed into the AI systems by their developers.  But what if there are also biases that the AI ends up creating and including, itself?

In a less extreme scenario, but pointing to the rapid growth of AI, a year ago, some limited AI capabilities were offered to me for my radio stations, costing about $1000 a month.  I was tempted but decided not to proceed.  Now, greatly expanded AI capabilities are being given to me for free (well, sort of – they are included with some other software that is already costing me $250 a month), and not only is this AI free, but I’m actually finding it useful and using it every day, and even this limited AI service has almost the same capabilities as mentioned here.

Other things I’m experimenting with is using AI to create the background music for commercials, and maybe to create station ID and advertiser jingles.  It is very easy to do this and seems to work surprisingly well.  But, in an example of fighting against the tide, “real” musicians are politely hoping that AI won’t be used for this purpose.

In casual conversation, the thing that alarms me the most is how almost no-one truly understands the potential (both good and bad) of AI, and most of all, almost no-one appreciates the speed of AI development, because nowadays AI is itself developing its own new AI capabilities.  It is “learning”, and the more it learns, the faster it can continue to learn.  (It reminds me of how for decades, people consistently under-estimated China…..)

This means two things, both alarming.

The first is that society can not keep up with, let alone plan for and anticipate the impacts of AI.  All other developments in our society (with one or two notable exceptions) have happened sufficiently slowly that we’ve managed to keep more or less ahead of the issue, and somewhat rationally incorporate it into our world.  But think of notable exceptions, such as, most recently, Covid.  Does anyone think, as word slowly leaks out, piece by piece, about the irrational, ineffective, and unscientific nature of every key Covid decision that impacted on our lives for two long years or more, that we will do well as we scramble to react to AI impacts on our world?

The second thing is that AI’s ability to develop itself means that, once in possession of a sufficiently capable AI base engine, almost anyone can then instruct it in how to develop and evolve.  This is not a technology that is reserved for only the largest and most sophisticated nation-states.  It is something that could be done by a teenager, in their basement, and at very low cost, by using computing power supplied by AWS or one of the other major computing-resource suppliers.

Even if society could come up with a sensible and appropriate code of AI implementation and restrictions/oversight, there is no way to prevent “rogue actors” from ignoring those constraints and doing whatever they choose.  Just like how we simply shifted the bio-experimentation that lead to Covid out of the US and to a less restrictive regime (China), exactly the same thing will happen with AI development, too.

The last word on AI – at least for today – belongs to Elon Musk.  He already has a tremendous vested interest in AI due to its application to car self-driving, and is looking to more generally expand those capabilities, while at the same time being greatly concerned about where it is all taking us.  He says that, by the end of next year, AI will be smarter than any single human, and by the end of 2029, AI will be more intelligent that all humanity, combined.  I’m certainly not smart enough to even comprehend what that would mean or what the consequences will be, but am far from certain that this bodes well.

Truly, AI is a Pandora’s Box, and now that it has been cracked open, can it ever be closed again?

Electric Vehicles

While Tesla’s share price is still very high compared to that of other automobile manufacturer valuations (its market capitalization is ten times that of either GM or Ford), it is now at half its all-time-high of November 2021 and showing no signs of recovery – and I write this before the Q1 2024 results – generally considered to be disappointing – are released.  (Update – results now released.  The consensus expectation was for 457,000 deliveries in the quarter, the actual count came in at 386,810; this is 15.4% below expectation, causing a further 5% fall in its share price.)

Tesla’s first-mover advantages are being erased as other car manufacturers finally start to catch up, and as new manufacturers (in China) develop better and less expensive alternatives to Tesla.

Yes, the gloss has rubbed off Tesla, and also off the concept of electric vehicles in general (for example the eagerly anticipated Ford F150 Lightning that went from lengthy waiting lists to an abandonment of plans to expand production facilities and sales at about 1/8th the level anticipated).  Interesting, the diminished interest in EVs seems to be for slightly “irrelevant” reasons.

The real deal-breakers have not yet fully appeared, because we’re still not yet at the point that “normal people” will buy an EV and expect a “normal” driving experience in return.  Early adopters of EVs were/are much more forgiving of the challenges of EVs than regular drivers will be.

The biggest concern should be, but is not, the lack of power to recharge a growing national fleet of EVs.  California famously asked its EV owners not to charge them during a period of power shortage, even though EV power consumption was only 2% of total consumption.  By 2035, it is suggested EVs might consume 22% of California’s power.  It isn’t as though California has any spare power at present – where will all this new demand be supplied from?  Will electricity rationing in the decade ahead become the modern equivalent of petrol rationing in the 1970s?

The other part of the power availability concern is that with ever-faster battery charging being demanded and provided for EVs, and increasing battery capacities inside EVs, the power required to charge vehicles has enormous peaks and surges, making it much harder to plan for and provide than if it were an ever-present steady flow.  The power needs for just a single one of Tesla’s super-charger stations peaks at levels that are the same as that used by 2,000 or more homes.  (To be fair, the flip-side of this would be great if people could charge their vehicles when power is freely available, and then use some of that power in their homes when power supplies are tighter, allowing the nation’s EVs to become a huge buffer/reservoir to help the grid cope with daily peaks and troughs of demand.)

Oh, one other thing about EVs.  The much touted benefits and “savings” are becoming weaker and weaker.  Insurance companies hate them and that hate is reflected in their premiums, states are working out how to tax EVs based on mileage driven to make up for the loss of tax revenues currently built into gasoline prices, the extra weight of an EV is causing more wear and tear on roads, repair costs (in many cases) are now turning out to be high, and the cost of power, if purchased from a regular charging station, sometimes works out to much more than the cost of gasoline per mile for a regular internal-combustion engine!

The real winner seems to be, at least currently, the hybrid vehicle, with a small battery on board to simply recapture energy otherwise thrown away through braking and while idling, and also to provide a peak-power boost for the very brief periods when regular engine power levels are insufficient.  This is not the same as a PHEV – a plug-in hybrid EV with a larger battery and offering maybe a 20 – 40 mile electric range (much less for older model vehicles).  PHEVs typically cost around $10,000 more than an equivalent regular vehicle, and the time it would take to make that back in savings seems to be very lengthy.

Toyota – famous both for their reluctance to develop EV cars and their focus on hybrids – is laughing at the rest of the world.

Power and Water

Changing topics, only slightly, Elon Musk opined just a couple of weeks ago that in a very few years, the entire US power grid will be needed for the computers powering AI systems – not only is AI growing, but so too are the computers that make it possible, at rates we can’t comprehend.  Power, or the lack of it, will vie with that other increasingly essential but scarce resource – water – and both will become tangible constraints.  Either or both of the two issues above will cause the availability of electricity to increasingly become a severe constraint.

Fortunately, where I live now (75 minutes SW of Houston, in Bay City) we have abundant energy resources – solar, wind, nuclear, and oil/gas, plus new developments with various types of new clean energy creation too.  But we are short of water – we are at the tail end of the Colorado river, and there is literally nothing left for us by the time the river gets here, and as a result, our farm are dying out due to the lack of the water they’ve always relied upon and needed for the farming to be viable (ie growing two crops a year instead of one).  By way of example, each pound of rice requires 450 gallons of water.  Beef requires 1,850 gallons per pound.

A massive desalination plant is being built in the Corpus Christi area to remove the salt from seawater as part of a desperate attempt to get water, but there’s no way it will create the abundant low-cost water that our primary/agricultural industries need.  And, of course, desalination plants require electricity, which means a (very partial) solution to one problem simply exacerbates the other problem.

Our problems are minor compared to those in states such as NV, AZ, and CA.  The abundant availability of almost-free clean water is no longer something that can be taken for granted, even though few politicians are willing to confront these challenges.  How much of our economic base is built on an expectation of water availability?  How much of our food supply is vulnerable to water shortages?

It has always been my perception that the thing most directly related to quality of life is abundant electricity.  Almost every part of a convenient and comfortable lifestyle is either directly or indirectly linked to abundant and affordable energy in general, and electricity in particular.

Talking about the desperate need for power, increasingly an issue across the country, the development of small modular nuclear reactors promises to give a new lease of life for that ultimate in clean energy sources – nuclear power.  We have some scheduled to be installed in Texas just as soon as regulatory approvals have been obtained – a process that is hopefully going to be less arduous than has been the case for traditional reactors.  Lower deployment costs and low on-going costs suggest nuclear power could not only please environmentalists (if they can force themselves to rationally evaluate nuclear power!) but also economists.

Apple

Another stock market darling that is no longer so convincingly outperforming the market is Apple.  It is getting harder and harder for Apple to encourage people to keep buying replacement iPhones unnecessarily and prematurely.  It is hard to find convincing data, but it seems that the average period of time people keep phones before replacing them has more than doubled, and now is in the 3 – 4 year range.  Back in the early days of the first iPhones, with tangible valuable new features being added each year, the average time between replacements was more like 18 months.  Remember how each year’s new iPhone release was a headline grabbing event?  Remember the long lines of people camped out in front of Apple stores to be the first to get a new iPhone, and how each new model would invariably sell out within hours of going on sale?  When did any of that last happen?

With Apple’s market increasingly being replacement phones rather than first-time phones, the market for new phone sales is greatly reducing, and that for sure is adding some pressure to Apple.

The only remaining benefit of an iPhone compared to an Android phone is its market share and some of the ways Apple exploits that, for example, in its chat feature.

This benefit and its exploitation represents one of the grounds of the new Department of Justice anti-trust lawsuit against Apple.  There are plenty of others.  I’ve long bemoaned the fact that I can only use my lovely Apple Watch with an iPhone.  I can’t even change the time on the watch without using an iPhone to do so, and my daughter’s attempts to do so with her iPhone proved to be impossible due to so many layers of account privileges and “protections”.  Apple insists that I should have an iPhone as well as an Apple Watch.

I didn’t want my Watch to be connected to her iPhone (especially because she is only rarely with me), I just wanted the time-zone changed from the Pacific to Central time zones.  The two of us eventually gave up – even after unsuccessful “help” from Apple’s support staff.  This is a totally artificial and unnecessary constraint created by Apple to force users of one of their products into others of their products.

Here’s a good analysis of the lawsuit and the alleged Apple violations.

As for me, I recently upgraded my Pixel 5 to a new Pixel 8 Pro.  I massively prefer the plain generic version of Android that Google’s own phones use, without any of the manufacturer-specific nonsense-ware that you get on brands such as Samsung and Motorola.  And in a nod to the longer life span of phones, Google has promised to support this generation of phones with at least seven years of software updates.

The Chaos in the Rest of the World

Have we ever been in such turbulent times as we are at present?  We’ve three terrible tinderboxes, each one of which is threatening to become a conflagration.  First must be Ukraine, where the combined industrial might of Europe and North America is struggling to supply enough munitions to Ukraine in its defense against Russia.  It has been obvious to anyone willing to see that our stockpiles of munitions have dropped to perilously low levels, while our ability to resupply is laughably minimal.

The good news about the Ukrainian conflict is that these issues are now exposed for all to see and harder to ignore, but will we have time to react and respond?  That’s the big problem.

Until a few months ago, I’d have feared China to be the second greatest danger to world peace, but now I’m pushing it down to third place.  China’s extraordinary growth of its military might (and its industrial capabilities to feed the demands of any high-intensity conflict), and its credible capabilities to knock out our aircraft carriers, combined with its greater willingness to assert its claims against Taiwan and surrounding areas such as contested parts of the South China Sea seem unlikely to stop.

The number two risk now has to be “The Middle East” with the Hamas issue, plus all the various ISIS and other groups of uncertain nature and objectives, other than destroying Israel, and – the elephant in the corner of the room – Iran.  Does Iran already have nuclear weapons?  Israel, and the west in general, might soon find out.

I’ve never been as worried about the prospect of WW3 breaking out as I am at present.  And the west has not been as relatively weak as it currently is since the buildup to WW2; indeed, it could be argued that we are weaker now compared to our opponents in Russia/CIS, China, and the Middle East, than we were back then.

My new ARIA Popular Classical Music Streaming Service

Turning now to matters of more immediate impact and much greater potential positivity, at least on me.  After a lengthy gestation, I am now delivering my “baby” and presenting it to the world.  As the name in the headline implies, this is a music stream that you can play in the usual places – on your smart phone, tablet, computer and Alexa equipped speakers.  I’m calling it “ARIA”, and it plays popular classical music.

The “secret sauce” and hopefully future success of this service is in the italicized word – popular.  There are plenty of internet (and regular radio) stations that play classical music, but with a clear preference for “high brow” music that “normal people” find unapproachable and unappealing, thereby limiting their audience and appeal.  While I’ve noticed a palpable shift on almost all of them towards featuring some pieces that are more approachable, this is always patchy, with plenty of music to turn away most potential listeners still being programmed.  Furthermore, this concession to the masses is now being weakened by decisions to play “minority” music, rather than to focus on dead white guys.  It no longer seems to be the quality of the music, but the race and gender of the composer, that is given priority when choosing what music is performed and broadcast.

We’re embracing a brilliantly simple concept that is at the heart of almost every product out there, but a concept that has been elusive in the classical music field for the last 100 years.  The concept?  Giving people what they want and like!  Ignoring the audience, while rife these days, is all the more bizarre because, back when it was first written, classical music was indeed the popular music of its time.  We’re now returning to those roots, giving listeners “all the good bits and none of the boring bits” of classical music, presented in a friendly rather than aloof manner.

Contrary to popular belief, the market for popular classical music is astonishingly large – depending on the survey, it seems 10% – 15% of the adult population would be interested in listening to approachable enjoyable classical music, if it were available to them.  Even better, there are very few competitors to share that market with.  Popular music style radio stations can be outstandingly successful with a 3% – 6% market share of a local market – we might be able to get a larger market share, and of the entire world.

Please try it out.  Simply go to Aria.Radio and click on the play button.  It is also a native “skill” on all Alexa speakers – simply say “Alexa, play Aria Radio“.  You can see more clever things you can do with Alexa and ARIA here.  (I’ll be creating a dedicated app for smart phones a bit later this year – for now, you can simply go to Aria’s website on a phone and then play the stream from there.)

A couple of statistics to give you a sense of the scale of this venture.  There are over 50,000 pieces of classical music currently in our music library (this includes multiple different versions of many compositions), with tens of thousands more waiting to be analyzed, coded, and catalogued (ugh!).

We use the better part of 100 different criteria to determine the sequence of music we play, and how frequently we play each piece, and there are dozens more criteria we plan to add as time and resource allows to continue to optimize the appeal of the music to our listeners.  Each hour of programming requires the computer system to consider over 5,000 different possible combinations of typically about 10 – 11 songs played each hour, before choosing the best combination and sequence of songs, with the evaluation extending to a consideration of songs that have played over the last few days and which will play over the next few days, too.

There is still a great deal more to be done, all of which of course is resource constrained (a polite way of saying money-constrained!).  I am  hoping to find some more people to join me in this labor of love, either as on-air announcers, or back-office support staff.  Currently I personally host music for eight hours every day (7am – 11am and 7pm – 11pm, US Central Time), and it would be lovely to get other “real people” to help out with the live hosting, as well as all the back-end cataloging and analysis.  The other voice you will sometimes hear in the short announcements between pieces is my daughter, Anna.  I think she has a great radio voice well suited for classical music.

But, although the website is bare-bones, and the actual music-playing is also without any frills or much presentation, I feel the music being played is starting to flow well and is already a positive experience for listeners.  I hope you might like it, and will make it a part of your regular listening choices.

One last thing about ARIA.  If you do have a listen, you’ll hear, at the top of every hour, world news and weather, and at the bottom of the hour, US news, sports, business and weather.  That’s all written and voiced by AI.  Sure, the voices sometimes go a bit awry (which points again to my concern about unrestricted use of AI), but it is – I think – better than nothing, and definitely something that in another six months will be much better than it currently is.  We could not have brought any form of news and weather reporting to every hour without the AI help.  Does that make us a winner in the AI stakes?  It is too soon to tell!

Radio in General

It is not proving easy to operate small-town radio stations.  Don’t get me wrong – I totally love the work, and am certain I’m tangibly making a difference and helping the communities my stations are active in to become better places for the local residents.  But I’ve discovered three not-so-positive things.

First, small town radio stations don’t have the economies of scale of big-city stations, and these economies of scale are essential.  Case in point – one of my transmitter sites needs almost $250,000 in repairs at present.  That cost would be the same if I had a station in the Houston or any other major city region, with a station that instead of reaching 50,000 – 100,000 people, was reaching 5,000,000 – 10,000,000 people (one hundred times more!).  Clearly it is easier to absorb a $250k cost when the station has a revenue ten – one hundred times greater, but awkward when the revenue is low and profit almost non-existent.

Second, I had never ever, not in a month of Sundays, suspected that finding good capable sales people in this area would be so impossibly difficult.  Although my stations have better programming than ever before, more listeners, and a much greater integration into the community, and even with our advertising rates having dropped rather than rising over the last two years, I can not find people to successfully sell advertising to local advertisers.  It is a very hollow victory to claim success in all these other measures if I can’t use those improvements and achievements to bring in the necessary revenue to fund them!

Third, the other extraordinary surprise is when it comes to streaming music, something which is a necessary response to technology’s evolution.  Although there is a growth in the number of people who can and do listen to streamed rather than over-the-air broadcast radio, reaching these people is impossible from a cost/profit point of view.  Whereas regular radio simply pays a percentage of gross revenue to the owners of the rights to the songs we play; when it comes to streaming music over the internet, in addition to the percentage of revenue, we also have to pay a fixed fee for every song that is listened to by every listener.  That fee seems small (about 0.3 cents per song per listener) but to put it in context, if everyone who listens to us on the radio switched to listening through streaming, all those multiples of 0.3c would rise to massively more than our total gross revenue (but our advertising revenue would remain unchanged)!

It astonishes me that the broadcasting industry allowed this new “streaming right” to be created from nothing and nowhere, and agreed to a rate that makes it impossible to ever profitably provide service through streaming.  That is the main reason for the growth of podcasting – it is cheaper to pay Joe Rogan and every other podcaster many millions of dollars a year for their programs than it is to pay music rights-holders to stream their songs.  That is also why companies such as Spotify have never been profitable, and may never be profitable.

Oh – one more thing.  The Music rights owners are pressing for the creation of more rights.  Their poster child in support of this is that poor starving creative genius musicians need to be fairly paid.  But the truth of the matter is that the rights owners who collect the bulk of all rights income are billionaires, not poor starving creative genius musicians.  Those creative genius musicians will soon enough succeed on their own merits.  As for the poor starving failed musicians, their future will remain unchanged, for the simple reason that their current problem is that no-one plays their music, and raising the cost of playing music won’t cause a growth in playing unpopular/unknown music.

Fortunately these issues aren’t quite as severe for streaming classical music through ARIA (although the copyright laws keep being amended to extend how long the estates of long-dead musicians can continue to get paid), but for regular radio stations with regular popular/recent music, it is a terrible problem with no obvious solution, and one which threatens to get worse.

More Travel Insider Touring?

A question I’m occasionally asked is whether I plan to revive the several-times-a-year distinctive Travel Insider tours.  Do you miss them?  Increasingly, I do.

Covid of course stopped things totally in early 2020, and it is only now that I feel the world is starting to understand how to fit Covid concerns into their travel plans.  For several years, most people were unwilling to commit themselves, many months in advance, to a group tour, due to concerns about their health, the health of other people in the group, and the possibility of a resurgence of serious Covid activity and border closures once more.  Are people now willing to return to pre-Covid travel styles?

I’d certainly love a chance to head back to Scotland, to sail gracefully up/down the Danube or Rhine or other European river, and to visit my home country of New Zealand and its adjacent neighbor, Australia.  I’m not so sure about trying again for my ‘stan tour of various of the –stan countries – that part of the world feels a bit too unsettled at present.  Happily the UK, Europe, and NZ/Aust has plenty to offer without needing to go to Kazakhstan and elsewhere just yet!

Surprisingly, there are probably more people reading this newsletter than listening to my radio stations, and definitely more of you who might be interested in international travel than is the case with my local listeners, so your opinion is important!

I’ve another reason to want to restart some touring.  To my delight, my daughter, Anna, was rather hopefully enquiring if I’d be operating any future tours in the foreseeable future.  She’s now a lovely young lady of 19; accomplished, composed, reliable, and invaluable to me in the operation of my radio stations.  She even sometimes cohosts a show with me on Saturday nights – a country music listener-request show (a far cry from ARIA’s classical music streaming, for sure!), and I’m very proud of how she has grown up, and would enjoy her coming with me/us on another tour.

So, hopefully, yes to more Travel Insider touring.  Fall feels too soon, but maybe a cruise in the typical time sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas?  As I grow the listeners on ARIA, I’m also thinking of ways to come up with classical-music themed tours – which could involve visiting some of Europe’s great cities where composers were active, some places that were written about in well-known music pieces, and perhaps a detour to some Eastern European countries with low-priced but high quality concerts.

In closing, I do hope this note finds you well, and that your last two years have been pleasant.  I can’t say when I’ll next write, but it is good to briefly renew the connection.  And please do enjoy my new popular classical music streaming service, ARIA.

 

David.

5 thoughts on “Two Year Anniversary, April 4, 2024”

  1. David, It’s great to hear an update from you. I enjoyed reading your newsletter for many years.

    As far as AI is concerned, the point is, that it is not self-aware and will never be self-aware.

    It is a computer program leveraging the fact that we now have CPUs able to process massive amounts of data in parallel, at very high speed.

    Despite all the hype about AI, my brand new Galaxy S24 fails to sync with my brand new BMW about 1 time out of 10. I will be driving and suddenly Alexa pops up trying to initialize itself.

    When my phone syncs with my car 100% of the time and things like Alexa don’t get triggered randomly I will believe there has been a sea change in the technology world.

    Until then, whatever you read or whatever Elon Musk says, it’s just a glorified computer program.

    1. Hi, Rich

      Thanks for your comments. As for what AI is and is not, I agree that there’s an ocean of difference between the ridiculous claims of sales people that their new (gadget of any type) now includes AI, and the reality of a mega-computer cluster with a full AI program running on it.

      Is AI self-aware? Does that even matter? It is heuristically reprogramming itself, whether as a result of lines of code or some sort of semi-consciousness, and if we give it direct capabilities to do things all by itself, and the ability to redefine how to achieve optimum outcomes and even what those outcomes are, then we’re inviting disaster.

      To repurpose your comments about your Galaxy S24, we can’t even make a phone reliably sync to a car, but we’re allowing the massively more complex programming in an AI to make decisions that don’t just inconvenience us but potentially might destroy us.

      A glorified computer program? Probably, yes. But we’re giving that glorified computer program a tremendous amount of power, all the more terrifying when you think the people who wrote the program are twenty-something-year-old computer nerds with a very limited world-view and world-experience!

      1. I hope they are not linking AI to nuclear missiles. Given that AI is no more sophisticated at heart than the auto door unlocking on my car, which can’t always tell when I am nearby or not, that would be the height of irresponsibility, and would almost certainly bring about the end of humanity

        1. I think you’d be astonished at how sophisticated AI is, already. We use it to write and voice our news/sport/business updates on Aria.radio at the top and bottom of each hour, and the developer of the programming that offers the AI uses the AI itself to help him write the programming!

          That feels a bit incestuous, but if it comes to that, how about the college reality these days where professors use AI to set essay type exam questions, students use AI to write answers to those questions, and the professors then use AI to evaluate and grade the answers!!!

          As for the keys to the nuclear inventory, who only knows how far AI has integrated into those environments. I share your thoughts about the irresponsibility of it.

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Thanks for choosing to receive our newsletters.  We hope you’ll enjoy them and become a long-term reader, and maybe on occasion, add comments and thoughts of your own to the newsletters and articles we publish.

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All the very best for now, and welcome to the growing “Travel Insider family”.






David.