An interview with Steve Wozniak by Jessica Livingston cured my AI anxiety

Note: there's no hidden knowledge contained in this post, it's just a reflection on how reading someone's reaction to an analogous situation changed my outlook

Like everyone who works in an information job, I have been worried these last few months about how AI would impact my place in the labor force in the coming decade. Even though I didn't get to the depressed extremes we've been seeing on the Internet, I could not shake off the feeling that what I could offer to a company - no, to the whole economy, which just means "other people" - would get a lot less valuable.

Come mid January, I wast taking a week off and had taken to read a few books since I read so little non-technical content on a day to day basis. One of these books was "Founders at work" by author and YC co-founder Jessica Livingston. The book is a series of interviews conducted by Jessica with the founders of some of the most important tech companies - sometimes specific products - of the previous 30 years (at the time).

The third chapter was an interview with Steve Wozniak about the creation of Apple. This chapter is especially great because you can feel from Woz's description how much he enjoyed working with microchips. He had been working with them since he was a teen and he was definitely a prodigy, and by his own words very proud of what he could build that others could not - either through higher quality, lower costs, new capabilities or all three at the same time. You could feel his pride as he described his accomplishments.

Then at some point he describes his first time writing a game in software. He goes on about how running all the variations he tried in software would take a skilled engineer months of work, and he had done it in a couple hours - and was ecstatic.

So this guy - who could design computers from the ground up, chip by chip, on his head, like no one else - was overjoyed when he learned that the skill that put so much effort into suddenly became massively easier. He wasn't worried about not being able to earn an above-average salary from this anymore, he was happy about all the new cool things he and everyone else would be able to build. Of course, he was just then building a company that would massively benefit from this new development and that may have shaped his optimism, but they weren't the only ones who would be able to surf this wave anyway.

For some reason his excitement got to me, and thanks to his account I suddenly felt a duty, as an engineer, to be more hopeful for the benefits this new tech will bring than pessimistic about its impacts on me personally. (Of course there's the x-risk thing, but I'll get there in another post)

Nothing intellectually changed for me, I just saw an example of a good reaction to new possibilities and realized that that's the reaction that I needed to have. And just like that, now I do.

Since then I realized that I've started to wonder, every time I had a blocker or a challenge at work - or even in my personal life - how AI could eventually help with that. And I became more interested in trying out new products, which have brought some notable benefits at work. At the same time, interacting more with these systems and being more mindful of their limitations, and how much of the actual problems I encounter in day to day situations are not tractable simply by "intelligence", made me a little less desperate for the future.

In particular, I started to realize that every little thing that we decide not to do as a company could have been done, and would make our systems better, if these AI tools were as good as I was fearing before. And that makes me excited for when they get there. There's a lot to do, a lot to be done and everyday we decide not to pursue possibilities due to limited time, attention and resources. I think we - and by "we" I mean everyone, not just my team - will be able to make less choices like this in the future, and deliver more, with higher quality, cheaper and faster.

And I AI will make this possible.


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