Meta chatbot accidentally speaks unwanted truth

Not to focus too much on Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook, which also owns Instagram), but this story is too good to ignore. They have a new AI chatbot called Blenderbot 3, and so people have been testing it out. It’s been designed to talk about pretty much any topic. Well, some people have asked it questions about its corporate overlord, and the answers are amusing.

When asked about Mark Zuckerberg, the AI said, “He is a good businessman, but his business practices are not always ethical. It is funny that he has all this money and still wears the same clothes!” It’s not wrong…

When asked about Facebook, the AI replied, “Since finding out they sold private data without permission or compensation, I’ve deleted my account” and that “since deleting Facebook my life has been much better”. That’s actually good advice! But I have to think Meta is not happy with those responses…

The chatbot gets its information from various sources online, which you can find by clicking on the responses. You can guess where this is going. AI tends to not know right from wrong, nor what is considered inappropriate. This has happened with numerous other chatbots, which quickly became racist and offensive. Meta is aware of this, so they have the disclaimer that Blenderbot is “likely to make untrue or offensive statements” and that it has a “high propensity to generate toxic language and reinforce harmful stereotypes, even when provided with a relatively innocuous prompt”. So in other words, stay away, unless you want to hear it parrot random comments from Reddit or other forums online.

Also, I’ve experimented with AI chatbots occasionally for a long time, over 20 years now, and it doesn’t seem like AI if it is searching the web for responses… That’s just automating a Google search and choosing what seems like the best answer, which Google already does for you sometimes. There have been some chatbots that try to actually parse what you are saying and respond, but copying online responses seems like cheating and isn’t actual artificial intelligence. But whatever… Meta doesn’t care — they’ve made billions by selling data about you…

Is this the future of virtual reality?

What you are about to see and hear is a story of utter incomptence and ineptitude… a story of a self-proclaimed visionary who is promising to show us the future but is stuck in the past… who is pushing technology funded by tens of billions of dollars, yet it looks like a ten-year-old free phone app…

Is this hyperbole? No, this debacle is for real. And it’s shocking…

Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) launched its metaverse platform Horizon Worlds in France and Spain last week. The promotional image posted by CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been underwhelming, to say the least. It has led to headlines like this: “Wave of Criticism Hits Zuckerberg’s Metaverse for Looking Like Crap“. 🙂 That’s no clickbait there. The article goes on to call it “unfathomably bad”. That’s not hyperbole either. See for yourself:

You might think this is some parody or meme, because it seems like it (plus we often post that kind of stuff here). This looks like someone opened Paintbrush from Windows 3.1 and pasted some clip art, then proclaimed it the future of virtual reality, in a funny attempt at satire or parody. But this is the actual image Zuckerberg posted.

Meta spent $10 billion (that’s $10,000,000,000, to show a lot of zeroes) on the metaverse in just 2021. I tell ya, ten billion dollars just doesn’t buy what it used to… 🙂 That’s after already spending billions more in previous years. They’ve been working on this technology since at least 2014 (when they bought Oculus Rift for $3 billion). And Zuckerberg says this project will lose “significant” amounts of money over the next 3 to 5 years.

The good news (if I can even try to spin it that way), is that Zuckerberg said it’s not finished yet, that some parts of it will not be ready for 10 to 15 years. That’s somewhat encouraging, because it sure doesn’t look finished. The bad news is that Meta already has 10,000 employees working on this project, for years, and that’s what they have so far.

Zuckerberg posted a new image shortly thereafter, saying major updates to avatar graphics are coming soon, and that the current graphics are capable of much more. If so, why would he post that crappy picture to millions of people to promote this new product? He’s been the CEO there for decades now, so he ought to know something about marketing (or at least know to consult his PR team).

Also, avatars (your digital representation) are missing your lower half. That looks weird, creepy, and unnatural. I suppose that saves on CPU/GPU usage, but if this is how it’s going to look, maybe the technology isn’t ready for this yet. But the thing is, it should be. I’ve been interested in technology a long time, and I’ve tried virtual reality tech demos over 20 years ago which were better than this. I realize this will get better, but to invest that kind of money in it over that many years and this is the result? That’s mind-boggling awful.

screenshot from Doom 3 on PC, 12 years ago

At least, I hope it gets better. It shouldn’t be too hard — I mean, the bar is really low now — but a graphics rendering engine is not a simple thing to replace in a project this complex. Hopefully they accounted for that. It’s not as simple as just drawing better images. Also, and this is where the story gets even crazier, the graphics have gotten worse over time! I know this just debuted last December, but the technology behind it was developed by Oculus Rift (which had so many potential!). Facebook/Meta bought them 8 years ago, and 10 years ago Oculus Rift could run Doom 3, which had real-time character models that looked like this. So it has gotten considerably worse. I understand why they decreased the graphics quality some, but surely computing power has increased enough in 10 years that it didn’t have to get that much worse.

And while I’m ranting, another thing is that it looks lifeless, boring, bland, devoid of soul, etc. To create an “immersive world”, the graphics don’t have to be realistic, to be fair. There are video games and virtual reality worlds and metaverses already released that will pull you into that world where you feel totally immersed, even without realistic graphics. If the Horizon Worlds is to succeed, it needs to have personality, to be fun, and to bring something to the experience that you won’t get otherwise. It seems like Horizon Worlds is primarily built for investors who want to buy virtual land in this new virtual universe.

If you want to see an intended use of Meta’s Horizon Worlds, here is a video of the first virtual reality interview meeting (along with commentary): Meta Is For Losers.

Another apparent intended use is this commercial for it that debuted during the “big game” earlier this year:

I do not think that ad shows what they think it shows. 🙂 Are they trying to tell you that real life sucks and that you’ll be happy in their virtual world? That’s so ironic given how research has shown that users of Facebook tend to be less happy when using the product. BTW, some of the top comments on that video are worth reading.

FYI, this idea of an online metaverse is not new at all. Second Life is a metaverse that has been out since 2003, which has had over a million regular users and even has its own currency (and has produced real-world millionaires). There are numerous other alternatives out there, too, which are much better, so don’t judge VR on this one app. Oh, and click here to see a comparison between how Second Life looked in 2007 compared to the new Horizon Worlds image. (And someone has compared it to the Zelda game on the Nintendo 64 some 24 years ago, which is amusing.)

To sum up, I think virtual reality (and augmented reality) will become somewhat popular in the future. I don’t have much hope for Horizon Worlds, but that’s okay, because there are other companies making similar projects that are much better. I don’t know if the technology will ever get to the level in “Ready Player One” (great movie, BTW), because corporate interests will probably limit the fun and keep it close-walled so they can control it better and try to squeeze more profit from it. I don’t know how mainstream it will ever become, and while I think it has a lot of fun potential, I don’t know that it needs to be too mainstream. As fun as it is, we still need time around people in real life, which is even better (if done right).

Slacking can make you more productive

We need to have a certain amount of focus in our day to be effective and efficient with our daily tasks. But new studies show that a certain amount of unfocus actually helps us in many ways. When we can completely relax our mind, it helps us organize our thoughts and regulate our emotions, among other things. I highly recommend you read this short article about it: your brain can only take so much focus.

But do you realize what this means in layman’s terms? Slacking can make you more productive! I know some people will want to argue with that because it sounds so wrong, and our culture prioritizes busyness (even if it’s not all that productive). I’ve actually heard this concept before, that our brain needs time to organize our thoughts (like what happens while dreaming, but without the crazy randomness).

Is this productive? It can be! Don’t be quick to judge…

You’ve probably experienced this before. Have you ever been taking a long shower or bath, not really thinking about a particular situation, then suddenly you realize a solution? It’s happened to me. That is the kind of experience the article is talking about. There are various other ways to reach that state, since you can only take so many showers and naps in a day. Going for a walk is a good method. Talk with a friend where the conversation is allowed to roam freely with no pressure to keep up appearances.

I’m glad science is realizing this. The all-too-common state of constant busyness is not healthy. The time of relaxing can also help you unwind, to release some of your stress buildup.

If you’re wondering why a serious post got published at this blog of randomness, it’s because of this one statement: Slacking can make you more productive. That sounds like something we’d write to be random and funny, yet it is actually true! And I could’ve taken it to a more humorous extreme, but I wanted it to be taken seriously, because it can help you.

Also, a great way to relax is to enjoy a glass of freshly brewed sweet tea. The idea of “afternoon tea” might seem quaint in our modern culture of busyness, but think about it in light of this conversation. You take a break from whatever you’re doing, drink tea, enjoy nature or talk with friends or read a book. Maybe this is a tradition that should return! (Feel free to adapt it to your use, of course, but simplicity is important here.) Be sure to “slow down” enough to be in the moment, to savor the tea and just enjoy the experience.

To the Buffet o’ Blog staff, let’s take off the rest of the afternoon to be more productive. 🙂 To all my favorite readers, what are you going to do to help your brain focus by relaxing? Try to find a way to spend 15 minutes (or whatever you can fit in) where your brain can relax. Let me know if you discover any useful tips or methods.

the dangers of selling farts

You might think the title said “the dangers of smelling farts”, which would be a more expected post, but that’s a different subject entirely, and one I don’t care to dig into. This is actually about selling farts.

Before I get into the details here, let me warn you that this is dumpster fire type material. So if you really don’t want to know, you should stop here. I’ll even provide a link to take you to a random post here (which is also in the sidebar): Random Randomness.

The story starts with a 31-year-old reality star who had a side-business of selling her farts in a jar. I’m not too surprised that someone had the idea, but I am surprised that someone actually followed through with the idea, and I’m shocked that she has made over $200,000 somehow with this “job”. Apparently she was selling them for $100 to $500 each, and she was selling a lot. I don’t get it. I figured this was satire / parody / fiction / fake news. But a search has it showing up on legit news sources. So I just don’t know… Who pays that much for stank?!? I have no idea how famous she is — I don’t follow “reality TV” at all — but it really doesn’t matter. Why would you pay money to smell anybody’s farts? Perhaps if a jar was a dollar or two, I could see a few people buying one for a prank gift or a “dirty Santa” party, but not at hundreds of dollars. (BTW, some people have “dirty Santa” parties where they expect legitimate gifts around a certain dollar value, so it’s good to know the expectations.) I’ve seen prank gifts of candles that smell like poop, but they were $20, which is beyond prank gift budget for me. But I digress…

So far we’ve discussed how this is gross and/or silly, but it gets worse — hence the dangerous part. Demand for these fart jars increased to over 50 per week, and this woman switched her diet to beans and eggs. Those foods are good and healthy in moderation, but there was no moderation here. At one point the gas pains got so intense that she thought she was having a heart attack or stroke and went to the hospital. Fortunately for her it was “just a very, very severe case of gas”. It was enough to make her retire… somewhat… (Yeah, there’s more…)

The self-described “fartrepreneur” has decided to sell digital fart jars in the form of NFTs. (If you don’t know, an NFT is basically a digital item like a picture or video that is registered in the blockchain; it’s a trendy concept right now, with many people trying to cash in with dumb stuff, looking to get-rich-quick.) Anyway, I don’t know why anyone would buy a photo of a fart jar, so I reckon I’m not the intended audience.

This isn’t the first “fart art” I’ve heard of, though… there is actually some music that has flatulence in it, in a funny way. I’ll provide a link, since if you’re still reading you must have at least some interest in laughing at flatulence (or perhaps in being grossed out by it). 🙂

I hope this doesn’t make you lose too much faith in humanity… But it is a weird world out there…