AI Babel

“God was offended by the hubris of humanity and said: “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”
Genesis; 11:1-9

While reading “After Babel” by Jonathan Haidt, an excellent article on the unintended consequences of social media, I was struck by the parallels between the virtual Babel that Dr. Haidt illuminates and the professional Babel that I observe in the ongoing discussions around artificial intelligence (AI). Within the computer science community the neurals battle the symbolists on whether we’ve achieved artificial general intelligence (AGI). Geoffrey Hinton, the Yoda of neural AI, left Google so that he could tell us that the current AI applications are dangerous enough with AGI. Meanwhile the linguists focus on bias, intent and the inherent flaws in the training data and methods while the philosophers focus on the nature of AI and the ethics in academic papers and discipline-specific conferences.

While the academics work in their own silos to solve the problems they unearth, commercial enterprises release sophisticated programs trained on unknown datasets, governed by a myriad of algorithms to produce content that looks reasonable even when it is not. Think tanks produce governance guidelines. Governments, late to the party, struggle to understand the mechanics of the ungovernable landscape they must govern. Popular media published article after article focused on “AI is great” or “AI is the existential crisis that will be our undoing.”

Swimming in the Wrong Direction

Half the people are stoned / And the other half are waiting for the next election. / Half the people are drowned / And the other half are swimming in the wrong direction.
Mass; Leonard Bernstein

My own communities of practice have not done better. Information architecture exists in the shadow of its more glamorous cousin UX due to the misdirection of early thought-leaders who set the discipline on its Web-exclusive focus. While that might have made sense 20 years ago, it lacks relevance for the emerging intelligent system-focused landscape we now occupy. Those system-phobic thought-leaders are nowhere to be found and the once vibrant professional organization that could have met this challenge was dissolved in 2019 due to lack of interest on the part of the community. Perhaps Monty Python was right: “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

The SEO landscape does not look so good either. The SEO community continues to apply tactics that worked for the calculated “unintelligent” search engines results page (SERP) to a our current predicted SERP that is dynamic and personalized to the searcher. The data-driven, neural powered search generative experience is not so easily influenced by keywords in the title, work count or links. While some SEOs have ventured outside of the SEO community for a fuller understanding, much of the guidance comes from SEOs listening to other SEOs on how it all work. The days of effective reactive SEO are waning. Keyword placement and link building are increasingly less influential. The search results themselves have become moving targets that defy optimization. A more proactive approach is required; one that is informed by a deeper understanding of neural information retrieval that powers the search engines of today.


What happened to the biblical Babel? Google SGE tells us that “the once-mighty Babylon and its gargantuan tower sunk into the sands of the Iraqi desert and disappeared.
The moral of the story “Tower of Babel” is that we should never become full of pride and we should never try to be equal to God.”

Maybe AI is smarter than I think.