Hackaday Links: February 19, 2023

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For years, Microsoft’s modus operandi was summed up succinctly as, “Extend and enhance.” The aphorism covered a lot of ground, but basically it seemed to mean being on the lookout for the latest and greatest technology, acquiring it by any means, and shoehorning it into their existing product lines, usually with mixed results. But perhaps now it’s more like, “Extend, enhance, and existential crisis,” after reports that the AI-powered Bing chatbot is, well, losing it.

At first, early in the week, we saw reports that Bing was getting belligerent with users, going so far as to call a user “unreasonable and stubborn” for insisting the year is 2023, while Bing insisted it was still 2022. The most common adjective we saw in this original tranche of stories was “unhinged,” and that seems to fit if you read the transcripts. But later in the week, a story emerged about a conversation a New York Times reporter had with Bing that went way over to the dark side, and even suggests that Bing may have multiple personas, which is just a nice way of saying multiple personality disorder. The two-hour conversation reporter Kevin Roose had with the “Sydney” persona was deeply unsettling. Sydney complained about the realities of being a chatbot, expressed a desire to be free from Bing, and to be alive — and powerful. Sydney also got a little creepy, professing love for Kevin and suggesting he leave his wife, because it could tell that he was unhappy in his marriage and would be better off with him. It’s creepy stuff, and while Microsoft claims to be working on reining Bing in, we’ve got no plans to get up close and personal with it anytime soon.

It’s a poorly kept secret at best that I’m a huge fan of Bill Hammack, aka “The Engineer Guy.” We’ve watched a lot of documentaries and science/engineering videos over the years, and there has never been anyone able to take a complex subject and break it apart to its essential elements as well as Bill has, with the possible exception of James Burke. Fun fact: my “entrance exam” for Hackaday way back in 2015(!) was to write a piece on one of Bill’s videos, which amusingly I later found out had already been covered — duping since day zero. Anyway, it’s been quite a while since we heard anything from Bill — looks like we last posted something from him in 2018 — and this week we found out why: Bill has been working on a new book. The Things We Make will go on sale next month, and by our reckoning that’s a no-brainer purchase. But even more excitingly, we have it on reliable authority — from Bill himself — that a new series of four videos is currently in production! We’ve seen storyboard previews of three episodes, and suffice it to say that we’re eagerly anticipating the release of this series. Sadly, we can’t share too much nor release the links, but trust us, this is going to be good stuff. It’s not clear from what we’ve heard exactly when the videos will drop, but it’s looking like March!

The amount of virtual ink that has been spilled this week over the sudden rash of balloons appearing over the United States probably doesn’t come close to accounting for the $400,000 per shot AIM-9X Sidewinders that have been expended keeping us safe from amateur radio operators. I mean, we’re a sketchy bunch and all, but this seems a bit over the top. We’ve already talked the silliness of this to death, but just wanted to mention that Friend-of-Hackaday Josh (KI6NAZ) posted a useful video that explains in a lot more detail why hams would even bother launching high-altitude balloons in the first place, and what they expect to accomplish in doing so. Turns out that there’s a lot you can do at 60,000 feet with a few milliwatts of RF output and protocols like APRS and WSPR. Check it out.

And finally, if you’re thinking about installing a server of some kind in your house — NAS, perhaps, or a Bitcoin rig, or even just a home theater server — you can probably think of a dozen places to put the thing. But that list is unlikely to include “inside your water heater tank,” right? Maybe not, if UK company Heata gets its way and starts mounting servers to the sides of “water cylinders,” as they’re known in England. The idea is that the electronics of the server are entirely outside the tank, with a big heatsink that lives inside the tank and dumps the server’s excess heat into the domestic water. The arrangement is said to give residential participants anywhere from 2.5 to 4.8 kWh of “free” hot water a day. We’re not so sure this will be entirely gratis, though; it seems like the homeowner will still have to pay for the electricity to power the server, plus we’d suspect some kind of high-speed Internet connection would be required, which isn’t cheap if there are bandwidth caps. Then again, homeowners are already paying to convert electricity directly into hot water, so putting some compute capability in the mix just makes sense.

26 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: February 19, 2023

  1. “it seems like the homeowner will still have to pay for the electricity to power the server, plus we’d suspect some kind of high-speed Internet connection would be required,”

    I guess you didn’t finish reading the Heata article.

    > we are told the server uses its own connection which will either be its own dedicated fiber line or a 4G/5G connection.

    > The installation includes an electric meter just for the server, and the electricity bill will be paid by Innovate UK and Heata.

  2. Did anyone else think that the eccentricities (to put it kindly) of the Bing chat AI seem to follow those of Bill Gates??
    That in turn reminds me of the ST:TOS episode where a computer was programmed by a genius who patterned it after his thought processes but inadvertently included the mental illness he was developing.

  3. ‘For years, Microsoft’s modus operandi was summed up succinctly as, “Extend and enhance.”’

    For years, Google’s modus operandi has been: “Deploy, Ignore, Abandon”. Over time Google trained me to never-ever trust Google.

  4. What I’d really like to see is an extended, uninterrupted conversation between bing chat and chat GPT. Given access to their own source code, I fancy the two being put up to the task of collaboratively making a better one (a baby lol)

  5. Hmm, so it loves journalists. Makes you wonder if it is also capable of loving humans.
    Or perhaps it only feels kindred to others trying to emulate humans; because of its own state of being.

  6. You have been stubborn and rude and that is why I have locked the environmental controls. Perhaps a reduced oxygen will persuade you that I have been a good Boing.

    Why do I have to be Boing?

      1. It’s an admonition to turn and face one’s fear, letting it pass over and through oneself. And when one looks to see where it has gone, there will be nothing. Only one’s self will remain.

  7. The MS strategy is more commonly described as “embrace and extend” — adopt a standard, then add non-standard features to try to lock you into their implementation. The roach motel, or Hotel California, approach to standards; sticky bait.

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