Quoting the Bard

I was surprised at the highly negative reaction to the factual errors in Google’s answer to ChatGPT. It should not have come as a surprise at all.

Those of us who have been playing with ChatGPT know that it has at best an indifferent attitude toward whether its highly confident answers are correct or not.

What Google is demonstrating with Bard was that they are at the same place as their competition in the development of chatbots for Web search. We already knew that much work needs to be done to marry the verbal facility of chatbots with the degree of trust that we place in search engines.

Yes, it’s a work in progress, this effort to infuse chatbot answers with true provenance. But it’s a really fascinating work in progress, isn’t it?

Context and amazement

Yesterday I showed a demo to a colleague, in which I spoke to my web browser, and the text that I was speaking showed up in a 3D scene. He was astonished. His exact words were “That’s amazing!”

A few minutes later I pointed out to him that both he and I do this all the time on our phones. We talk into them, and our speech gets converted immediately into text.

“Oh, right,” he said. Until then he hadn’t made the connection. Seeing text show up in a 3D scene in a web browser in response to somebody talking at their computer was out of context, and therefore somehow startling.

I wonder how often this happens to us in our lives. Something that in one context would seem perfectly prosaic, in a different context appears, at least at first, to be amazing.

I am sure that it won’t come as a surprise if I tell you that I wrote this post by talking into my phone. Nothing really amazing about that these days.


Like many people around the world, I am completely horrified by the earthquake this morning in Turkey and Syria. Many thousands of people have lost their lives.

I don’t think it appropriate to write about anything else today. Let us just give our thoughts and prayers, and help if we can, on this day of terrible tragedy.


This morning I learned from my cousin about backronyms. I had never heard the word “backronym” before today, but I realize that I’ve been making them for years.

Backronyms are cleverly knitted redefinitions, often noteworthy yet manufactured.

When a word that wasn’t an acronym becomes an acronym, it’s because somebody turned it into a backronym. And now that I know what they are called, I am definitely going to keep making them.

The definition of politics

I’ve been organizing a group project at NYU. The project is really fun, but nothing ends up being as simple as it should be.

The problem, I think, is that every project involves people. And whenever people are involved, things that should be simple become complicated. I believe this is because the dynamics between human beings is always odd and non-linear in ways that you never see coming.

I once came up with a riddle to explain this phenomenon to myself. It goes like this:

      Q: What’s the definition of politics?
      A: Two people in a room.

Two characters on a stage

This evening I attended a one woman show. And it was really good.

The writer / performer took us all on a personal journey. It was based on her life, but that life was then shaped into good theater. The driving structure was the mutual fascination between her adult and teenage selves — two characters who are very different, and yet literally the same.

The experience led me to pondering the nature of one-person theater. It’s not like traditional theater, in which so much happens in the empty space between two or more actors appearing before us on stage.

In a one person show, that empty space — the place where all of the important questions are dangled — needs to be implied, rather than shown outright. Which makes it an extremely different art form.

I have seen one person shows that failed terribly. And I suspect that was because we were presented with only a single persona onstage. So there was no meaningful conflict to be worked through.

Even if only a single person is standing before you, there needs to be a dialog between two or more points of view. A clash of viewpoints is the food by which drama is nourished.

Tonight’s performance was clever in that the two characters (the teenage and adult versions of the playwright) had an inherently interesting and complex relationship. And we in the audience wanted to know about that relationship.

Even in a one-person show, the fundamental principle of good theater holds true: It all comes down to two characters on a stage.