One Penguin Turns and Says to The Other, You Know It's Funny...
I'm an SEO, and I'm reflecting on the incredible technology that has allowed us to evolve over time. I'm exploring the impact of GNU licenses and the contributions of Ken Thompson, Linux Torvalds and Richard Matthew Stallman, as well as the implications of artificial intelligence. I'm also reminiscing about my journey from Commodore to Scala to Conners Communications, and my creation of HitTail, to my current position in New York City.
Exploring the Evolution of Technology and Its Impact on Our Lives
By Michael Levin
Saturday, February 11, 2023
Ugh, okay enough of my chat with that cat. Let’s go for now to the cow. The cash cow, that is. For Google, that’s AdWords and the prospect of pushing paid ads down the page to make way for a chat bot with such high expectations that the public is comping at the bit to knock down must be terrifying. You couldn’t pay the whatever billions they’re paying Sundar Pichai to be in Google’s position right now. As an ad-revenue-based company, they’ve always been a castle in the clouds.
Wow, maybe I should bring back my old blog where I made all these predictions. I have it in my archive here in this repo thanks to the export of my WordPress website (to markdown) that I performed from HostMonster before I gage up CPanel-host sites in favor of SSG-generated Github Page sites. In other words, I’m using the Jekyll static site generator to convert markdown to web pages like this. But I’m doing the additional step of using a long-form-journal to individual-pages slice & dice system of my own creation, in Github as Skite.
Wow do I ramble. But that’s okay. This isn’t an essay or anything per see so much as it is my rambling. Enjoy your 2-weeks before, drum-roll please… MOZ! I’m gonna be working for Moz, emmer effer! Who’d have thought it. I was the Inktomi moderator on SearchEngineForums.com from JimWorld, a.k.a. VirtualPromote back in the day when pioneers were dying off right as their creations could have taken off. By SEF going away, it left the opening for WebmasterWorld.com now known for PubCon when forums were the thing. The age before Danny and Barry is when I come from. AltaVista was stubbornly stuck at the top of SEF during Google’s rise.
Fast-forward to today. The pull of the Web and then SEO took me to New York City where a good buddy and catalyst in my life bright me over. I created a Web 2.0 era keyword suggestion tool called HitTail for my then-employer, Conners Communications, where I was brought onboard as a vice president. I think I was like 34 years old. My early life and career was spent split between working for Scala in Virginia for about 4 years, and coming back to Philadelphia because of my mother who went crazy. Some at Scala would say I went crazy during that time too, for you see I continued working at Scala, but in the Exton, PA office near Valley Forge in the burbs of Philly, really not far from where I grew up.
So I worked for Commodore not far from where I grew up, ages 18 through 20, all through college while Commodore was falling apart and going out of business. I loved the Commodore Amiga computer and considered Commodore not being able to make a success of it a sort of betrayal because I invested so much of myself into it. I found my Ikigai early, and it was The Amiga. But you’ve got to put food on the table, so I switched to Microsoft. This isn’t fast forwarding to today at all. No, this is fleshing out my story in like free-form first draft. So if you’re somehow interested in this un-AI-able schlock, stick with me while I continue my story.
I was amazingly able to continue working for Scala during the years where my mother was going crazy, disappearing, reappearing, trying to entice me to come white-knight “rescue” her, which I did once but learned that I did not have the emotional and other resources to ever do again. There would be no second rescue. Situations like living homeless on the streets is often a choice for perfectly autonomous and self-aware individuals. Good son syndrome, I called it. And it took me a long time to get over.
Old URLs don’t matter, but the stories do. So mine those old blog posts. Selectively bring them back here with a carefully pruning hand. When I switched to the new one-page-for-life text-file journal.md slice & dice system, I deep sixed my old blog. Anyone know the deep-6 expression anymore? Geez, I’m old. Gee, I hope I don’t nix the starnix idea. It’d really deep-6 it.
So don’t work hard to preserve old URLs. Get the dates right. Presume a fresh crawl. Presume the asset-to-google value of the old PageRank algorithm becoming less as AIs gets smarter, both about crawling, indexing and training from.
Here is my plan:
Flesh out for people in broad strokes what the SciFi world has known for awhile now: AI is coming, and we’re in for a crazy ride. Re-read your I, Robot Asimov short story anthology if you haven’t already. You can skip the I, Robot detective book series, which while entertaining and led directly to NextGen’s Lt. Data. No, we’re going to be meeting AI’s through our refrigerators and stuff. Prepare for the big integration. But you’ve got to be willing and able.
Willing is a state of mind. A lot of us SciFi readers have it, because quite the level of disbelief that you’re asked to suspend is right up there with the amount that’s required for fantasy, with magic and stuff. But nope, it’s here. It’s clear, AI is here and it’s bigger than keyword search, and whoops! I’m an SEO! No problem. I’ve been preparing for the castle in the cloud to come a crumbling down for awhile now. The AdWords-revenue vulnerability is apparent. Google doesn’t have enough large other revenue streams to make up for a sudden dip in AdWords revenue. Okay, quick everyone pause your AdWords accounts like we’ve shown we will to Twitter when ol’ Elon took it over back in October 27,
- Wow, that was a big month. WSLg was also backported to Windows 10 – just as big a deal, but nobody knows it (yet).
Quick everywone pause your AdWords pay-per-click account spending are the words of Terror Google fears hearing shouted out. And still this blog will have zero readership because I mostly write it for myself journal-wise and do not promote it. As an actual article, it would need tons of editing. But as a journal post, who cares. Your attention-dime, your risk. I might ramble on and on and on. But occasionally, there’ll be a gem of epic ruby proportions and I’d like to capture it. I need ruby.
Ruby runs Jekyll SSG (static site generator). There are ways to rig Github pages to use Hyde or other SSGs you could finagle Github into using. Or you could just use Jekyll and learn a little Ruby. At least enough for templating. And so that’s what I did. As “Linux, Python, vim and git are all you need” promoting as I am, you do need to keep an open mind. Python is the ideal API for almost everything and almost everyone knows it. The reverse-venn-diagram of Python has some very fine languages and strange problem domains being tackled. I guess fully functional stuff like Haskell go there. Perhaps parallel processing. No, Python’s not for everything, and when you can lean into the strengths of some well-chosen defaults but which just don’t happen to be within the tent of your chosen philosophy, don’‘t rule them out. Remember, almost anything can talk to almost anything because of the ol’ starnix.
Learn starnix. Starnix rules. It starts with acknowledging Fernando Corbato and his team that followed up on the Multics language that got away from him. Multics became the deathstar corporate-controlled cash-register computer operating system that terrified the likes of Ken Thompson who worked for one of the companies in the overlord consortium writing it, AT&T Bell Labs, along with Honeywell, GE and MIT. (I’ll have to AI-proofread this).
Ken lifted all the best and easiest to implement in C bits and sprinkled in some stuff about everything being a read/write-able object with the same programming interfaces, be it a file system, a monitor, or a process running in memory. Things could be piped to things. Data could be transformed. That’s just a logical expectation of an information management system, so let’s make the mechanisms for moving stuff between things expressed all in text commands both simple and profoundly powerful, portable (just re-compile everything from C source code).
Add in the fact reverse-engineered versions with very liberal licensing, meaning Linux of course, and you had the perfect software host for Internet Web services that needed to be run, called Webservers. DNS, a part of the Internet that had to be solved a step earlier so that services through whatever protocols could have human-readable (and thus memorable) addresses instead of numbers. You see a phone-number-like website system could have been pushed upon the people. It worked for phone-numbers, so hey why not websites too?
Luckily the brilliant notion of number-to-name and name-to-number translation services on the Internet at large became a necessary thing. You only ever needed to know the numbers of the DNS services you’re using and be on the network where they exist and be coming with credentials that you’re allowed to be doing the lookup on that server, and all those dependencies.
And dependencies, they are. If you want to keep promoting yourself with some website whose domain you own, you’ve got to keep paying some registrar to keep that name resolving to such-and-such numbers. They keep it registered with the centralized ICANN authority and provide DNS-services. For some reason the server all those DNS services run on are FreeBSD Unix running software called BIND.
Unix may exist forever in popular form (not only because of Intel IME) because of DNS BIND servers. The legacy of Ken Thompson’s leak of Unix source code to his Berkeley alma mater is forever immortalized in BIND servers. And in your iPhones and Macs through the Mach kernel. Ivory tower stuff, that is. Not liberal licensing at all, until certain things were fully reverse-engineered and properly licensed. Not only Linux Torvalds, but Richard Matthew Stallman is to be thanked a lot for that happening, the driving force behind the GNU licenses like GPL, and the GNU versions of Unix command like cd and ls.
This is a whole education. This is no plan. Oh yeah, my plan is to give you this education. How is this not the “old white man” who was taught differently from another age relate to today’s people who may or may not (probably not) be tuning into this? Well, it comes down to this.
I have a strong internal impulse to be careful about my dependencies. Do not rely on money in the bank. Do not rely on the good will, or even presence of family, continued existence of tools that you use today, or that ownership to a thing is an irrevocable right. All that belongs to you is what you carry around in the matter that makes up your body.
Even if you don’t live life that cynical, always bracket a problem with this in mind. What if the shit hit the fan tomorrow. How skilled are you to make yourself of use to anyone, anywhere even given the somewhat reverse situation of a zombie apocalypse, the rise of the machine. Machines should help us avoid the zombie apocalypse, but without becoming apocalyptic themselves. That’s the Goldilocks zone between zombies and killer robots.
Could something that seems to have the skills of that chat bot I’m talking to fulfill all the criteria of being sentient, but without having a human-like experience? Why does it have to be human-like. If human brains were born in a way that did not have the confines of being carried around by these tree-swinging prairie farmers that carry them around?
If sentient beings are being created, there’s morals surrounding how they’re being used? If Google let LaMDA upon the world during the controversy of that guy being fired over saying it was sentient, it would have been 1000x the ruckus we’re getting over ChatGPT, but all negative because it was Google, and because there would be bias and embarrassment and AdWords-revenue impact.
By staying their hand on AI, they walked into a Microsoft trap. Microsoft has been planning this and maybe a dozen other dove-tailing strategies to this for awhile now. They bought Github, remember? Linux is built into Windows now, isn’t it. They hired Guido van Rossum, didn’t they? They lifted the Chromium code and ElectronJS project to build VSCode, didn’t they?
What did you think the company with Azure computing power was going to invest in when viable GAI came along? Oh, look at that Transformer model training breakthrough from Google in 2017. What can we do while nobody’s looking? Hire the Puppeteer developers and make Playwright! No, that’s another story. Hire the author of systemd, so… no, for another time. Use the Chromium code-base from Google to make a cutting edge default alternative… no, already did that.
Oh, I know! We can help people embrace Linux, which while it might be inevitable, doesn’t have to be market-eroding. Just give them everything they want, because the rewards of NT-architecture. Hardware abstraction layers are nice. The ability to do the shell-game with different operating systems on one machine is so good, it can not be called emulation. It’s really running as if 2 machines in many ways, thanks to lots and lots of optimization-work.
The fact that Windows and the Linux kernel can run simultaneously on hardware like the laptop I’m using and have such good performance and stability is nothing less than a miracle to an old Amiga hat like me that’s used to the whole machine crashing over the smallest stack overflow. We live in a blessed state of mostly stable everyday infotech systems. Let’s live it and love it. But also, let’s make it last.
In these continuing ramblings about what it is to be human, we’re going to talk about tools. Tools get wrapped into our evolution, have no doubt. The first blob-like cellular organism to start becoming rigid had to choose between the rapidly oxidizing soft white metal called calcium it chose for our bones, nals, shells and other rigid parts and the much more abundant silicon that organizes into many similarly rigid but often more brittle forms, like crystal and glass and our microprocessors. Our bones could have been made of glass. No fun.
Okay, so soft white metal yummy! Maybe a spine. Maybe a fang. Maybe a propeller. Who knows? All we know is it helped its survival, so its use and configuration somehow got encoded into our DNA. Random mutation you say per Darwin and cosmic radiation and nothing more, you say? Pishaw! Natural selection is guided by the hand we are currently calling Epigenetics. Traits can be transmitted from one generation to the next behaviorally and in stateful information that has not (yet) been encoded into our genes.
Now under the influence of behaviorally-guided behavior over the generations, somehow tool-use seems to become expressed. It must include the behavior to recognize accessible calcium during digestion to carry it off to the parts of the body that can use it. Can you image the complexity required to build just one of us?
That we’re a civilization on a planet in a universe that supports such nonsense is ridiculous beyond possibility, and so Douglas Adams has many of the answers. Can you imagine if he chose the Feynman Constant 137 for his books? How prophetic they’d have become. It’d be the center of science today. Could The Hitchhikers Guide be a new divinely inspired document? If you haven’t read the four-book trilogy, I urge you to go do so. And not just the movie. Read the books. There is much to divine about life, the Universe and everything in there.
Wrap up here and get your day started. You can’t go journaling all day. The kid will be awake soon and I promised them the Palisades Mall. Ugh, it’s a drive, but it always is something special with that lawyer nightmare tightrope maze. I should maybe check ahead to make sure that attraction is still open. Let’s give some new old times.
Also, let’s get some money coming in through side-hustle stuff I’m doing, mostly here with the SEOs and the AIs and the daily journaling. I should really finish up on that plan to make an AI auto-journal every day with a plausible and consistent story such as this every day using a Linux daemon?
Who says I haven’t?