Note — Oct 31, 2021

The Slab and the Permacomputer

Seen in → No.194

Source → society.robinsloan.com/archive/slab/

Robin Sloan presents “three glimpses of the future of computing that all seem to ‘rhyme’,” followed by his vision of ‘slabs’ instead of ‘clouds’ and how we might be going from distinct computers to almost ambiant ‘compute.’ A stage where computing would be like textiles, which used to be the high tech industry and is now “just industry.” Sloan also goes into permacomputers, hypothetical machines built to last for decades or centuries. But I’d like to draw your attention to his mention of models “produced at great expense by many computers with very fast GPUs” and the resulting model files which don’t require as much computing to run and which he collects. It’s something I find is not included often enough in discussions about AI, the gap between the massive amounts of data and compute vs using the resulting model. This piece from a few issues ago had a good perspective on it.

I think these are glimpses of an accelerating reformulation of “computers”—the individual machines like my laptop, or your phone, or the server whirring in the corner of my office — into “compute”, a seamless slab of digital capability. […]

[I]t’s easy to imagine future permacomputers that rely, for some of their functions, on artifacts from a time before permacomputing. It would be impossible, or at least forbiddingly difficult, to produce new model files, so the old ones would be ferried around like precious grimoires…

More → Co-writing an album with an AI. Sloan again, this time with some making-of details behind the new album he crafted with Jesse Solomon Clark and ‘centaured’ with OpenAI’s Jukebox.

[W]hen I talk to AI guys who are working on their model and they’re like “Oh, yeah, I tuned those parameters for like six months.” It’s just like a guitar pedal. They’re turning knobs, trying to get the system to perform the way they need it to.