Illustration of a Pathfinder using binoculars to gaze towards hill where a new moon rises.
As the moon completes another orbit around Earth, the Pathfinders Newmoonsletter rises in your inbox to inspire collective pathfinding towards better tech futures.

We sync our monthly reflections to the lunar cycle as a reminder of our place in the Universe and a commonality we share across timezones and places we inhabit. New moon nights are dark and hence the perfect time to gaze into the stars and set new intentions.

With this Newmoonsletter, crafted around the Tethix campfire, we invite you to join other Pathfinders as we reflect on celestial movements in tech in the previous lunar cycle, water our ETHOS Gardens, and plant seeds of intentions for the new cycle that begins today.

Tethix Weather Report

🏜️ Current conditions: AI-generated rain just doesn’t help flowers grow the same way

Watch out! The fire practitioners of Silicon Valley keep speeding up their quest to dematerialise the workforce and disembody our knowledge by releasing more AI golems into the world. All this speed and scale comes at a cost though. We have observed that the AI-generated rain of the past cycles has left our online communal gardens parched. Our flowers just aren’t blooming the way they used to, but at least the flowers in Antarctica seem to be thriving. (See: Antarctica’s Floral Awakening: How Climate Change is Transforming the Continent’s Ecosystem)

Blissfully or wilfully unaware, the fire practitioners who are fuelling the wildfires of generative AI while warning us of their existential risks, are now being asked to advise on how to safely start wildfires on critical infrastructure. Who better to ensure safety than the people with first-hand experience with unsafe and rash behaviour, right? We wonder, do pyromaniacs really make the best firefighters? (See: ​​OpenAI's Sam Altman, Nvidia's Jensen Huang, and other tech leaders are joining a new federal AI safety board)

Scholars are starting to warn fire practitioners that the information superhighway might not be able to grow organic data for starving AI golems to feed on for much longer. Despite experiencing face-scanning orb shortages and impacts on day-to-day operation after dematerialising their workforce, fire practitioners keep believing that their will and billions will conquer any and all physical limits. We worry they took the 90ies pop classic about no limits too literally. (See: Is there enough text to feed the AI beast?, Sam Altman-founded crypto project Worldcoin faces an orb shortage, and Spotify CEO Daniel Ek surprised by how much laying off 1,500 employees negatively affected the streaming giant’s operations)

Given the insatiable desires of fire practitioners, lab-grown datasets seems to be the future of food for training AI golems. We’re not yet sure how further disembodied knowledge is going to help AI golems understand our world better, but perhaps that’s not what the fire practitioners are after. Corporate jobs have never been particularly in touch with physical realities, so it’s no wonder that AI golems are finding it fairly easy to slip into new opportunities in hiring, as well as competing on unrealistic beauty standards, and taking on other WEIRD – Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic – roles. (See: Payman – AI That Pays Humans, Braintrust – The all-in-one hiring solution, now with AI, ‘Miss AI’ is billed as a leap forward – but feels like a monumental step backwards, and The AI-Generated Population Is Here, and They’re Ready to Work)

It’s hard to out-WEIRD fire practitioners and their AI golems, which is why we’re trying to be more weird and less WEIRD in our newly launched Pathfinders Podcast. We hope the seeds of inspiration we gathered in this Newmoonsletter can also help you embrace your weirdness in the increasingly lunatic tech industry. Perhaps even inspire you to come up with your own rainmaking ritual or dance to invite some non-AI-generated rain into your online communal gardens.

Tethix Elemental seeds

Fire seeds to stoke your Practice

As tech roles get turned into process-heavy checklists that make it easier for AI models to fit in with their averaged outputs, tech workers wonder about their role in digital product factories. We keep coming across reports that product management is broken, product design is lost, front-end developers are having an identity crisis… and it’s starting to seem like human intelligence is becoming increasingly undervalued in this brave new AI-assisted world.

While AI models seem to be getting pretty good at linear reasoning, humans possess wonderful diversity when it comes to atypical cognitive strategies, such as lateral thinking, creative problem-solving, and intuitive insights. Companies that want to build better products should learn how to make space for human neurodiversity, both in their hiring and in building more inclusive products.

Despite the talk, most organisations are still in the early stages of their inclusivity journey, especially when it comes to embracing a more intersectional view of human inclusivity. Perhaps projects like the AI Intersections Database by Mozilla can help more people learn about the way AI impacts people around the world and find organisations working at intersections of social justice, human rights, and AI impacts.

Sadly, this year organisations seem mostly focused on making workplaces more AI-inclusive. Perhaps the greater inclusion of AI assistants will help us to rethink the language we use in product development. As AI models become users of the user interfaces we build, we might finally be ready to retire the term “user” when talking about humans and replace it with the more humane term “person”.

It will be interesting to observe how language will change as more AI “users” enter our digital spaces. People are already reporting a curious increase of ChatGPT-favoured words like “delve” and “tapestry” as more people entrust their writing to AI assistants. We’re actually excited about the possibility of ChatGPT helping people embark on a journey of linguistic discovery and enrichment, although we hope the newly minted AI-assisted writers will also take the time to delve into the meaning of newly (re)discovered words, perhaps even get curious about their etymology? (The later a favourite pastime of ours.)

And while AI-influenced language is likely here to stay – at least until we’re willing to allocate enough energy, water, and other resources to keep the AI golems running –, new greenwashing regulations will hopefully temper the ridiculous green claims that are increasingly common on websites and other digital products.

While we’re on the topic of misleading claims, more people are now questioning the magic of the cloud, and the infrastructure and (cyber)land grabbing tendencies of Big Tech, reminding us that we need to fight for our weird corners of the indie web. This newsletter reminds us that the old web a lot of us yearn for is still out there, but it’s up to us to start planting our online gardens outside the walled gardens owned by Big Tech giants. When was the last time you made your own little, weird corner on the web just for yourself?

Air seeds to improve the flow of Collaboration

Interestingly enough, there is a special kind of weird brewing inside Big Tech’s walled gardens. We’re less concerned about people delving into new linguistic territories in their AI-assisted LinkedIn posts, than the proliferation of AI-generated spam on social networks, including LinkedIn. 404media has christened Facebook the zombie internet, where bots and humans are finding strange ways to coexist and keep the engagement algorithms humming and the advertising money rolling in.

To counter that, people are not only planting their own online gardens outside Big Tech lands, but also building new communal gardens: online social platforms designed to be algorithm-free. The recently planted PI.FYI feels more like MySpace than Facebook, and instead of selling people’s attention to the highest bidder, people support the platform by subscribing. How refreshing!

Social infrastructure, both online and offline, is crucial for building community and creating social tipping points. We need to claim or build online places for collaboration and diverse discussions to stand a chance of discovering different paths to better tech futures. The Newmoonsletter and other Pathfinding activities are our humble offering to this space, and we’re always happy when we see new places and communal gardens appear.

An online communal garden we started visiting lately is the Wise Innovation Project. Recently, we had the honour of being invited to the Project’s first Show & Tell office hours to talk about our journey, ETHOS, and more.

Currently, we are participating in the Project’s first online course, Embodied Ethics in the Age of AI, and connecting with many wonderful people who are trying to approach product development and tech ethics differently. If you’re curious about the themes we’re exploring in the course, we invite you to listen to Josh Schrei’s interview on the Future Fossils podcast, or sit back in a cosy chair and soak in some grandmotherly wisdom on embodied ethics in this guest session recording.

We also keep exploring more embodied ways of having difficult discussions about AI ethics in our work. Check out our latest blog post How a playful dance with the elements can help broaden perspectives on AI ethics to learn how Mat used Paper Elemental Sparks to facilitate a more embodied exploration at a recent in-person event in Sydney.

Earth seeds to ground you in Research

We can only imagine how different the tech industry would be if led by grandmothers or other leaders with the wisdom of embodied ethics. Instead, it’s being driven by what Timnit Gebru – Google’s ousted AI ethics canary in a coal mine – and collaborators call the TESCREAL bundle of “transhumanism, Extropianism, singularitarianism, (modern) cosmism, Rationalism, Effective Altruism, and longtermism”.

Gebru’s latest paper is a call for researchers to work on well-scoped and well-defined AI systems for which “we can develop safety protocols”, rather than pursuing the mythical – and poorly defined – dream of AGI (artificial general intelligence), with concerning ties to the eugenics movement.

A recent comparison of how well OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini models understand cultural nuances found both models lacking in cultural understanding and nuance, and often resorting to cultural stereotypes. Gemini scored slightly better in the comparison, but still far from demonstrating good cultural literacy. This type of research is definitely something companies developing “digital twins” or AI personas should keep in mind, as AI models often fail to grasp nuances even when it comes to countries that are well-represented in the training datasets.

The recently released AI Index Report 2024 by the Stanford’s Human-Centered AI center – and generously supported by industry partners – doesn’t concern itself with AI cultural literacy, but instead makes a point of highlighting how AI makes workers more productive and accelerates scientific discoveries – even though the value of these highly publicised discoveries has recently been called into question.

But hey, 4 pages out of the 502 pages heavy AI Index Report (p. 154–157) are dedicated to environmental impacts of AI systems, with a whooping five references to positive AI environmental use cases. It’s just a matter of time before ChatGPT figures out all our climate predicaments, just you wait! /s

If you work in education – or are just generally curious like us –, you might also want to check out The Curious Educator’s Guide to AI, an openly licensed resource “designed to help educators and researchers better understand the evolving role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in higher education”. While still selectively curious, it does offer plenty of valuable resources and exercises to help you understand and apply generative AI, especially in an educational setting.

And if you’re looking for more creative visualisations of AI for your next presentation, Google DeepMind’s Visualising AI project is freely available on Unsplash and Pexels. For the project, DeepMind has commissioned – and hopefully fairly compensated – artists from around the world to create more diverse representations of AI. Worth exploring, but we’d also like to remind you that Better Images of AI also serves a similar purpose, while properly crediting and promoting the artists.

Water seeds to deepen your Reflection

Well, congrats, you’ve made it to the pond of reflection where we take a sip of AI-free water together. It’s always a good idea to take a step back from the AI lunacy and seek inspiration beyond screens and apps.

If you enjoy board games, you might want to keep an eye out for the release of the new Catan board game. In Catan: New Energies, the challenge is managing the energy needs for your society. You have to decide whether to invest in renewable energies or keep going with cheaper, but potentially disastrous fossil fuels.

We feel many politicians might learn a thing or two from playing this game without putting our actual futures at stake. Or perhaps we should send them copies of Daybreak, a cooperative board game for ages 10+ about stopping climate change. Or start reading them Stories of Girls’ Resistance, a “collection of oral and narrative history of adolescent girls’ activism” from around the world, to spark their imagination and help them find the courage for meaningful action.

And if you’re currently just exhausted from all the lunacy but have access to a garden, we invite you to let your grass grow long and help improve local biodiversity by offering butterflies a safe haven on your lawn. Sometimes doing less is the answer.

Tethix Moonthly Meme

Instead of “No pain, no gain”, try “No rain, no flowers”
Source: De-Capitalizing Our Language by @atmos on Instagram

Pathfinders Podcast

If you’d like to keep exploring the lunacy of tech with us, we invite you to listen and subscribe to the freshly planted Pathfinders Podcast wherever you get your podcasts. The podcast is a meandering exploration inspired by the seeds planted in the Newmoonsletter at the beginning of the lunation cycle, and the paths illuminated during the Full Moon Gathering.

The question that emerged in the April Newmoonsletter and guided our discussion is: What data are we feeding to our Al models, and what are they turning into? In the episode, we explore how AI models reflect our biases and why those biases surprise us. We seek the embodied aspect of wisdom, question existing mental models, examine similarities with rubber ducking, and wonder about how we both project and construct personalities of different AI models. We ponder how we might offer our lived experiences to the commons in a more fair value exchange that takes place when we provide data for training AI models.

We also aim to reclaim our collective agency as storytellers that can tip the AI bias in a different direction, and explore the need for greater diversity and woo in our data, and how we might make the AI data diets less WEIRD – Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic – and more weird, or even woo.

Take a listen and join us at the next Full Moon Gathering if you’d like to illuminate additional paths for our next episode!

Your turn, Pathfinders.

Join us for the Pathfinders Full Moon Gathering

In this lunation cycle, we’re inviting Pathfinders to gather around our virtual campfire to explore the question: How do we nurture weird online communal gardens where we can play together? – but it’s quite likely that our discussion will take other meandering turns as well.
So, pack your curiosity, moral imagination, and smiles, and join us around the virtual campfire for our next 🌕 Pathfinders Full Moon Gathering on Thursday, May 23 at 5PM AEST / 9AM CEST, when the moon will once again be illuminated by the sun.
This is a free and casual open discussion, but please be sure to sign up so that we can lug an appropriate number of logs around the virtual campfire. And yes, friends who don’t have the attention span for the Newmoonsletter are also welcome, as long as they reserve their seat on the logs.

Keep on finding paths on your own

If you can’t make it to our Full Moon Pathfinding session, we still invite you to make your own! If anything emerges while reading this Newmoonsletter, write it down. You can keep these reflections for yourself or share them with others. If it feels right, find the Reply button – or comment on this post – and share your reflections with us. We’d love to feature Pathfinders reflections in upcoming Newmoonsletters and explore even more diverse perspectives.

And if you’ve enjoyed this Newmoonsletter or perhaps even cracked a smile, we’d appreciate it if you shared it with your friends and colleagues.

The next Newmoonsletter will rise again during the next new moon. Until then, nurture your communal gardens with real water, stop and smell all the flowers you’re not allergic to, and be mindful about the seeds of intention you plant and the stories you tell. There’s magic in both.

With 🙂 from the Tethix campfire,
Alja and Mat

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