Jeffrey Funk

Jeffrey Funk is a retired Associate Professor, winner of the NTT DoCoMo mobile science award, and author of recent articles on startups and technology in American AffairsIssues in Science & TechnologyScientific AmericanIEEE Spectrum, Slate, and Mind Matters News.


Does New A.I. Live Up to the Hype?

Experts are finding ChatGPT and other LLMs unimpressive, but investors aren't getting the memo
Original article was featured at Salon on February 21st, 2023. On November 30, 2022, OpenAI announced the public release of ChatGPT-3, a large language model (LLM) that can engage in astonishingly human-like conversations and answer an incredible variety of questions. Three weeks later, Google’s management — wary that they had been publicly eclipsed by a competitor in the artificial intelligence technology space — issued a “Code Red” to staff. Google’s core business is its search engine, which currently accounts for 84% of the global search market. Their search engine is so dominant that searching the internet is generically called “googling.” When a user poses a search request, Google’s search engine returns dozens of helpful links along with targeted advertisements based on its knowledge of the Read More ›

Goodhart’s Law and Scientific Innovation in Academia

Many university researchers are leaving academia so they can actually get things done
British economist Charles Goodhart was a financial advisor to the Bank of England from 1968 to 1985, a period during which many economists (“monetarists”) believed that central banks should ignore unemployment and interest rates. Instead, they believed that central banks should focus on maintaining a steady rate of growth of the money supply. The core idea was that central banks could ignore economic booms and busts because they are short-lived and self-correcting (Ha! Ha!) and should, instead, keep some measure of the money supply growing at a constant rate in order to keep the rate of inflation low and constant. The choice of which money supply to target was based on how closely it was statistically correlated with GDP. The Read More ›

Large Language Models Can Entertain but Are They Useful?

Humans who value correct responses will need to fact-check everything LLMs generate
In 1987 economics Nobel Laureate Robert Solow said that the computer age was everywhere—except in productivity data. A similar thing could be said about AI today: It dominates tech news but does not seem to have boosted productivity a whit. In fact, productivity growth has been declining since Solow’s observation. Productivity increased by an average of 2.7% a year from 1948 to 1986, by less than 2% a year from 1987 to 2022. Labor productivity is the amount of goods and services we produce in a given amount of time—output per hour. More productive workers can build more cars, construct more houses, and educate more children. More productive workers can also enjoy more free time. If workers can do in four Read More ›

Tech bubble? Our Progress Towards Value to Users Has Slowed…

We should be wary of glowing forecasts when newer technologies don’t offer anywhere near as large benefits
Today’s new technologies, from virtual reality to nuclear fusion have recently received record investments from venture capitalists, but their revenues are not growing as fast as technologies of past decades. Startup losses are unprecedented — far larger than in past decades. Share prices and private valuations have also been collapsing in 2022. Optimists mostly focus on the good news and ignore these facts. They believe that the heavy funding for these new technologies is a good measure of potential and thus any criticism is unjustified. Here is their typical argument: Paul Krugman and other “experts” criticized the Internet, personal computers, and other technologies in their early years. But these technologies succeeded. Therefore, criticisms of the new technologies are unfounded — Read More ›

The Hyper-Specialization of University Researchers

So many papers are published today in increasingly narrow specialties that, if there is still a big picture, hardly anyone can see it
The Bible warns that, “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Nowadays, the endless making of books is dwarfed by the relentless firehose of academic research papers. A 2010 study published in the British Medical Journal reported that the U.S. National Library of Medicine includes 113,976 papers on echocardiography — which would weary the flesh of any newly credentialed doctor specializing in echocardiography: We assumed that he or she could read five papers an hour (one every 10 minutes, followed by a break of 10 minutes) for eight hours a day, five days a week, and 50 weeks a year; this gives a capacity of 10000 papers in one year. Read More ›

How Far Will Unicorn Share Prices Fall?

Cumulative losses give us some insights
Most investors know that America’s Unicorns are losing money. What they don’t know is that most Unicorns have dug big holes for themselves and aren’t sure how to dig themselves out. What do I mean by holes? I mean massive cumulative losses that have been accumulated over many years of yearly losses. Because many of today’s Unicorn startups were founded at least 10 years ago, and are still unprofitable, they have a had a long time to create huge cumulative losses, some much more than the $3 billion that Amazon once had. The biggest losses are for Uber ($29.1 billion), WeWork ($12.2 billion), Snap ($8.7 billion), Lyft ($8.5 billion), Teledoc Health ($8.1 billion), and Airbnb ($6.4 billion), followed by four Read More ›

Is Rationality Finally Emerging for Unicorn Share Prices?

Share prices are falling as losses continue to mount
2021 was a great year globally for venture capital and startups. Initial public offerings (IPOs) raised a record $594 billion in 2021 globally while VC funding is on track to hit a record $454 billion invested through the first three quarters of 2021.This is up from $332 billion for the first three quarters of 2020, which was the previous record for three quarters. U.S. startups also did well with big increases in both VC funding and IPOs in 2021. Almost $100 billion of funding was given to startups in the first three quarters while for the full year, there were 416 IPOs, of which 128 were from the tech section. The total amount raised was $156 billion, of which $69 billion was for the tech sector. Read More ›

Destructing the Creative Destruction Myth

Debunking the argument that the Fortune 100 list is evidence of the productive vitality of capitalism
Joseph Schumpeter argued that capitalist economies are not stagnant and calcified but, instead, by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 1950 He believed that embedded in capitalism is an engine of change that revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 1950 Schumpeter was no doubt influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin had written that the “extinction of old forms is the almost Read More ›

A World Without Work? Don’t Hold Your Breath

Predictions of mass unemployment caused by robots continue to be wildly inaccurate
Will we soon be sitting on couches watching reality TV shows while robots work 24/7 doing all of the work humans used to do? The idea that robots will replace most human labor has been around for almost 100 years and has become more popular with each new advance, from sensors and microprocessors to enterprise software, data analytics, and AI. The latest wave of robot hysteria was tweaked by The Singularity is Near in 2005, emboldened by Race Against the Machine in 2012, and sent over the top by The Second Machine Age and The Rise of Robots in 2016, and A World Without Work in 2020, all best sellers. A World Without Work was shortlisted for the Financial Times & McKinsey 2020 Business Book of the Year, in addition Read More ›

AI’s Future: Combining RPA With AI to Augment Knowledge Workers

The work machines can’t do is usually the rewarding part, both personally and financially
Counterterrorism requires analysts to work through millions of Twitter and Facebook messages, YouTube videos, and websites in multiple languages, far too much work for humans. But a combination of AI (artificial intelligence) and RPA (robotic process automation) can help humans do this work, leaving humans in charge of the most complex and important decisions. AI systems can crawl through documents in any language, automatically translating them, extracting names of people and organizations, and doing sentiment analysis of conversations to identify key text to be considered later by humans. This text can be automatically organized into proper bins using RPA, enabling a data processing and analytics pipeline that can handle large amounts of content at speeds never possible in the past. Read More ›