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Helen Todd is co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared and the human behind Creativity Squared.
Ksenia Se is a journalist and tech media entrepreneur who specializes in connecting audiences with plain language news and analysis of A.I. developments.

Ep24. Ksenia Se: A.I., Don’t Mimic Us

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Ep24. A.I., Don’t Mimic Us: Expand Beyond Our Human-Like Thinking for Limitless Possibilities with Turing Post Newsletter Founder Ksenia Se

The latest episode of Creativity Squared takes us back to the genesis of modern machine learning to help us understand our present and predict our future with artificial intelligence. 

Artificial intelligence brings us this new level of literacy, which, if we let ourselves use it properly, will widen our imagination and our creativity. It will give more people the opportunity to be more human.” 

Ksenia Se

Our guide and interpreter is Ksenia Se, a journalist and tech media entrepreneur who specializes in connecting audiences of all backgrounds with plain language news and analysis of A.I. developments. She is currently running her second A.I. content platform, Turing Post. She is the co-founder of TheSequence, an A.I. newsletter now with 164,000 subscribers. She is also a Member of the Board of Track Two: an Institute for Citizen Diplomacy. Ksenia was previously Editor-in Chief of Russian-language, open-source journalism platform, TheQuestion, as well as New York Chief Editor for The Snob Magazine. Her resume also includes positions in business and audience development. 

Ksenia shares her journey from covering blockchain to artificial intelligence, and how the growing information gap in the nascent A.I. trend inspired her to launch a media product. She talks about using A.I. in her own work, and the future of humans augmenting our abilities with technology. 

You’ll get a brief history of the development of machine learning, and the namesake of Ksenia’s website, computer scientist Alan Turing, whose fundamental questions about machine intelligence are only starting to be answered now. 

Ksenia also discusses the slippery slope of attributing human qualities to machines, and whether we should rethink our assumptions about what A.I. will become. She thinks our worst fears say more about us than about the technology. 

2023 Ai4 Conference

Finding a Niche by Filling a Need for A.I. Content

Ksenia started her entrepreneurial journey in 2018, when her reporting about blockchain brought her across the next big trend in technology, artificial intelligence. She began looking for literature to learn more, but didn’t find information that beginners like herself could easily absorb. She began thinking about what such a publication could look like if she applied her journalism and audience development experience. 

She was regularly getting positive feedback about her idea in conversations with people at Columbia University, when COVID-19 started spreading and put a kibosh on exchanging ideas in-person. 

Not long after, though, her friend and computer scientist, Jesus Rodriguez, suggested that they launch her idea on a small scale, as a newsletter. That’s how TheSequence was born. 

They wanted to focus on education and show people what was happening in A.I. through explainer articles and product reviews. They started publishing on Substack, just as the platform was becoming popular, and before long their readership grew to 50,000. 

People started to know us in the community. It was an amazing feeling, like in the Internet era, when Google was just in the process of creation. Talking to all these amazing startups felt like, you know, in 10 or 20 years they will be changing this world. But now they’re so small, and they’re so eager to share everything. So that was a very, very exciting moment.”

Ksenia Se

The duo continued growing their audience over the next three years, and at some point Ksenia started working on the newsletter full-time. But she was still thinking about building a site that would offer more than journalism. She wanted to create a space for people to go, and where she could explore more of the A.I. industry, such as business implementation and A.I. applications in the art world. 

However, Jesus wanted TheSequence to continue in the same direction, and so the duo split up. Ksenia started Turing Post in late June 2023, building the site up to a current readership of about 30,000. 

Augmenting Human Ability With Artificial Intelligence

As the Editor-in-Chief of an A.I. news site, Ksenia is at the forefront of the latest developments in how A.I. can help hack productivity. She gains insights from her research that help to grow her audience by sharing them with her readers and by utilizing them in her own business. 

For instance, Ksenia puts out a weekly digest every Monday called “Froth on the Daydream,” a reference to the surrealist novel of the same title by Boris Vian. In it, she often covers new releases from A.I. companies and test pilots new systems. As a result, Ksenia says that she uses a combination of A.I. systems to support her work. 

It’s like having this team of people who just might give you crazy ideas, might give you absolutely worthless ideas, but you’re the one who’s choosing. I still have people working for me, of course, but the machines are a great supportive creative tool.”

Ksenia Se

As a non-native English speaker, Ksenia says that A.I saves her huge chunks of time that she would otherwise spend in lengthy rounds of copyediting. However, she says that she still needs to put a human touch on the writing because A.I.-generated text is still easy to detect. 

For that reason, she says that she doesn’t think A.I. will replace us, as so many fear. Instead, Ksenia sees A.I. continuing to be a tool that can augment human ability, as it is already. 

Unanswered Questions: Alan Turing and Machine Intelligence

The name of Ksenia’s current media venture is an homage to the father of machine learning, and one of the world’s first computer scientists, Alan Turing. 

“One of the things that drives me writing the newsletter is because I feel this huge lack of knowledge. And this is my way to learn things. So I think if you really want to know a subject deeply, you need to go into its history.”

Ksenia Se

Turing played a key role in the outcome of World War 2 by developing a machine that cracked the “Enigma Code” that the Nazi military used to encrypt their communications. Turing’s life is featured in the Hollywood biopic, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. 

“The Imitation Game” refers to the test that Turing invented to determine a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. The test imagines two entities chatting to each other from different rooms. Each human participant may or may not be chatting with a machine. The goal of the conversation for both sides is to convince the other participant that they are chatting with a human. When the conversation is over, if a human either thinks they’re speaking to another human, or is unable to tell, then the machine passes the test. 

Turing’s success laid the foundation for new research into machine learning, with much of the early funding coming from the U.S. Military’s research division, DARPA. Research continued through the Cold War and beyond, until the quest for artificial intelligence hit a wall. 

The expectations were so huge, they thought that machines would just become this intellectual part of our life immediately. But the computational power was not there.”

Ksenia Se

Scene from Ex Machina

Even though advances in cloud computing and chip design have ushered in a renewed frenzy for A.I. research, many of the questions that Turing posed in the 1950s have not been answered yet. 

Ksenia says that the biggest unanswered question for her is the definition of intelligence. Turing was one of the first to think about whether machines could achieve intelligence, and it’s a question we’re still grappling with today. 

Turing thought about machine intelligence in the context of a machine’s ability to mimic human interaction. That dynamic is the basis of the Turing Test (as the Imitation Game has come to be known). Now we have chatbots that can not only mimic human intelligence, but mimic specific humans’ accents, speaking mannerisms, and vocal pitch.  

What’s beyond the Turing Test? The 2014 sci-fi film Ex Machina takes the Turing Test to its extreme, imagining a near-future reality where a female-gendered android is tested to see if it can manipulate a human man to help it escape confinement. 

Yet, Ksenia disagrees with the assumption that an intelligent machine would possess all the same negative aspects of human psychology. She says that we humans need to be careful about anthropomorphizing machines by assigning them human pronouns (he, she) and using the language of human sensory reception to talk about their interactive capabilities. 

When we say they think, when we say they can hear us, speak to us, that’s making them human-like, so we already make them kind of pass the human life test. But that’s not the right language. I think we might need to come up with better wording for it, because they can’t really hear, they can’t really talk.”

Ksenia Se

She says that she sees cause for concern in some areas of the A.I. industry working toward A.I. therapists or A.I. “friends.” She says that A.I. is a useful tool, in the same way as GPS navigation, but A.I. cannot become the only form of interaction. Humans still need to be able to interact with the beauty of the real world and each other. 

Expanding our Humanity Through A.I. Literacy

Ksenia is optimistic about the ways that A.I. can help us evolve and she’s skeptical about the concerns that A.I. will replace us. 

Much like how a sudden jump in literacy rates in Britain during the 1800s contributed to the Industrial Revolution and the exponential acceleration of human progress, Ksenia thinks that expanding A.I. literacy will have a similar effect of increasing the rate of progress. 

Additionally, Ksenia thinks that, if we can use it properly, A.I. will help to widen our imagination, our creativity, and give people the freedom to maybe become less machine-like. 

“One of the next steps for humans, not that A.I. will take our place, but that we will be augmented, as we are augmented right now with these current tools, because having ChatGPT as my editor definitely is an augmentation of my writing capabilities.”

Ksenia Se

And by doing that, maybe we can take the time and energy to address some of our own negative thoughts, the aspects of ourselves that we fear the machines will mimic. 

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Thank you, Ksenia, for being our guest on Creativity Squared. 

This show is produced and made possible by the team at PLAY Audio Agency: https://playaudioagency.com.  

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