My "bicycle of the mind" moment with LLMs

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

Critics of LLM-based products like ChatGPT, Claude, Midjourney, and other such products like to brush them off as just this year’s version of NFTs. They’re crypto bullshit being peddled by the same jokers who are just out there to stow disinformation and make a quick buck.

I won’t deny that there are some perpetual fad-chasers out there, and of course those people have been like a moth to a flame to both of these trends, but fad-chasing scam artists flock to everything, whether it has legs or not.

Quick anecdote: I’m the resident video guy at work, and if we need a video made to show off a new product or to train people on how something works, I’m the guy they go to. Today we were on a very tight deadline and we needed a video about something I’m not a subject matter expert in. What we decided to do was have someone who was an expert in the area record a walkthrough of the thing, riff without a script as they went into their laptop mic, and send me their video which would be the basis for my higher production value video. I took the video and fed it into MacWhisper, which locally generated a high quality transcript of what was said in their video. I was able to feed that transcript into another LLM to ask some questions such as:

  • Summarize this text
  • Write an outline of the important events
  • Clean up the text in the 3rd paragraph

There were some other prompts, but the gist is that I was able to use this LLM to help look at the walkthrough from a few angles very quickly. Mind you I didn’t take any of this as gospel, and I did watch the video as well and ultimately wrote the script myself, but these tools helped me get my hands around the content with such speed that I simply would not have been able to do on my own. It was a real “bicycle of the mind” sort of moment for me when I found myself seamlessly using these tools to enhance my work and to do things at a high quality in less time than ever before.

What I find notable about this sort of interaction with LLMs is that I didn’t use them to skip over things like understanding the thing I was working on or to deliver a worse product faster, indeed I was using these tools to accelerate my understanding and deliver an exceptionally high quality product.

Back to the start of this post, I think it’s notable that at no point in the above story did I mention that I convinced someone else to use the tools I was using. The value I get from these products does not rely one iota on whether other people are using them. The fact I was able to perform my job faster and better than before today is completely removed from whether other people are using these tools as well.

This is in stark contrast to the crypto/NFT run which was entirely reliant on more and more people getting into the game. An NFT on its own is utterly useless, you need to get someone else to want it more so that you can turn a profit. The workflow I used today to be better at my job? I don’t care at all if anyone else is doing what I’m doing, I get value either way. Honestly, if other people don’t adopt these tools and I find ways to use them well, that just gives me a competitive advantage.

So yes, the same jokers who want to show you how to get rich quick with the latest fad are drawn to this year’s trendiest technology, just like they were to crypto and just like they will be to whatever comes next. All I would suggest is that you look back on the history of Birchtree where I absolutely roasted crypto for a year before it just felt mean to beat a clearly dying horse, and recognize that the people who are enthusiastic about LLMs aren’t just fad-chasing hype men.