David Heinemeier Hansson

May 17, 2024

Paranoia and desperation in the AI gold rush

I've never seen so much paranoia in technology about missing out on The Next Big Thing as with AI. Companies seem less excited about the prospects than they are petrified that its going to kill them. Maybe that fear is justified, maybe it's not, but what's incontestable is the kind of desperation it's leading to. Case in point: Slack.

So Salesforce just announced that they'll be training their Slack AI models on people's private messages, files, and other content. And they're going to do so by default, lest you send them a specially formatted email to feedback@slack.com. I mean, really, feedback? It's the kind of process that invites a quip about some knuckle-sandwich feedback to their face. But I digress. 

Presumably this is because some Salesforce executives got the great idea in a brainstorming sesh that the way to catch up to the big players in AI is by just ignoring privacy concerns all together. If you can't beat the likes of OpenAI in scanning the sum of public human knowledge, maybe you can beat them by scanning all the confidential conversations about new product strategies, lay-off plans that haven't been announced yet, or private financial projections for 2025?

I mean imagine the delight some CEO might feel when they start typing out the announcement to lay off 30% of the workforce, and Slack autocompletes the text with the most anodyne distillation from five competitors doing the same? All you have to do is edit out, say, Asana in your layoff completion, and voila, you'll have saved at least 8 minutes typing out the corporate slop yourself.

Whether the vision of that gleams bright or dystopian probably depends on how well your inner compass is tuned to the kind of AI KPIs pushing product managers in charge of acquired chat products at large tech companies.

But the more interesting point to me is what this says about the broad paranoia and desperation in the AI gold rush. Things are moving fast enough that we'll probably see more such flagrant transgressions of trust and privacy, if there's even a sliver of a chance that it can provide an edge in the race for a better chatbot. Buckle up!

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.