Mike Conover – Hello Dolly – Open Source Artificial Intelligence – A threat to the large commercial models? Hashtag Trending Weekend Edition

So everybody knows by now that I grew up in the 1960s. And one of my favorite tunes from a band called The Who had the line, “we won’t be fooled again.”

I was thinking about that when I was reading about Tim Berners-Lee and he reflected on how disappointed he was at what had happened to the World Wide Web on its 30th birthday. What was supposed to be a free and open space became commercialized and largely run by big corporations.

Berners-Lee wasn’t the only one disappointed. Had we been fooled again?

Despite that disappointment, and many others over the years, some of us never lost our sense of optimism or wonder.

That came up when one of our analysts phoned me and said, “you gotta see this. Now, he said, I’ve been playing.” He looked like he hadn’t slept. “I’ve been playing with this all weekend. I can’t stop. It’s incredible.”

And it wasn’t World of Warcraft or some new hot game. It was…

…a really, really simple screen with one field you could type in. You entered the question  in natural language.

Now, what’s so special about that? Well, I think we all know what’s so special about that. It was ChatGPT.

We weren’t the only ones who were blown away. ChatGPT became the hottest application in the world, growing to a hundred million users in a fraction of the time of any other applications. Even the mighty TikTok had taken months more than ChatGPT to reach that magic 100 million mark.

And it was available to you for free. And the name “open AI,” was so attractive. Did it mean it was open source? Not exactly.  “Fooled again?”

Nothing against Microsoft. But what seemed like the democratization of AI was really  owned and controlled by a large corporation. And although others were coming into the field, they too were large companies. Google, Meta/Facebook and more would have their own AI.

I am not against commercialism. I am a capitalist. But I also love open source, that democratized vision of unbridled creativity and passion to do something, not for dollars, but for the intrinsic reward of doing something great.

Maybe it’s just a dream. After all, it takes billions of dollars to build and train an AI. Most of that is training. Maybe it’s time to face reality.

Maybe not. I read about another AI story. it was sponsored by a company, but they promised to make the AI model free and open source. Incredibly, they trained their model with a pool of only 5,000 people – in this case, their employees working as volunteers.

Could this be true? Could you really have a free, open source AI that a dedicated group could easily crowdsource to train?

I had to find out. Now I had another song going through my head and it wasn’t The Who, it was Louis Armstrong. He was singing “Hello Dolly.” You’ll get the reference to that if you listen to the podcast.

My guest today is Mike Conover and he’s from the firm Databricks. And he’s been a big force behind their free open source AI they call Dolly.

UPDATE: After I did this interview with Mike, a new story broke. I covered it on HashTag Trending, our daily audio tech news podcast and on the Tech News Day (YouTube) daily newscast. A leaked Google memo gave a stunning prediction that Open Source AI would overtake commercial AI. It was a very coherent argument.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jim Love
Jim Love
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO and Chief Digital Officer of IT World Canada - Canada's leader in ICT publishing and digital marketing.

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