Faking the demo

Simon and Garfunkel once sang:

I know I’m fakin’ it / I’m not really makin’ it /I’m such a dubious soul
I was thinking about this song while I was reading this report in TechCrunch about a recent Google demo of their Gemini AI model. Turns out the demo was faked. “Viewers are misled about how the speed, accuracy, and fundamental mode of interaction with the model,” they wrote.
Now, in the rush to either overlaud or bedevil AI over the past year, we have this. It is enough to make me want to dive back into the Bitcoin market, where the real faking was going on. Just kidding.
Getting to the bottom of how demos are conducted used to be my bread and butter as a roving technology reporter back in the go-go 1980s and 1990s. I was (in)famous for going behind the equipment that was being demo’ed in front of me, and pulling the plug or some Ethernet cable to see if it stopped, testing the reality of the situation or seeing if the vendor was running some canned video. PR folks warned their clients ahead of time that I was going to do this, and some vendors even incorporated the “Strom reveal” in their demos.
I recognize that the demo gods can be cruel, and often things go wrong at the last minute. We all recall the famous moment when Bill Gates himself got hit with a blue screen when showing off some Windows 98 demo. The audience cheered, I guess in sympathy — at least that was back when the titans of tech could be sympathetic and not act with the emotional range of children. Or when candidates running for national office — or podcasters with huge multi-million audiences — wouldn’t espouse ridiculous conspiracy theories. I am sure you can guess who I am talking about in each of these cases. Sadly, there are multiple examples of each. These people are in plentiful supply.
Now, it is great that my tech press colleagues can call foul play on Google’s demo. Especially on the topic of AI, when the hype is already on overdrive. But maybe it is time to return to a more believable era, when things were more genuine, and when “alternative facts” were once called “bold faced lies” or something more profane. Or when we had fewer dubious souls roaming the planet.
Self-promotions dep’t
Among the numerous articles that I wrote this week for SiliconANGLE is one about Joe Marshall who was the genuine real deal. You should read about his leadership and determination to help the Ukrainian people. Recall how the Russians jammed GPS signals so their troops weren’t targeted? Turns out that doing that does more than prevent folks from finding their way around the country. It also disrupts their power grid, which needs precise absolute time to synchronize the power flows. Marshall cobbled together some Cisco gear (he works for the company, but that isn’t really the point) and got their lights turned back on thanks to his doggedness in figuring out how to do it.
Speaking of GPS jamming, even in the best of times there are numerous GPS fails. How about all the people — and there were a lot of them — who were stranded in the Mojave desert coming back to the LA area from Vegas. They were following directions from Google Maps, and also didn’t know that there is only one way to get there (I-15). Now they certainly do.

4 thoughts on “Faking the demo

  1. David, Thanks for the rueful laughs. Any kind of laugh is hard to come by, these days. I love the “”Strom reveal.”

  2. Loved the Strom Reveal too lol. As a reporter for Computerworld, I didn’t have the tech chops to kick the actual tires but enjoyed asking pointy questions that cut through the marketing BS.

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