Generative AI:
What You Need To Know

Black sparrow silhouette Baldur Bjarnason

Generative AI: What You Need To Know is a free resource that will help you develop an AI-bullshit detector.

You can read all the cards on one page, print them out, or print to PDF.

Is it magic?
Or, is it bullshit?

Is there anything that generative AI can’t do?

Half of it is probably bullshit. But which half?

AI fans claim that it can do almost anything we can do.

  • Give medical advice.
  • Automate research.
  • Write legal contracts.
  • Handle customer support.
  • Make software.
  • Design interfaces.
  • Plan parties.
  • Make art.
  • Write blog posts.
  • Create screen plays.
  • And more…

The list goes on and on. It seems like there is nothing AI can’t do. Some of it’s hard to believe.

Believing in the wrong claims can be disastrous

The cost of falling for “AI bullshit” can be high.

Trusting the claims of AI vendors can have serious consequences:

  • IBM’s grand AI project Watson cost billions to make and ended up being sold for scrap.
  • The Dutch tax authority ruined thousands of lives, pushing them into poverty, and forcibly removed more than a thousand children from their families, all because the AI system they used to spot benefits fraud did not work as well as they thought.
  • Hospitals all over the US invested millions in a sepsis detection system—supposed to save lives—that didn’t work at all, forcing them to invest even more into finding ways to salvage the investment.
  • Refugees have had their asylum requests denied because of faulty AI translations.
  • Governments and hospitals threw bundles of money at AI vendors who promised to automate the diagnosis of COVID-19. None of them helped.

Become an “AI Bullshit” detector

You can develop a nose for the stink and an eye for the gems hidden in the bullshit.

The people who hype AI like to make out that it’s this mysterious unexplainable technology, but that isn’t true.

You can absolutely come to understand the basic workings of generative AI in terms of their capabilities and the risks they pose.

Some of the limitations are inherent in the technology. Some of them are cultural to the AI industry.

The Generative AI: What You Need To Know cards won’t teach you how to make an AI model or even help you debate an AI fanatic. It might not even help you sound clever at parties.

But, it will help you spot the bullshit they’re peddling. It’s a crash course in AI snake oil.

You can read all the cards on one page, print them out, or print to PDF.

Hundreds of references

I haven’t researched a single topic this deeply since my PhD eighteen years ago.

  • Each card comes with a list of references that are specific to that topic.
  • This lets you scan the deck to find the topics that interest you or are specific to your work and then go deep into the reading on that issue alone.
  • Every package also comes with the full BibTex file of references for my current AI research.
  • Most AI research papers are bullshit. They’re marketing copy at best and badly thought out at worst.

Of all the AI papers I’ve read during my research, I’ve selected only the ones that are relevant, well-structured, and properly thought out.

The reference list is full of gems.

Months of full-time research, condensed

Cover for the book 'The Intelligence Illusion'

The Generative AI: What You Need To Know cards are built on the extensive research I did for my book on many of the issues with using generative AI at work: The Intelligence Illusion: a practical guide to the business risks of Generative AI.

Both are written with a non-technical in mind. To check, I even made my parents read them.

And I quizzed them afterwards to make sure!

The cards aren’t just surface-level summaries of complex topics, they’re distillations of months of work, pulled together into a tight scannable package.

Each card also points you to the chapters in the book that address its topic in a more detailed, substantive way, so if you have the book, you can dig deep into the specific topics that interest you.

I also include all the references backing each card as well as a “further reading” section of free resources where I can.

You can read all the cards on one page, print them out, or print to PDF.

Praise for The Intelligence Illusion

Amid the current AI tsunami, I knew it was time to do my share of learning this stuff by filling gaps among pieces of my fragmented knowledge about it and organize my thoughts around it. This book served that purpose very well.

Generative AI, ChatGPT and sorts, have been released prematurely with too many, too much downsides for possible benefits. It’s especially so when it comes to commercial use. This book walk you through possible risks your business might encounter if you casually incorporate it.

Many of his arguments opened my eyes. I’m glad I found his book at this timing. It’s a hype, at least for now and a foreseeable future. Use cases will likely be very limited. And to protect ourselves from bad actors, we need solid regulations, just like in the case of crypto.

yasuhiro yoshida 吉田康浩

The Intelligence Illusion is full of practical down-to-earth advice based on plenty of research backed up with copious citations. I’m only halfway through it and it’s already helped me separate the hype from the reality.

Jeremy Keith

Should we build xGPT into our product?

Before you answer, make sure to take advantage of all the homework Baldur Bjarnason has done for you.

Brandon Rohrer

Back when I worked in publishing, I employed Baldur Bjarnason as a consultant on complex digital publishing projects, as I appreciated his ability to grasp technical detail and translate it into terms that a general manager could understand - and act upon. He has applied that same skill to a superb new ebook on the business risks of generative AI, which I was lucky enough to read in advance of publication. It combines deep research, logical analysis and clear business recommendations.

George Walkley

I bought it, and I read most of it (skimming the middle part), and it is brilliant. Thank you!

Matthias Büchse

I just bought the book this morning and it’s exactly what I needed. I have not seen a clearer description of how generative AI works, what it might be good for, and what the risks are. The references alone are worth the price of the book.

Dave Cramer

When it comes to the current hype surrounding AGI and LLMs, whether you’re a true skeptic (like me) or a true believer, The Intelligence Illusion is a splash of lemon juice in the greasy pool of incredulous media coverage. Accessible for anyone who’s spent more than 15 minutes with a clueless executive or myopic developer (or, frankly, engaged with any of the technological “disruptions” of the past two decades), Bjarnason rigorously unpacks the many risks involved with the most popular use cases being promoted by unscrupulous executives. He brings plenty of receipts to support his observations, too, while also spotlighting areas where this technology might have legitimate potential for good. Highly recommended!

PS: The images throughout do an amazing job of subtly reinforcing the book’s title and premise and would be worthy of a print edition.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

The Cards

You can read all the cards on one page, print them out, or print to PDF.

The direct link to the card will show you the full list of references for that topic.

  1. Introduction
  2. What do the words mean?
  3. Language Models
  4. Image Generation
  5. Artificial General Intelligence
  6. Snake Oil
  7. Shortcut “Reasoning”
  8. Bias & Safety
  9. Fraud & Abuse
  10. Privacy
  11. Hallucinations
  12. Copyright
  13. Plagiarism
  14. Poisoning
  15. Code Generation

The Author

Baldur Bjarnason

My name is Baldur Bjarnason.

I’m an independent scholar and journalist who writes about technology and software. I’ve been a web developer for over twenty-five years and continue to take on projects as a software development consultant and researcher. My clients in the past have included companies small and large, startups and enterprises, and both not-for-profits and for-profits.