If It Doesn’t Ship, It Doesn’t Exist

Feb 3, 2023

The top four companies with the most papers at NeurIPS, one of the leading AI/ML research conferences, are Google, Microsoft, Meta, and Deepmind (Google). The 2017 paper, Attention Is All You Need, which introduced the transformer architecture and kick-started large language models, was published by Google. Blake Lemoine, the engineer from Google who believed the company's internal chatbot, LaMDA, was sentient, sounded the alarm six months before OpenAI released ChatGPT. A paper describing Google's text-to-image diffusion model, Imagen, was released shortly after OpenAI launched DALL-E.

Without a doubt, OpenAI and other companies productionizing AI are standing on the shoulders of giants. But from a product standpoint, there's a lot more work (a different kind of work) that goes into wrapping these models up in a usable interface. And when it comes to products, if it doesn't ship, it doesn't exist.

A story from Steve Jobs on his first visit to Xerox PARC, the research lab which invented the computer GUI, object-oriented programming, the Alto PC, Ethernet, and many more foundational computer technologies (but failed to monetize them):

I had three or four people who kept bugging me that I ought to get my rear over to Xerox PARC and see what they were doing. And so I finally did. I went over there. And they were very kind. And they showed me what they were working on. And they showed me really three things, but I was so blinded by the first one that I didn’t even really see the other two. One of the things they showed me was object-oriented programming. They showed me that, but I didn’t even see that. The other one they showed me was really a networked computer system. They had over a hundred Alto computers all networked, using e-mail, etcetera, etcetera. I didn’t even see that. I was so blinded by the first thing they showed me, which was the graphical user interface. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life. Now, remember, it was very flawed — what we saw was incomplete, they’d done a bunch of things wrong, but we didn’t know that at the time. It still, though they had — the germ of the idea was there and they’d done it very well. And within, you know, 10 minutes, it was obvious to me that all computers would work like this someday.