Amazing to host a fireside chat with Linus Lee, lead for Notion AI. We discussed the shortcomings of AI chat interfaces, how AI is often used to augment and accelerate, not replace human work, why Linus decided to join Notion, and his hopes for the future of human-AI collaboration. Here were our top takeaways…
On why AI will augment and accelerate human work:
“A lot of times, even if people are writing something from scratch, users often get an initial draft going with the help of AI, then do rounds of polishing themselves. AI is more augmentative and accelerating than replacing. I’m optimistic about a future where humans always steer the interaction or relationship with AI. I think AI is good for executing on things, but there always has to be a kind of tastemaker. I think for a very long time that’s going to be a human realm.”
On the shortcomings of chat interfaces for AI:
“There are all these people building the face of God, and you're telling me we're going to interact with this by texting it? It doesn't seem quite right.
“In real human-to-human dialogue, there’s so much context around the conversation. We don’t lock ourselves in a blank room with no walls and no context and ask a prompt. The people that are in the conversation take advantage of the context to be interesting and useful.
“With ChatGPT, you are locked in a blank room with an AI, and you're telling the AI to do something. And so there's a lot of context that's not being put to use.
“To make chat more practical in a software application—say for example when you’re writing an app—there's context you can use. There's edits that you've made in the past. There’s information that's already on the page. There's edits that you made previously, the location of your cursor, if you have something selected, other collaborators on the page, etc. There's tons of context.
“And if the AI is able to better take advantage of the context and look at where you're pointing and things like that, there's much less information you have to funnel into the text itself.”
On why Linus chose to join Notion, rather than continue as an independent researcher:
“I spent most of 2022 building tools and interfaces to navigate text and input information into systems. That year was like sailing around in a speedboat. You have a lot of exploration you can do, you can switch directions very quickly, and you can put down a project if you don’t like it and work on something else. A speedboat is good for exploration and picking a direction, but once you pick a direction you can’t actually move a lot of water with a speedboat. You want larger ships with more people, resources, and momentum, and that helps you figure out if the direction you picked was a good direction. I joined Notion because I had some theses around how to build good interfaces for AI and I wanted to put them to the test.”
On the opportunity to define humans’ relationship to AI:
“In the aftermath of a new technology, there are winners that set the defaults... For example, like scrolling directions, the concept of apps in mobile and how they differ from desktop, zooming in and out... There are so many subtle things that we take for granted, but actually someone decided them. So there was an appeal to being part of a team that could potentially set those things in motion.
“Beyond interfaces, there’s also a larger, important thing: setting the tone for what kind of relationship humans have with AI… On our CEO’s recommendation, I was reading Steve Jobs’ memoir, put together by the Steve Jobs archive. One of the stories in there talks about this moment, a week before they launched the original Mac, when Steve had everyone in the room. Before the Mac, the computer was this cool, dark, mechanical machine. It was powerful, and everyone could kind of see that the computer was going to be everywhere, but it was not clear that the relationship was going to be this fun, creative, often humane kind of thing. So when everyone at Apple saw the machine, the Mac they had built, they were like, okay, now that we have this more human, more creative, inviting thing, this is so obviously going to be the tone of the relationship that humans should have to computers. And it's not a matter of whether this is going to be the relationship, but how long it's going to take to get there.
“And I found that really motivating. AI is still kinda weights that run inside data centers. And, that's one way things could go, or maybe there are products and designs and things we can build and messages we can send that set the course to be more like AI as a kind of a partner or collaborator, a more human kind of relationship. And so the chance to be a part of something that pushes the world a little bit in that direction was also alluring.””