AI as Assistive Technology

Rian Schmidt

October 25, 2023

Table of Contents:

My Brain Is in a Little Sideways

Better Late Than Never to Find Out

Might as Well Take the Good with the Apocalyptic

Here's a spin on AI I bet you didn't think you'd hear from me: AI is an assistive technology.

My Brain Is in a Little Sideways

I am another ADHD kid, all grown up. The kid with the crazy IQ that almost didn't graduate from high school. I remember how mad my high school principal was that I was nearly aced the SAT, but I had like 37 unexcused tardies that year and was 54% in my class.

I also have a relatively mild case of something referred to as 'anomia', or more specifically, 'prosopagnosia'. It basically means I can't remember faces. Right, right... we all forget names. This isn't like that. It's a debilitating inability to recall names of people (and things) you've just learned. Your neighbors. Your co-workers. Technical concepts. You should have seen when I tried to get into marketing as a profession. Heyyy... guyyy...

I never tried to work at FAANG companies because I knew they'd ask me to leet code some algorithm on the spot. Sort a list. What's the complexity of that? No pressure, but here's some dry-erase markers, and we're watching you. You might as well as me to play a song on the piano I heard on the radio twelve years ago. In my underwear.

To the degree that I'm "ex-FAANG", it's only because I ended up working at Amazon after getting a job at acquisition-era Zappos, where, in contrast, they asked me what my "favorite swear word" was during my interview. Now, there's a company I can work for.

And, no, I'm not telling you what it is.

Better Late Than Never to Find Out

Finally, in my early 40s, in a fit of frustration, I went to a doctor and described these recurring issues. After much interviewing and testing, the shrink joked he'd like to take my picture for the encyclopedia entry on adult ADHD and its effects on mental health. Mystery solved.

So, how does a guy who can't remember to take his money home from the ATM manage to run a company or become an executive at others? I learned to cope. StackOverflow saved my bacon time and time again. I brought notebooks and wrote down names ("the tall guy with the nose ring"). Set alarms. Found jobs where people saw my abilities instead of searching for my disabilities.

Might as Well Take the Good with the Apocalyptic

But generative AI is like part of my brain I never had. I have decades of experience learning complex ideas and efficient ways to utilize them. Before, I needed a reference book at my fingertips or, later, a browser at the ready to translate the concept to the syntax. With LLMs-- be it Co-pilot in VSCode or ChatGPT-- I have a really boring, not terribly context-aware friend who remembers Every. Single. Thing. I have to constantly correct him, but man, the guy remembers stuff.

Rather than get stopped because I can't remember the exact syntax for some arcane programming construct or the name of some idea, the Brain In a Jar is at the ready to help me out and keep me moving.

While, like many, I fear the late stage capitalism aspect of the new AI and its impact on the livelihood of my fellow humans, I also acknowledge that it's here, and it's now a question of how we adapt. In many cases, large language models in particular, can act as a sort of service animal for those of us with cognitive challenges. I am growing increasingly dependent on it as an assistant that enables me to increase my productivity and reduce my frustration by magnitudes of order.

Don't worry. I'll go back to making fun of it next time.