The other day I was reading a piece on Stratechery about keynotes and OpenAI’s recent announcements.

As you’d expect from a Ben Thompson post, there’s lots of good stuff in there about the strategic factors of OpenAI. Scalability, price dynamics, commoditisation, modularisation, etc. But there’s one concept he introduced that rubbed me up the wrong way.

The ‘Universal Interface’.

What is the Universal Interface? If you’re using ChatGPT and ask it to generate an image, you won’t need to select the DALL-E 3 plug-in or load it from a menu. The AI will know your intent, select the plug-in and use it automatically.

There’s a dangerous concept lurking in there: the burden of choice. That having to choose to do something or buy something or opt out of something is a chore. It sounds convenient, like it’d make your life easier, but it strips away agency.

And it suggests that language can be perfect: ‘unbiased, unambiguous, non-contextual’. And it can’t. That’s the beauty of language, one word can be used multiple ways. Which means that one word can be misinterpreted multiple ways, and before you know it ChatGPT has bought shit off Amazon you don’t need.

Anyway, over the last few days, I’ve seen lots of custom agents pop up: ChatGPT bots trained on people’s blogs or a certain corpus of work, using GPTs. You can use one of those agents to ‘explore the work’ or read the blog. Which, for me, removes one of the wonders of the web: browsing.

Browsing the web and falling down rabbit holes is what got me hooked in the first place. Reading things and clicking links and jumping from one piece of cyberspace to another. The hyperlink is the killer app! The idea of replacing it with a text-based adventure game that allows me to explore one whole website, no more, sounds terrible.

Realistically, I don’t think we’ll get the Universal Interface. Maybe some of its capabilities, like prompting you if you’d like it to do a thing, but full automation won’t be the goal or the end point. It’ll be something more like AI as team-mates or NPCs, like Matt has been exploring.

While I agree that we can do more to join the dots between products and services, we shouldn’t hide all the seams, especially as services integrate and modularise. There’s a balance to be struck between convenience and transparency.