The Stack Overflow Podcast

Why AI is having an on-prem moment

Episode Summary

The home team discusses Instagram’s evolving platform, why AI and machine learning are moving on-premises, and the privacy implications of robotic vacuums.

Episode Notes

Learn why some companies are moving AI and ML data and models off the cloud and back on premises.

Oxide is a rack-scale server with tightly integrated hardware and software. Cofounder and Chief Product Officer Jessie Frazelle was an early core maintainer of Docker. You can find her on GitHub or LinkedIn.

Check out FauxPilot, a locally hosted version of GitHub Copilot.

It’s no secret that Instagram has made changes to its feed, emphasizing video content in an effort to compete with TikTok. Nor is it a secret that these changes have proved unpopular with creators, from Kylie Jenner to independent photographers and other artists. Just another reminder that these platforms are rarely for creators; they’re built to generate revenue. 

What Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot (of Roomba fame) might mean.

Earthships are sustainable dwellings constructed from recycled and natural materials. Built for off-the-grid living, they use thermal and solar power, harvest rainwater, and often incorporate gardens to supplement food supply.

Today’s Lifeboat badge goes to user SILENT for their answer to the question In React and Next.js constructor, I am getting “Reference Error: localstorage is not defined”.

Episode Transcription

[intro music plays]

Ben Popper Are automation and AI on your roadmap? Connect with peers on the latest knowledge and explore events, programs, hackathons, an academy, and certifications. The forum is the core knowledge hub where you can find guidance. Join the UiPath community  at 

BP Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Stack Overflow Podcast, a place to talk all things software and technology. I am Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow, joined as I often am by my wonderful crew of co-hosts, Cassidy Williams, Ceora Ford, and Matt Kiernander. Hey, y'all. 

Matt Kiernander Hello!

Ceora Ford Hi! 

Cassidy Williams Hello! 

BP So I just got back from vacation in New Mexico, and if for whatever reason y'all are out there, or if anyone's listening and y'all are out there, I recommend you can stay in an Airbnb, something called an Earthship, which is a house made entirely of recycled tires, beer cans, and bottles built into like an adobe hill. And so the house is super, super environmentally friendly in the sense that it's made of recycled materials, and then it captures all its own water from the rain water, and then uses that water four times to drink, to shower, to flush and to feed the plants outside. 

MK Hopefully in that order. 

BP Hopefully in that order. Very important you don't screw that order up. If you ever find yourself out that way you should check it out and I'll put a link to Earthship biotecture in the show notes. You can sign up if you're so inclined to build an Earthship as part of their little Earthship academy. So, pretty cool thing. 

CW Cool.

BP But moving away from the topic of my vacation, which is neither here nor there, there was an interesting story here that felt like it took me in a direction I was not expecting. It's from Protocol and says, “Why AI and machine learning are drifting away from the cloud,” and it was about companies that are seeing savings, they're spending less money and better performance by running these AI machine learning processes on machines on-prem essentially. I just thought that was kind of fascinating because the trend for the last 10, 15 years has been that you're going to do better going with one of the big cloud providers and they've just got teraflops of whatever that they can do for you. But as more and more companies have sort of leaned into the idea of crunching their own data they're actually finding that on-prem hardware sometimes is kind of a benefit. 

CW It's actually pretty decent. 

CF I wasn't expecting this shift ever. I wasn't expecting to see the return to on-prem infrastructure so this is really interesting to hear. I got my start in the tech industry with cloud technologies and I guess I really bought into the whole idea that the cloud is the best, this is the most secure, the most economically viable option whatever. So this is interesting to see that it's turning around. I know one thing I've thought a lot about is the handful of times when one zone is down through AWS and all these platforms are just offline because we're all at the will. 

BP When AWS east goes down everybody goes bonkers.

CF Yeah, exactly. And we're all at the will of AWS, whatever section of the globe is out for the day. So I always thought about it from that angle but I never thought about it being actually more financially viable.

BP Yeah. I mean, the quote in here that I loved was just talking about how, let's say you buy a bunch of this hardware and you've got it on site. You've got electricity costs I guess, but you kind of know these are the limits of what it can do. Whereas, and I've heard this so many times with cloud companies and startups, if you let a bunch of engineers train on a bank of GPUs in a public cloud it can get very expensive very quickly. You let them loose and there's no limit to how much training they can do, the cloud provider will do it for you. And then you get the bill at the end of the month and you're like, “Oh, what have I done? I shouldn't have upscaled all those photos through that AI.”

MK You get horror stories of people accidentally setting the wrong rules or regulations and then their bill at the end of the month is thousands of times higher than what they initially expected.

BP Totally. 

CF Yeah. That was one of the reasons why I didn't want to go into cloud was because I was so afraid of messing around in AWS, trying to spin up servers or whatever, and you have to be very specific about the kind of server you want, the speed you want, the latency, all that kind of stuff. And so I was like, “If I mess up, that's like a thousands of dollars mistake.” One person messing up could be worth thousands to I'm sure even hundreds of thousands of dollars sometimes. So that was always terrifying to me. So I can see how in some instances having on-prem infrastructure could be better.

BP Totally. 

CW There's this one person, you might have heard her name, Jessie Frazelle. She is awesome. If she's listening to this– Hey, Jessie! She was one of the very early core maintainers of Docker and helped push a lot of cool cloud containerization stuff forward. And she's most recently the founder of a company called Oxide, or I think Oxide Computer– the website is literally And it is this, they are literally creating hardware for this kind of cloud service and stuff, and they have open source firmware and everything. It's really interesting stuff. When she announced it at first I was kind of surprised because I was like, “A hardware company? Interesting.” And then I realized what it was and they're pushing forward a lot of really cool on-prem stuff and it's interesting again to see how popular it's starting to get. 

BP It is super cool because with a lot of the bigger models now, you can look at the training data, you can look at how it works, and you can start to recreate it at home. People made so many cool inventions where they permutated GPT-3 in some way and pushed it in some new direction. And so you begin to see these things like GitHub Copilot, it's a cool little code assistant and we like it, it's not perfect. But now it's a subscription service. So what if you wrote your own and then you just ran it on-prem? Or like the image generators, these image generators are amazing. Like Matt was saying about when something on the internet really moves you or makes your day like the image generators, I just feel so inspired by them and the crazy stuff that they create. But MidJourney, which is a really good one, they give you 25 for free and then they start charging you. And the same thing I think it was on DALL-E, right? If you want to own the art or if you want to run it again they're going to start charging you. So it's interesting to think that after a certain point you might be better off with this Oxide Computer doing some of this stuff on your own time in your own house, 

CW Someone actually did try to create GitHub Copilot and it's called Fauxpilot. We’ll put a link in the show notes, and it's a locally hosted version of Copilot. 

BP Nice. 

MK I think with a lot of these things it's just going to be a continual iteration of cost benefit analysis. Sometimes it's going to be easier to do things in house and then say, for example, cloud infrastructures will change, their pricing models will change, the performance they can offer is different, and I think it's just going to be a constant kind of shift back and forth as the market continually adjusts itself depending on what things are doing.

BP I guess one thing that I have been thinking about a lot is how cool it would be to build a smart speaker on your own to be able to have one that isn't tied into some big corporation that's not occasionally reminding you to buy something or suggesting something. It's like, if we could just take the smart speaker but put it on a rack at home, that's something I really desire. So if you ever hear about anybody building that or somebody's hobby project, I'm very interested in it. The privacy-first smart speaker. 

CF I'm going to probably take this totally off the rails, but that is the part of the whole decentralization argument that is the most appealing to me, the separation of my data from these big corporations. I don't know if you all heard about Amazon apparently buying– what's the company?

BP iRobot which makes the Roomba.

CF Yeah, the Roomba company. I was reading some things on Twitter, which again, full disclosure could be totally not factual. But one of the things they were mentioning is that Amazon is going to have access to so much more of your data because apparently these Roombas do collect data about your home as they roll through. And so that to me was just like, “Man!” That's the dream that I can buy into with the decentralization. I don't know if it's actually possible or if anyone is actually making gains in that specific aspect of it, but you're mentioning keeping your smart speaker separate from these big corporations, keeping your data for your vacuum robot separate from these big corporations. It’s very, very appealing to me right now, especially at this stage with big companies. So I don't know. 

BP The vacuum robot notices you have additional pet hair, all of a sudden it starts sending you ads for puppy treats. That is a Black Mirror episode waiting to happen. 

CF Yeah!

MK People have been doing this a lot with just network attached storage for a few years where they've been getting sick of paying Google or whoever else for their monthly subscription fees and have taken that in house. But the cost to do that initially up front is like a couple of grand if you are wanting to do it properly.

BP Right. Yeah, the thing about paying for the iCloud photo back and the Amazon locker and the Google one is my fear is always that when I get hard drives at home, and I have a few with old photos and stuff, then I forget them for a year or two and they go kaput and then I feel sad. And I just trust the cloud to be, I guess, a little bit better maintained than the Sandisk one terabyte in my basement unfortunately.

CF I wonder what the best solution to this whole data privacy issue is, because I don't think the decentralization dream is panning out the way we expect it to, or want it to I should say. So I'm like, what is the best way to actually just get these companies to give us some semblance of privacy and respect? I don't know. Anyway, we should move on. 

BP Okay. Cassidy, I know you wanted to talk about Instagram and its troubles, its changes, its constant evolution. Let's hear some thoughts. 

CW That thing, ugh. Ceora and I were just talking about our thoughts about this last week because I don't like the direction it's going in. To spare you the rant but to give you a sample, Instagram is now doing full page features they're calling it, or full screen features, where it has been heavily prioritizing videos but it's doing that even more so in order to take on TikTok in some way. And I personally don't like that and maybe I am showing my age and what I like social media to be, but it used to be you saw your friend sharing that they're having coffee and you could be like, “You go friend, have your coffee,” and like their photo and move on. Now, if you want to see your friend's coffee, their baby, their vacation, whatever, you’ve got to leaf through so many different videos that are algorithmically attuned towards you before you can actually see your friends and I personally am not a fan of that. 

CF So photographers, artists, people like that, are very dissatisfied with the way that Instagram is going, because they often don't really post videos, they post pictures, right? If you're an artist, you're going to post pictures of what you draw or what you create, and that's how a lot of these people have been able to gain clients and things like that. And because of the way the algorithm is going, it's basically hiding all the photos that they post of their work. So it's affecting how many people they can reach, how many clients they can get, it's affecting their finances at this point. 

MK So I have been in tune with this discussion for a wee while because I got very into photography for a long time and followed a bunch of different photographers, and Instagram was a really important platform for them to showcase their work. Same with as you mentioned Ceora, 3D artists or any kind of art that’s typically still-based. And there was a tweet from someone that I follow recently that said word for word, “Can every photographer just stop whining about Instagram? It was never a platform for us, we just acted like it was. These apps have changed and will continue to change based on what audiences actually consume. If that's not what you make then it's time to adapt or leave.” 

BP Right. 

CF I know a while ago when Medium started to monetize, a lot of nonprofit organizations were like, “Okay, we're just going to create our own blog instead,” which is much more accessible than creating a whole photo-sharing app with other people who can create accounts and be able to interact with your posts, so it kind of puts you in between a rock and a hard place. 

BP There are a few B-Corps out there, the Kickstarters of the world, and there's other ones where in the charter of the company it's like, “This is what we want to do. We're an environmental company, or we're a social good company and so that's how you should view us.” But for most companies, you have to grow your user base or your revenue or your profit or you're going to be in big trouble, unless you're a private company I guess. If you're a private company you can run it the way you want. But for public companies, they're stuck. 

CF I feel like this exposes some I guess you could say issues in the tech industry that because the tech industry is so fairly new we probably haven't confronted before, especially for consumer facing platforms. Like, what do you do after you hit the point where you're like, “We've reached global dominance,” whatever, and then things start to take a downturn. What is supposed to happen?

BP I think you make a really good point. Think about industries of the past like the automotive industry or telephone industry. Ceora to your point, Facebook, including Instagram and WhatsApp and whatever, is the first company where it's like, “Yeah, we've signed up over the years 4 billion people and like 2 billion people use it every month.” Just to the scale where there's just not that many people left who have the technology accessible to use it. And then you're like, “Well, where do we go from here?” And you're like, “Well, we’ve got to invent the metaverse and come into the next thing.” But it's not actually here yet. So I do think the most recent crop of internet companies that grew up in the 2000’s and matured now have global scale that is unlike anything we ever saw before.

CF I think this is a prime example of maybe the direction that a lot of tech companies are going to end up in if they keep progressing and keep growing and growing and growing. Like, is this the end of the road? Like, what do we do after this stage? 

CW They feel like they have to. And that's even something I'm dealing with in my day job where people are like, “Okay, well we've now realized we should really be on TikTok. We should really be making all these short videos.” But the thing is, not only do you have to make the videos, you also have to post really regularly. The algorithm actually punishes you if you don't post once or twice a day, and at least three times a week.

MK I think there's a talk that we could go back and if you're curious you can go and have a look and it basically encapsulates everything that was said here today. And it's termed ‘The Attention Economy’ where all of these platforms are fighting for your attention more than anything else.

BP Right. For folks who are interested in this topic of the attention economy and sort of like, “Why is this showing up in my feed,” there was a good piece from a guy David Pierce I used to work with who does an annual feeds reboot. So you go into everything and you just clean it out. I know you think I like rollerblading and jazz music and videos of animals fighting, okay, that's true, I like all those things, but I'm going to force you to forget all of it. I'm going to start fresh. I'm going to learn a few new things. I'm going to get out of my filter bubble. So if you haven't done an algorithm cleanse, a feed cleanse in a while, it's like a juice cleanse, I highly recommend it. 

CW I've been just setting Screen Time timers on my phone because the videos are entertaining, but they will suck you in and so if you don't have something that physically stops you sometimes, if you have low willpower like myself, you’ve got to use a tool to do it. And it's frustrating that it's come to that. 

MK The problem I've found with a lot of these applications is occasionally I will get something so useful that validates all the time I spent on that platform and it's kind of like gambling and I'm like, “Oh, but if I hadn't been on Twitter and I hadn't met that person, then I wouldn't have that opportunity.” Or, “If I hadn't seen that TikTok I wouldn't have bought that rice cooker which completely changed my life.” It's weird things like that that I personally struggle with because you do get those nuggets of gold from time to time.

BP But that's survivor bias. You might have bought a rice cooker, you could have been on a cool trip to a museum and seen a rice cooker. 

MK That’s very true.

CF My thing is not even how much time it consumes, although that is an issue. My thing is I want diversity in my social media platforms. I do not want Twitter to be TikTok, I don't want Instagram to be TikTok. I want them to be different. That's the whole point, do you know what I mean? So that's the thing that's frustrating about it.

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BP All right, everybody. It is that time of the show. We're going to shout out the winner of a lifeboat badge and say our goodbyes. This was awarded one hour ago to SILENT, “In React and Next.js, constructor is getting a reference error: localstorage is not defined." Scary. If you want to know how to fix that error, we have an answer for you, and thank you to SILENT for providing it. I am Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. You can always find me on Twitter @BenPopper. Email us, with questions or suggestions. And if you like the show, leave us a rating and a review. Or if you want to see us talking, go to YouTube and you can see us talking and moving our hands. Unbelievable. 

CF My name is Ceora Ford. I'm a Developer Advocate at Auth0. You can find me on Twitter. My username there is @Ceeoreo_. 

CW I'm Cassidy Williams. You can find me @Cassidoo on most things. I do developer experience at Remote and OSS Capital. 

MK And I'm Matt Kiernander. I'm a Developer Advocate here at Stack Overflow. You can find me online, Twitter and YouTube, @MattKander.

BP All right, everybody. Thanks for listening and we'll talk to you soon. 

All Bye!

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