I Think I'll Be Able To Outrun AI (For Now)

I’ve long suspected the time is nigh when a bot will be capable of doing what I do every morning between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., as writer of Marketing Daily's Top Of The News column: scan a few dozen news sources to determine the most important marketing story of the day and aggregate snippets from a bunch of them to weave a new whole, sprinkled with commentary. 

A couple of recent encounters, however, give me hope that that I have a little time before AI forces me to take my other gig -- personal training -- full-time.

Last month, I saw that a number of reporters were following up on a story broken by the Washington Post’s Christian Davenport titled, “Why NASA’s next rockets might say Budweiser on the side.” I did a Google search on the term “NASA sponsorship” to see what else was out there. 

One of the pieces that turned up carried the headline: “Product placement may possibly abet power NASA’s subsequent substantial home mission.” Let’s just say the confused head failed to draw me to investigate further.

But there came a time while putting my story together that I muttered to myself: “Hmmmm, what else can I say about this?” And so I began to skim this story, purportedly written by one Bryana Gulgowski on a site called Newsline

I was immediately drawn to a quote attributed to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.  

“I’m telling you, there is ardour in that perfect now,” he is said to have said. “The demand of is: is it that you just are going to be in a position to imagine?” 

I’ve h heard others make similar observations, but they are either New Agey gurus or boomers too old to still be smoking that stuff, not government bureaucrats. 

Then there was this bit of exposition by Gulgowski: “Tantalizing viewers may possibly behold astronauts utilizing Huggies wipes to wipe down their workstations or bottles of Sriracha to spice up lunchtime.”

Gulgowski’s byline has an embedded link that leads to a page highlighting more than a hundred other posts in several languages, purportedly composed by her since late August. She redefines the role of “general assignment reporter.”

Among the stories: “Europeans dwell longer -- but how lengthy will it final?” Talk about a metaphysical dilemma. Then there’s, “Google to lift Digital Wellbeing aspects to Assistant and Dwelling clear…” Not to mention a piece written completely in Russian.

So that was my first indication that AI doesn’t quite yet have the human touch. The second was more painful.

I started to write this column several weeks ago, with my right calf swathed in an Ace bandage. How I injured myself is another tale of why AI may literally may be a few steps ahead of its time in the marketplace.

In August, I got a pitch to try out new Bluetooth headphones called Run Free Pro Bio, which are billed as the first AI earphones with “Gait Analysis.” The built-in “Beflex BiomechEngine” monitors your running form and measures a slew of factors: speed, distance, cadence, step length, step width, vertical oscillation, head tilt angle, stance/flight time, shock, maximum leg force, balance and consistency. Not only that, it also provides real-time coaching.

After several years of confining myself to long walks punctuated by sprints, I had recently started running long distances again, spurred on by a friend’s challenge to run in a half marathon. My training was going well -- I was jogging three-to-nine miles four times a week, and felt none of the joint pain that had cause me to stop running in 2012. I thought the AI earphones might be just what I needed to help me kick up my speed, which was disappointedly slower than in the past. 

On my first run on Aug. 31, the earphones started to chide me almost from the get-go: “Your shock is too high. Land softer.” I wasn’t entirely sure how to do that, and Ms. AI offered no further advice.

After a few minutes, however, I figured out how to keep her satisfied. When I started landing a bit higher on my forefoot, she returned with some positive reinforcement: “Nice work. Your shock is corrected.”

All my other metrics, except for one, were within the normal range. Whenever I’d duck under a branch hanging over on the trail or look at my Apple Watch, I’d be told, “Raise your head angle and look forward.”

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit how validating I found it when Ms. AI cooed: “All metrics look good now. Keep it up.”

I was feeling so good, in fact, I decided to extend my run. But when I got about three miles in, I started to feel a cramp in my legs. My initial reaction was, “Uh, oh. Maybe I should walk back.” But I didn’t. Not only that, I continued to land softer on my heels and more on my forefoot every time I was corrected.

To cut to the chase, my calves were very sore at the end of the run, and I couldn’t hit the trail again for 10 days. The injury reoccurred several times in my training over the next couple of weeks.

I used the Run Free headphones a few times to listen to music -- great sound! -- and to check metrics such as how many steps I was taking per minute (cadence). But I turned the coaching feature off.

Don’t get me wrong. It was entirely my fault for running through the initial twinges.

When I was transitioning to minimalist footwear a decade ago, everybody I talked to who already had done so told me to do it gradually. The cushioned running shoes I’d always worn had changed the muscles in my feet and they would rebel. I did so, and had no problems. 

And in my other career -- fitness training -- one of the first things I tell a new client is, “Listen to your body.” I didn’t listen to my body; I listened to a biomechanics engine.

The good news is that I was able to complete my first-ever half marathon, along with my 29-year-old son, Duncan, in mid-October.

And I’ve concluded that both my current gigs -- wizened aggregator and senior fitness specialist -- are secure for the foreseeable future. Although in AI years, based on what I’ve read in other AI Insider columns and elsewhere, that’s probably about three months.

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