The Age of Freedom, RethinkX

“During the 2020s, key technologies will converge to completely disrupt the five foundational sectors that underpin the global economy, and with them every major industry in the world today. The knock-on effects for society will be as profound as the extraordinary possibilities that emerge.

In information, energy, food, transportation, and materials, costs will fall by 10x or more, while production processes an order of magnitude (10x) more efficient will use 90% fewer natural resources with 10x-100x less waste. The prevailing production system will shift away from a model of centralized extraction and the breakdown of scarce resources that requires vast physical scale and reach, to a model of localized creation from limitless, ubiquitous building blocks – a world built not on coal, oil, steel, livestock, and concrete but on photons, electrons, DNA, molecules and (q)bits. Product design and development will be performed collaboratively over information networks while physical production and distribution will be fulfilled locally. As a result, geographic advantage will be eliminated as every city or region becomes self-sufficient. This new creation-based production system, which will be built on technologies we are already using today, will be far more equitable, robust, and resilient than any we have ever seen. We have the opportunity to move from a world of extraction to one of creation, a world of scarcity to one of plenitude, a world of inequity and predatory competition to one of shared prosperity and collaboration.

This is not, then, another Industrial Revolution, but a far more fundamental shift. This is the beginning of the third age of humankind – the Age of Freedom.

James Arbib & Tony Seba, “Rethinking Humanity.” RethinkX. June 2020.

In the cryptocurrency space, the adjective, “hopium” would be used. While a post-scarcity world run by teams of super-intelligence A.I.s, like the one depicted in Iain M. Banks’ The Culture series would be a welcome development, if history is any guide, human beings tend to like inequity and predatory competition.

How NFTs Create Value

“[Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs)] enable new markets by allowing people to create and build upon new forms of ownership. These projects succeed by leveraging a core dynamic of crypto: A token’s worth comes from users’ shared agreement — and this means that the community one builds around NFTs quite literally creates those NFTs’ underlying value. And the more these communities increase engagement and become part of people’s personal identities, the more that value is reinforced.

Newer applications will take greater advantage of online-offline connections, and introduce increasingly complex token designs. But even today, it’s less surprising than you might think that people are making money selling pictures on the internet.”

Steve Kaczynski and Scott Duke Kominers, “How NFTs Create Value.” Harvard Business Review. November 10, 2021

I was of the mindset that NFTs are a scam. But, then again, people think the same thing about cryptocurrencies, which I think is a new computing paradigm. This overview and explainer convinced me that perhaps there is more going on in this space than I realized. If you want to go deeper down this hole, you could do worse than Rolling Stone’s coverage of the Bored Ape Yacht Club.

Hunter S. Thompson’s Day

After talking about the Dalai Lama’s daily schedule, I came across Hunter S. Thompson’s and thought it was a nice yin to that yang.

3:00 p.m. – rise.

3:05 – Chivas Regal with the morning papers, Dunhill cigarette

3:45 – cocaine

3:50 – another glass of Chivas, Dunhill

4:05 – first cup of coffee, Dunhill

4:15 – cocaine

4:16 – orange juice, Dunhill

4:30 – cocaine

4:54 – cocaine

5:05 – cocaine

5:11 – coffee, Dunhills

5:30 – more ice in the Chivas

5:45 – cocaine

6:00 – grass to take the edge off

7:05 – Woody Creek Tavern for lunch – Heineken, two margaritas, two cheeseburgers, two orders of fries, a plate of tomatoes, coleslaw, a taco salad, a double order of onion rings, carrot cake, ice cream, bean fritter, Dunhills, another Heineken, cocaine, and for the ride home, a snow cone (a glass of shredded ice over which is poured three or four jiggers of Chivas)

9:00 – cocaine

10:00 – drops acid

11:00 – Chartreuse, cocaine, grass

11:30 – cocaine

12:00 midnight – Hunter ready to write

12:05 – 6:00 a.m. – Chartreuse, cocaine, grass, Chivas, coffee, Heineken, Clove cigarettes, grapefruit, Dunhills, orange juice, gin

6:00 a.m. – in the hot tub – champagne, Dove Bars, fettucini Alfredo

8:00 a.m. – Halcion

8:20 a.m. – sleep

-“Hunter Thompson’s Day: Chivas, Dunhills, Cocaine, Acid, Dove Bars With PM.” AP Press. March 2, 1993

Rucking, or Walking with a Weighted Pack on Your Back

A gallon jug of vinegar and two 24 oz salsa jars in an old running day pack makes for a 15 pound pack

“Just add a bit of weight to any old pack you have lying around the house, take a walk, and you’ll open up a whole new world of fitness…For the average guy, a 30-minute walk burns about 125 calories, according to the Compendium of Physical Activities. But throw a weighted backpack on and take that exact same walk, and you burn about 325 calories, also according to the Compendium of Physical Activities…“The cardio benefits of rucking are comparable to those gained from other long, slow distance exercises like jogging,” says Jason Hartman, C.S.C.S. who trains Special Forces soldiers for the US Military.

But unlike jogging—which has an injury rate anywhere from 20 to 79 percent, according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine—rucking actually makes you more injury resilient, says Hartman…

A good place to start for general fitness is to use a weight that’s equal to about 10 percent of your total bodyweight, says Kechijian…Once you’re comfortable, you can progress up to 35 pounds, says John.

“You can go with 35 pounds on your back for days, months, years,” he says. “But once you start to sneak above 35 pounds, it can break down your body.”

-Michael Easter, “The Fitness Trend Men Everywhere Can’t Get Enough Of.” Men’s Health. December 25, 2015

A Message to Garcia by Elbert Hubbard (1899)

“In all this Cuban business there is one man stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion.

When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain fastnesses of Cuba – no one knew where. No mail or telegraph could reach him. The President must secure his co-operation, and quickly.

What to do!

Someone said to the President, “There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”

Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How “the fellow by name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and having delivered his letter to Garcia, are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail. The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?”

By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college in the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing – “carry a message to Garcia!” …

…Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook, or threat, he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His goodness performs a miracle, and sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant…”

-Elbert Hubbard, “A Message to Garcia.”

The Wikipedia page on A Message to Garcia is also pretty interesting. This was an article I was required to read for advancement in the U.S. Military, years ago. Something triggered my memory of it today. As obvious as the motivation is behind why this is something read by soldiers everywhere, it is also, just as obviously, true.

Rich Asshole Syndrome

“Christopher Ryan, author of Civilised to Death: The Price of Progress, says when people become wealthy, they tend to purchase “separation and isolation” (bigger houses, private travel and so on). This, he says, has the effect of reducing empathy. Those further down the pecking order do not have this option.

According to a 2017 study by scientists at the University of California and the University of Toronto, those in lower social classes are appreciably better at reading emotions in the faces of others. Michael Kraus, an associate professor of organisational behaviour at Yale School of Management, has said that those down the pecking order rely on other people to succeed and survive, which means they must read their emotions. The rich do not need to do this — they just buy help in.”

-Rhymer Rigby, “Is rich people’s bad behaviour worse than that of the less well-off?Financial Times. October 18, 2021.

First time I’ve seen it referred to as Rich Asshole Syndrome, which succinctly describes something we have all seen. Also, love the writer of this piece’s name.

The Computers Are Out of Their Boxes

“What does that mean? Well, computers haven’t changed much in 40 or 50 years. They’re smaller and faster, but they’re still boxes with processors that run instructions from humans. AI changes that on at least three fronts: how computers are made, how they’re programmed, and how they’re used. Ultimately, it will change what they are for. 

“The core of computing is changing from number-crunching to decision-­making,” says Pradeep Dubey, director of the parallel computing lab at Intel. Or, as MIT CSAIL director Daniela Rus puts it, AI is freeing computers from their boxes…

…AI is even helping to design its own computing infrastructure. In 2020, Google used a reinforcement-­learning algorithm—a type of AI that learns how to solve a task through trial and error—to design the layout of a new TPU. The AI eventually came up with strange new designs that no human would think of—but they worked. This kind of AI could one day develop better, more efficient chips.”

—Will Douglas Heaven, “How AI is reinventing what computers are.” MIT Technology Review. October 22, 2021.

Open Question: As artificial intelligence becomes more pervasive, what limits should we impose as a society and on ourselves on how we use this technology, so it minimizes its negative impact?

The key changes described in this article:

  • Volume, less precise calculations carried out in parallel
  • Defining success by outcomes rather than defining processes
  • Machine autonomy, i.e., artificial intelligence prompts people, acting as surrogate and agent

All to the good. But, there are negative social implications as this technology reaches critical mass among populations, a significant portion of people will off-load a subset of decisions to machines, which may be a net positive. However, easy to imagine that it undermines people’s ability to think for themselves, that the subset creeps into classes of decisions where it shouldn’t, e.g., prison sentences for people, and within the areas where it is commonly used, it will create a decision-making monoculture that crowds out alternative values. For example, if a dominate flavor of A.I. decides that Zojorishi makes the best automated rice cookers, which they do, and only makes that recommendation. Some large percentage of people, only buy Zojorishi. Then, the natural result is it will push other rice cooking options out of the market and make it difficult for new, possibly better, companies to emerge.

Lots of strange network effects that will happen due to this trend that should be given careful consideration. Even on a personal level, it would be good to have a clear idea of what exactly you’d like to use A.I. for, so you don’t undermine your own autonomy, as has happened in other computing eras, such as Microsoft dominating the desktop market.

Zuihitsu: What Is It?

“The Japanese describe the genre as “a running brush” as it does not lie so much in the subjects it deals with but rather in the movement of the wind. The style consists of personal interconnected essays or fragmented ideas that respond to the author’s surroundings; however, these “essays” jump from one to the other by association, as the mind does as it distractedly meditates and memories, abstractions, extracts of other texts, lists, opinions, dreams and poems crop up. It gathers all of the inventory that we are, Calvino would say.

In zuihitsu we feel the writing process and touch the textures of the author’s mind more than the themes or subjects referred to, which is why it is often translated as “miscellany” or “miscellaneous essay;” there is no central point but rather parts that interact with each other. There could be, for example, parts in verse, and which is perhaps the best vehicle for an idea, and parts in prose, whose function is to absorb the sentimentalism in a way that verse cannot. Reading or writing zuihitsu is, in short, to see how the form changes the content.”

-“Zuihitsu: The Literary Genre In Which The Text Can Drift Like A Cloud.”

I liked this definition and included in my about page:

“[S]he writes personally and casually, for the joy of it, about anything that comes to mind, providing that what she thinks might impress readers…excluding anything completely fictional.”

-Stephen Carter, ed. Introduction to The Columbia Anthology of Japanese Essays: Zuihitsu from the Tenth to the Twenty-First Century. Washington, D.C: Columbia University Press, 2014.

Information != Knowledge != Wisdom

“In many academic fields, the number of papers published each year has increased significantly over time. Policy measures aim to increase the quantity of scientists, research funding, and scientific output, which is measured by the number of papers produced. These quantitative metrics determine the career trajectories of scholars and evaluations of academic departments, institutions, and nations. Whether and how these increases in the numbers of scientists and papers translate into advances in knowledge is unclear, however. Here, we first lay out a theoretical argument for why too many papers published each year in a field can lead to stagnation rather than advance. The deluge of new papers may deprive reviewers and readers the cognitive slack required to fully recognize and understand novel ideas. Competition among many new ideas may prevent the gradual accumulation of focused attention on a promising new idea. Then, we show data supporting the predictions of this theory. When the number of papers published per year in a scientific field grows large, citations flow disproportionately to already well-cited papers; the list of most-cited papers ossifies; new papers are unlikely to ever become highly cited, and when they do, it is not through a gradual, cumulative process of attention gathering; and newly published papers become unlikely to disrupt existing work. These findings suggest that the progress of large scientific fields may be slowed, trapped in existing canon. Policy measures shifting how scientific work is produced, disseminated, consumed, and rewarded may be called for to push fields into new, more fertile areas of study.

Johan S. G. Chu and James A. Evans, “Slowed canonical progress in large fields of science.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Oct 2021, 118 (41) e2021636118; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2021636118

Too much information leads to the inability to determine what is important and what is not important. This slows the rate of change and supports the status quo.

Next time someone tells you that the Internet is a liberating force providing people with more information than they have ever had before, you can point to Sturgeon’s Law. If 90% of everything is crap, increasing your volume, indiscriminately, leads to a clogged filter — less knowledge and wisdom, not more, on a volume basis. It is only a benefit when we can filter the 10% from the 90% efficiently, which is a skill few, if any, of us have and probably implies lower volume or some sort of pre-filter.