Fire & Motion 33
If you are somebody who uses other events as a reason to self-destruct, you’re ceding power.
Action is expensive, but inaction costs a fortune.
我不過是一束星塵，因著偶然，散落在銀河此一角落。在這裡，有些星塵以複雜的方式聚在一起，故有了「活著」的狀態；又，更複雜的是，這些星塵也有了意識，而且感知自己擁有意識。多麼神奇！星塵不過從超新星爆發而來，本無生命，卻因偶然以複雜方式聚集，故有了自我意識，並能感知自己的存在和意識。這是浩瀚宇宙間至高無上的光榮。也許這是有終點的。這個複雜的組織將會結束，而這束星塵，令我之所以為我的這束星塵，也將冰解雲散，返回一般的形態。這本無可奈何。人類作為有創造力，有幻想力的生物，我們總有辦法在星塵散盡後，用不同方式延續自身之存在 [...] 如果在以這種非同尋常的形式活了七十二年後，還抱怨自己的星塵要消散於宇宙星河中的話，也未免太小題大作。整個宇宙中，很少有分子能體驗到這種存在。事實上，對星塵用上「經驗」這樣的字眼，就夠讓人驚訝了。原子沒有經驗，它們只是「東西」。這就是我了，我是「東西」。但這些東西的組成是如此複雜，這些的複雜性已不是「東西」能有的了。它們複雜得能夠反思自己到底是什麼東西，以及意識到活著是一件多麼了不起的事情。而且，它意識到自己活著，它甚至察覺到自己能察覺到自己活著。
《命若星塵》很早就被放進待讀書單中了，幾乎可說是前三本。之前在《真實烏托邦》沒有讀懂，但不難在這兩本中發現相近的思考：察覺環境中的限制與束縛、人類了不起的創造能量，與樂觀！談起樂觀似有老調重彈之感，但艾瑞克的樂觀，是翻遍了所有感知與苦痛後所得，因而是純粹的滿懷冀望。命若星塵，such a beautiful way to describe that. 我們對自己的看法，必定被人們用以形容自己的詞彙深刻地影響著，而當我們能以「星塵」觀照自己時，人類那偶然的複雜性才得以被察覺。
額外摘自書末 @陳婉容 的議後記：
The element has two main features, and there are two conditions for being it. The features are aptitude and passion. The conditions are attitude and opportunity. The sequence goes something like this: I get it; I love it; I want it; Where is it?
One of the key principles of the Element is that we need to challenge what we take for granted about our abilities and the abilities of other people.
Children do not see anything so strange and different about art. They accept it; they understand it; they love it. They walk into a museum, and they are looking all around, they do not feel threatened.
Adults think there're some messages there they do not get, that they are supposed to have something to say or do in relation to these works of art. Children, or even enfants do not take any consideration. They encounter it, they do it, and they nail it.
When people are in the zone, they align naturally with a way of thinking that works best for them.
People who move to think.
One of the results of seeing our lives as linear and unidirectional is that it leads to a culture of segregating people by age [...] there are predictable passages in our lives, and it makes some sense to create environments where people can experience those passages in an optimal way.
It's so weird to segregate students by age in school, and not take their difference on aptitude into account. Categorization also starts to feel awkward to me. Does it make any sense to ask people's age in those questionnaires? What does it mean to segregate by MBTI?
When in doubt, optimize for interestingness. Fields change as you learn more about them. What mathematicians do, for example, is very different from what you do in high school math classes. So you need to give different types of work a chance to show you what they're like. But a field should become increasingly interesting as you learn more about it. If it doesn't, it's probably not for you.
The trouble with planning is that it only works for achievements you can describe in advance. You can win a gold medal or get rich by deciding to as a child and then tenaciously pursuing that goal, but you can't discover natural selection that way. I think for most people who want to do great work, the right strategy is not to plan too much. At each stage do whatever seems most interesting and gives you the best options for the future. I call this approach "staying upwind." This is how most people who've done great work seem to have done it.
Planning is an act of knowing something, but doing differently requires one to uncover unknown.
Don't try to work in a distinctive style. Just try to do the best job you can; you won't be able to help doing it in a distinctive way. Style is doing things in a distinctive way without trying to. Trying to is affectation. Affectation is in effect to pretend that someone other than you is doing the work. You adopt an impressive but fake persona, and while you're pleased with the impressiveness, the fakeness is what shows in the work. The temptation to be someone else is greatest for the young. They often feel like nobodies. But you never need to worry about that problem, because it's self-solving if you work on sufficiently ambitious projects. If you succeed at an ambitious project, you're not a nobody; you're the person who did it. So just do the work and your identity will take care of itself.
[Probably] the most cautionary piece I've ever have. A distinctive "style" isn't the intention, but the outcome of just doing one's work. By-product such as distinctiveness can't be deliberatively achieved.
One of the most interesting kinds of unfashionable problem is the problem that people think has been fully explored but hasn't. Great work often takes something that already exists and shows its latent potential. Durer and Watt both did this. So, if you're interested in a field that others think is tapped out, don't let their scepticism deter you. People are often wrong about this.
Morale starts with your view of life. You're more likely to do great work if you're an optimist, and more likely to if you think of yourself as lucky than if you think of yourself as a victim.
[Just a note here] Perspective, relativity, and mimesis are the three most important thinking principles. (currently)
When building a piece of IKEA furniture, don’t tighten all the screws to 100% right away. Start by tightening each one to 75%, and only bring them up to 100% once all the screws fit nicely together. This principle applies beyond furniture too.
Testing in smaller scale.
Remember the Hotel Bathroom Principle: Whenever I’m in a city and I need to use the bathroom, I walk into a fancy hotel. They always have nice bathrooms, and if you’re dressed well and walk confidently, they won’t hassle you for using it. Though the world is becoming more casual, you should dress well enough to walk into a 5-star hotel and use their bathroom.
Spend at least 20% of your social time with people who are at least a decade older than you (family members don’t count). Don’t aim for mentorship. Aim for a two-way exchange of value. You’ll bring them vision and energy. They’ll give you wisdom and opportunities.
When you see somebody taking a photo of their friends, offer to take the shot for them so they can be in the picture.
By the way, hysterical freakout is not new to our era. You look back in history and you look at things like the Communist Revolution in Russia, or you look at the rise of Nazism in the 1930s in Germany, or you look at the episodes, Joan of Arc, or you look at witch burnings, it’s very easy historically to find periods of hysterical panic and freakout. You look back at those and you’re like, “Oh my God, how did those people let their emotions carry them away like that? Didn’t they realize that being so kind of freaked out and panicked was degrading their ability to engage rationally with issues?” Of course, you read that in the history books, and then, of course, it happens in your time and you’re like, “Oh, well this time the hysterical panic and freakout is totally justified and I need to join in on it”. So, I think there is a permanence to this dynamic in human affairs, and it’s just kind of part and parcel with being the sort of, let’s say, half evolved kind of animal, humans, that we are.
Had we applied the precautionary principle or any of the current trendy epistemic methods to evaluating the introduction of prior technologies ranging from fire and the wheel all the way to gunpowder and microchips, we would not be living in the world we’re living in today. We’d be living in a much worse world, and child mortality would be through the roof, and we’d all be working these god-awful physical labour jobs and we’d be like, “Wow, is this the best we can do?” I think our species has actually an excellent track record at dealing with these things, and I think we should do what we do, we should build these things and then we should figure out the pros and cons.
And they’re basically people who are saying, “Look, things are really complicated, the details really matter, the reality is we don’t reform all of society at once at the same time. Basically, these totalizing kinds of religious dreams don’t suddenly come true, we don’t create the new man, and we don’t create the new man through either an ideological movement or a technological movement or anything. Instead, we are, in religious terms, fallen beings. In secular terms, we are imperfect people, we have a thin understanding of what’s happening in the world, we have to constantly strive to be epistemically humble, we have to try very hard to understand the details of what we’re dealing with, we have a high level of humility with respect to our ability to draw sweeping conclusions, and we want to proceed but we want to proceed a step at a time and we want to be aware of our arrogance carrying us away and causing us to do crazy things”.
accompanied with the article Why AI Will Save the World
AI will decide to literally kill humanity is a profound category error. AI is not a living being that has been primed by billions of years of evolution to participate in the battle for the survival of the fittest, as animals are, and as we are.
AI doesn’t want, it doesn’t have goals, it doesn’t want to kill you, because it’s not alive.
When technology is applied to production, we get productivity growth – an increase in output generated by a reduction in inputs. The result is lower prices for goods and services. As prices for goods and services fall, we pay less for them, meaning that we now have extra spending power with which to buy other things. This increases demand in the economy, which drives the creation of new production – including new products and new industries – which then creates new jobs for the people who were replaced by machines in prior jobs. The result is a larger economy with higher material prosperity, more industries, more products, and more jobs.
further accompanied with AI and the automation of work
In the 19th century the British navy ran on coal. Britain had a lot of coal (it was the Saudi Arabia of the steam age) but people worried what would happen when the coal ran out. Ah, said the engineers: don’t worry, because the steam engines keep getting more efficient, so we’ll use less coal. No, said Jevons: if we make steam engines more efficient, then they will be cheaper to run, and we will use more of them and use them for new and different things, and so we will use more coal. We’ve been applying the Jevons Paradox to white collar work for 150 years.
As data analytics becomes more as a commodity, it has been unnecessarily applied to many more fields.
There’s a huge difference between an amazing demo of a transformative technology and something that a big, complicated company holding other people’s business can use. You can rarely go to a law firm and sell them an API key to GCP’s translation or sentiment analysis: you need to wrap it in control, security, versioning, management, client privilege and a whole bunch of other things that only legal software companies know about (there’s a graveyard of machine learning companies that learnt this in the last decade). Companies generally can’t buy ‘technology’. Everlaw doesn’t sell translation and People.ai doesn’t sell sentiment analysis - they sell tools and products, and often the AI is only one part of that. I don’t think a text prompt, a ‘go’ button and a black-box, general purpose text generation engine make up a product, and product takes time.
[Further] further accompanied with Metaphors for AI, and why I don’t like them
Probably the best we can say is that “This aspect of AI is like X” or “These types of AI systems, used in this way, are like X”. As mentioned, some of the people that coined these metaphors are well aware of these limitations, but metaphors have a way of being over-interpreted.
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