Mental atlas and corporate promises

Continuing the thread of focusing my curiosity, I am experimenting with different approaches to filter my “inputs”.

My primary responsibility, of course, is to deliver YOU the best and more interesting insights about the social and economic consequences of the Internet and thriving in the global consciousness. But that’s only a subset of my reading habits and I want an easy way to filter OUT the articles and books that I’m not interested in so that I can devote more attention to those that will matter to me (and you).

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Richard Feynman had his 12 favorite problems and Patrick Collison has a question list.

Mental Atlas

Anne-Laure LeCunff has a mental atlas, further extending the metaphor of notes database as a “mental maps”. Atlas is – after all THE book of maps.

While it may be possible to go through life without ever paying attention to these patterns across various mental and cognitive maps, being aware of the inherent interconnectedness of our thoughts will help guide your daily and long-term decision-making process.

In order to compile my own version, I:

  • Browsed the books I tend to pick and noted common topics,
  • Had a look at my blog to see where my attention gravitates,
  • Of course, scoured my notes for insights

Here is what I ended up with. This is and will continue to be, work in progress.

What should you do when a bird hits your window?

I had to figure that out on Saturday. A poor yellowhammer has crashlanded on my balcony and stopped moving. Quick Googling led me to put her in a cardboard box, safe from the hungry eyes of my dog.

Apparently, you should close the box. After a few hours, when the bird is flapping inside the box – it means it recovered. If the bird won’t regain energy, you should contact wildlife rehabbers – more insights in here.

My little friend escaped her box after 2 hours – I hope the incident is now only a distant memory. Glass skyscrapers are death traps for unexpecting birds, but I was surprised to learn that my balcony is part of the problem.

3 Surprising Effects of the Internet

  • Beware of Corporate Promises covers a fascinating natural experiment in company ethics.
    Less than a year ago, nearly 200 CEOs signed a solemn pledge, issued by the Business Roundtable, to stop caring primarily about their shareholders and to serve the needs of their workers, communities, and country too. After the pandemic hit, signers were almost 20 percent more prone to announce layoffs or furloughs Behavioral psychologists have observed an effect they call “moral self-licensing”: If people are allowed to make a token gesture of moral behavior—or simply imagine they’ve done something good—they then feel freer to do something morally dubious, because they’ve reassured themselves that they’re on the side of the angels.
  • Decomplication: How to Find Simple Solutions to “Hard” Problems by Nat Eliason touches one of my favorite topics – how basics are at the same time undervalued and overcomplicated.
    The core solutions to many problems, maybe most problems, are extremely simple. In one paragraph each, you can explain how to lose weight, how to gain muscle, how to save money, how to be productive, how to sleep better, how to grow a website, and just about any other popular problem. (…) We’ve been sold complexity our entire lives, and that’s made us undervalue the simple. As a result of the “monetization through complexity” problem, we no longer trust that simple solutions could be valid.
  • There is a kind of rock that can grow, move, and even multiply. Trovants produce bulbous “growths” from minerals in the rainwater – at a rate of 5cm every 1000 years. Since they accumulate new material on the inside – their shapes approach that of the Michelin man.

Roam Research Alfred workflow

If you are a Roam user – have a look at my Alfred workflow that lets you search your notes blazingly fast, use Roam as a snippet manager and a bookmark DB.

The concavity of fun and the Buddhas

During our pre-pandemic travels, my wife and I visited the King’s Palace in Thailand. The palace complex is of course on the UNESCO world heritage list and THE tourist attraction in Bangkok. It’s positively rococo.

But I came to realize, that the abundance of riches, gold and things to marvel at quickly fizzles out. After 100 golden buddhas you don’t really care how many more are there. You get it. There’s a lot.

At the same time – the cost of seeing these “Tier 1” tourist attractions tends to grow exponentially:

  • The queues are longer
  • The security more annoying
  • The crowds – unbearable.

Because these are “the most famous” things in the world, EVERYBODY goes there. In the meantime, there are “Tier 2” points of interest, where the crowds are less annoying, the queues less painful, but the “awesomeness” only slightly lesser.

My working theory is that the awesomeness curve is concave but the annoyance curve is convex. At many of these “most famous places” they cross – like in Paris:

Strasbourg is a very beautiful city, with much smaller crowds and costs of going there, but delivers more than 50% of the Awesomeness that Paris does. My travel advice is: go to “Tier 2” cities.

Violetta has a fantastic explainer on Convexity .

Three surprising effects of the Internet

  1. In one of the previous emails, I wrote about GPT-3 – a new kid on the block of Artificial Intelligence. Pieter Levels has turned it into a startup idea generator. He has been pretty vocal in the past about ideas being cheap and execution constituting the real challenge. Now he’s selling machine-generated ideas 🤣. Some of them are much better than those I’ve heard during startup events:
    • A company that’s building software for restaurants that helps them manage their menus, guest lists, and food orders.
    • A startup that helps students and other young professionals find other people their age who want to live together
    • The startup is building a digital platform to enable farmers to monitor and manage the health of their crops.
  2. Human Genome has been here for about six million years. MS Excel only slightly shorter, but it has already won. Scientists have to rename some of the Human genes because MS Excel tends to automatically convert them to dates.
    It’s easy to point jokes and demand fixes on the Microsoft side, but the software update cycles in Academia tend to take a while. Scientists have control over the naming of genes, but not over the university purchasing department.
  3. I highly recommend visiting the home page of the Yale Art School: https://www.art.yale.edu/

Question to ponder

Why don’t you do the things you know you should be doing?

What is going on with all those note-taking apps?

If it seems that every day a new Note-Taking app hits the market, that is correct. The last few years have brought us Notion, Roam, Obsidian, Foam, and about 20 more I can’t remember.

From the outside Note-Taking or more accurately, Personal Knowledge Management may look like a solved problem. You take a piece of paper, and we’re done with it, right? And why do we need so many notes anyway?

My psychology Master Thesis was about just that: a particular aspect of the fallibility of human memory called The Source Monitoring Error. Scientific research of human memory is in total agreement: it’s terrible, fragile, easily manipulated, and not to be trusted. During the painful birth of my thesis, I adopted Evernote as my “Second Brain” and happily used it for the last 12 years.

All human progress is based on some forms of Note Taking. Books are notes prepared for sharing, and almost all software is some form of a notebook – that is why the field is called Information Technology.
When ideas are captured and shared, they can be improved upon and serve as building blocks of new ideas (also Leonardo Da Vinci’s notes are fascinating to this day).
When Gutenberg first introduced machinery to the note-taking process, it was kind of a big deal. So, what new has happened in the field over the last few years? Why the sudden revival of interest in note-taking tools?

Second Brain

In 2017, Tiago Forte has started releasing his “Building a Second Brain” course, which is now teaching it’s 11th cohort of (over 1000) students. The course addresses the “Post-Scarcity” nature of information in today’s world:

And many people become “infovores,” force-feeding themselves endless books, articles, and courses, in the hope that something will stick

How do I make what I’m consuming right now easily discoverable for my future self?”

Tiago started with Evernote but has moved to an app-agnostic methodology of storing, retrieving, and summarizing information based on David Allen’s ideas from Getting Things Done.
Here is a basic overview of Tiago’s methodology:

  1. Every notebook/folder should be organized in one of the PARA groups (more in this article on Tiago’s site)
    1. Projects that have a deadline (for example a Blog Post)
    2. Areas where you need to perform at a consistent level (say, your Marriage)
    3. Resources which will serve you in the above endeavors
    4. Archives for cold storage (say invoices in case of a tax audit)
  2. You should store your notes in a place where you will need them next time
  3. You should progressively summarize your notes every time you touch them, so they become more refined and “your’s” over time (more here).
    1. The first time you stumble upon a note, you may bold the interesting passages
    2. Then next time you highlight the most relevant parts of that
    3. Third time you look at a note, you may rephrase it in your own words and that will be perfect for just Tweeting

Sönke Ahrens

Also in 2017, Sönke Ahrens published the book “How to Take Smart Notes” exploring the productivity system of Niklas Luhmann called Zettelkasten (“slip-box” in german). Each note in Zettelkasten is devoted to one idea and then are connected via strands of references:

Luhmann wrote down interesting or potentially useful ideas he encountered in his reading on uniformly sized index cards

He wrote only on one side of each card to eliminate the need to flip them over, and he limited himself to one idea per card so they could be referenced individually

Each new index card received a sequential number, starting at 1. When a new source was added to that topic, or he found something to supplement it, he would add new index cards with letters as suffixes (1a, 1b, 1c, etc.)

Thanks to the book, Zettelkasten entered the public discourse inspiring new developers to create more Note-Taking apps. (Tiago also has a great summary of Sonnke Ahrens’s book.)

Notion

I won’t dive into Notion, because I have dismissed it as another note-taking-app-du-jour. Since my elaborate Second Brain already is in Evernote, I wanted to avoid switching costs. And it seems I was right – Roam appeared just after Notion was touted as “the best and final note-taking system”.

Roam Research

Can you guess when Roam started? Yup, Roam White Paper was written during the winter of 2017/2018. ( Here is a good primer on the tool ).

The app directly implements and expands ideas of Vannevar Bush’s Memex and Niklas Luhmann’s Zettelkasten – every note is a node in the graph, connected to the lattice of other concepts. This is exactly like human brain stores memories and what convinced me to try it out.

What made it stick is that it starting delivering on the original promise of the White Paper:

At the simplest level, Roam’s structure makes it inherently easier to store, recall, and cross-reference ideas. This is the primary proposition for students, writers, self-directed learners, and users of existing note-taking apps. For power users, the knowledge graph also unlocks applications in logic and reasoning, Bayesian inference and decision-making, modeling complex problems, and collaborative research.

For me, Roam has the biggest Braindump Bandwidth from everything I tried. It’s like thoughts are downloaded via a Neuralink.
I think it’s the confidence that I don’t have to worry about finding this note later that gives me the energy to just write.

Using Roam and Evernote together

I outlined the elaborate system of bots connecting to my Evernote account in an essay about my philosophy of automation. Naturally, I didn’t want it going to waste. Furthermore, as Anne-Laure Le Cunff asserts in How to Choose the Right Note-Taking App, Evernote serves perfectly as a library, whereas Roam is a fantastic garden.

Long story short: I built a tool to migrate my notes from Roam to Evernote automatically every evening. I get the benefit of sparking new ideas in my Roam Graph, but I can retrieve them quickly in Evernote, which has an unmatched search mechanism. It will also make the transition smoother. Here it is:

If you use apps like Pocket, Kindle, Hypothes.is, Medium or any other tool that allows you to highlight text, Readwise is a also fantastic tool that syncs to Roam, Notion, and Evernote.
You will have your book and article highlights ready to use right in your database.

What should you do?

By now it may be pretty obvious that I treat note-taking seriously, but it’s not about fancy tools – for the last 12 years I used ‘basic’ Evernote and enjoyed tremendous benefits.

You can use Apple Notes, Google Keep, or a paper journal – anything but your head. Just remember, that notes are meant to be revisited, used, and processed in context. It’s not about hoarding but enjoying a wider perspective inaccessible to those without a second brain.

Aside: I don’t know if the major note-taking developments of 2017 are related, but Information Technology is full of independent similar breakthroughs- it seems that Zeitgeist is more important than we think. Innovators by Malcolm Gladwell covers that nicely

Watch out for assigned identities

Remote Work is quite different from sitting in an office: It’s not just changing your work chair for the couch at home. With Remote Work, there is no assigned seating at all.

  • Nobody walks you to your desk
  • Nobody tells you how to live
  • Nobody tells you who you are

The transition from Office to Remote is a tricky one. You will have to answer many questions for yourself:

  • How do I get coffee?
    • Obviously, it’s Aeropress
  • What is the best desk?
    • IKEA Bekant
  • How do I structure my day? Do I keep 9-to-5?
  • When do I exercise if not on the way to work?
  • Do I see my kids more often?

When you don’t answer these questions for yourself – you will get pulled into a new identity, where you don’t have to think. Watch out, the gravity of ‘popular‘ identities is strong!

Paul Millerd is an expert on the Future of Work – and more importantly – advocates for more “life” in the work-life balance.
My new piece about Remote Worker identities is in issue 105 of his splendid “Boundless” newsletter

Three Surprising Effects of the Internet

  • Success Addicts Choose Being Special Over Being Happy underscores our obsession with being special and how people sacrifice their happiness for a feeling of superiority. The piece highly resonates with my feelings about Social Media.
    Many scholars, such as the psychologist Barbara Killinger, have shown that people willingly sacrifice their own well-being through overwork to keep getting hits of success. I know a thing or two about this: As I once found myself confessing to a close friend, “I would prefer to be special than happy.”
    “the physician Robert Goldman famously found that more than half of aspiring athletes would be willing to take a drug that would kill them in five years in exchange for winning every competition they entered today, “from the Olympic decathlon to the Mr. Universe.”
  • Where did this tower come from?
    Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is a duct tape marvel. Microsoft wizards grabbed freely-available map data from the Internet and generated realistic vistas you can fly over in your aircraft.
    What they didn’t count on are human errors resulting in some funny glitches explored in this thread.
  • We live in a post-scarcity world of ideas.
    So much so, that it’s a bigger problem to manage brilliant insights than to stumble upon them. I use Evernote and Roam as my note-taking tools, Twitter and Pocket for consuming articles, and Kindle for books. To manage this deluge of apps, I previously used a hodge-podge of custom scripts, but now I’ve switched to Readwise.
    Readwise syncs all these apps (and much more) and helps with recollection implementing spaced repetition. The team behind the app is coming up with creative integrations that I never knew I needed.

A thing I learned this week:

I just finished my week-long Windsurfing lesson – I’ll definitely repeat that. During my ‘commute’ I was listening to David Perell’s podcast with technologist Balaji S. Srinivasan – they chatted a lot about learning by doing, future of media, genomics and a roster of other topics. It occurred to me, that practicing sports is more like applied engineering than watching sports:

  • Building stuff = Practicing
  • Theorizing = Watching

Nassim Taleb calls the transition from theory into practice the “Platonic Fold”. But I’d go even further: doing stuff in the real-world and mastering these feedback loops is more different from theory than the branches of the theory are from each other.

The theory of windsurfing was lost on me, but I quickly levelled up while falling from my board.

Compound Interest on your curiosity

Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe published a list of questions occupying his mind when he’s not running a 40B+ payments startup. These are very specific, diverse areas of interest, where he noticed the world should be working better than it is.

Why do there seem to be more examples of rapidly-completed major projects in the past than the present?, Why are so many things so much nicer in Switzerland and Japan? Will end-user applications ever be truly programmable? If so, how? What does religion cause?

See the full list on Patrick’s site

People are born curious learning machines – just look at any child! They can find a rock fascinating and worthy of all sorts of experiments to the dismay of their parents trying to make it on time.

Grown-ups are quite curious too. What will happen in the next season of The Mandalorian? Did the politician really say THAT? I wonder what’s for dinner…

All in all, the child’s curiosity is more valuable – it serves them to build the model of the world to use later in life. Somehow the society has managed to direct this innate curiosity to the things that serve this or another media organization. Even in school, being a curious explorer is frowned upon, because it does not fit the curriculum.

There is good news: you can set a rough direction of your explorations! By being more explicit about what you are interested in, you can have a purposeful direction. By being consistent in your pursuits, you can build knowledge over time and focus your effort on what matters to you.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s to-do lists

In Leonardo Da Vinci’s biography by Walter Isaacson, we can learn the curiosity lists of the original polymath:

‘Observe the goose’s foot: if it were always open or always closed the creature would not be able to make any kind of movement.’ (…) ‘Why is the fish in the water swifter than the bird in the air when it ought to be the contrary since the water is heavier and thicker than the air?’ (…). ‘Describe the tongue of the woodpecker,’ he instructs himself.

We tend to think of curiosity as an unbridled, raw, and passionate act of pursuing immediate urges. But as both successful artists and long-married couples can tell you: raw and passionate acts of pursuing immediate urges do not constitute a great long-term strategy. By having a research plan, you benefit from compound interest on your curiosity.

Feynman’s 12 Favourite Problems

“Richard Feynman was fond of giving the following advice on how to be a genius. You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, ‘How did he do it? He must be a genius!”

Gian-Carlo Rota, Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught

By having specific areas of interest, Feynman could integrate new learnings with his prior knowledge. More than that, he primed his attention to be alert to anything regarding those problems. He had only 12 of them – instead of doing frantic research „just in case,” he would have only 12 specific angles to consider. He could harness both the power of specificity and diversity because a dozen is not a tiny number.

My Bucketlist

List-making powers of guiding serendipity are not limited to intellectual pursuits. Years ago, I published a bucket list on my blog – partly to brag a little, but mainly to motivate myself to do stuff I knew I love, but somehow neglect to pursue.

When I land in a new country, and there’s no pandemic, the first thing I consult is my bucket list – it nudged me to attend The Grand Tea Ceremony in Tokyo or try a croissant-making class in Paris. Without it, I’d just Google „things to do in…” and just tick off the usual attractions with the crowds.

But the real power of intentional lists is their serendipity potential. When my wife and I were traveling through Thailand, the company we work for needed support for a conference in India. My friend Rahul spotted on my blog that I always wanted to drive a Royal Enfield – an Indian Harley-Davidson through the mountains.

When I landed in Udaipur, he handed me the keys with a big smile on his face. But… He did not expect that I’ve never driven a motorcycle before.

I was too scared to snap a photo while driving amidst cows and hills, so this is what you get.

Well, now I have.

Having a long-running list of questions, goals, and dreams will nudge you during those idle moments towards the outcome of your choice. Instead of random browsing, you can become an expert on the topics that are relevant to you.

Tomorrow is my first Wind Surfing lesson, bucketlist Item #63. This is what Deliberate life is all about.

On the Origin of Podcasts

In this newsletter, I explain how to record your own podcast and what would Darwin say about it (although I didn’t ask him).

It seems like everywhere you turn, somebody is recommending their newsletter or a podcast. Did you know that in April, iTunes has crossed 1 million registered podcasts? During the pandemic, more people started their podcasting careers – this is a great shelter-in-place activity, and an excellent excuse to interview your best friend! And in case you want to invite an expert – it’s easier than ever before because they are not busy traveling all the time.

I have recently published „How to start your own podcast” on WordPress.com blog. In the guide, I outline the steps needed to get your show off the ground. Here is a quick summary:

  • You don’t need new gear or a studio. A good video-call headset is enough and you can record via Zoom. Stop browsing those fancy microphones! 
  • You don’t need to do any fancy audio editing. In the article, I explain how to do what you need in iTunes and Garageband.
  • You can publish your podcasts via your blog, or a dedicated service. What matters is the RSS feed  (explained in the article). You submit this RSS feed to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all the others. New episodes appear automatically once you publish it at the source (your blog or the podcasting service you use )

Doesn’t it mean more competition?

Attention is indeed a finite resource. You can listen to only as many podcasts during the day, and your cognitive load is further limiting that number. If more podcasts are fighting for the same listenership, doesn’t it mean there is no point in producing a new one?

There are more weird niches on the Internet than you realize, even if you account for the fact that there are more niches on the Internet then you realize (see David Perrell’s version). People are roughly the same but have infinite idiosyncrasies, tastes, and life experiences. They want to hear about different topics and may become enamored with a topic that others find mundane.

And for some people – you’re the expert! While the unimaginative „current events” podcast format is saturated, try finding a niche – the more quirky and unusual, the better:

When the obvious ideas are taken, it makes us explore a more unusual and interesting approach. By trial-and-error, you may discover a hungry audience that didn’t know what they craved. Everything on the Internet evolved until it “started working”, and we have a long way to go still.

This concept was novel on November 24, 1859, when Charles Darwin published „On the origin of species”:

“One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.”

Civilization and the social support system we created removed life-or-death struggle as a daily occurrence. I’m sure everybody reading this newsletter will not have to worry about starvation. Instead, civilization has created a framework for the development of ideas. When more creators can release their’s into the world, they can compete, cross-pollinate, and evolve until all that’s left are the most beautiful and valuable ones. 

Painters like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael didn’t produce the most famous art pieces in history despite the competition of 16th century Florence – they did so, because of healthy competition nudging them to create something better.

You can, too.

All about the trees on the Internet

I have just finished „The Overstory” by Richard Powers. This delightful book recounts the story of a group of individuals and their relationships with trees and time. The trees are the real heroes of this fiction, and their stories unfold at the speed of wood.

Richard Powers has read over 120 books about trees as research, but his deep insights do not stop at flora. While learning the story of Neelay Mehta (one of the characters that is not a tree), I was immersed by the real and visceral depiction of the early Internet days and the current startup culture of San Francisco. I am sure Nick Hoel from midwest or Patricia Westerford were also true to their respective backgrounds.

I consider The Overstory one of the most compelling, beautiful, and essential fiction books. If my recommendation is not enough, take Hugh Jackman’s or Columbia University’s, which awarded the author a Pulitzer Prize.

Why is this newsletter about the consequences of the Internet devoted to trees? Even in computer science, we have learned a lot from them. Concepts like „branches” and „roots” are used by programmers daily, and it’s impossible to pass any job interview without a question about „tree balancing algorithms”. Trees are the mainstays of human consciousness – mighty Yggdrasil connected the many worlds of the Norse mythology, while the first people of Abrahamic religions did something involving a tree.

What are the lessons for the connected age?

  • Just like many rings add up to the thick trunk, the real advantage is built with compounding and time, not with viral sensations.
    On the Internet, it’s always a good idea to own your platform (steady trunk), so you can branch out.
  • Success may require sending many acorns out there before one takes hold.
    Somebody’s success may look overnight to you, but in fact, they endured rejection after rejection and kept trying despite unfavorable weather and the barren soil. The Internet makes it easier to send more acorns that ever before.
  • What inspiration can you take from the trees?

To make this issue (a)cornier, I couldn’t resist including this photo of my wife and me planting a tree at our wedding.

I thing I wrote

„Taking a walk to get unstuck” explores the Japanese tradition of forest bathing to improve mental health, how Plato has screwed us all, how Remote Work can bring us closer to our roots (pun intended), and outside – where we belong.

Tree surprising consequences of the Internet

  • Climate Strike Software License
    The things you use daily are based on freely-maintained software. From servers delivering you fresh Instagram photos, to factory equipment protocols that helped machine your sunglasses, to this very blog built on WordPress, the entire economy is running on top of Open Source. Just how all knowledge is built on top of previous discoveries.
    A group of maintainers had the idea to forbid the companies causing the climate change from using any software licensed under Climate Strike Software License. Quite often, software dependencies resemble trees themselves. If enough projects at the Root adopt this license, seemingly unrelated projects will use it as well, fossil fuel companies will have more operating costs, and renewable energy will win in the open market.
  • When You Give a Tree an Email Address
    The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favorite trees.
  • Treehouse rentals are booming, according to Airbnb CEO.
    Not only are people booking rentals outside of cities, but they’re also looking for “something more private, intimate, smaller, unique, special — something that could be a destination in and of itself,” he said.
    To be honest, I always dreamed of opening a Treehouse resort. I forfeited that plan, when the pandemic hit, concluding that hospitality is risky. But maybe that’s a perfect opportunity to start something unique?

The printing of this issue of Deliberate Internet has not harmed any trees. It was solely focused on a single topic, gathering from different perspectives – what do you think? Do you like that approach or you prefer a medley? Let me know!

Education, the Umbrella Academy, and Wealth Creation

„Artur, your opinions always seem a bit extreme” – my friend, when we were discussing the public education last week. Education is one of my hot topics, and you can expect a related essay from me soon.

I enjoy people having strong opinions, people experimenting with their way of thinking, and trying out something new. That appreciation of experimentation extends to culture. I consider all four Avengers movies to be quite average, but Thor Ragnarok (trailer) is one of the best ones out there. Rise of Skywalker is disappointing, but The Mandalorian is excellent.
Popular franchises suffer from the curse of their own popularity. They have to appeal to everyone and thus cater to the lowest common denominator.

Less-popular offshoots, like Mandalorian, Guardians of the Galaxy, or The Umbrella Academy, are not scrutinized as strongly by studio executives. Not every plotline has to be sanitized, and not every single thing has to be optimized to death.

That leaves room for creativity, exploration, and pure fun. Education could be the same way if we stopped trying to extract production value out of the kids.

3 Interesting effects of the Internet

[Deliberate Internet] – Comet, overprotecting the digital content, and meritocracy

The comet expedition

My wife (whose handle everywhere is Made In Cosmos) is predictably very interested in seeing the Neowise comet before it leaves the sky. The comet will be visible over the next few days and disappear for another 6000 years of its solitary journey.

On a comet-hunting mission, we have couped up in our summer house and have been hunting for comet sights. Yesterday, the sky was perfect and we were trying to aim our telescope and powerful binocular into that elusive tail of a comet. To no avail.

Sometime after I was getting frustrated  – I looked upward and saw a beautiful, clear sky with the Milky Way spread before our eyes – a sight much better than a thousand comets.

What is it that an event like a comet or a deadline gets us all excited and motivated, but we neglect to enjoy what we already have? Humans are such suckers for scarcity.

The Neowise shot by Tony Hallas. Here is another good one.

Overprotecting the digital content

The creators I help to sell put much effort into their work, and they deserve to be paid. They worry about not having a sales copy compelling enough, or their customers copying and sharing the creations, cutting them out of their rightful compensation. They turn to the protection mechanism – password-protected PDFs or locked-down video players to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

Yesterday, I published an article with 10 reasons why that kind of overprotection is hurting your sales, annoys your customer, and is hurting the relationship with them.

3 Surprising Things on the Internet

  • Did you know there is a special shortcut to display a random Wikipedia article? By going to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random, you will be taken on a random journey, but be forewarned – Wikipedia has MANY articles about random villages and 7th-grade celebrities.

    Me being me, I immediately thought, „Wait, what if I built a WikiRoulette with this?„. It turns out somebody already thought of that! Check out http://wikiroulette.co/.

    Today I learned about Forest Nightshade, Fencing at the 1956 Olympics, and the “List of places in Aberdeenshire”, wherever that is.

  • A belief in meritocracy is not only false: it’s bad for you [Princeton Press] enumerates the reasons why the world is not meritocratic, and the „meritocracy fallacy” is an easy excuse for the lucky.

    The online world revels the idea of meritocracy. Everything is democratized (setting free publishing and commerce is something I contribute to), everyone can participate and, anyone can start something new – they only need a laptop and grit.

    However, like in any human industry, connections, and lucky breaks people have gotten in the past matter a great deal. The world is getting meritocratic (with initiatives like Starlink and Remote work), but we are not there yet.

  • Mario takes a flight in the days of the Coronavirus is an artistic rendition of what would Super Mario first level look like, if the pandemic hit „World 1-1″

GPT-3, Artificial Intelligence, and what are they up to?

Hey!

The summer has crept up on us during the pandemic, and I hope you get a chance to disconnect and enjoy nature while socially distancing.
Yesterday, I managed to do a little Wakeboarding and I so love this sport! It’s like riding a snowboard under a lift on a lake. You get to ride and you get wet a lot ?.

In this week’s newsletter, I am going to dive deep into this thing called GPT-3.

What’s the deal with GPT-3?

In July of 2020, Open AI foundation has opened private, beta API access to their newest machine learning model: GPT-3. It’s a text prediction tool that is trained on pretty much the entirety of the Internet. You give it a sample and it suggests the text to complete that sample.

„Specifically, we train GPT-3, an autoregressive language model with 175 billion parameters, 10x more than any previous non-sparse language model.”

A quote that sounds impressive, but tells you nothing.

Since this model has an unparalleled scale, it delivers very extremely good results. My Twitter feed became full of people praising its performance and prophesizing the end of human labor. But as Forbes points out, it has its limitations.

A “Private Beta” means, that a select group of individuals got access and started playing with it:

Q: is my job in danger?

Quite possibly. If your job consists of following the same pattern in a highly specialized task, it is in danger for a while now. Legal, banking, uncreative writing (such as producing listicles for clicks), and copy-paste-coding are going to be hit pretty hard in the coming years. 

As I wrote in „How to protect your job from automation”, the more „fuzzy” your job definition is, the more it needs a human in the loop. The safest careers are going to be the ones that don’t follow a path. Those that sound unsafe when you describe them to your grandparents.

If you want to not only survive, but also thrive – think of GPT-3 (and it’s unstoppable successors) as collaborators. They can be your sounding board, they can do the tedious research and get the obvious ideas out of the way, so you can focus on that deep, human insight. That elusive spark that makes humans different.

If such a thing exists.

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I write about the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, focusing on remote work, online economy, and cognitive load. Every monday.

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General Artificial Intelligence

The pop-culture take on Artificial Intelligence assumes it will take the form of what is called a „General Intelligence” – it will be conscious and good at anything.

It will be like a  (benevolent/evil) human with infinite cognitive power and do with us as it pleases.

I do not believe the General Artificial Intelligence is possible in machines because I do not believe the General Intelligence is possible in humans.

Humans are collections of algorithms interacting with each other, much like machines are. 

The „General Intelligence” concept started from Charles Spearman’s research on what he called „G Factor” in the 20s. Charles Spearman was an army captain-turned-psychologist and was searching for an inherent quality that will predict the success of the recruits. The idea was to fast-track the careers of more capable army men.

To this day, the definition of Intelligence is the result of an IQ test. General Intelligence „domain” is still restricted to a narrow set of tasks because using this raw cognitive horsepower in the real world requires specialized algorithms and mental models.

Humans are not special snowflakes, and the type of intelligence that can rival them is already here. It just needs more training. The biggest threat is the same as it is in humans – who will do that training? What agenda will the „parents” of this General Intelligence have? What scars will they impart on it? How will it cope?

Open AI

Open AI is even more interesting story than the GPT-3. Founded by Elon Musk (no introduction needed), Sam Altman (previously president of Y-Combinator, the most successful startup incubator in existence), and other experts with a mission to “ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity”. I highly recommend reading more in their charter doc.

„Our primary fiduciary duty is to humanity.”

OpenAI but no investment banker ever.

In a fascinating 2015 interview, Sam Altman pitched to the investors that he had no monetization plans. Instead, his vision was to ask the AI to give the founders investing advice once it’s capable enough. But the returns would be capped at only 100x because it could “maybe capture the light cone of all future value in the universe, and that’s for sure not okay for one group of investors to have.”