Discover more from A Few Things....
A Few Things: Becoming a Magician, The Truth About UFOs, Hack Your Brain, Carbon Almanac, Foundation, Power & Progress, The Tech Section, News You Missed....
June 15, 2023
I am sharing this weekly email with you because I count you in the group of people I learn from and enjoy being around.
You can check out last week’s edition here: 5 AI Ideas from 5 AI Leaders, Economist on Fertility, Druck on Markets, GS Currie on Commodities, Kuppy in London, Ogilvy's Ad-Man, Young Forever, A16Z on AI....
Believe it or not, that “♡ Like” button is a big deal – it serves as a proxy to new visitors of this publication’s value. If you enjoy this article, don’t be shy :)
This email is shorter than usual, given a busier work week and travel.
Quotes I Am Thinking About:
“The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.”
- Arthur Schopenhauer
“Sometimes it seems that it might be better to go back to those simpler days, that one might get more out of a less complex life. But it cannot be done. One changes with prosperity. We all think we should like to lead a simple life, and then we find that we have picked up a thousand little habits which we are quite unconscious of because they are a part of our very being—and these habits are not in the simple life.”
- Harvey Firestone
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”
- Steven Covey
A. A Few Things Worth Checking Out:
1. In nearly every domain, strategies for success are Power Laws. The Magicians are the ones who can figure those out.
Magicians are hard to describe, but they're easy to identify when you meet them. The key differentiator is not that they're better than you at something — it's that they're operating under a fundamentally different model of reality than you are, which leads to non-linear outcomes for them.
Key quotes from this thoughtful piece (emphasis mine):
The way to extraordinary growth and changes often involves a fundamental ontological or ‘lens’ shift in how you see the world. Magicians are wearing not just better, but fundamentally differently shaped lenses to the rest of us. And regardless of your skills and experience, it is likely that you are a magician to someone else. As someone who has a well-defined felt sense of how various foods affects their body, and can cook simple, healthy food well, I can seem like a magician to someone lacking a similar mental framework who ricochets between spartan self-denial and uncontrollable junk binges.
Meeting magicians is the first step to becoming one – when you are attempting to learn implicit knowledge that by definition you don’t understand, it is important to have a bunch of examples in front of you to feed your brain’s pattern-recognition systems. This will start to change your worldview without the controlling ‘you’ explicitly approving or denying every new belief or framework. Magicians or their work often seem to have a subconscious glow that I am drawn to, particularly if they use a type of magic that I recognise is on my critical path and thus something I’m currently seeking. Concrete steps I take to find them include asking my most interesting friends to introduce me to their most interesting friends, going down similar rabbit holes with the bibliographies of books that excite me, and generally living in ‘explore’ mode at various points in life, while recognising that not every avenue will lead to a jackpot.
So, in short, a helpful strategy for becoming a magician: Surround yourself with people who look like magicians to you. Then imagine yourself as one, older and wiser, in great detail. Imagine yourself as the person you would be afraid to say you want to be out loud to others (because it seems so ridiculously impossible right now). Write it down in great clarity and detail, then forget it. And let the part of your subconscious mind that still remembers lead you to becoming the things you want, and maybe, years later, check if it did.
2. A lot of talk of Aliens and UFO’s recently. I’d love for them to exist….but this Michael Shermer (he runs the Skeptic magazine) podcast is a great discussion on how to think about the evidence around UFO’s and the history of the narrative around Aliens. Highly recommended.
3. All of us face challenges, rough patches and struggles in life. During these times we are often our own worst enemy, experiencing unwelcome emotions, thinking and behaviours.
The one thing that has stood out to Professor Steve Peters in his years of supporting people as a Consultant Psychiatrist is that no matter what you may be facing in life, if you have the skills to be in a good place emotionally then you can cope, thrive and present the real you to the world.
You might have heard of his prior best seller, the Chimp Paradox or that he helped multiple UK Olympians win Gold. I read Chimp Paradox 5 years ago and it helped tame the chimp in my head.
I also got both of my daughters his children’s book: My Hidden Chimp. They have enjoyed it. It’s a simple workbook for them to understand their own chimp.
I just finished reading his new one: A Path Through the Jungle: A Psychological Health and Wellbeing Programme to Develop Robustness and Resilience.
Highly recommend it, and you can get a feel for his work in this interview with Steve Bartlett.
4. There is so much BS out there about the Climate and Carbon. I’ve decided to educate myself and have committed to reading a book a month related to the environment and climate.
I am not here to convince you, but will simply share what I’m doing on my journey.
It is a hopeful and beautiful collaboration between hundreds of writers, researchers, thinkers, and illustrators.
The book is broken into the following stand-alone sections, making it an easy read, and one to dip back in and out of:
Climate Change for Rookies
Here’s What’s True
Whose Job Is it?
Leading the Way
They also turned the book into a LinkedIn course titled: 34 Things to Know about Carbon and Climate if you prefer short videos.
A good Attenborough documentary to start with:
5. When I was a kid I read a lot of Sci-Fi, then I lost interest. This Apple TV series based Isaac Asimov’s books is beautiful and has re-kindled my interest in Sci-Fi.
It is beautiful and mind expanding.
B. Power and Progress
This is a timely book.
The big idea in Daron Acemoglu’s and Simon Johnson’s book Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle over Technology and Prosperity is technology is not destiny, but a choice. The authors argue that technological advances do not automatically lead to broad-based prosperity, but rather depend on the power structures and institutions of society.
They also propose a new framework for understanding how different types of technologies have different impacts on economic and social outcomes, and how we can reshape the path of innovation for the common good.
Daron Acemoglu is a Turkish-born American economist who has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1993. He is perhaps best known for his 2012 book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty.
According to Power and Progress book, automation and our current approach to technology are wrong because:
It is not leading to shared prosperity, but instead it is driven by a narrow elite that benefits from replacing workers with machines and concentrating power and wealth in their own hands.
Technology as applied presently creates negative social and economic consequences, such as mass unemployment, inequality, polarisation, misinformation, and surveillance.
Technology can set up self-reinforcing dynamics in which those who benefit economically can gain political influence and power at the expense of wider democratic participation.
The book calls for human centric “machine usefulness,” rather than “so-so automation”.
Acemoglu, who has published many papers on automation and robots, calls our many of our replacement technologies “so-so technologies”, for example:
A supermarket self-checkout machine does not add meaningful economic productivity; it just transfers work to customers and wealth to shareholders. Or, among more sophisticated AI tools, for instance, a customer service line using AI that doesn’t address a given problem can frustrate people, leading them to vent once they do reach a human and making the whole process less efficient.
We can reshape the path of innovation.
According to Daron and Simon, we have a choice and a responsibility to shape the path of technology for the common good, especially in the age of relentless automation and artificial intelligence.
Reducing payroll taxes and increasing income taxes on the wealthy to create more incentives for hiring workers and less incentives for replacing them with AI.
Redirecting digital research from narrow AI that automates tasks to broad AI that augments human capabilities and creativity.
Empowering workers and citizens to have more voice and influence over the direction and distribution of technological change, through unions, cooperatives, social movements, and democratic institutions.
Daron and Simon wrote this NYT article a few days ago titled: Big Tech Is Bad. Big A.I. Will Be Worse that summarises the main ideas in the book.
Noah Smith wrote a piece titled Why trying to "shape" AI innovation to protect workers is a bad idea, refuting Daron and Simon’s ideas.
You can watch Daron discuss his ideas at the London Business School and answer questions from the audience:
Thank you Professor Andrew Scott for introducing me to Daron’s work.
C. The Technology Section:
1. Last weekend, I geeked out with my 12 year old on concrete ways for her to use ChatGPT to learn better, faster and have fun. One thing I fundamentally believe is that for them to succeed, they will need to be very comfortable using these tools.
So far we found three fun things:
Create a text based game with this prompt: "I want you to act as a text based character game with Harry Potter as main character. It should be fun, ask me questions about what the character should do next, and help me learn new things too. I am 12 years old."
Summarise and explain any complex topic to a child with this prompt: "Topic: Photosynthesis. Summarise and explain this to a 12 year old."
Create a set of multiple choice questions for a child to test their understanding of a subject with this prompt: "Create a set of multiple choice questions about the history of Anglo-Saxons for UK age 12."
We got the ideas from this great video:
If you prefer to read, then check out this Ethan Mollick (Prof of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Wharton) piece titled: Assigning AI: Seven Ways of Using AI in Class.
2. Jefferies analyst Brent Thill had a good short piece titled: AI Impact on Our Coverage - Top 15 Predictions for the Next Decade.
Here are my top 5:
The end of coding as we know it. Remember coding in machine language? Most people don’t. It might be the same with C++ or even Python in 10 years. Generative AI will let anyone “code” in by just voiced a desired application.
10 billion AI models in 10 years. There will be an AI model for every human, small business, and other organisation - personalised with their unique data.
Data hyperinflation as everyone competes to acquire the best data. Data is the prized ingredient that differentiates AI models. Everyone will fight to safeguard, acquire, and monetise their proprietary data.
Search to be enhanced by Gen AI, not replaced. We believe search will leverage Gen AI to tailor and summarise search results creating a more personalised efficient search experience.
Say goodbye to advertising agencies, and hello to Gen AI infused tools. 20/30% of marketing spend is captured by agencies & creatives with only 70/80% of spend actually going towards actual paid media. We expect large ad platforms will continue to automate the advertising process infusing Gen AI into ad tools, decreasing the role of agencies and creatives, which will in turn lead to increased ad spend.
3. One more cool tool to try out is PI - Your own personal assistant from Inflection AI. Try it out on Whats App. It’s cool.
D. News and Charts That Made Me Think:
1. A new global report from the Reuters Institute at Oxford University found that people have become less interested in following the news in recent years. About a third of people worldwide actively avoid the news.
2. Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour has grossed $887 million over the 309 shows played through the end of May, and with 18 scheduled dates left before its conclusion in Stockholm in early July, will probably add on ~$40 million which will likely make him the first tour ever to gross over $900 million. His career gross is now at $1.928 billion since Boxscore started tracking in the 1980s, and he’ll likely cap out just south of $2 billion on the road.
3. A final Beatles song will be brought to life by AI. Paul McCartney said that he used the technology to pull John Lennon's voice from an old demo and create the song that had been unfinished for decades.
Believe it or not, that “♡ Like” button is a big deal – it serves as a proxy to new visitors of this publication’s value. If you enjoyed this, don’t be shy.