I am recapitulating once again. Two things are going on in my mind: science strictly spoken and a technological project. As for science, I am digging around the hypothesis that we, humans, purposefully create institutions for experimenting with new technologies and that the essential purpose of those institutions is to maximize the absorption of energy from environment. I am obstinately turning around the possible use of artificial intelligence as tools for simulating collective intelligence in human societies. As for technology, I am working on my concept of « Energy Ponds ». See my update entitled « The mind-blowing hydro » for relatively the freshest developments on that point. So far, I came to the conclusion that figuring out a viable financial scheme, which would allow local communities to own local projects and adapt them flexibly to local conditions is just as important as working out the technological side. Oh, yes, and there is teaching, the third thing to occupy my mind. The new academic year starts on October 1st and I am already thinking about the stuff I will be teaching.
I think it is good to be honest about myself, and so I am trying to be: I have a limited capacity of multi-tasking. Even if I do a few different things in the same time, I need those things to be kind of convergent and similar. This is one of those moments when a written recapitulation of what I do serves me to put some order in what I intend to do. Actually, why not using one of the methods I teach my students, in management classes? I mean, why not using some scholarly techniques of planning and goal setting?
Good, so I start. What do I want? I want a monography on the application of artificial intelligence to study collective intelligence, with an edge towards practical use in management. I call it ‘Monography AI in CI – Management’. I want the manuscript to be ready by the end of October 2019. I want a monography on a broader topic of technological change being part of human evolution, with the hypothesis mentioned in the preceding paragraph. This monography, I give it a working title: ‘Monography Technological Change and Human Evolution’. I have no clear deadline for the manuscript. I want 2 – 3 articles on renewable energies and their application. Same deadline as that first monography: end of October 2019. I want to promote and develop my idea of “Energy Ponds” and that of local financial schemes for such type of project. I want to present this idea in at least one article, and in at least one public speech. I want to prepare syllabuses for teaching, centred, precisely, on the concept of collective intelligence, i.e. of social structures and institutions made for experimentation and learning. Practically in each of the curriculums I teach I want to go into the topic of collective learning.
How will I know I have what I want? This is a control question, forcing me to give precise form to my goals. As for monographies and articles it is all about preparing manuscripts on time. A monography should be at least 400 pages each, whilst articles should be some 30 pages-long each, in the manuscript form. That makes 460 – 490 pages to write (meaningfully, of course!) until the end of October, and at least 400 other pages to write subsequently. Of course, it is not just about hatching manuscripts: I need to have a publisher. As for teaching, I can assume that I am somehow prepared to deliver a given line of logic when I have a syllabus nailed down nicely. Thus, I need to rewrite my syllabuses not later than by September 25th. I can evaluate progress in the promotion of my “Energy Ponds” concept as I will have feedback from any people whom I informed or will have informed about it.
Right, the above is what I want technically and precisely, like in a nice schedule of work. Now, what I like really want? I am 51, with good health and common sense I have some 24 – 25 productive years ahead. This is roughly the time that passed since my son’s birth. The boy is not a boy anymore, he is walking his own path, and what looms ahead of me is like my last big journey in life. What do I want to do with those years? I want to feel useful, very certainly. Yes, I think this is one clear thing about what I want: I want to feel useful. How will I know I am useful? Weeell, that’s harder to tell. As I am patiently following the train of my thoughts, I think that I feel useful today, when I can see that people around need me. On the top of that, I want to be financially important and independent. Wealthy? Yes, but not for comfort as such. Right now, I am employed, and my salary is my main source of income. I perceive myself as dependent on my employer. I want to change it so as to have substantial income (i.e. income greater than my current spending and thus allowing accumulation) from sources other than a salary. Logically, I need capital to generate that stream of non-wage income. I have some – an apartment for rent – but as I look at it critically, I would need at least 7 times more in order to have the rent-based income I want.
Looks like my initial, spontaneous thought of being useful means, after having scratched the surface, being sufficiently high in the social hierarchy to be financially independent, and able to influence other people. Anyway, as I am having a look at my short-term goals, I ask myself how do they bridge into my long-term goals? The answer is: they don’t really connect, my short-term goals and the long-term ones. There is a lot of missing pieces. I mean, how does the fact of writing a scientific monography translate into multiplying by seven my current equity invested in income-generating assets?
Now, I want to think a bit deeper about what I do now, and I want to discover two types of behavioural patterns. Firstly, there is probably something in what I do, which manifests some kind of underlying, long-term ambitions or cravings in my personality. Exploring what I do might be informative as for what I want to achieve in that last big lap of my life. Secondly, in my current activities, I probably have some behavioural patterns, which, when exploited properly, can help me in achieving my long-term goals.
What do I like doing? I like writing and reading about science. I like speaking in public, whether it is a classroom or a conference. Yes, it might be a sign of narcissism, still it can be used to a good purpose. I like travelling in moderate doses. Looks like I am made for being a science writer and a science speaker. It looks some sort of intermediate goal, bridging from my short-term, scheduled achievements into the long-term, unscheduled ones. I do write regularly, especially on my blog. I speak regularly in classrooms, as my basic job is that of an academic teacher. What I do haphazardly, and what could bring me closer to achieving my long-term goals, would be to speak in other public contexts more frequently and sort of regularly, and, of course, make money on it. By the way, as science writing and science speaking is concerned, I have a crazy idea: scientific stand up. I am deeply fascinated with the art of some stand up comedians: Bill Burr, Gabriel Iglesias, Joe Rogan, Kevin Hart or Dave Chapelle. Getting across deep, philosophical content about human condition in the form of jokes, and make people laugh when thinking about those things, is an art I admire, and I would like to translate it somehow into the world of science. The problem is that I don’t know how. I have never done any acting in my life, never have written nor participated in writing any jokes for stand-up comedy. As skillsets come, this is a complete terra incognita to me.
Now, I jump to the timeline. I assume having those 24 years or so ahead of me. What then, I mean when I hopefully reach 75 years of age. Now, I can shock some of my readers, but provisionally I label that moment in 24 years from now as “the decision whether I should die”. Those last years, I have been asking myself how I would like to die. The question might seem stupid: nobody likes dying. Still, I have been asking myself this question. I am going into deep existential ranting, but I think what I think: when I compare my life with some accounts in historical books, there is one striking difference. When I read letters and memoirs of people from the 17th or 18th century, even from the beginnings of the 20th century, those ancestors of ours tended to ask themselves how worthy their life should be and how worthy their death should come. We tend to ask, most of all, how long will we live. When I think about it, that old attitude makes more sense. In the perspective of decades, planning for maxing out on existential value is much more rational than trying to max out on life expectancy as such. I guess we can have much more control over the values we pursue than the duration of our life. I know that what I am going to say might sound horribly pretentious, but I think I would like to die like a Viking. I mean, not necessarily trying to kill somebody, just dying by choice, whilst still having the strength to do something important, and doing those important things. What I am really afraid of is slow death by instalments, when my flame dies out progressively, leaving me just weaker and weaker every month, whilst burdening other people with taking care of me.
I fix that provisional checkpoint at the age of 75, 24 years from now. An important note before I go further: I have not decided I will die at the age of 75. I suppose that would be as presumptuous as assuming to live forever. I just give myself a rationally grounded span of 24 years to live with enough energy to achieve something worthy. If I have more, I will just have more. Anyway, how much can I do in 24 years? In order to plan for that, I need to recapitulate how much have I been able to do so far, like during an average year. A nicely productive year means 2 – 3 acceptable articles, accompanied by 2 – 3 equally acceptable conference presentations. On the top of that, a monography is conceivable in one year. As for teaching, I can realistically do 600 – 700 hours of public speech in one year. With that, I think I can nail down some 20 valuable meetings in business and science. In 24 years, I can write 24*550 = 13 200 pages, I can deliver 15 600 hours of public speech, and I can negotiate something in 480 meetings or so.
Now, as I talk about value, I can see there is something more far reaching than what I have just named as my long-term goals. There are values which I want to pursue. I mean, saying that I want to die like a Viking, and, in the same time, stating my long-term goals in life in terms of income and capital base: that sound ridiculous. I know, I know, dying like a Viking, in the times of Vikings, meant very largely to pillage until the last breath. Still, I need values. I think the shortcut to my values is via my dreams. What are they, my dreams? Now, I make a sharp difference between dreams and fantasies. A fantasy is: a) essentially unrealistic, such as riding a flying unicorn b) involving just a small, relatively childish part of my personality. On the other hand, a dream – such as contributing to making my home country, Poland, go 100% off fossil fuels – is something that might look impossible to achieve, yet its achievement is a logical extension of my present existence.
What are they, my dreams? Well, I have just named one, i.e. playing a role in changing the energy base of my country. What else do I value? Family, certainly. I want my son to have a good life. I want to feel useful to other people (that was already in my long-term goals, and so I am moving it to the category of dreams and values). Another thing comes to my mind: I want to tell the story of my parents. Apparently banal – lots of people do it or at least attempt to – and yet nagging as hell. My father died in February, and around the time of the funeral, as I was talking to family and friends, I discovered things about my dad which I had not the faintest idea of. I started going through old photographs and old letters in a personal album I didn’t even know he still had. Me and my father, we were not very close. There was a lot of bad blood between us. Still, it was my call to take care of him during the last 17 years of his life, and it was my call to care for what we call in Poland ‘his last walk’, namely that from the funeral chapel to the tomb properly spoken. I suddenly had a flash glimpse of the personal history, the rich, textured biography I had in front of my eyes, visible through old images and old words, all that in the background of the vanishing spark of life I could see in my father’s eyes during his last days.
How will I know those dreams and values are fulfilled in my life? I can measure progress in my work on and around projects connected to new sources of energy. I can measure it by observing the outcomes. When things I work on get done, this is sort of tangible. As for being useful to other people, I go once again down the same avenue: to me, being useful means having an unequivocally positive impact on other people. Impact is important, and thus, in order to have that impact, I need some kind of leadership position. Looking at my personal life and at my dream to see my son having a good life, it comes as the hardest thing to gauge. This seems to be the (apparently) irreducible uncertainty in my perfect plan. Telling my parents’ story: how will I prove to myself I will have told it? A published book? Maybe…
I sum it up, at least partially. I can reasonably expect to deliver a certain amount of work over the 24 years to come: approximately 13 200 pages of written content, 15 600 hours of public speech, and 450 – 500 meetings, until my next big checkpoint in life, at the age of 75. I would like to focus that work on building a position of leadership, in view of bringing some change to my own country, Poland, mostly in the field of energy. As the first stage is to build a good reputation of science communicator, the leadership in question is likely to be rather a soft one. In that plan, two things remain highly uncertain. Firstly, how should I behave in order to be as good a human being as I possibly can? Secondly, what is the real importance of that telling-my-parents’-story thing in the whole plan? How important is it for my understanding of how to live well those 24 years to come? What fraction of those 13 200 written pages (or so), should refer to that story?
Now, I move towards collective intelligence, and to possible applications of artificial intelligence to study the collective one. Yes, I am a scientist, and yes, I can use myself as an experimental unit. I can extrapolate my personal experience as the incidence of something in a larger population. The exact path of that incidence can shape the future actions and structures of that population. Good, so now, there is someone – anyone, in fact – who comes and tells to my face: ‘Look, man, you’re bullshitting yourself and people around you! Your plans look stupid, and if attitudes like yours spread, our civilisation will fall into pieces!’. Fair enough, that could be a valid point. Let’s check. According to the data published by the Central Statistical Office of the Republic of Poland, in 2019, there are n = 453 390 people in Poland aged 51, like me, 230 370 of them being men, and 232 020 women. I assume that attitudes such as my own, expressed in the preceding paragraphs, are one type among many occurring in that population of 51-year-old Polish people. People have different views on life and other things, so to say.
Now, I hypothesise in two opposite directions. In Hypothesis A, I state that just some among those different attitudes make any sense, and there is a hypothetical distribution of those attitudes in the general population, which yields the best social outcomes whilst eliminating early all nonsense attitudes from the social landscape. In other words, some worldviews are so dysfunctional that they’d better disappear quickly and be supplanted by those more sensible ones. Going even deeper, it means that quantitative distributions of attitudes in the general population fall into two classes: those completely haphazard, existential accidents without much grounds for staying in existence, on the one hand, and those sensible and functional ones, which can be sustained with benefit to all, on the other hand. In hypothesis ~A, i.e. the opposite to A, I speculate that observed diversity in attitudes is a phenomenon in itself and does not really reduce to any hypothetically better one. It is the old argument in favour of diversity. Old as it is, it has old mathematical foundations, and, interestingly, is one of cornerstones in what we call today Artificial Intelligence.
In Vapnik, Chervonenkis 1971 , a paper reputed to be kind of seminal for the today’s AI, I found reference to the classical Bernoulli’s theorem, known also as the weak law of large numbers: the relative frequency of an event A in a sequence of independent trials converges (in probability) to the probability of that event. Please, note that roughly the same can be found in the so-called Borel’s law of large numbers, named after Émile Borel. It is deep maths: each phenomenon bears a given probability of happening, and this probability is sort of sewn into the fabric of reality. The empirically observable frequency of occurrence is always an approximation of this quasi-metaphysical probability. That goes a bit against the way probability is being taught at school: it is usually about that coin – or dice – being tossed many times etc. It implies that probability exists at all only as long as there are things actually happening. No happening, no probability. Still, if you think about it, there is a reason why those empirically observable frequencies tend to be recurrent, and the reason is precisely that underlying capacity of the given phenomenon to take place.
Basic neural networks, the perceptron-type ones, experiment with weights being attributed to input variables, in order to find a combination of weights which allows the perceptron getting the closest possible to a target value. You can find descriptions of that procedure in « Thinking Poisson, or ‘WTF are the other folks doing?’ », for example. Now, we can shift a little bit our perspective and assume that what we call ‘weights’ of input variables are probabilities that a phenomenon, denoted by the given variable, happens at all. A vector of weights attributed to input variables is a collection of probabilities. Walking down this avenue of thinking leads me precisely to the Hypothesis ~A, presented a few paragraphs ago. Attitudes congruous with that very personal confession of mine, developed even more paragraphs ago, have an inherent probability of happening, and the more we experiment, the closer we can get to that probability. If someone tells to my face that I’m an idiot, I can reply that: a) any worldview has an idiotic side, no worries b) my particular idiocy is representative of a class of idiocies, which, in turn, the civilisation needs to figure out something clever for the next few centuries.
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 Vapnik, V. N. (1971). CHERVONENKIS, On the uniform convergence ofrelativefrequencies. Theory of Probability and Its Applications, 16, 264-280.