About a year back, Mark Cuban remarked that people without AI skills “are going to be a dinosaur within three years.” Mark is not alone in believing that AI takeover is imminent. I have heard similar opinions from people around me just as often. Some are even frantically picking up MOOC courses on Machine Learning lest they become unemployable. Is Mark’s statement the inevitable truth, or just a meaningless hyperbole?
If you follow the news, the proposition that world is getting better would sound almost laughable. How could that even be? There are cases of horrific violence every day; climate change, already a terrifying problem, is getting aggravated by a rising middle-class; and, abject poverty is still widespread. The good news is our pessimism is unfounded. In nearly every metric of human betterment, we have made a remarkable progress over the last decades.
In the mid-1980s Daniel Chambliss, a sociology professor from Hamilton College, endeavored to demystify excellence, defined by him as ”consistent superiority of performance.” His quest lead him to study “competitive swimming” as it offered unambiguous measures of performance (races won, fastest swim). Obviously, it’d be a lot harder to rank pianists, actors, and writers. Over the next six years, he tracked, interviewed, and analyzed around one hundred and twenty swimmers of various levels of ability.
Sometimes an insignificant interaction, or an excerpt from a book, is capable of provoking a life-changing insight. It might be an obvious lesson, but it feels epiphanic because it fits differently into my understanding of things. For instance, both these articles shaped my ideas around the importance of work not just as necessary evil, but as a tool for a fulfilling life. A few years ago, I came across one such interaction on Math.
Before Tom Wolfe wrote his masterworks, he was an ordinary writer who got plagued with writer’s block now and then. On an Esquire magazine assignment on California’s custom cars, he was convinced—and later admitted to his editor—that he wouldn’t be able to get the story done by himself. Byron Dobell, his editor, who desperately needed something, asked him to just write up his notes in a letter to him. Wolfe just did that.
A few days back, Bitcoin crossed the $15,000 mark. In just two months it has more than tripled its price, proving that sceptics were naive all the way long. There has also been a decided shift in the perception of Bitcoin: from a revolutionising currency to a store of value. People might still be optimistic about its practical utility, but it’s difficult to treat a currency with such wild movements as…well…a currency.
Microsoft’s meteoric rise can be traced back to a meeting where Bill Gates sold a vapourware operating system to IBM. If that hadn’t happened, Microsoft could’ve likely been a small company selling programming languages. Bill Gates admits that he was lucky and insists that dropping out of college education isn’t a smart idea. In another universe, Bill Gates could’ve been a CEO of a medium-size company—talented, smart but not a hugely successful one.
Each year, I manage to finish around 17-20 books; not a lot by any measure, but it’s enough to stumble upon a few fascinating gems that give a refreshing perspective about something. This year, the book that did it was “The Grid” by Gretchen Bakke and that “something” happened to be the Electric Grid. It is a subject that can mistakenly assumed to be awfully mundane, but as you learn more, you begin the appreciate the complexity of making sure that the AC works when you switch it on.
A week ago, when I was commuting back to home, I had a brilliant idea for an essay. I thought of an introductory narration and as I can recall, it sounded good. I didn’t write anything that day but attempted to in the next. Unsurprisingly, the clarity had vanished. I couldn’t even finish a few lines—and even they weren’t delightful to read.
Why was something that was effortless a day before became a laborious struggle?
It wasn’t obvious why that happened. I attributed it to the unaccounted difficulty in ideating vs. trying to do it. But, a few days back I found the actual reason. I was blocked because I was overanalyzing everything. Here’s how I wrote:
I would write a sentence, rethink it, and write it in another way. Then, I would read it aloud to make sure it sounds good; if unsatisfied, I would repeat the whole process. I would, then, reiterate it for the paragraph. When the rewording, rethinking, and reading got exhausting, I would give up because a simple paragraph took ten minutes to construct.
Young people, indirectly or otherwise, are sold on the idea of “following your passion”; that you can’t go wrong pursuing your interests. A person should become a musician if he likes practising music; a writer, if he likes writing.
It might be an India-specific thing but high school graduates are prone to think that modern society wrecked their only chance of pursuing their dream when they weren’t allowed to take a college course in that direction, in their “field of interest”. Safe careers are believed to be the antithesis of a purposeful life that their “passion” could’ve given them. I believe the popularity of the sentiment was heightened when “3 Idiots”, a Bollywood movie, portrayed in a fairy-tale way, that everyone should do what they’re made to do. It’s easy to see the movie and shout: “Yep! That’s me.”