More on Personal Growth
1 month ago
The nine novels that have fundamentally altered the way I view the world
I read 53 novels last year and hope to do so again.
Books are best if you love learning. You get a range of perspectives, unlike podcasts and YouTube channels where you get the same ones.
Book quality varies. I've read useless books. Most books teach me something.
These 9 novels have changed my outlook in recent years. They've made me rethink what I believed or introduced me to a fresh perspective that changed my worldview.
You can order these books yourself. Or, read my summaries to learn what I've synthesized.
Fooled By Randomness
Nassim Taleb worked as a Wall Street analyst. He used options trading to bet on unlikely events like stock market crashes.
Using financial models, investors predict stock prices. The models assume constant, predictable company growth.
These models base their assumptions on historical data, so they assume the future will be like the past.
Fooled By Randomness argues that the future won't be like the past. We often see impossible market crashes like 2008's housing market collapse. The world changes too quickly to use historical data: by the time we understand how it works, it's changed.
Most people don't live to see history unfold. We think our childhood world will last forever. That goes double for stable societies like the U.S., which hasn't seen major turbulence in anyone's lifetime.
Fooled By Randomness taught me to expect the unexpected. The world is deceptive and rarely works as we expect. You can't always trust your past successes or what you've learned.
More Taleb. Some things, like the restaurant industry and the human body, improve under conditions of volatility and turbulence.
We didn't have a word for this counterintuitive concept until Taleb wrote Antifragile. The human body (which responds to some stressors, like exercise, by getting stronger) and the restaurant industry both benefit long-term from disorder (when economic turbulence happens, bad restaurants go out of business, improving the industry as a whole).
Many human systems are designed to minimize short-term variance because humans don't understand it. By eliminating short-term variation, we increase the likelihood of a major disaster.
Once, we put out every forest fire we found. Then, dead wood piled up in forests, causing catastrophic fires.
We don't like price changes, so politicians prop up markets with stimulus packages and printing money. This leads to a bigger crash later. Two years ago, we printed a ton of money for stimulus checks, and now we have double-digit inflation.
Antifragile taught me how important Plan B is. A system with one or two major weaknesses will fail. Make large systems redundant, foolproof, and change-responsive.
Reality is broken
We dread work. Work is tedious. Right?
Wrong. Work gives many people purpose. People are happiest when working. (That's why some are workaholics.)
Factory work saps your soul, office work is boring, and working for a large company you don't believe in and that operates unethically isn't satisfying.
Jane McGonigal says in Reality Is Broken that meaningful work makes us happy. People love games because they simulate good work. McGonigal says work should be more fun.
Some think they'd be happy on a private island sipping cocktails all day. That's not true. Without anything to do, most people would be bored. Unemployed people are miserable. Many retirees die within 2 years, much more than expected.
Instead of complaining, find meaningful work. If you don't like your job, it's because you're in the wrong environment. Find the right setting.
The Lean Startup
Before the airplane was invented, Harvard scientists researched flying machines. Who knew two North Carolina weirdos would beat them?
The Wright Brothers' plane design was key. Harvard researchers were mostly theoretical, designing an airplane on paper and trying to make it fly in theory. They'd build it, test it, and it wouldn't fly.
The Wright Brothers were different. They'd build a cheap plane, test it, and it'd crash. Then they'd learn from their mistakes, build another plane, and it'd crash.
They repeated this until they fixed all the problems and one of their planes stayed aloft.
Mistakes are considered bad. On the African savannah, one mistake meant death. Even today, if you make a costly mistake at work, you'll be fired as a scapegoat. Most people avoid failing.
In reality, making mistakes is the best way to learn.
Eric Reis offers an unintuitive recipe in The Lean Startup: come up with a hypothesis, test it, and fail. Then, try again with a new hypothesis. Keep trying, learning from each failure.
This is a great startup strategy. Startups are new businesses. Startups face uncertainty. Run lots of low-cost experiments to fail, learn, and succeed.
Don't fear failing. Low-cost failure is good because you learn more from it than you lose. As long as your worst-case scenario is acceptable, risk-taking is good.
The Sovereign Individual
Today, nation-states rule the world. The UN recognizes 195 countries, and they claim almost all land outside of Antarctica.
We agree. For the past 2,000 years, much of the world's territory was ungoverned.
Why today? Because technology has created incentives for nation-states for most of the past 500 years. The logic of violence favors nation-states, according to James Dale Davidson, author of the Sovereign Individual. Governments have a lot to gain by conquering as much territory as possible, so they do.
Not always. During the Dark Ages, Europe was fragmented and had few central governments. Partly because of armor. With armor, a sword, and a horse, you couldn't be stopped. Large states were hard to form because they rely on the threat of violence.
When gunpowder became popular in Europe, violence changed. In a world with guns, assembling large armies and conquest are cheaper.
James Dale Davidson says the internet will make nation-states obsolete. Most of the world's wealth will be online and in people's heads, making capital mobile.
Nation-states rely on predatory taxation of the rich to fund large militaries and welfare programs.
When capital is mobile, people can live anywhere in the world, Davidson says, making predatory taxation impossible. They're not bound by their job, land, or factory location. Wherever they're treated best.
Davidson says that over the next century, nation-states will collapse because they won't have enough money to operate as they do now. He imagines a world of small city-states, like Italy before 1900. (or Singapore today).
We've already seen some movement toward a more Sovereign Individual-like world. The pandemic proved large-scale remote work is possible, freeing workers from their location. Many cities and countries offer remote workers incentives to relocate.
Many Western businesspeople live in tax havens, and more people are renouncing their US citizenship due to high taxes. Increasing globalization has led to poor economic conditions and resentment among average people in the West, which is why politicians like Trump and Sanders rose to popularity with angry rhetoric, even though Obama rose to popularity with a more hopeful message.
The Sovereign Individual convinced me that the future will be different than Nassim Taleb's. Large countries like the U.S. will likely lose influence in the coming decades, while Portugal, Singapore, and Turkey will rise. If the trend toward less freedom continues, people may flee the West en masse.
So a traditional life of college, a big firm job, hard work, and corporate advancement may not be wise. Young people should learn as much as possible and develop flexible skills to adapt to the future.
Sapiens is a history of humanity, from proto-humans in Ethiopia to our internet society today, with some future speculation.
Sapiens views humans (and Homo sapiens) as a unique species on Earth. We were animals 100,000 years ago. We're slowly becoming gods, able to affect the climate, travel to every corner of the Earth (and the Moon), build weapons that can kill us all, and wipe out thousands of species.
Sapiens examines what makes Homo sapiens unique. Humans can believe in myths like religion, money, and human-made entities like countries and LLCs.
These myths facilitate large-scale cooperation. Ants from the same colony can cooperate. Any two humans can trade, though. Even if they're not genetically related, large groups can bond over religion and nationality.
Combine that with intelligence, and you have a species capable of amazing feats.
Sapiens may make your head explode because it looks at the world without presupposing values, unlike most books. It questions things that aren't usually questioned and says provocative things.
It also shows how human history works. It may help you understand and predict the world. Maybe.
The 4-hour Workweek
Things can be done better.
Tradition, laziness, bad bosses, or incentive structures cause complacency. If you're willing to make changes and not settle for the status quo, you can do whatever you do better and achieve more in less time.
The Four-Hour Work Week advocates this. Tim Ferriss explains how he made more sales in 2 hours than his 8-hour-a-day colleagues.
By firing 2 of his most annoying customers and empowering his customer service reps to make more decisions, he was able to leave his business and travel to Europe.
Ferriss shows how to escape your 9-to-5, outsource your life, develop a business that feeds you with little time, and go on mini-retirement adventures abroad.
Don't accept the status quo. Instead, level up. Find a way to improve your results. And try new things.
Why Nations Fail
Nogales, Arizona and Mexico were once one town. The US/Mexico border was arbitrarily drawn.
Both towns have similar cultures and populations. Nogales, Arizona is well-developed and has a high standard of living. Nogales, Mexico is underdeveloped and has a low standard of living. Whoa!
Why Nations Fail explains how government-created institutions affect country development. Strong property rights, capitalism, and non-corrupt governments promote development. Countries without capitalism, strong property rights, or corrupt governments don't develop.
Successful countries must also embrace creative destruction. They must offer ordinary citizens a way to improve their lot by creating value for others, not reducing them to slaves, serfs, or peasants. Authors say that ordinary people could get rich on trading expeditions in 11th-century Venice.
East and West Germany and North and South Korea have different economies because their citizens are motivated differently. It explains why Chile, China, and Singapore grow so quickly after becoming market economies.
People have spent a lot of money on third-world poverty. According to Why Nations Fail, education and infrastructure aren't the answer. Developing nations must adopt free-market economic policies.
Elon Musk is the world's richest man, but that’s not a good way to describe him. Elon Musk is the world's richest man, which is like calling Steve Jobs a turtleneck-wearer or Benjamin Franklin a printer.
Elon Musk does cool sci-fi stuff to help humanity avoid existential threats.
Oil will run out. We've delayed this by developing better extraction methods. We only have so much nonrenewable oil.
Our society is doomed if it depends on oil. Elon Musk invested heavily in Tesla and SolarCity to speed the shift to renewable energy.
Musk worries about AI: we'll build machines smarter than us. We won't be able to stop these machines if something goes wrong, just like cows can't fight humans. Neuralink: we need to be smarter to compete with AI when the time comes.
If Earth becomes uninhabitable, we need a backup plan. Asteroid or nuclear war could strike Earth at any moment. We may not have much time to react if it happens in a few days. We must build a new civilization while times are good and resources are plentiful.
Short-term problems dominate our politics, but long-term issues are more important. Long-term problems can cause mass casualties and homelessness. Musk demonstrates how to think long-term.
The main reason people are impressed by Elon Musk, and why Ashlee Vances' biography influenced me so much, is that he does impossible things.
Electric cars were once considered unprofitable, but Tesla has made them mainstream. SpaceX is the world's largest private space company.
People lack imagination and dismiss ununderstood ideas as impossible. Humanity is about pushing limits. Don't worry if your dreams seem impossible. Try it.
Thanks for reading.
4 days ago
Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a Giant Steaming Pile of Sh*t by Robert Kiyosaki.
Don't promote it.
I rarely read a post on how Rich Dad, Poor Dad motivated someone to grow rich or change their investing/finance attitude. Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a sham, though. This book isn't worth anyone's attention.
Robert Kiyosaki, the author of this garbage, doesn't deserve recognition or attention. This first finance guru wanted to build his own wealth at your expense. These charlatans only care about themselves.
The reason why Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a huge steaming piece of trash
The book's ideas are superficial, apparent, and unsurprising to entrepreneurs and investors. The book's themes may seem profound to first-time readers.
Apparently, starting a business will make you rich.
The book supports founding or buying a business, making it self-sufficient, and being rich through it. Starting a business is time-consuming, tough, and expensive. Entrepreneurship isn't for everyone. Rarely do enterprises succeed.
Robert says we should think like his mentor, a rich parent. Robert never said who or if this guy existed. He was apparently his own father. Robert proposes investing someone else's money in several enterprises and properties. The book proposes investing in:
“have returns of 100 percent to infinity. Investments that for $5,000 are soon turned into $1 million or more.”
In rare cases, a business may provide 200x returns, but 65% of US businesses fail within 10 years. Australia's first-year business failure rate is 60%. A business that lasts 10 years doesn't mean its owner is rich. These statistics only include businesses that survive and pay their owners.
Employees are depressed and broke.
The novel portrays employees as broke and sad. The author degrades workers.
I've owned and worked for a business. I was broke and miserable as a business owner, working 80 hours a week for absolutely little salary. I work 50 hours a week and make over $200,000 a year. My work is hard, intriguing, and I'm surrounded by educated individuals. Self-employed or employee?
Don't listen to a charlatan's tax advice.
From a bad advise perspective, Robert's tax methods were funny. Robert suggests forming a corporation to write off holidays as board meetings or health club costs as business expenses. These actions can land you in serious tax trouble.
Robert dismisses college and traditional schooling. Rich individuals learn by doing or living, while educated people are agitated and destitute, says Robert.
Rich dad says:
“All too often business schools train employees to become sophisticated bean-counters. Heaven forbid a bean counter takes over a business. All they do is look at the numbers, fire people, and kill the business.”
And then says:
“Accounting is possibly the most confusing, boring subject in the world, but if you want to be rich long-term, it could be the most important subject.”
Get rich by avoiding paying your debts to others.
While this book has plenty of bad advice, I'll end with this: Robert advocates paying yourself first. This man's work with Trump isn't surprising.
Rich Dad's book says:
“So you see, after paying myself, the pressure to pay my taxes and the other creditors is so great that it forces me to seek other forms of income. The pressure to pay becomes my motivation. I’ve worked extra jobs, started other companies, traded in the stock market, anything just to make sure those guys don’t start yelling at me […] If I had paid myself last, I would have felt no pressure, but I’d be broke.“
Paying yourself first shouldn't mean ignoring debt, damaging your credit score and reputation, or paying unneeded fees and interest. Good business owners pay employees, creditors, and other costs first. You can pay yourself after everyone else.
If you follow Robert Kiyosaki's financial and business advice, you might as well follow Donald Trump's, the most notoriously ineffective businessman and swindle artist.
This book's popularity is unfortunate. Robert utilized the book's fame to promote paid seminars. At these seminars, he sold more expensive seminars to the gullible. This strategy was utilized by several conmen and Trump University.
It's reasonable that many believed him. It sounded appealing because he was pushing to get rich by thinking like a rich person. Anyway. At a time when most persons addressing wealth development advised early sacrifices (such as eschewing luxury or buying expensive properties), Robert told people to act affluent now and utilize other people's money to construct their fantasy lifestyle. It's exciting and fast.
I often voice my skepticism and scorn for internet gurus now that social media and platforms like Medium make it easier to promote them. Robert Kiyosaki was a guru. Many people still preach his stuff because he was so good at pushing it.
27 days ago
The Burnout Recovery Secrets Nobody Is Talking About
What works and what’s just more toxic positivity
Just keep at it; you’ll get it.
I closed the Zoom call and immediately dropped my head. Open tabs included material on inspiration, burnout, and recovery.
I searched everywhere for ways to avoid burnout.
It wasn't that I needed to keep going, change my routine, employ 8D audio playlists, or come up with fresh ideas. I had several ideas and a schedule. I knew what to do.
I wasn't interested. I kept reading, changing my self-care and mental health routines, and writing even though it was tiring.
Since burnout became a psychiatric illness in 2019, thousands have shared their experiences. It's spreading rapidly among writers.
What is the actual key to recovering from burnout?
Every A-list burnout story emphasizes prevention. Other lists provide repackaged self-care tips. More discuss mental health.
It's like the mid-2000s, when pink quotes about bubble baths saturated social media.
The self-care mania cost us all. Self-care is crucial, but utilizing it to address everything didn't work then or now.
How can you recover from burnout?
Are extended breaks actually good for you? Most people need a break every 62 days or so to avoid burnout.
Real-life burnout victims all took breaks. Perhaps not a long hiatus, but breaks nonetheless.
Burnout is slow and gradual. It takes little bits of your motivation and passion at a time. Sometimes it’s so slow that you barely notice or blame it on other things like stress and poor sleep.
Burnout doesn't come overnight; neither will recovery.
I don’t care what anyone else says the cure for burnout is. It has to be time because time is what gave us all burnout in the first place.
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23 days ago
7 Scientifically Proven Things You Must Stop Doing To Be More Productive
Smarter work yields better results.
17-year-old me worked and studied 20 hours a day. During school breaks, I did coursework and ran a nonprofit at night. Long hours earned me national campaigns, A-list opportunities, and a great career. As I aged, my thoughts changed. Working harder isn't necessarily the key to success.
In some cases, doing less work might lead to better outcomes.
Consider a hard-working small business owner. He can't beat his corporate rivals by working hard. Time's limited. An entrepreneur can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but a rival can invest more money, create a staff, and put in more man hours. Why have small startups done what larger companies couldn't? Facebook paid $1 billion for 13-person Instagram. Snapchat, a 30-person startup, rejected Facebook and Google bids. Luck and efficiency each contributed to their achievement.
The key to success is not working hard. It’s working smart.
Being busy and productive are different. Busy doesn't always equal productive. Productivity is less about time management and more about energy management. Life's work. It's using less energy to obtain more rewards. I cut my work week from 80 to 40 hours and got more done. I value simplicity.
Here are seven activities I gave up in order to be more productive.
1. Give up working extra hours and boost productivity instead.
When did the five-day, 40-hour work week start? Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company founder, experimented with his workers in 1926.
He decreased their daily hours from 10 to 8, and shortened the work week from 6 days to 5. As a result, he saw his workers’ productivity increase.
According to a 1980 Business Roundtable report, Scheduled Overtime Effect on Construction Projects, the more you work, the less effective and productive you become.
“Where a work schedule of 60 or more hours per week is continued longer than about two months, the cumulative effect of decreased productivity will cause a delay in the completion date beyond that which could have been realized with the same crew size on a 40-hour week.” Source: Calculating Loss of Productivity Due to Overtime Using Published Charts — Fact or Fiction
AlterNet editor Sara Robinson cited US military research showing that losing one hour of sleep per night for a week causes cognitive impairment equivalent to a.10 blood alcohol level. You can get fired for showing up drunk, but an all-nighter is fine.
Irrespective of how well you were able to get on with your day after that most recent night without sleep, it is unlikely that you felt especially upbeat and joyous about the world. Your more-negative-than-usual perspective will have resulted from a generalized low mood, which is a normal consequence of being overtired. More important than just the mood, this mind-set is often accompanied by decreases in willingness to think and act proactively, control impulses, feel positive about yourself, empathize with others, and generally use emotional intelligence. Source: The Secret World of Sleep: The Surprising Science of the Mind at Rest
To be productive, don't overwork and get enough sleep. If you're not productive, lack of sleep may be to blame. James Maas, a sleep researcher and expert, said 7/10 Americans don't get enough sleep.
Did you know?
Leonardo da Vinci slept little at night and frequently took naps.
Napoleon, the French emperor, had no qualms about napping. He splurged every day.
Even though Thomas Edison felt self-conscious about his napping behavior, he regularly engaged in this ritual.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt's wife Eleanor used to take naps before speeches to increase her energy.
The Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry, was known for taking regular naps in his dressing area in between shows.
Every day, President John F. Kennedy took a siesta after eating his lunch in bed.
Every afternoon, oil businessman and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller took a nap in his office.
It was unavoidable for Winston Churchill to take an afternoon snooze. He thought it enabled him to accomplish twice as much each day.
Every afternoon around 3:30, President Lyndon B. Johnson took a nap to divide his day into two segments.
Ronald Reagan, the 40th president, was well known for taking naps as well.
Since I started getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, I've been more productive and completed more work than when I worked 16 hours a day. Who knew marketers could use sleep?
2. Refrain from accepting too frequently
Pareto's principle states that 20% of effort produces 80% of results, but 20% of results takes 80% of effort. Instead of working harder, we should prioritize the initiatives that produce the most outcomes. So we can focus on crucial tasks. Stop accepting unproductive tasks.
“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.” — Warren Buffett
What should you accept? Why say no? Consider doing a split test to determine if anything is worth your attention. Track what you do, how long it takes, and the consequences. Then, evaluate your list to discover what worked (or didn't) to optimize future chores.
Most of us say yes more often than we should, out of guilt, overextension, and because it's simpler than no. Nobody likes being awful.
Researchers separated 120 students into two groups for a 2012 Journal of Consumer Research study. One group was educated to say “I can't” while discussing choices, while the other used “I don't”.
The students who told themselves “I can’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bar 61% of the time. Meanwhile, the students who told themselves “I don’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bars only 36% of the time. This simple change in terminology significantly improved the odds that each person would make a more healthy food choice.
Next time you need to say no, utilize I don't to encourage saying no to unimportant things.
The 20-second rule is another wonderful way to avoid pursuits with little value. Add a 20-second roadblock to things you shouldn't do or bad habits you want to break. Delete social media apps from your phone so it takes you 20 seconds to find your laptop to access them. You'll be less likely to engage in a draining hobby or habit if you add an inconvenience.
Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change. Source: The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
3. Stop doing everything yourself and start letting people help you
I once managed a large community and couldn't do it alone. The community took over once I burned out. Members did better than I could have alone. I learned about community and user-generated content.
Consumers know what they want better than marketers. Octoly says user-generated videos on YouTube are viewed 10 times more than brand-generated videos. 51% of Americans trust user-generated material more than a brand's official website (16%) or media coverage (22%). (14 percent). Marketers should seek help from the brand community.
Being a successful content marketer isn't about generating the best content, but cultivating a wonderful community.
We should seek aid when needed. We can't do everything. It's best to delegate work so you may focus on the most critical things. Instead of overworking or doing things alone, let others help.
Having friends or coworkers around can boost your productivity even if they can't help.
Just having friends nearby can push you toward productivity. “There’s a concept in ADHD treatment called the ‘body double,’ ” says David Nowell, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist from Worcester, Massachusetts. “Distractable people get more done when there is someone else there, even if he isn’t coaching or assisting them.” If you’re facing a task that is dull or difficult, such as cleaning out your closets or pulling together your receipts for tax time, get a friend to be your body double. Source: Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are
4. Give up striving for perfection
Perfectionism hinders professors' research output. Dr. Simon Sherry, a psychology professor at Dalhousie University, did a study on perfectionism and productivity. Dr. Sherry established a link between perfectionism and productivity.
Perfectionism has its drawbacks.
They work on a task longer than necessary.
They delay and wait for the ideal opportunity. If the time is right in business, you are already past the point.
They pay too much attention to the details and miss the big picture.
Marketers await the right time. They miss out.
The perfect moment is NOW.
5. Automate monotonous chores instead of continuing to do them.
A team of five workers who spent 3%, 20%, 25%, 30%, and 70% of their time on repetitive tasks reduced their time spent to 3%, 10%, 15%, 15%, and 10% after two months of working to improve their productivity.
Last week, I wrote a 15-minute Python program. I wanted to generate content utilizing Twitter API data and Hootsuite to bulk schedule it. Automation has cut this task from a day to five minutes. Whenever I do something more than five times, I try to automate it.
Automate monotonous chores without coding. Skills and resources are nice, but not required. If you cannot build it, buy it.
People forget time equals money. Manual work is easy and requires little investigation. You can moderate 30 Instagram photographs for your UGC campaign. You need digital asset management software to manage 30,000 photographs and movies from five platforms. Filemobile helps individuals develop more user-generated content. You may buy software to manage rich media and address most internet difficulties.
Hire an expert if you can't find a solution. Spend money to make money, and time is your most precious asset.
Visit GitHub or Google Apps Script library, marketers. You may often find free, easy-to-use open source code.
6. Stop relying on intuition and start supporting your choices with data.
You may optimize your life by optimizing webpages for search engines.
Numerous studies might help you boost your productivity. Did you know individuals are most distracted from midday to 4 p.m.? This is what a Penn State psychology professor found. Even if you can't find data on a particular question, it's easy to run a split test and review your own results.
7. Stop working and spend some time doing absolutely nothing.
Most people don't know that being too focused can be destructive to our work or achievements. The Boston Globe's The Power of Lonely says solo time is excellent for the brain and spirit.
One ongoing Harvard study indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone. Another indicates that a certain amount of solitude can make a person more capable of empathy towards others. And while no one would dispute that too much isolation early in life can be unhealthy, a certain amount of solitude has been shown to help teenagers improve their moods and earn good grades in school. Source: The Power of Lonely
Reflection is vital. We find solutions when we're not looking.
We don't become more productive overnight. It demands effort and practice. Waiting for change doesn't work. Instead, learn about your body and identify ways to optimize your energy and time for a happy existence.
1 month ago
Reasons Why AI-Generated Images Remind Me of Nightmares
AI images are like funhouse mirrors.
Google's AI Blog introduced the puppy-slug in the summer of 2015.
Puppy-slug isn't a single image or character. "Puppy-slug" refers to Google's DeepDream's unsettling psychedelia. This tool uses convolutional neural networks to train models to recognize dataset entities. If researchers feed the model millions of dog pictures, the network will learn to recognize a dog.
DeepDream used neural networks to analyze and classify image data as well as generate its own images. DeepDream's early examples were created by training a convolutional network on dog images and asking it to add "dog-ness" to other images. The models analyzed images to find dog-like pixels and modified surrounding pixels to highlight them.
Puppy-slugs and other DeepDream images are ugly. Even when they don't trigger my trypophobia, they give me vertigo when my mind tries to reconcile familiar features and forms in unnatural, physically impossible arrangements. I feel like I've been poisoned by a forbidden mushroom or a noxious toad. I'm a Lovecraft character going mad from extradimensional exposure. They're gross!
Is this really how AIs see the world? This is possibly an even more unsettling topic that DeepDream raises than the blatant abjection of the images.
When these photographs originally circulated online, many friends were startled and scandalized. People imagined a computer's imagination would be literal, accurate, and boring. We didn't expect vivid hallucinations and organic-looking formations.
DeepDream's images didn't really show the machines' imaginations, at least not in the way that scared some people. DeepDream displays data visualizations. DeepDream reveals the "black box" of convolutional network training.
Some of these images look scary because the models don't "know" anything, at least not in the way we do.
These images are the result of advanced algorithms and calculators that compare pixel values. They can spot and reproduce trends from training data, but can't interpret it. If so, they'd know dogs have two eyes and one face per head. If machines can think creatively, they're keeping it quiet.
You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given OpenAI's Dall-impressive E's results. From a technological perspective, it's incredible.
Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Dall-magic E's requires a lot of math, computer science, processing power, and research. OpenAI did a great job, and we should applaud them.
Dall-E and similar tools match words and phrases to image data to train generative models. Matching text to images requires sorting and defining the images. Untold millions of low-wage data entry workers, content creators optimizing images for SEO, and anyone who has used a Captcha to access a website make these decisions. These people could live and die without receiving credit for their work, even though the project wouldn't exist without them.
This technique produces images that are less like paintings and more like mirrors that reflect our own beliefs and ideals back at us, albeit via a very complex prism. Due to the limitations and biases that these models portray, we must exercise caution when viewing these images.
The issue was succinctly articulated by artist Mimi Onuoha in her piece "On Algorithmic Violence":
As we continue to see the rise of algorithms being used for civic, social, and cultural decision-making, it becomes that much more important that we name the reality that we are seeing. Not because it is exceptional, but because it is ubiquitous. Not because it creates new inequities, but because it has the power to cloak and amplify existing ones. Not because it is on the horizon, but because it is already here.
5 months ago
Fairness alternatives to selling below market clearing prices (or community sentiment, or fun)
When a seller has a limited supply of an item in high (or uncertain and possibly high) demand, they frequently set a price far below what "the market will bear." As a result, the item sells out quickly, with lucky buyers being those who tried to buy first. This has happened in the Ethereum ecosystem, particularly with NFT sales and token sales/ICOs. But this phenomenon is much older; concerts and restaurants frequently make similar choices, resulting in fast sell-outs or long lines.
Why do sellers do this? Economists have long wondered. A seller should sell at the market-clearing price if the amount buyers are willing to buy exactly equals the amount the seller has to sell. If the seller is unsure of the market-clearing price, they should sell at auction and let the market decide. So, if you want to sell something below market value, don't do it. It will hurt your sales and it will hurt your customers. The competitions created by non-price-based allocation mechanisms can sometimes have negative externalities that harm third parties, as we will see.
However, the prevalence of below-market-clearing pricing suggests that sellers do it for good reason. And indeed, as decades of research into this topic has shown, there often are. So, is it possible to achieve the same goals with less unfairness, inefficiency, and harm?
Selling at below market-clearing prices has large inefficiencies and negative externalities
An item that is sold at market value or at an auction allows someone who really wants it to pay the high price or bid high in the auction. So, if a seller sells an item below market value, some people will get it and others won't. But the mechanism deciding who gets the item isn't random, and it's not always well correlated with participant desire. It's not always about being the fastest at clicking buttons. Sometimes it means waking up at 2 a.m. (but 11 p.m. or even 2 p.m. elsewhere). Sometimes it's just a "auction by other means" that's more chaotic, less efficient, and has far more negative externalities.
There are many examples of this in the Ethereum ecosystem. Let's start with the 2017 ICO craze. For example, an ICO project would set the price of the token and a hard maximum for how many tokens they are willing to sell, and the sale would start automatically at some point in time. The sale ends when the cap is reached.
So what? In practice, these sales often ended in 30 seconds or less. Everyone would start sending transactions in as soon as (or just before) the sale started, offering higher and higher fees to encourage miners to include their transaction first. Instead of the token seller receiving revenue, miners receive it, and the sale prices out all other applications on-chain.
The most expensive transaction in the BAT sale set a fee of 580,000 gwei, paying a fee of $6,600 to get included in the sale.
Many ICOs after that tried various strategies to avoid these gas price auctions; one ICO notably had a smart contract that checked the transaction's gasprice and rejected it if it exceeded 50 gwei. But that didn't solve the issue. Buyers hoping to game the system sent many transactions hoping one would get through. An auction by another name, clogging the chain even more.
ICOs have recently lost popularity, but NFTs and NFT sales have risen in popularity. But the NFT space didn't learn from 2017; they do fixed-quantity sales just like ICOs (eg. see the mint function on lines 97-108 of this contract here). So what?
That's not the worst; some NFT sales have caused gas price spikes of up to 2000 gwei.
High gas prices from users fighting to get in first by sending higher and higher transaction fees. An auction renamed, pricing out all other applications on-chain for 15 minutes.
So why do sellers sometimes sell below market price?
Selling below market value is nothing new, and many articles, papers, and podcasts have written (and sometimes bitterly complained) about the unwillingness to use auctions or set prices to market-clearing levels.
Many of the arguments are the same for both blockchain (NFTs and ICOs) and non-blockchain examples (popular restaurants and concerts). Fairness and the desire not to exclude the poor, lose fans or create tension by being perceived as greedy are major concerns. The 1986 paper by Kahneman, Knetsch, and Thaler explains how fairness and greed can influence these decisions. I recall that the desire to avoid perceptions of greed was also a major factor in discouraging the use of auction-like mechanisms in 2017.
Aside from fairness concerns, there is the argument that selling out and long lines create a sense of popularity and prestige, making the product more appealing to others. Long lines should have the same effect as high prices in a rational actor model, but this is not the case in reality. This applies to ICOs and NFTs as well as restaurants. Aside from increasing marketing value, some people find the game of grabbing a limited set of opportunities first before everyone else is quite entertaining.
But there are some blockchain-specific factors. One argument for selling ICO tokens below market value (and one that persuaded the OmiseGo team to adopt their capped sale strategy) is community dynamics. The first rule of community sentiment management is to encourage price increases. People are happy if they are "in the green." If the price drops below what the community members paid, they are unhappy and start calling you a scammer, possibly causing a social media cascade where everyone calls you a scammer.
This effect can only be avoided by pricing low enough that post-launch market prices will almost certainly be higher. But how do you do this without creating a rush for the gates that leads to an auction?
It's 2021. We have a blockchain. The blockchain is home to a powerful decentralized finance ecosystem, as well as a rapidly expanding set of non-financial tools. The blockchain also allows us to reset social norms. Where decades of economists yelling about "efficiency" failed, blockchains may be able to legitimize new uses of mechanism design. If we could use our more advanced tools to create an approach that more directly solves the problems, with fewer side effects, wouldn't that be better than fiddling with a coarse-grained one-dimensional strategy space of selling at market price versus below market price?
Begin with the goals. We'll try to cover ICOs, NFTs, and conference tickets (really a type of NFT) all at the same time.
1. Fairness: don't completely exclude low-income people from participation; give them a chance. The goal of token sales is to avoid high initial wealth concentration and have a larger and more diverse initial token holder community.
2. Don’t create races: Avoid situations where many people rush to do the same thing and only a few get in (this is the type of situation that leads to the horrible auctions-by-another-name that we saw above).
3. Don't require precise market knowledge: the mechanism should work even if the seller has no idea how much demand exists.
4. Fun: The process of participating in the sale should be fun and game-like, but not frustrating.
5. Give buyers positive expected returns: in the case of a token (or an NFT), buyers should expect price increases rather than decreases. This requires selling below market value.
Let's start with (1). From Ethereum's perspective, there is a simple solution. Use a tool designed for the job: proof of personhood protocols! Here's one quick idea:
Mechanism 1 Each participant (verified by ID) can buy up to ‘’X’’ tokens at price P, with the option to buy more at an auction.
With the per-person mechanism, buyers can get positive expected returns for the portion sold through the per-person mechanism, and the auction part does not require sellers to understand demand levels. Is it race-free? The number of participants buying through the per-person pool appears to be high. But what if the per-person pool isn't big enough to accommodate everyone?
Make the per-person allocation amount dynamic.
Mechanism 2 Each participant can deposit up to X tokens into a smart contract to declare interest. Last but not least, each buyer receives min(X, N / buyers) tokens, where N is the total sold through the per-person pool (some other amount can also be sold by auction). The buyer gets their deposit back if it exceeds the amount needed to buy their allocation.
No longer is there a race condition based on the number of buyers per person. No matter how high the demand, it's always better to join sooner rather than later.
Here's another idea if you like clever game mechanics with fancy quadratic formulas.
Mechanism 3 Each participant can buy X units at a price P X 2 up to a maximum of C tokens per buyer. C starts low and gradually increases until enough units are sold.
The quantity allocated to each buyer is theoretically optimal, though post-sale transfers will degrade this optimality over time. Mechanisms 2 and 3 appear to meet all of the above objectives. They're not perfect, but they're good starting points.
One more issue. For fixed and limited supply NFTs, the equilibrium purchased quantity per participant may be fractional (in mechanism 2, number of buyers > N, and in mechanism 3, setting C = 1 may already lead to over-subscription). With fractional sales, you can offer lottery tickets: if there are N items available, you have a chance of N/number of buyers of getting the item, otherwise you get a refund. For a conference, groups could bundle their lottery tickets to guarantee a win or a loss. The certainty of getting the item can be auctioned.
The bottom tier of "sponsorships" can be used to sell conference tickets at market rate. You may end up with a sponsor board full of people's faces, but is that okay? After all, John Lilic was on EthCC's sponsor board!
Simply put, if you want to be reliably fair to people, you need an input that explicitly measures people. Authentication protocols do this (and if desired can be combined with zero knowledge proofs to ensure privacy). So we should combine the efficiency of market and auction-based pricing with the equality of proof of personhood mechanics.
Answers to possible questions
Q: Won't people who don't care about your project buy the item and immediately resell it?
A: Not at first. Meta-games take time to appear in practice. If they do, making them untradeable for a while may help mitigate the damage. Using your face to claim that your previous account was hacked and that your identity, including everything in it, should be moved to another account works because proof-of-personhood identities are untradeable.
Q: What if I want to make my item available to a specific community?
A: Instead of ID, use proof of participation tokens linked to community events. Another option, also serving egalitarian and gamification purposes, is to encrypt items within publicly available puzzle solutions.
Q: How do we know they'll accept? Strange new mechanisms have previously been resisted.
A: Having economists write screeds about how they "should" accept a new mechanism that they find strange is difficult (or even "equity"). However, abrupt changes in context effectively reset people's expectations. So the blockchain space is the best place to try this. You could wait for the "metaverse", but it's possible that the best version will run on Ethereum anyway, so start now.