# Do Not Expect Breakthroughs

I run in multiple circles of acquaintances. Amongst my circles of acquaintances, one is a heavily transhumanist/futurist/post-human circle. I would often engage in discussion – over drinks usually – about the Singularity and what’s to come, our minds would meander amongst the hopeful and not so hopeful futures.

There were many ideas floated. Most were interesting, but few were realistic. Being around transhumanist acquaintances gives me a feeling of hanging out amongst science fiction authors of the 1950s. I often get a sense of retrofuturism when I discuss transhumanism. There is just this feeling of un-realism that I get when I hear people talk about transhumanism. Granted, a lot of these people who talk about these things are fantasizing and do not have a realistic hold of what is possible. There was a guy who seriously thought nanobots were literally robots shrunken to molecule size. It was a very awkward moment explaining that really, nanotech and nanobots are basically chemistry, and how to structure molecules so they do stuff.

I also hang in another circle of acquaintances who are very much into startup and hacker culture. Given the topic matter at hand, it is obvious that these two circles do intersect. We would hang out and talk about the Glorious Transhumanist Future, and how we can profit from it. I do however, have some reservations about these discussions.

One particular discussion stood out for me. We had just came off playing with an Oculus Rift, and he mentioned that in the future, we would be replacing our eyes with digital cameras which feed directly into the brain. And he mentioned that NOW would be the best time to get prepared for such an event: create a startup around the expectation that people will replace their eyeballs with straight-to-the-brain cameras.

Yes, you read that right. Not start a startup to get the tech, but start a startup anticipating the breakthrough.

To me, that was the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard. The level of ridiculousness would have dropped had he said “let’s work to bring the eyeball-replacement tech to the public”. Instead, when I asked him if he knew roughly the basics of replacing a human organ, he merely replied with “I trust someone will discover how to. And by that time, if we decide to enter the market it’d be too late”.

I’m sorry, but that has got to be the most bullshit thing I’ve heard. The fantasizing that someone will bring a breakthrough that will benefit you. I’d be a lot more sympathetic to the idea if he had said he’s working on the breakthrough.

And I think this is the problem with a lot of futurists. The ideas remain in the realm of pure fantasy and are not rooted in realism. Another discussion I had centered around powered exoskeletons. If one had given even the mere thought to conceptually building a powered exoskeleton (like say an Iron Man suit), one’d immediately run into problems that would require breakthroughs to solve. In the case of the Iron Man suit, there would need to be a breakthrough in battery technology, or portable power (miniaturized arc reactor, anyone?)

I’m not being a Debbie Downer pissing on everyone’s optimism though. My main thesis is: if a certain future you expect requires a breakthrough in technology or scientific knowledge, you shouldn’t be counting on the fact that the breakthrough will happen due to someone else’s hard work.

There is a lot to be said about black swans and counterfactual thinking, but I shall instead end with this xkcd from yesterday.

# Obsessive Frenzy

I like to think that I understand myself very well. But there are bits of me that even I don’t get. Over the past three weeks, the online advertising world had been rocked by massive incidences of fraud and malware. As part of my day job I have traced the sources of malware and fraud and we have ceased working with those companies behind them. At the same time I was also involved in a … let’s just call it consulting capacity to another potential fraud case (not within online advertising). I got into a frenzy working on both projects at the same time. Usually I would be happy that I’m highly productive, but this time round I felt rather miserable. Continue reading

# An Aversion To Ship

I have a confession to make. It had been slightly more than a month since I last committed any code to Fork the Cookbook. In fact, the whole team hadn’t contributed to Fork the Cookbook in about a month. Only the scant updates here and there. If you were to have a peek into what we were doing, you would think it was abandonware.

Only that it wasn’t. For two weeks now, I have been actively writing code for Fork the Cookbook again. Today I wrote the third shippable feature since a month ago. And yet you will not see those features publicly yet. I have it committed on the dev branches, but they’re not in the master branch yet. In short, they’re not shipped.

I have developed an aversion to shipping code. Not due to laziness or ineffectiveness. It’s something else. I feel like there is some sort of psychological factor that prevents me from typing git merge dev-x. Not quite sure what it is. I’ll need to meditate on it tonight.

Or maybe I am making excuses for myself. Or if I listen to my bitchy critics, I’m just writing a “flawed system”. Who knows, eh?

# Lost Faith In Humanity

Today has been a generally dark day for me. Today, for the first time in almost 6 years, I lost faith in humanity completely. This sounds terribly pompous of me, but this is my blog and I can say whatever the fuck I want, although these sorts of posts are usually kept private and later deleted. Today will be different. Today my rant will be public. Continue reading

# Not Everyone Shares Your Passion and/or Commitment

This post is a rant. I need to get it off my chest – it may disappear in the future if I deem this post’s tone too negative. Increasingly and lately, I have come to realize that not everyone shares your passion or commitment towards something. Continue reading

# What You Love; What You Are Good At

Several discussions I had throughout today has brought me into this funk that I am in right now. But first, let me regale you with a tale of yonder. In my university years, I concentrated my study on two ‘streams’ of economics – the microeconomic ‘stream’ and the econometric ‘stream’. In the microeconomic stream, I did stuff like experimental economics, game theory and the like – you know, micro stuff. In the econometrics stream, I did stuff that had to do with data analysis. I love both streams. Then I graduated, and found a job.

The job mainly focused on the data analysis part of things – I have gone on to gain experience in all sorts of data analysis, from linear regression to support vector machines. I think I am good at it – I cannot be too sure after today. The new stuff I had to learn and pick up came fairly easily to me. PRML? No problem – consumed in about a week’s worth of baths (twice a day), and committed to memory. Heck, I even implemented some of the cutting edge machine learning algorithms  like sparse coding at work.

So far, it’s about 3 years since my last course in the microeconomics stream. A discussion amongst colleagues today required my expertise (or lack thereof) in game theory. I could provide enough resources on the game theory end of things. But I decided to come home and do some research on the problem anyway to see how I could better improve the algorithms discussed. Lo and behold, my knowledge in that area is very spotty, and I had to wikipedia a lot of the concepts for refreshers.

This depresses me.

Why? You see, my one true love in economics had always been Consumer Theory, and the behind-the-scenes of it – you know, budget sets, convexity, clopen sets, the lot – but it’s really hard to find a well paying job that involves these theories directly, short of getting a PhD and being an academic. Money was always an issue for me – my parents aren’t wealthy people and I can’t thank them enough for struggling so I could do a degree with a not-so-high-paying job. Doing a PhD meant getting a post-graduate degree like a Masters before being able to do a PhD (which may or may not be sponsored). So the plan was to work and save up enough cash to do a post-grad degree that will eventually lead to a PhD.

So, thankfully enough, I had the presence of mind to do something that could potentially feed me as well – data analysis, a.k.a econometrics.

But this becomes a self-fuelling cycle of positive reinforcement. The more I worked in data analysis, the proficient I became at it, but that came at the cost of not remembering as much of what I love to do. Just before I wrote this blog post, I was combing through my bibliography of hundreds of papers on the Core and auction theory. I remember the gist of most of those papers, but a lot of key concepts I was once familiar with, I had to reacquaint through wikipedia.

Oh well, doing what you’re good at makes you only better at it. To excel in something you love, you must do it too. Lesson learned. May I be good enough to eventually do that PhD.

# The Economics of Andrew Niccol’s In Time

In Time poster. Copyright of 20th Century Fox

I watched In Time a couple of days ago and while I’ve been a huge fan of all four of Andrew Niccol’s big name movies (In ranking order: Gattaca, S1m0n3, Lord of War, Truman Show), I must admit that In Time let me down quite a bit, but also strangely I loved the rather nicely realized version of an economic model. The movie was fine – Cillian Murphy’s acting was top notch, but the same cannot be said about Justin Timberlake. I loved the premise of the story, I loved the setting of the story, and I am fine with the story being all over the place. They kept hinting at more (I personally was hoping for a Logan’s Run-esque payoff – i.e. something larger than themselves), but there was no satisfying payoff in the end, and I was fine with that. I give In Time a 6.5/10. The following will be an exploration of the economics in In Time. Needless to say, here is a spoiler alert

What really bugged me though, was the mechanics of the currency. The premise of the movie is as such: time is now a currency, and intrinsically linked to their lives, and the lower class of society has to fight for their lives. They live from day to day, working just enough to earn them one more day of living. Another premise is that at least nominal price inflation happens. At the beginning of the movie, we the audience are told, and shown with rather emotional consequences that the prices of things are rising. A third premise that I think is fairly important in considering the economics of In Time is that the currency is spent every living second of a person’s life. Let us not consider to whom first, and assume that the currency evaporates. It is on these premises the plot of the movie was built upon. Essentially what bugged me the most was this: Given the premises of the movie, why was there even inflation to begin with? I try to give reasons in this article. Continue reading

# God, Queen and Country – A Rant on Fairness

My partner made a joke earlier when we went out for dinner. It was something along the lines of “do your duty for God, Queen and Country”, to which I replied, “but I don’t believe or endorse any of those concepts to be good concepts!”. Of course she knows that I am agnostic to all of these, and hence the joke.

The concept of fairness plays a bit part in my mind, and what I consider my values. Yes, despite the fact attitudes may be made up on the fly, I do think that I have some values and attitudes I hold on to – and I like to think I have carefully analyzed and reanalyzed those values I hold to. In short, I think I have reasoned myself into holding some values and chucking some other values. In fact if you had read this blog since its inception in 2004, you would have known I have blogged less, and appeared to be less opinionated on some things – it was partly due to having less time, and also partly due to a lot of re-evaluation of my values and knowledge (essentially there was a period in 2008-2011 when I thought I really didn’t know enough to comment on anything)

Part of why I disagree with the concept of “duty to”, “God”, “Queen” and “Country” is because of fairness, and in one of the cases, a very recent event has left some bitterness and hence triggered this post.

# Questioning My Sanity and Ethics

Lately, I have been questioning my own actions. Actually, for the majority of the last month I have been bogged down by a lot of work, and a lot of work means I start questioning myself a lot more – my sanity, my ethics, etc. I meditate a lot, and I can quite confidently say that I am quite fully aware and mindful of my own thoughts, which of late has become more of the “YOU ARE A CRAZY PERSON” thoughts.

So, I decided to write them down, and today I am publishing it, because hey, the Internet needs more pollution, amiright?

In the past, when I faced exams, I rarely panicked, even if I was severely underprepared (incidentally the only exam I ever panicked for was also the only exam I failed). The moment after the exam though, the panic sets in. Thankfully for me, I had fairly solid basics – toss me any derivatives and given enough time I could work it out. Which worked out okay for me in exams – because you know, there was a set syllabus, and the curviest of curveballs I ever had was a sneaky metric spaces question in a microeconomics mid-semester exam.

Right now, my life is going past me at breakneck speed, and like exams in the past, I am not panicky.  And this troubles me greatly.  Continue reading

# A Response to “Atheism is a Faith”

A few months ago a Christian friend posted a note on Facebook, and I replied. He however, has not chosen to respond properly, opting to dismiss everything I wrote as “It is sad when one can’t see the forest for the trees”, which quickly degenerated any possible discourse into nothing substantial. Reproduced here are the exact original post and my response. Since I also respect the said person’s privacy, I have chosen to not reproduce his full name.

## Original post – Atheism is a Faith & Agnosticism willful ignorance:

An agnostic will rightly say of God that ‘we cannot know’ if he exists. I agree, and I can’t prove that he does exist – so in a sense I am agnostic – but I differ in that I believe he does. The fence-sitting agnostic however has to actively and wilfully ignore the topic of God altogether, and I cannot say that they are right or wrong for doing so – only that should they continue, they might find out too late. An Atheist, on the other hand, ‘cannot know’ that God does not exist because they cannot prove it.

As much as I have a faith that God is real, the atheist has a faith that he is not real. Atheism, therefore, is not a lack of belief in God, but a proactive decision to believe he does not exist – which by virtue awards it no lesser or greater merit than any other faith.

The idea that Atheism & Science go hand in hand and that consequently Atheism is somehow more intelligent & less ignorant is misleading and deceptive. Scientific discovery can for the atheist lend support to his/her beliefs, and for the Christian lend support to his/her beliefs.

Of-course I want others to have what I have, or else why would I have it myself? But regardless of your stance please give careful thought to what Science is, and what it is not. It is a limited and finite tool by which we can discover many things, but not all things. Continue reading