Studying a nonexistent field

Universities have been bastions of complex knowledge. Information is becoming freer and more mobile, but a density of knowledge remains. As Knowledge digitises, the tyranny of distance loses power, but (as of 2020) is still worth contending with.

Globally, it is possible to obtain a degree in nearly any specialisation. Whether our preference is for molecular biology or atomic gastronomy, a period of study gives you an educational foundation, some experience in the field, and hopefully a leg-up in the employment market.

Birth > Schooling > Specialised learning > More learning +/ Career > …

is the ‘normal’ progression – linear, predictable, and useful as a model.

Where this model fails to give ‘useful’ outputs – testable outcomes – is that it doesn’t deal well with rapidly emerging fields. This makes sense – if people are still in discover-create-experiment in a field, the knowledge will not have propagated down the dissemination chain yet.

This seems self-evident, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that for most of our history, this was not the case. Generally speaking, problems repeated themselves generationally for most of our histories. The complex problems the Master solved shaped the puzzles they set for their Apprentice, and so a loop sustained the transfer of knowledge.

Those truths still hold, but they are now one level up in terms of abstraction.

Surveillance Equilibrium

What is to be the equilibrium of our surveillance?

States generally want to See as much as possible. As a proud taxpayer, I’m mostly happy that the State monitors my location and income and takes appropriate taxes from me. The State fails to monitor its more powerful individuals, though, and they are notoriously both corrupt and enabling of greater corruption by non-human actors, like large Companies.

I generally believe in, and espouse, a notion of inverse privacy rights as one moves up a hierarchy. Presently, a disproportionate amount of time and effort is spent investigating, auditing, and censuring the poor, which is stupid and cost inefficient. Choosing not to punish a minor miscreance is well within the range of even the lowest-level administrator. Choosing not to investigate, record or punish a major malfeasance is generally the remit of a senior administrator – exactly the type to have relational pressure applied to them by a similarly highly statused criminal.

In the same vein, I think-but-do-not-know that crimes committed by the lowest-status members of society tend to be at a personal and personal-property level. Crimes that impact large bodies of people tend to be committed by powerful persons, or, again, those most psychopathic of immortals, Companies.

Security through observation, when carried out entirely by humans, is riven with paradoxes and is notoriously inefficient. Even relying on networks of human spies suffers from diminishing returns, and the longer a regime like that exists, the longer the perverse and petty incentives on the individual members is in play to corrupt and redirect the enterprises’ intents.

The addition of non-human spies to the mix is what allows present surveillance networks to play their trade with anything approaching success.

Where shall the equilibria settle?

Let’s assume that 75% of countries saw a massive expansion of their capacity to hoover up data about their citizens from 1990 and 2010. Aside from the Americans vast suctioning of the movements of digital citizens, we know that the Chinese and Russian governments were doing the same things, perhaps even more indiscriminately.

Privatised surveillance – by Facebook, Google, Apple and so on, right down to seemingly nebulous details – also increased. Working hand in hand with the States, who have so far spent their time appeasing and cooperating with the newly emergent technical behemoths onto the international stage, it’s reasonable to assume that any of the technical giants you voluntarily engage with know more about you than your spouse or any of your friends. Any you don’t engage with know more about you than your work colleagues, and if you spend your time Trying To Avoid Them, they might only know as much about you as someone who catches the same bus as you.

Observation flows upwards over time

Presently, we monitor peasants. But some of the peasant-monitors need watching too…

Optimistic Transhuman Agendas

I am extraordinarily privileged, even considering I am playing on Easy mode. If people choose Hard for themselves, I fully support that. Having the choice is important.

Transhumanism is a movement which, to me, has numerous parallels. I suspect, but do not yet Know, that most Transhumanists are:

  • Progressive (‘liberal’ politics, high openness)
  • Overwhelmingly young (Bottom third of normal age distributions)
  • Majority male (80%+)

If true, this is interesting and worth exploring. From a psychological perspective, it is, perhaps, predictable. Ping me if you have data on this.

Permissive attitudes to flesh manipulation track closely with these elements.

I hold permissive attitudes to flesh manipulation, but I am also aware that these are relatively minority perspectives when considered against the globus corpus. It’s one of the challenges of being WEIRD,


Predictions are hard, especially about future states. The perversity level of the Universe is a relative constant, but as Pratchett (1992)1 notes, it can certainly have localised spikes. I think predictions cause some of them.

Bettable Prediction: If you’re not able to chat, haltingly, over text at least, to a virtual Travel Agent by the end of 2025, I will be surprised, and more surprised yet if it is not fluent by 2030. This outcome would also mean billions of dollars sitting on the table, so I have classical economics on my side of the bet. I’m sure some corporate overlords will disgorge their ominous surveillance logs into AIML soon enough. (this bet has not yet been taken up)

1 Pratchett, Lords and Ladies, 1992 – “… like a garden hosepipe in a shed [Which, no matter how carefully coiled, will always uncoil overnight and tie the lawnmower to the bicycles].”

Keeping the peace

“All the times I hung my head to keep the peace”

My personal neurological architecture, coupled with my upbringing and personality, leaves my default state as one that tries to avoid direct conflicts with other humans.

I have been dealing with the outcomes of these preferences for some time now. Many of them have been positive, and appreciated by others. I am clever, good at problem-solving, and default to win-win solutions for those that want to play co-operatively. Some of them have been negative, and created tremendous challenges and impediments along my path.

The lesson I am (slowly! Incredibly, frustratingly, dazzlingly slowly) learning:

I rarely regret observing, speaking and acting against what I perceive as injustice.

The converse lesson is that complicity in injustice, however slight, lies heavily on my regard.

I have never been advised by any of the Actually Wise to lower my standards.

The resulting implications are burdensome.

Least Competent Colleague

The correct question to ask yourself is not “How long until a (robot) can do my job,” but “How long until a (robot) can do the work of my Least Competent Colleague”?

If your answer is less than 3 years, then you’re wrong, and a (robot) can already do it, but it’s cheaper to employ and train a human… For the moment. Think on this at their farewell morning tea or drinks when they leave. The marginal difference between their productivity and competence and yourself is evident to yourself, and your manager, but how evident is it to their manager?

If your answer is between 3 and 5 years, then you might not be working with your current Least Competent Colleague when the (robot) replaces them. When the (robot) joins your team, it probably won’t replace anyone already present, but it will replace what would have been a junior hire.

If your answer is greater than 5 years, I congratulate you on being in an unusual workplace. My cautious guess is you deal with more atoms than bits. Please tell me if I’m wrong!

This is not a claim that your Least Competent Colleague deserves to lose their job. If they enjoy it, or if losing it would cause them economic harm, the event will be sad.

Least Competent Colleagues are not necessarily Unpopular Colleagues or Lazy Colleagues. They might have moderate status in the workplace (rarely high, and very rarely sustained high status).

Did you actually ask yourself the question? Here is a grace period to do so now, if you haven’t.


When we think about automation, and are asked to predict the outcomes from it, we tend to give different answers when considering the impacts of technology on other, parallel fields than when we consider our own. We also tend to consider our colleagues’ efforts subject to greater vulnerability than our own, to a cumulative effect size of about 0.2-0.5. That’s quite substantial.

What rating would the 10 colleagues who worked most closely with you give you on the Competence scale, if they were guaranteed anonymity?

You’re probably not the Least Competent Colleague. But you may not be up the very top, either. The time to start using your power, such as it is, to fight for a better deal for Least, is now. When the bottom hollows out and your footing starts to become a little less sure, it’s too late.

If you’re mentally glancing over your shoulder, it’s not too late yet, but oh, friend, it might be worth thinking about Actually Trying.

In this text, (robot) means (actual physical robot, software, chatbot, algorithm or another non-human operator)

Corporate personhood will be considered one of the greatest mistakes of the 21st century.

Corporate personhood will be considered one of the greatest mistakes of the 21st century.

Corporations are rapidly establishing themselves as one of the dominant memetic forces on the planet, and are at a point where they can compete with nation-states and Civilisations on a close to equal footing.

Like all large cogs, they’re also absolutely no bloody fun at all to get meshed up in.

Bullshit Tolerance

Bullshit tolerance changes is a variable that changes over time.

You may be noticing elements of this within yourself. Right now, how tolerant of Bullshit are you? I am presently tolerating a higher than normal amount of Bullshit, because I am getting Paid Well.

For a while recently, I thought my tolerance of Bullshit was dropping, but it was more clever than me, and it was actually just changing form while I held an incorrect and outdated model of it in my mind.

Frustratingly, the new Bullshit comes with more power, worldly riches, and opportunities. It becomes easier to be tempted to get Got. I have been Got.

This is frustrating, saddening, and also a little bit funny at the same time, because the tricks I was Got by are old and familiar in strategy, even if the execution has changed a little. So I can’t honestly say that I didn’t have opportunities to not get Got.

Being Got by Bullshit feels Tolerable, but it also feels like a Trap. I’m going to have to start digging my way out.

If you’re in here too, you may as well grab a shovel.

Your career counselor is a lying fuck

By virtue of who you are and how you’re reading this, if you’ve ever interacted with a career counselor, there’s a good chance they were peddling you some stupendous Bullshit.

Jobs are less static than before. Less stable. The script you run engaging in a job will be shorter, with less predictable results. Satisfaction will not arrive in this manner.

Career paths are fractal complexities. They are staggeringly anfractuous. Every time you look, more opportunities for specialisation and development abound. The deeper you go, the deeper it gets.

The jobs you’ll have in the near to medium future haven’t been invented yet. The reason you can’t train for them now – the feeling of running a poorly defined race – is because the jobs are still coalescing.

Jobs are becoming shorter-lived. The efficiency of jobs increases as we mechanise and automate our processes. Short, iterative bursts.

Your competition is global, but so are your opportunities. Local options abound, but it’s worth sticking your head over the parapet every now and then.

The value of ideas is an emerging market and we, collectively, are still only beginning to rationalise it. Ideamarkets don’t exist yet; therefore, market inefficiencies exist.

Ideas and entrepeneurship built around physical objects have tremendous upside. Information saturates, bits rot. Think about whether The Village Blacksmith and their works will outlast you – and if they do, why?

If you notice a deficit being run, that means the model is unsustainable. Unsustainability means you need to reassess your timeframes, or exit the venture rapidly.

Kardashev Scale

the Kardashev scale is a method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological development based on the amount of energy they consumed. Most people don’t count beyond 3.

1: Can observe universe around itself, maybe play locally

2: Pretty much able to look after itself

3: Got out and about a bit

4: That was a Fun Adventure

5: Pretty much able to look after itself wherever it wants

6: Observes universe around itself


Most users of the Kardashev scale refer to anywhere between 10 and 10^47 Watts. Get your scales right before arguing too much with them.